Aide insists that Premier is still in charge despite being on holiday

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Indy Politics

Harriet Harman might have believed that she was running the country while Gordon Brown took his summer break. But the Prime Minister is taking a very different view of the Labour deputy leader's duties in his absence.

Mr Brown's official spokesman repeatedly stressed yesterday that he would still be in charge of the Government throughout his summer break in Suffolk and Scotland.

Ms Harman had seized Downing Street's keys with glee, instructing the No 10 press office to brief her on the following day's headlines and arranging a daily conference call in the building with officials and her aides.

But Mr Brown's spokesman made it clear yesterday that she had not become the first woman since Margaret Thatcher to be in control of Britain and that any important decisions would have to be referred to the Prime Minister.

"The Prime Minister remains in charge while he is on holiday," the spokesman said. "In the normal way his senior ministers are available to deal with the day-to-day business of government. Harriet Harman is one of the senior ministers available."

Ms Harman was widely viewed as Mr Brown's preferred choice of deputy before her surprise victory 13 months ago.

He has given her three government posts – Leader of the Commons, Minister for Women and Minister for Equality. But he never offered her the title of Deputy Prime Minister in succession to John Prescott, with some colleagues instead regarding Jack Straw as Mr Brown's de facto deputy.

Downing Street staff have accompanied Mr Brown to Suffolk and a temporary office has been set up in his holiday home near Southwold.

A large-screen television has also been installed in the house, although aides say that it is to enable him to watch sport rather than keep track of the machinations against his leadership.

Ministers still working in Whitehall while most of the Cabinet holidays include Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, Geoff Hoon, the Chief Whip, and John Denham, the Universities Secretary.