On the Politics Show, Sunday 04 May 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Harriet Harman MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Harriet Harman MP
JON SOPEL: Joining me here in the studio now is the Deputy Labour, Harriet Harman, welcome to the Politics Show.
HARRIET HARMAN: Thank you.
JON SOPEL: So the message seems to be, you're going to go out and listen and reflect, is that right.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, I think that we do have to reflect on what people were saying in the election on Thursday and recognize that people are feeling the pinch and we've got to have a sharper focus on family finances. But at the same time ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So when did you stop listening.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think that the question of the 10p tax rate, at a time when people's food bills were going up and fuel bills were going up, I think the fact that we were slow to bring in our package to compensate people who were going to lose out from the change in 10p, we recognize that and I think it's right that we've been big enough to say, yes we got that one wrong. But I think we've also got a ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: It wasn't that you were big enough it was only when you were facing absolutely certain defeat that you were big enough, until then you were saying there was no problem.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, we've - with that last budget we did a great deal to improve the income of lower income families with children and with pensioners.
But there were two particular groups that we didn't act early enough to deal with their situation against a background of people having genuine concerns about increasing prices. So I do think we have to have a sharper focus on family finances and we will. But I think also we must recognize, and I do think that people should be reassured, because we are confident about the fundamentals of the economy, the really fundamental issue about keeping steady economic growth, about ensuring there are jobs in the economy and low unemployment.
We know that people are feeling the pinch in their family finances, but actually - and we know that there's an economic storm internationally - but we are confident that we're in the best possible position to weather that storm. So you know, we do have to listen and reflect on people's concern that they're feeling the pinch, but we've also got to reassure people that the fundamentals of the economy are as sound as they could be.
JON SOPEL: You say you've got to listen and reflect and what you've just said sounds to me that you already know what the British people think, so there is no need for that.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well no, I said we didn't act quickly enough in relation to the 10p and we've got to recognize why that happened and how that happened and make sure it doesn't happen again in the future. But we've also got to reassure people that the economic fundamentals are sound in what we know is the difficult economic circumstances internationally.
JON SOPEL: Are people taxed too highly?
HARRIET HARMAN: I think at a time when people are feeling the pinch then that's why the question of the 10p was a particular problem and we have to do as much as we can to help people who are struggling, low income families - certainly, yes of course we do.
JON SOPEL: Are people taxed too much.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, the burden of taxation is not as high actually, as it was at one point under the previous Labour government and we have to make sure that we raise enough taxes to ensure that we've got ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Eleven years ago.
HARRIET HARMAN: Yeah, but we've got to make sure that you raise enough taxes that we can continue to invest in education and in the health services and so you know, it's always a difficult balance.
JON SOPEL: Yes, I just want - you've just said you're going to listen and I'm sure if you stopped people in the street outside here in Television Centre in West London, they're going to say I feel I'm taxed too highly.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think that, you know, tax is never popular with anybody but I think that people also want to see good education ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: (overlaps) ... you're saying that we've made a strategic decision that actually, okay, people might say to us, we're taxed too highly, but actually, we believe as a Labour government, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to say, that actually, education and health spending is more important than cutting taxes.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think there's a range of views out there of course there are. People want more investment in education 'cos they know it's not only important for their children's opportunities for their lives, but they also know it's important for our economy that we have a skilled and educated workforce. So, of course people want to have lower taxes, but they also want to have continued investment in public services and that's what we've tried to do. That's why we reduced the 22p down to 20p of the basic rate of tax.
JON SOPEL: If you're having to go out to listen to people to find out what their views are and what their concerns are, doesn't that rather suggest that you've simply lost touch with the British people and maybe, after ten years of being chauffeured around in your ministerial cars, ordinary people think that you live on a different planet and that was what we saw in the votes that took place on Thursday.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, I think that people were concerned about their family finances and they made that felt during the election, that is absolutely the case. But we are concerned and I mean, I do myself go out and about and listen to what people are saying and we did hear it very much on the doorstep in the election campaign, that we've been slow to act on the 10p against a background of people being concerned about food and fuel prices and that we have to have more of a focus on family finances as well as on the overall economic strategy of keeping the economy stable.
JON SOPEL: We've had Geoff Hoon saying, there is no crisis. Jack Straw says we have to maintain the economic strategy, it sounds like nothing is going to change. If you're coming on the Politics Show today to tell us that there is going to be change, what is that change.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think one of the things actually that will change after the election results is there will be a much sharper focus on what the alternative agenda is, such as it is, from the Conservatives and they will come under scrutiny because I think they've been in a position to be able to offer everything to all people ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: And we've going to be speaking to Michael Gove about all of this. Let's stick to Labour's problems because doesn't that rather trivialize the scale of what you're up against.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well no, it doesn't because fundamentally and ultimately, politics is about a choice and the choices that people have made on Thursday is to say, you know, look, we are feeling the pinch, we are feeling our family finances, we're feeling worried about what's going to happen next and we are going to respond to that and whether it's on people worried about the value of their house, whether it's about - worried about the family shopping budget or worried about the cost of filling up the car, we're going to bring all that together and make sure we have a real focus on family finances as well as the macro issues.
JON SOPEL: And what if after all this listening, the people turn round to you and say, the problem is Gordon Brown.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, I don't think that that's the case. I think that what people want is to be able to be better off in their lives, to have a strong economy and good public services and to have a sense of security. That's what they ...
JON SOPEL: So you've made your mind up on that one as well?
HARRIET HARMAN: No. I think that that's what people want and it's for us to make sure that that's what they get and then that will be delivered and that will be the situation.
JON SOPEL: Are you saying that after eleven months of Gordon Brown being premier there is no issue there at all, about his leadership, when he has gone from a position of plus forty seven approval ratings when he took over last summer and is now down to minus thirty seven.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, I think the wrong thing to do at this stage would be to engage in the whole question of the leadership, firstly because people don't want us looking inwards to ourselves and navel gazing. They want us to look at their circumstances and secondly, because when there is difficult economic international turbulence, the very best-placed person to lead the country through that is the person who had a remarkable record for ten years as the Chancellor, and that's Gordon Brown (interjection) ... So I'm you know, I just don't think there's any point in engaging in all that speculation and that's not what our focus is going to be. It's going to be on families and their finances. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: (overlaps) ... but when we had a former cabinet minister saying to us that frankly, we can't be like we were in the '80s with Michael Foot, there's no room for sentimentality and unless we do something very urgently we're in a lot of problems.
HARRIET HARMAN: Who was that?
JON SOPEL: It was a former cabinet minister.
HARRIET HARMAN: Do they have a name?
JON SOPEL: Yeah, they do. But I mean, you know, they spoke to us off the record as you often speak to people off the record.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well, no, I mean I don't do that sort of thing and I just don't think, I mean I don't know who it was or why they said it, but I don't think the analogy with previous leaders and Michael Foot is the case at all and I think that Gordon has a great deal of commitment, he's got a strong record and he's (interjection) ...
JON SOPEL: Are you humbled?
HARRIET HARMAN: ... and he's the right person to lead us through.
JON SOPEL: Are you humbled.
HARRIET HARMAN: I think we're disappointed. We've very disappointed but it puts a big responsibility on us to actually recognize what people were saying and act on it.
JON SOPEL: Humbled?
HARRIET HARMAN: Determined. More determined.
JON SOPEL: Harriet Harman, thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH HARRIET HARMAN
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The Politics Show Sunday 11 May 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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