Harriet Ruth Harman (born 30 July 1950) is a British Labour Party politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for Camberwell and Peckham since 1982. She has been Deputy Leader of the Labour Party since 2007, and is also currently Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Harman was first appointed to the Cabinet in 1997 under Tony Blair, as Secretary of State for Social Security and the first ever Minister for Women.[2] After holding further Cabinet and government positions on two further separate occasions, she became the Leader of the Labour Party and the Leader of the Opposition, following the resignation of Gordon Brown as Labour Leader and Prime Minister in May 2010. She held both posts temporarily until Ed Milibandsubsequently won the 2010 Labour leadership election.

Harman deputises for Miliband whenever he is absent for Prime minister's questions in her role as Shadow Deputy Prime Minister. She is currently the longest continuously-serving female MP in the House of Commons.[3][4]

Before 1997[edit]

Early life and career[edit]Edit

Harman was born Harriet Ruth Harman at 108 Harley Street in London[1] to Anna Harman (née Spicer), a solicitor, married to a Harley Street physician John Bishop Harman.[5] Her parents each had non-conformist backgrounds – her grandfather, ophthalmic surgeon Nathaniel Bishop Harman, was a prominentUnitarian[6] and the Spicer family were well known congregationalists. Her aunt was Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford, and her cousins include writers Lady Antonia FraserRachel Billington, and Thomas Pakenham.[7][dead link] Harman is also related to Joseph Chamberlain and Richard Chamberlain.[8]

Harman attended a fee-paying public school, St Paul's Girls' School and then gained a BA in Politics from the University of York. During her time at York, she attended Goodricke College, met future long-term partner Konrad[disambiguation needed] of The Willow Restaurant, and was involved with student politics. After York Harman then went on to qualify as a lawyer.

Harman worked for Brent Law Centre in London. Between 1978 and 1982, Harman was employed legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties. In this capacity, she was found in contempt of court before becoming MP for Peckham in a by-election in 1982.[9] Harman subsequently took the case to theEuropean Court of Human Rights, successfully arguing that the prosecution had breached her right to freedom of expression. Harman v United Kingdom is still considered a significant case in British public law.[10]

Harman was later involved in a European Court of Human Rights case against MI5. During a 1984 television interview by whistleblower Cathy Massiter, it was revealed personal files were held by MI5 on Harman and on the by then former General Secretary of the NCCL, Patricia Hewitt.[11] They successfully argued that there had been an infringement of their rights because MI5 was not a legally constituted and democratically accountable organisation, this being the minimum standard in democracy.[11] The success of the case led to enactment of the Security Service Act 1989.[11]

Opposition Member of Parliament[edit]Edit

In the by-election held on 28 October 1982, she was elected Member of Parliament for Peckham with a majority of 3,931 votes.

In 1984, Harman became a Shadow Social Services minister and served as a Shadow Health minister in 1987. After the 1992 general election she entered theShadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992–1994) and later served as Shadow Employment Secretary (1994–1995), Shadow Health Secretary (1995–1996) and Shadow Social Security Secretary (1996–1997).[12]

Labour in Government[edit]Edit

Tony Blair as PM[edit]Edit

After Labour's victory in the 1997 general election, she became Secretary of State for Social Security and was given the task of reforming the Welfare State. During this time, her more notable policies included introducing a minimum income guarantee and winter fuel payments for the elderly. It was later ruled that the fuel payments policy breached European sex discrimination laws in that men had to wait five years longer to receive them than women.[13] The policy was amended so both sexes qualified at age 60. Harman was sacked from the position in 1998. According to many in the media, this was the result of a series of public rows with junior minister Frank Field, though others also cited her decision to cut benefits to lone parents as a factor.[14] Harman voted with the party on all but a few instances during its period in government.

Harman made a return to the front bench after the 2001 general election, with her appointment to the office of Solicitor General, thus becoming the first female Solicitor General. In accordance with convention, she was appointed as Queen's Counsel, although she had previously had no rights of audience in the higher courts, did not obtain them and never presented a case during her time as Solicitor General, or at all.

After the 2005 general election, she became a Minister of State in the Department for Constitutional Affairs with responsibilities including constitutional reform, legal aid and court processes and she represented Lord Falconer in the House of Commons on the frontbench.

On 16 March 2006, Harman relinquished her ministerial responsibilities for electoral administration and reform of the House of Lords. She stated that this was to avoid any potential conflict of interest after her husband Jack Dromey, the Treasurer of the Labour Party, announced that he would be investigating a number of loans made to the Labour Party that had not been disclosed to party officers. She retained her other responsibilities.[15]

Deputy Leadership election[edit]Edit

Harman announced her intention to stand for Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party when John Prescott stood down.[16] On 27 November 2006, the Press Association reported that she had commissioned an opinion poll from YouGov which found that Harman would be the most likely potential deputy leader to increase the Labour vote at the next general election.[17] She used this point to argue that she should become the next Deputy Prime Minister in an interview with the BBC.[18]

While she supported the Iraq War, during the Deputy Leadership campaign, she said that she would not have voted for it had she been in full possession of the facts, specifically about the lack of concrete evidence of weapons of mass destruction.[19][20] When asked by Jeremy Paxman if the Labour Party should say sorry for what happened, Jon Cruddas said that it should and Harman replied that she agreed with his statement. Later Harman appeared to backtrack on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and asked for evidence to be provided of where she had stated that the party should apologise.[21]

Harman did not have the support of any major unions, and helped to fund her campaign for deputy leadership by taking out a personal loan of £10,000[22] and a £40,000 extension to her mortgage.[23] Harman failed to report some donations and loans on time, and was subject to an Electoral Commission inquiry for breaches of electoral law. The commission said that her "failure to report on time is a serious matter" though the case was not handed over to the police.[24]

On 24 June 2007, in what was a close contest Harman was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.[25] Alan Johnson had led in all but the first of the previous rounds, but when second-preference votes had been redistributed after the fourth round, Harman stood elected with 50.43% of the vote to Johnson's 49.56%[26]

Campaign donations[edit]Edit

Main article: 2007 Labour party donation scandal

In November 2007, it emerged that property developer David Abrahams' secretary Janet Kidd had donated £5,000 to Harman's successful deputy leadership bid. After an investigation by The Mail on Sunday newspaper into other donations made by people associated with Abrahams, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's assertion that all such monies would be returned, Harman issued a statement saying she accepted the donation on 4 July "in good faith," had registered the monies with the Electoral Commission and the Register of Members' Interests, and that she "was not aware of any funding arrangements... between David Abrahams and Janet Kidd".[27]

Gordon Brown becomes PM[edit]Edit

Harman was known as a long term supporter of Gordon Brown and is regarded as a personal friend.[28] On 28 June 2007, after she became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Brown was appointed Prime Minister, Harman joined Brown's Cabinet as Leader of the House of CommonsLord Privy Seal and Minister for Women and Equality, and was also given the title of Labour Party Chair. Unlike the previous Deputy Leader, John Prescott, Harman was not given the title of 'Deputy Prime Minister'.

When Harman, as Leader of the House of Commons, stood in for Gordon Brown during Prime minister's questions on Wednesday 2 April 2008 (due to the Prime Minister attending a NATO summit in Romania), she became the first female Labour Minister to take Prime Minister's Questions. She subsequently repeated this during Brown's absences.

Harman attacked the Conservative Party at the Labour Party Conference 2007, referring to them as the "nasty party" and suggesting that there would be little competition at the next election.[29]

On 1 April 2008 the Daily Mail reported that Harman had decided to wear a kevlar-reinforced stab vest while touring her Peckham constituency under police guard. On 2 April The Guardian relayed information from the Metropolitan Police that "the type of Met Vest she wore over her jacket protected her from knife attacks and bullets, and, for her at least, was optional".[30] Harman compared the decision to wearing a hard hat while touring a building site, which led the BBC's John Humphrys to respond, during an interview for BBC Radio 4, "You wear a hard hat on a building site because... there is the danger that something might drop on your head. You don't need to wear a bullet-proof vest on the streets of London, do you!" Harman told the BBC that the neighbourhood police team she was with put on their stab vests and gave her one to wear as well.[31]

In April 2008, Harman's blog was hacked and changed to state that she had joined the Conservative Party. Harman later admitted when questioned by Sky News that the incident was a result of her using "Harriet" and "Harman" as her username and password.[32][33]

Fathers and families[edit]Edit

In May 2008 an interview she gave to think tank Civitas Harman stated that there was "no ideal type of household in which to bring up children".[34][35]

In June 2008, two members of Fathers 4 Justice staged a protest on the roof of her house in Herne Hill, South East London, with a banner that read: "A father is for life not just conception." After they climbed back off the roof they were arrested by the Metropolitan Police and bailed until 16 July 2008.[36] On the morning of 9 July 2008, Fathers 4 Justice again climbed on Harman's roof with a banner that read, "Stop war on dads."[37] One of the complaints of the protesters was that Harman had refused their requests for a meeting yet she denied that they had even requested such a meeting.[38]

Use of statistics[edit]Edit

During the Late-2000s recession, and following a government report which suggested that women were twice as likely to lose their jobs as men and feared losing their jobs more than men, Harman stated: "We will not allow women to become the victims of this recession".[39] However, some statistics contradicted her position, including the Office for National Statistics report on the issue which stated "the economic downturn in 2008 has impacted less on women in employment than men". According to the ONS, men were losing their jobs at twice the rate of women. The Government Equalities Office insisted the ONS figures did not render pointless its efforts to help women.[40][41]

In June 2009, Sir Michael Scholar, head of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to Harman to warn her that different headline figures used by the ONS and Government Equalities Office with regards to pay differentiation between men and women might undermine public trust in official statistics. The GEO's headline figure was 23%, which was based on median hourly earnings of all employees, not the 12.8%, based on median hourly earnings of full-time employees only, used by the ONS. Scholar wrote: "It is the Statistics Authority’s view that use of the 23% on its own, without qualification, risks giving a misleading quantification of the gender pay gap".[42][43]

MPs' expenses[edit]Edit

In January 2009, Harman proposed a rule change to exempt MPs' expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. Her parliamentary order aimed to remove "most expenditure information held by either House of Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act". It meant that, under the law, journalists and members of the public would no longer be entitled to learn details of their MP's expenses. Labour MPs were to be pressured to vote for this measure by use of a three line whip. Her proposal was withdrawn when the Conservative Party said they would vote against, and an online campaign bymySociety.[44] The failure of the motion led to the disclosure of expenses of British Members of Parliament.

In December 2010 it emerged that Harman was amongst 40 MPs who had secretly repaid wrongly claimed expenses between 2008 and 2010. In November 2010 Harman's parliamentary private secretary Ian Lavery had blocked a motion designed to allow the repayments to be made public.[45]


In November 2010, The Times reported[46] that at the end of 2009 Harman had hosted a new year's house party at her second home in Suffolk with guests including Patricia Hewitt, at "least one other minister" and another MP. It reported that she told guests that Gordon Brown was "hopeless" and that there were at least five members of the Cabinet who would tell Gordon Brown that he should resign. After the Christmas recess, Hewitt and Geoff Hoon wrote an open letter calling for a leadership election. This failed to get support from any serving minister, including Harman, and no election occurred, leading to the accusation that "Harriet bottled it".

Equality Bill[edit]Edit

Main article: Equality Act 2010

As part of a proposed Equality Bill, Harman announced a consultation on changing the existing discrimination laws, including options for reverse discrimination in employment. Under the proposals, employers would be legally allowed to discriminate in favour of a job candidate on the basis of their race or gender where the candidates were otherwise equally qualified. Employers would not be required to use these powers, but would be able to do so without the threat of legal action for discriminatory practices. The white paper also proposed measures to end age discrimination, promote transparency in organisations and introduce a new equality duty on the public sector.[47] These changes, if made, could face a challenge under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, colour, language, religion and on several other criteria.[48] Michael Millar, writing in The Spectator, was of the opinion that, "The Equality Bill before parliament today gives employers the right to choose an ethnic minority candidate or female candidate over a white male, specifically because they are an ethnic minority or female."[49] Some commentators, however, such as Graham Kirby, writing for the blogging site The Samosa, have defended the act as essentially meritocratic and necessary.[50]

Harman also commissioned a report on allowing political parties to draw up all-black shortlists[51] designed to increase the number of black MPs in Westminster. A further report proposed extended the arrangement allowing all-women shortlists beyond 2015[52] which will fail to have any impact in the 2010 general election.[53] These proposals are supported by members of the three major parties, though no others allow discrimination in their shortlists.[54] Inside the Labour Party, Harman has said she does "not agree with all-male leaderships" because men "cannot be left to run things on their own"; and that, consequently, one of Labour's top two posts should always be held by a woman.[55] She had also stated that the collapse of Lehman Brothers might have been averted had it been 'Lehman Sisters’. These comments caused accusations of sexism and "insidious bigotry".[56]

Return to Opposition[edit]Edit

Following the resignation of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party on 11 May 2010, Harman automatically became the temporary leader of the party as well as the Leader of the Opposition, entitling her to the salary and government car that come with the role. Although she was informally described in the media as 'Acting' Leader, she was fully Leader by the terms of the party's constitution, albeit on a temporary basis, as was the case with Margaret Beckett in 1994.[57]

Following Brown's resignation, she quickly announced that she would remain Deputy Leader rather than standing for election as Leader. Her only public explanation was the assertion that: “You can’t run for leader at the same time as being deputy leader”.[58]

She nominated Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, to prevent the election from being all male. But she nonetheless asserted her intention to remain neutral throughout the contest and said, "This is a very crucial period and we have got five fantastic candidates. All of them would make excellent leaders of the party."[59]

Following Ed Miliband's election as leader, she returned to her role as Deputy Leader, shadowing Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister and with the title of Deputy Leader of the Opposition.[1] When Miliband assigned portfolios on 8 October 2010, he appointed her Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.[60] In 2010, Harman referred to Danny Alexander as a "ginger rodent" in a speech to theScottish Labour Party conference. This was greeted with cheers and laughter from the conference, but the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party described them as gingerism and "anti-Scottish". Harman apologised for the offence caused. In 2011, Harman was moved to become Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport due to her good performance over the phone hacking scandal and her several attacks to the David Cameron's association with Andy Coulson.[citation needed] In 2014, she accused Nick Clegg of turning into a Tory during Prime Minister's Questions.

Honours and assessments Edit

In February 2013 she was assessed as the 14th most powerful woman in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.[67]

Personal life Edit

Harman married Jack Dromey in 1982 in Brent, London, after meeting him on the picket line of the Grunwick dispute in 1977; she was legal advisor to the Grunwick Strike Committee. They have two sons (born February 1983 and November 1984) and a daughter, Amy (born January 1987), with the latter having the surname "Harman".[68] Labour colleague Patricia Hewitt is godmother to one of her children.[14]She has a house in Suffolk,[69] in addition to her home in Herne Hill, South London.[70]

In 1996, Harman sent her younger son Joseph to St Olave's Grammar School, Orpington a selective grammar school after sending her elder son Harry to the selective, Roman Catholic London Oratory School, a grant-maintained school. Harman said: "This is a state school that other children in my son's class will be going to... And admission is open to every child in Southwark irrespective of money or who their parents are". In fact, whilst every child in Southwark was eligible to apply for admission to the school, admission was open only to only those applicants who achieved the highest scores in a selective examination, offered once a year, on a Saturday, at the school site in the London Borough of Bromley. That year, 90 places were available and approximately 700 candidates took the examination. [71]

Harman is a committed feminist, having said, "I am in the Labour Party because I am a feminist. I am in the Labour Party because I believe in equality."[72]

Motoring convictions[edit] Edit

In 2003, Harman was fined £400 and banned from driving for seven days after being convicted of driving at 99 mph (159 km/h) on a motorway, 29 mph (47 km/h) above the speed limit.[73]

In 2007, Harman was issued with a £60 fixed penalty notice and given three penalty points on her licence for driving at 50 mph (80 km/h) in a temporary 40 mph (64 km/h) zone. Harman paid the fine several months late and avoided appearing at Ipswich magistrates court.[69] Harman was again caught breaking the speed limit the following April, this time in a 30 mph zone, receiving a further 3 points on her driving licence.[74]

In January 2010, Harman pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention in relation to an incident on 3 July where she struck another vehicle whilst driving using a mobile phone, she admitted the offence in court.[75][76] Harman was fined £350, ordered to pay £70 costs, a £15 victim surcharge and had three points added to her licence.[77] Road safety organisations such as Brake condemned the leniency of the punishment and decision to drop the charge of driving whilst using a mobile phone.[78] The judge defended the decision stating "Ms Harman’s guilty plea to driving without due care and attention included her admitting that she had been using a mobile phone at the time".[79]

Styles[edit] Edit

  • Harriet Harman (1950–1982)
  • Harriet Harman MP (1982–1997)
  • The Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman MP (1997–2001)
  • The Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman QC MP (2001–)[80]
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