Harman boost in Shadow elections

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The Independent Online
Harriet Harman's chances of securing her seat in the Shadow Cabinet were given a boost yesterday by John Prescott, the deputy leader of the Labour Party. Mr Prescott has given his full backing for the Shadow Cabinet "slate" to be voted in during Wednesday's elections to avoid giving ammunition to the Tories with splits in the party.

Mr Prescott gave a clear lead to the party's left-wing to vote for the status quo and avoid rocking the boat. The Independent learned that one left-wing challenger, Irene Addams, had dropped out of the race, giving Ms Harman, the shadow health spokeswoman, a freer run.

"I was going to stand but I thought there was going to be a whole card of candidates. What I was not going to do is stand alone. It would be seen only as a challenge to Harriet Harman, which it never was," said Ms Addams.

Ms Harman's only challenger now will be Ann Clwyd, who is backed by the Campaign Group of left-wing Labour MPs. The"status quo" slate to be reelected, said Mr Prescott, would include Jack Cunningham, following the standing down of overseas development spokeswoman Joan Lestor.

Labour leader Tony Blair, and Mr Prescott, have met frontbenchers to seek their support for the "status quo" slate, recognising that the move could deny some shadow ministers the chance of a place in the first Labour cabinet for 18 years.

Mr Prescott was instrumental in persuading the leadership to go ahead with the elections and for implementing the strategy to avoid damaging battles for places in the Shadow Cabinet in the election run-up.

Ms Harman's decision to send her son to a grammar school caused the backlash that now threatens her place on the Shadow Cabinet. If Ms Harman were dropped, critics argue, Mr Blair would come under renewed attack for choosing to send his son, Euan, to the London Oratory, an opted-out school, and yet more criticism for thinking of sending his second son, Nicky, now aged nine, to the same school. "It makes sense for the younger boy to go the same school as his brother, although we haven't finally decided that," Mr Blair said.

To add to the tension, allegations of vote-rigging, reported in Saturday's Independent, have continued. Diane Abbott, member of the National Executive Committee, and Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said Ms Harman seemed to have her own assisted-places scheme. "If they stuff ballot boxes, of course she'll make it back. In a straight-forward secret ballot I don't think she would [return]," said Ms Abbott.

But Ms Harman reinforced her claim to be judged on her record as shadow health spokeswoman by issuing new figures from her office showing that there had been a new rise in hospital waiting lists, in spite of the Government's drive to reduce them. In the South Thames region, the number waiting more than a year had gone up from 23 to 430 between March and May. She said it showed that the Tories were failing in their own priorities.