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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 September 2006, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Labour posts
On Sunday 17 September 2006, Andrew Marr talked to Harriet Harman about the race for the Labour party deputy leadership

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Harriet Harman MP
Harriet Harman MP

ANDREW MARR: Harriet Harman joins me now. Welcome. Well we might as well sort that out, clear that up straight away. So when do you think he should go?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I've given him the benefit of my view privately. And I think lots of people have got their views ..

ANDREW MARR: Yeah.

HARRIET HARMAN: .. about when he should go and no doubt he'll, he'll, he'll listen to them all. But it's, it's a decision for him.

ANDREW MARR: So when people like Geoff Hoon say May is too late, he should go before that, you can't tell me which way you'd go on that particular ..

HARRIET HARMAN: No, no ..

ANDREW MARR: You can't?

HARRIET HARMAN: Absolutely not.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Let's talk about the deputy leadership. Do you assume that that becomes vacant at the same time as the leadership, that's the sort of timescale we're talking about?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I mean what, I assume so. But really I thought it was important since I'd made a decision that when the vacancy arises I would be prepared to throw my hat in the ring, I thought that saying you know, I'll say at the time, it just you know, I, since I'd made the decision I might as well just answer the question - yes.

ANDREW MARR: As you suggest we're still waiting for others we think will - a whole lot of hats are still to arrive. But it looks like it's going to be quite a big contest, quite a wide contest. Good for the party?

HARRIET HARMAN: Very good for the party. I mean I think that the kind of bitterness and the rows of last week have, have made the party nervous and anxious and kind of let's just kind of get through it and have you know perhaps just a stable and orderly transition. But I think we can do much more than that. We need to ..

ANDREW MARR: Stable and orderly isn't enough?

HARRIET HARMAN: No I don't think it is enough. I think it should be stable and orderly but I think we ought to use the, the election process for leader and deputy and all the candidates that are putting themselves forward as an opportunity to build the party and also debate our progressive future.

Because it's twelve years since we've had an election where ordinary party members, individual, hard working party members can vote for the next leader and deputy. And we're having a big debate about our future. So I think really we should be saying you know join the party and shape the future.

ANDREW MARR: So when you hear somebody like Richard Wilson, a Labour Party member, very upset about the war and so on, are you saying that you would like, people like him, you'd like Labour Party members whatever their views to become involved in an open debate about, for instance, foreign policy in the Labour Party?

HARRIET HARMAN: Oh absolutely. Because the task ahead of us is to win back those members that we've lost. In nineteen ninety seven we had four hundred thousand members of the Labour Party and we're now down to about two hundred thousand. So we need to win back the members that we lost and we ..

ANDREW MARR: But you're only, you're only going to win them back if you not only engage them but then listen to them. Is it possible that a Labour government will actually begin to reflect some more of the views of its members?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think part of renewing the party, the challenge that we face of renewing the party in government, is that we've got to be able to better engage with the party and also with the public. Because I think that we've been very good at doing stuff. You know we've done the minimum wage, we've cut unemployment. We've put lots - you know anywhere you go you see rebuilt hospitals and schools. But what we've not been so good at is really engaging with people and listening.

And I think that that's quite important, not just for its own sake and you know to make people feel part of, of that process of deciding the future, but also the big challenges we face ahead like pensions, like energy and the environment, like global security, actually you can't do those without the public are involved and make them sustainable.

ANDREW MARR: When you say you're going to listen to people is that more than just sort of pat them on the head after and say "Thank you very much for your views"? Are you going to listen to people and possibly change policy as a consequence?

HARRIET HARMAN: Oh absolutely. And I, I actually ..

ANDREW MARR: Even, even on foreign affairs?

HARRIET HARMAN: Absolutely. I mean I, I actually think there is no area of government policy or even the decisions that are taken at local government level. There's no area of policy that's not improved by actually listening to what people have got to say.

And I think the problem in particular with foreign policy is that traditionally foreign policy was done by you know the prime minister, the queen, ambassadors, mandarins in the Foreign Office and diplomats.

People abroad, you know left it to them to get on with it, you know they, the assumption was they didn't know about abroad or they didn't care about abroad. So the idea of having a debate about the foreign policy with the people of the country it's like foreign, the Foreign Office looked abroad rather than to Britain.

ANDREW MARR: This is dynamite. I mean Tony Blair will be thinking yikes, I'm going to have to listen to the Labour Party on the Middle East then. I'm going to have to listen to Labour Party on Iraq. We don't want that.

HARRIET HARMAN: Ah but you see in, I think as I say, in the past it used to be regarded as kind of specialised area, you know you're interested in foreign policy. Now everybody's interested in foreign policy. Because you know they see, they, they go abroad more, some people come from abroad.

They see it on the TV from all parts of the world. And also they feel that it affects immigration which they care about. And it, they, they feel it affects their security. So I think the boundary between foreign policy - that can be left, we'll get on with it in your name abroad, leave to us, we know the complexities and the difficult negotiations - I don't think that that's acceptable any more. So I think that this will be a sort of healthy recognition that people want to have ..

ANDREW MARR: So let's have a big debate, let's have a proper debate ..

HARRIET HARMAN: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: .. and saying to people in the Labour Party let's not keep it closed .. HARRIET HARMAN: Absolutely.

ANDREW MARR: .. behind closed doors?

HARRIET HARMAN: And I think you know we should have no rows. There's no place for personal bitter attacks in the Labour Party ..

ANDREW MARR: But proper political argument - okay.

HARRIET HARMAN: But we must, absolutely, we mustn't be nervous about, we mustn't sort of retreat into our shell, let's put the lid on, let's keep our head down. I think this period of the, the campaign for elections with lots of good candidates coming into the field, it's a chance not only to win back those individual members but actually involve existing members more in the debate about the progressive future for the country that the Labour Party wants to see.

ANDREW MARR: And is this, is this a debate that you think, is this the, sorry, is this the debate you think should be as it were held inside the context of the Deputy Leadership contest or do you think it's going to be a wider thing for the leadership too?

Because I mean John McConnell on the, on the left is standing, Gordon Brown is standing we assume. Do you think it should be further open than that? Do you think it should be, as quotes "Blairite candidates" too?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well you know it's not for me to, to say who should throw their hat in the ring. But you know I think it is good. You know the Labour Party is individual members have got a choice. They want to exercise that choice. They're going to be able to exercise that choice on the leadership and the deputy leadership cos as you say John Mc.... John McDonnell has said he's going to stand.

ANDREW MARR: So there is going to be a contest.

HARRIET HARMAN: So there will be a contest. But it's not for me to say somebody else should stand. And I don't necessarily think somebody needs to stand in order that you know it shouldn't be Gordon Brown because of course I'm supporting Gordon Brown.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's, let's turn to you the, the case for Harriet Harman for the Labour Party. It's a lot more than presumably the fact that you're a woman?

HARRIET HARMAN: Yes. I mean I think that, as I've said I think the Labour Party faces difficult times. You know we've got to win back the lost members. We've got to win the confidence and the trust that we've lost. And we've, I was part of the leadership team with Tony and Gordon when in the nineteen eighties and nineties, where we faced very difficult times and people thought that the Labour Party was finished.

And we actually took our, we set the strategy which helped us win in seats that we thought we would never win like Dover and Crawley and Hastings. And I was part of setting that strategy. So I think what I'm saying is I've, I know about how to help lead Labour in difficult times as well as just being there since we've had the good times. And I think we do face difficult times ahead. And I know what it takes to, to prevent us going back to the wilderness and also to look ahead positively to those future challenges. But I also do think it has got to be a woman.

ANDREW MARR: Cos ...

HARRIET HARMAN: I do think it has got to be a woman.

ANDREW MARR: You do think it's got to be a woman?

HARRIET HARMAN: Yes it has.

ANDREW MARR: Or you there may, there may be other women coming in, we'll see. But ..

HARRIET HARMAN: Indeed.

ANDREW MARR: So what you're saying is that actually, you're not in the wilderness now obviously because you're in power. But these are tough times, these are hard times now like there were back then?

HARRIET HARMAN: Yeah they're different challenges but they're challenging times. And I think that you know I've got that experience of when Labour was having difficult times and being part of the team, you know the broader leadership team. But I ...

ANDREW MARR: Bring back the fire fighters.

HARRIET HARMAN: Well yes ..

ANDREW MARR: ...

HARRIET HARMAN: I mean you know I, it's basically that experience. I've, I've, I've, I'm not going to panic if I see a difficulty because I've been involved in actually building past those difficulties. When people said you know Labour was going to be the third party. It would never be in government again. And we built that, we had determined political leadership and we had broad reach and we built forward and really built Labour up again.

ANDREW MARR: Let's just look at, look forward to next week. It's going to be a very, very odd Labour Conference isn't it?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think it'll be a good, I think it'll be a good conference. What we've got to do is not have bickering and personality you know arguments.

But I do think we've got to have a big debate. And I, and in my own constituency we're going to be setting up a sort of taskforce which is join the party and shape the future. And so I think that this can be the conference to debate the policy agenda, how we do the engagement with the public and with the party, that we haven't done as well as we should.

So I think we should be confident, positive about, about conference. And I'm not worried about it at all. I'm really looking forward to it.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think there'll be, I mean there'll be clearly quite a lot of pressure on the Prime Minister to go even furth..., go even earlier than he's announced though won't there next week?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well you know people should, I think that, I would say to people give the Prime Minister your views. I've given him my views. You know he needs to listen to the views of everybody and I'm sure he will in making up his own decision. But I think that you know we know that's going to be his decision. What we've got to do is, is get on with the debate about how we do that engagement, how we shape the future, how we face the challenges that are to come. And we need to get on with that, at the same time as giving him our advice about when we think's the best time for the transition.

ANDREW MARR: And, and your expectation of the reaction to his speech? Not a dry eye in the house?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well you know Tony, Tony Blair has led the Labour Party out of the wilderness of opposition into three election victories. And you know the party members, they want us to be in government so that we can actually do the things that we care about. And so party members are very grateful to Tony and very proud of what he's done. And I'm sure they'll want to show that.

ANDREW MARR: Harriet Harman, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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