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Andy McSmith's Diary: Was Harriet Harman discriminated against for being useless?


Damian McBride, the former Labour spin doctor sometimes referred to as McPoison, was thought to have gained an inner calm while working for the Catholic charity Cafod, a job he recently left ahead of the appearance of a paperback version of his annoyingly readable memoirs. Today, though, he blew a fuse. What set him off was the news that Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, was implicitly accusing McBride’s old boss, Gordon Brown, of sexism.

Delivering the Speakers Lecture in Parliament, Ms Harman complained: “Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour Party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as Deputy Prime Minister. If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened? Would they have put up with it?”

She also remarked that when the G20 world leaders met in London, she was invited to a dinner for the leaders’ wives.

McBride did not think much of either point. The winner of the 2007 deputy leadership campaign was never going to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister, whoever he or she might be, he claimed, and the dinner was for “Britain’s leading women from all walks of life” of whom Harriet was surely one. The person at Brown’s side during the G20 negotiations was a different woman, Shriti Vadera. “Why?” he wrote. “Because she was the world expert on what needed to happen. With all due respect, Harriet was not.”

And on the general charge of sexism: “Gordon divides the world into only two categories: useless and not useless; that is the only basis on which he judges anyone.”

Love that phrase “with all due respect”.

Sack the photo editor

When the Minister for Skills, the high-flying Tory MP Matthew Hancock, posed in a skate park on the South Bank in central London for a photograph that appeared in Total Politics magazine – publicising the rebranding of London’s so-called “Boris bikes” – neither he nor the photographer noticed the graffiti on the column behind him. But someone from the Buzzfeed website did. In bold letters it said “Sack Cameron”.

The Russians are coming

Patrick O’Flynn, the newly elected Ukip MEP, started a new Twitter account when he left his old job as a columnist for the Daily Express. The old one, meanwhile, has taken on a new life. At its head there is a photograph of a young woman reclining in a very short skirt, beneath is a string of messages in Russian, including one that, when translated, says “Ahahahaha I haven’t a single friend online.”

Poor, sad devushka. Someone should put her in touch with the MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock: he likes Russian women.

Nothing to speak of

Later this week there will be an anniversary that may go uncelebrated. The Baroness Falkender, who was once famous as Harold Wilson’s fiery personal assistant, will have completed 40 years as a Labour member of the House of Lords. When it was announced in 1974 that Marcia Williams, as she then was, was being elevated to the peerage, the furore was such that the Labour MP Dennis Skinner happily forecast that it would hasten the abolition of the House of Lords. But in the ensuing decades, all has gone quiet.

Baroness Falkender occasionally clocks in to claim her £300 daily attendance allowance, but you will not find a Baroness Falkender speech in any back number of Hansard: in 40 years as a legislator she has not uttered a public word in the Lords. No harm done there.