James Forsyth James Forsyth

Harman’s biggest weakness

There’s a smart piece in this week’s Economist on what might be the biggest obstacle to Harriet Harman becoming Labour leader after the next election, the narrowness of her range: 

“Ms Harman also personifies a rather narrow sect of Labour thought. Unkindly nicknamed “Hattie Harperson” for her political correctness, she has often championed a cultural rather than economic leftism associated with the bolshier London boroughs in the 1980s. The Equality Bill she is shepherding through Parliament, with its new rights for women and minorities, is a kind of manifesto for Harmanism. Critics of her preoccupation with sexism often make her point for her with their ugly tone (“treachery in high heels” was one columnist’s verdict). They also underestimate the role her harsh and lonely introduction to Parliament—where, heavily pregnant, she joined just nine other Labour women in 1982—played in shaping her views.

But cultural politics of this sort does not animate many of her party’s bedrock members, for whom Labour is just what its name implies: a movement for the economic betterment of working people. Ms Harman got little support from the unions in the deputy-leadership race, despite being married to an important trade unionist. And that was before the recession made the culture wars seem kitsch. Yet Ms Harman cannot express her thoughts on economic matters without provoking charges of sharp-elbowed self-promotion.” The problem for Harman is that it is not easy to see how she can acquire economic credibility between now and the leadership contest that will follow the next election. This is a particular problem for her given that those she’ll likely be competing against–Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, James Purnell Jon Cruddas–all have a political economy.

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