You Ask The Questions: Harriet Harman MP
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party answers your quesions, including whether multiculturalism has failed and if she, as a feminist, is proud of Mrs Thatcher
Monday 25 February 2008
Why has Gordon Brown made such a poor job of being PM after waiting so long for the top job?
Before he was PM, Gordon wasn't just waiting around – he was being chancellor and sorting out the economy. Since he's been Prime Minister, the Government has brought in a Bill to cut carbon emissions, made a new priority of affordable housing, set up a massive programme for new youth services and is setting up a new apprenticeship programme. I'm sure those things matter in Richmond as well as in Peckham.
After Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Rock, the missing data disasters, cash for honours, the David Abrahams affair and Brown's dithering about a general election, could we trust New Labour to organise a party in a brewery?
After full employment, low inflation, doubling aid to the developing world, better schools and hospitals, higher pensions and free travel for pensioners, longer maternity leave and more nurseries ... we are too busy to be organising a party in a brewery.
As minister for equality, will you please oppose this racist idea of charging immigrants from outside the EU more to come here? It is grossly unfair.
Britain is a better place because of hard-working immigrants. But there are implications for public services when there are changes in local population. This fund will help deal with that and is a sensible idea.
You seem to have disappeared since winning the deputy leadership. Where have you been?
Look on my website www.harrietharman.org if you want to see my blogs for where I have been. Next weekend I'm in Birmingham at Labour's spring conference.
As Leader of the House, will you be initiating any action to allay public anxiety over the financial claims made by MPs including the Speaker?
MPs need an office to be able to do their work on behalf of their constituents. So the office allowances are important. But of course we need clear rules and they need to be obeyed. We're toughening them up. But I don't accept the idea that we are all in it for the money! And as Leader of the House I'm sorting out a new system so that we don't have to vote on our own pay increases.
Were you proud of Gordon Brown's "British jobs for British workers" campaign?
We've got 600,000 job vacancies – everyone who can work, should.
Do you think that multiculturalism as a policy has failed?
No, I think it's one of Britain's great strengths. This country's success has been built not just on the work of English Welsh and Scots but on successive waves of migrants. But we shouldn't have segregation. It's about people being able to be proud of their different backgrounds but sharing a common future. Diversity makes Britain stronger and more successful in a global economy.
Will the Government actually act to punish men who use prostitutes rather than continue the failed policy of criminalising the poor women who sell sex?
I think we should – and we are looking at how they do just that in other countries. Health and safety laws prevent women working in unsafe factories, yet our laws allow women to be bought for sex. I just do not accept that prostitution is a reasonable choice for women. It is exploitation of women by men and we should expect more from the relations between women and men in the 21st century than women being bought for sex.
Do you think Westminster can still be a hard place for a woman to succeed?
The more women there are in Parliament, the more we can do for women in the country. When I was first an MP, only 3 per cent were women and it was grim. I was one of only 10 Labour women. Now because there are 97 of us, we are more powerful. But we are still outnumbered four to one by men, so more progress is needed.
As a feminist, are you proud of Margaret Thatcher?
No, because she was out to prove she was as every bit as nasty as all the men in her cabinet. Feminism is about progressive politics and solidarity with other women. Thatcher was neither.
There is still a significant wage gap between men and women in this country. What will you do to tackle it?
Some tough measures in our new Equality Bill which will come out later this year. I just don't believe women are less committed, less hard-working or less able than men. So they shouldn't be paid less.
PMQs have become irritatingly, if not degradingly, banal. Can some dignity be instilled?
Not while David Cameron just uses it for playground taunts.
You have spoken in the past about boosting democracy. So how can you be against proportional representation?
We have introduced proportional representation in European elections, Scottish council elections and London Assembly elections. We'll shortly be publishing a review of how the new systems worked. But the evidence suggested is that it doesn't boost turnout and people find it complicated.
Isn't it wrong that so much money was spent on a deputy leadership contest and would you support a cap?
Yes, and I proposed a cap at the outset of the campaign which was not agreed. But now I'm deputy leader I will make sure that at the next internal election there will be a cap.
How many of the MPs in your party are honest in their financial affairs?
I don't know of any that aren't. If I thought anyone wasn't, I'd report them.
Is it true that you remortgaged your house to help fund your deputy leadership campaign?
Yes. And I trust Alistair Darling will keep interest rates low! But internal elections shouldn't be a spending arms race any more than the general election. Spending on both should be capped.
Fidel Castro: hero of the left, or dangerous authoritarian dictator?
Hero of the left – but time for Cuba to move on.
How can you possibly give proper attention to any of your five jobs?
Because they are all to do with equality and democracy.
I'm one of your constituents and am totally against the congestion charge. Will you please try to change Ken's mind?
Sorry, no. Ken wants to reduce carbon emissions and cut traffic jams. So the C-charge and better public transport is the way forward.
Now that the dust has settled, will you apologise for voting for the Iraq war?
No, because I thought that there were weapons of mass destruction. But, if I'd have known there weren't, I wouldn't have.
What has been your proudest moment as an MP?
Being part of Labour's team that kicked the Tories out in 1997.
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