The deputy leader of the Labour Party spoke to UEA:TV. Photo: Hugo Douglas-Deane.
A big name in modern politics, Harriet Harman is known to many as a comeback queen. Earning this accolade due to the way she has rebuilt her standing in the Labour party after being sacked from Tony Blair’s cabinet in 1998, she is still a key player in this year’s election as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, a PPC for Camberwell and Peckham and an avid campaigner on women’s issues.
When Harriet Harman first entered parliament in 1982, it was a parliament made up of 97% men. It would be another 15 years until the role of Minister for Women was introduced (now known as Minister for Women and Equalities), a change that was spearheaded by Harman herself.
Now, however, she feels that the role has fizzled out. In an interview with UEA:TV back in January Harman said: “Equality is not going to happen on its own, it needs to be fought for” and she sure has fought. Throughout her time in politics, Harman has focussed on women’s representation, including the controversial women-only shortlists in 50% of all target seats.
Introduced in 1993, this campaign resulted in the election of 101 Labour women MPs in 1997. However this didn’t go without criticism, with some claiming women-only shortlists send the message that women are not able to make it alone.
Nonetheless, in 2015 Harman is disappointed with the progression and development of the role, asking if anyone has even heard of the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently. In this, she moves her answer away from focussing purely on women. She said that unless there is a minister there to support the grassroots desire for equality for the disabled, for the LGBT+ community, for those who are unfairly treated due to race or ethnicity and for women, that equality simply won’t happen.
Naturally critical of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, she believes that progress towards equality has stalled and that the clocks are beginning to turn back, stressing that if these parties are reelected the case will only worsen.
However, it seems that Harman is only concerned about one of the two coalition partners this election, telling Zoë Jones of UEA:TV that: “there will only be one Prime Minister in number ten Downing Street, and the reality is that that will only be a Labour or Tory Prime Minster”. With a lot of media attention over the last few days being dedicated to the possibility of a Labour/SNP coalition, it could be the case that the Prime Minister will be from the Labour party, but the possibility of a coalition may not be something which sits well with Harman.
She believes that if you have coalitions, you get a situation where promises are made and then broken due to the power-sharing nature of a coalition, citing the Liberal Democrats as an example of this. If you vote for a manifesto then you want it to be delivered, she said, and that is “not going to happen if you vote Ukip, Green or Lib Dem”.
Later in the interview, Harman was asked how important she felt the student vote was to the Labour Party. Starting out by reaffirming that it is “really important for the legitimacy of our democracy that everyone is on the register and is entitled to vote”, she then identified two key problems she saw with student voting figures.
These were that students are either not registering to vote at all, or are registered but aren’t voting. Whilst she didn’t reveal exactly why she thought those in the latter group weren’t voting, she did use this opportunity to highlight Labour’s criticism of the coalition in terms of encouraging people to register to vote.
In her criticism of the current government, Harman said that those who were older, who lived in the countryside and those who own their own home are much more likely to be registered to vote. On the other hand, young people, those who rent their home, those who live in the city or those who come from a black and minority ethnic background were likely not to be registered, creating an inequality in the system. It is for this reason, she says, that although Labour wants everyone to be voting for them, this is even more true of young people as if only older people vote “democracy is skewed”.
Considering that policy was most likely still being devised in January, when this interview took place, it is unsurprising that Harman was not able to offer much in the way of what Labour would be promising voters this election.
However, she was able to share the Labour proposal for a Time to Care fund which would increase the numbers of doctors, nurses and home carers, as well as combining the health and social care services. It has since been revealed that this £2.5bn fund does not match the £8bn budget shortfall which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have promised to meet.
The interview finished by returning to an issue close to Harman’s heart, women’s rights.
Speaking about The Sun’s Page 3, controversial on campus due to the boycott of the Sun in union outlets, Harman said that her objection to the feature wasn’t about the young women who are posing for the newspaper, but instead with “the editorial decision that this is news and in a newspaper the role of women is not what women are doing in all walks of life”. She went on to emphasise that: “they report news about men, but when it comes to women they seemed to be dressed only in their knickers”.
Since her beginnings in politics in the eighties Harman has spoken for women, and seems to be loved and loathed in equal measure. But, the truth is that come 7th May 2015, if the Labour party take victory, she could be the first female Deputy Prime Minister – and that is something for women everywhere to be extremely proud of.