Harriet Harman: You Ask The Questions

The Minister for Constitutional Affairs answers your questions, such as "Should the leadership be decided by gender?" and "Why do Labour women ministers look alike?"
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Have you done a deal with female cabinet colleagues that none of them will stand against you for the deputy leadership? ALEX MCLAUGHLIN South Wales

Absolutely not - and may the best woman win.

Why are you the only woman who has declared their intention to run for Deputy Prime Minister - and why not stand for Prime Minister? PENNY THORNTON by e-mail

I'm supporting Gordon Brown for leader - so I'm not going to stand against him. I declared early to make clear it wasn't going to be a "men only" election. But other women may join in.

How could you be Deputy Prime Minister when you have had about one year's experience as a cabinet minister? G ORMOND by e-mail

I was part of the team which led Labour out of the wilderness years of opposition. I served in Labour's first cabinet. I have been a backbencher while Labour has been in government. And I am a minister once again. Good leaders need to understand all parts of the team - not just the top.

Do you think that in 2007 the deputy leadership of the Labour Party should be decided by gender? Why not class background? DAVID RAMSDEN, London

Women are the majority of the population and should be at least half of the leadership. Everyone in the Labour Party fights inequality and injustice.

If John Prescott is "Two Jags", what would be your nickname? ED MACLAREN by e-mail

The other half? The better half?

Don't you think you are too posh to be deputy leader of the Labour Party? ANDREW FENTON, Camberwell

I wasn't too posh to fight for the minimum wage and invent the Low Pay Commission. Or to be part of the team that led Labour from the wilderness of opposition into government. So the answer is no. I represent posh people as well as poor people in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham. Which are you, Andrew?

Who did you vote for as deputy leader in 1994? And if it wasn't Margaret Beckett, the woman candidate, why not? ART MORGAN, London E8

I voted for Margaret Beckett.

Should the deputy leader of the Labour Party automatically be Deputy Prime Minister? NIGEL LANDALE, Bristol

The Labour Party elects its deputy leader. The Prime Minister decides who is in government and what they do.

Are you really a fan of the Black Eyed Peas, or were you just showing off when you threw in that song reference during the bickering over the leadership? S VERKAIK, London

I am a fan of Black Eyed Peas and my ambition is to have abs like Fergie's.

Isn't the Blair-Brown power struggle damning evidence of how appallingly macho and male- dominated politics and the political culture in this country still are? CAITLIN ELLLERTON, West London

We don't yet know what a non-macho and male-dominated political culture in this country would be like. We should try it.

Why do all Labour women ministers look so alike? Are you required by law to go to the same terrible hairdresser? JOAN RITCHIE, Fife

If you think I look terrible, you should see me before I go to the hairdresser. I think it's the men who all look alike.

I've always thought you were quite fanciable for a Labour MP. Who do you most fancy at Westminster? STEPHEN PRICE, Manchester

The Treasurer of the Labour Party!

What did Tony Blair say to you after you described Gordon Brown as the "Prime Minister of the United Kingdom" on the BBC's Question Time? ANGELA ROBINSON, by e-mail

Just a wry smile!

Gordon Brown has voted for everything that Tony Blair has. Why should we believe anything will be different if he takes over? RIAZ SIDDIQI, Birmingham

It depends on what you want to see change. I want to see a continuation of a strong economy, low unemployment and big investment in health and education. But Gordon is not identical to Tony - and we'll see that if, as I hope, he becomes leader.

Is it wise for Labour ministers to pick a fight with Muslim women over veils at a time when Muslim communities feel so alienated and picked on? TAMSIN MCCARTHY, Bradford

Most Muslim women don't wear the veil and object to others wearing it. It's a pity that there are no Muslim women in the House of Commons. Then they could lead the debate in Parliament. I don't think it's picking a fight to talk about the veil. But I am concerned that Muslims do feel vulnerable, and I do everything I can to fight against racism and Islamophobia.

As a feminist I think all forms of scarf or veil are symbols of female subjugation. Do you agree? NOURA HAMID, by e-mail

I support those Muslim women who assert they are good Muslims and who've fought against the imposition of the veil. To young women in this country who assert it's their choice to cover their face, I say it's a choice which will limit what you can do and is not a good one.

Why did you not speak out against the Attorney General's advice about the legality of the attack on Iraq? ROY ROEBUCK, by e-mail

Once an attorney general is appointed, a government has to take his advice. It can't shop around for legal advice. When the current attorney was appointed, everyone said what a good appointment he was, being both intellectually brilliant and totally honest.

Do you not feel ashamed, as a mother, to be part of a government that has prosecuted a war in which teenage soldiers have died? ANTHONY LIPMANN, by e-mail

Every war has tragic victims - both soldiers and civilians.

Have you ever taken illegal drugs? If so, which ones - and if not, why not? CHRIS WOODGATE, Manchester

Don't hold your breath while you wait for an answer on that one.

Any truth in the story that you were once such a militant feminist that you were going to change your name to Harriet Harperson? JONATHAN BRIGGS, by e-mail

No. Sounds like an invention from the Daily Mail.

Were you embarrassed when your husband, Jack Dromey, lifted the lid off the loans scandal? Were you tempted to kick him out, like Tessa Jowell did with her husband? GEOFF BROWN, Guildford

Jack did the right thing when he protested at the secret loans. Now the law has been changed and all Labour's fundraising is open and democratic, as it should be.

Is it a handicap for a devotee of New Labour to have a union official as a husband who opposes the Government on key policies, including Iraq, employment rights and the NHS? BEN HICKMAN, Cardiff

No. Most of the time we agree. But both of us are each part of different teams at our work - I do my job and he does his.

Is it true that when you first got your cabinet job and someone mentioned Beveridge, you said yours was a cup of tea? ANTHONY EAMES, London

Just shows there's no point in having a sense of humour in politics! Some people still assume all women are thick and humourless.

You say on your website that your political career developed out of your concerns for "feminism, civil liberties and social justice". How do you reconcile this with your support for ID cards? RAJU KHAN, London

It's about getting the balance right. Necessary measures balanced by strong human rights.

You have clearly sold out in your quest for power. Do you think it is possible to be a senior politician and retain any principles? DAVID MOUNT, Sheffield

If you look at what I was saying 25 years ago it's the same as what I'm saying now. And much of what I was campaigning for we've done - the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, civil partnerships, national minimum wage, after-school clubs, longer maternity leave, new laws against domestic violence. Still much left to do, though ... I absolutely have not sold out. I'm still fighting.

Which woman has done most for the Labour movement? KRIS KENNY, Glasgow

Barbara Castle.

What kind of car do you drive? Do you make any effort to be "carbon neutral"? ANA RYBORG, London

An old Rover I bought from a Tory MP 15 years ago - I need to trade it in for a cleaner one. My carbon footprint is too big.

Have you ever suffered from depression, like so many of your colleagues? SARATH ILANTHIRAIYAN, London

No. but I strongly support the campaign to destigmatise mental illness and to ensure that mental health is not the Cinderella of the NHS.

What's the most embarrassing thing that you've ever done? D ECKROYD, Norfolk

Saying Gordon Brown was the Prime Minister on TV's Question Time.

You Ask The Questions Next week: Zac Goldsmith, Editor of 'The Ecologist'

Send your questions to: myquestion@independent.co.uk