The Sketch: Hatty Harman's new dawn is a false one

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The Independent Online

Harriet Harman's style as Leader of the House has had its admirers in the Sketch, but the new dawn she promised is as far away as ever. There are three problems with her tenure:

1) As a parliamentarian, her actions reveal no ambition beyond being a creature of the executive.

2) Intellectually, she's that Barbie doll designed by Lisa Simpson.

3) As an arbiter of political propriety she's one bust fish.

Before we call in the lawyers, let's look at these.

1) A major announcement from the Home Office was made yesterday proposing to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days. This is, I think a hangover from Gordon Brown's conference slogan about Strength (putting Tories into the Weak camp). It's a whopping announcement of national significance that clearly deserved an oral statement in the House.

Instead, a written statement; a sheaf of "complex and controversial" pages. The House had no chance to put questions their (many, many questions) to the minister. Harriet waved all criticism away. The Home Secretary had acted impeccably. Is this "respecting the House"?

2) David Howarth took up a point from the Home Office proposal. Parliament would now be put in the position of voting on how long an individual would be held in jail. This is a constitutional abomination. He mentioned that a similar decision was made during the French Revolution. The collapse of the separation of powers led to the Committee of Public Safety and thence to the Terror. She waved it all away. She may not have grasped the principle (she's not a proper QC, you know).

3) Stuart Jackson remarked that the Chancellor was addressing a Labour fundraising party at which was present a banker who was pitching for Northern Rock. Was not this a conflict of interest? Waved it away. Bye, bye!

Sir Patrick Cormack, the mildest man in the Palace of Westminster returned to his theme that she should not choose the topical debate that's held on Thursdays. Last week, if you remember, at the height of the party funding row, she chose the topic of Apprenticeships.

Sir Patrick implies that she cannot handle the conflict of interest between being a cabinet minister and Leader of the House. By Sir Patrick's standards, that is to march down the aisle and slap her 10 times round the face with a wet plaice.

And what about the undeclared 40,000 she used to pull half a percentage point ahead of Alan Johnson in the deputy leadership race? She refuses to recognise the existence of that charge. To Theresa May's question, she airily said that all sorts of questions had been asked. I suppose the police may get more substance than she's prepared to give Parliament.