Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

Harman laughs off leadership jibe

Harriet Harman
Ms Harman also faced leadership jibes at PMQs

Harriet Harman's Tory shadow Alan Duncan has offered her a "comforting hug" over "cruel references" to her alleged leadership bid in the media.

To laughter from Ms Harman, he added in the Commons that they originated "from her own side".

The deputy Labour leader has been the subject of much speculation - denied - that she is after Gordon Brown's job.

Mr Duncan joked at the weekly questions session that they should debate the way MPs were treated by the press.

Ms Harman has said there is not "one iota of truth" in suggestions she is positioning herself for the leadership - but found herself the butt of Tory jibes at prime minister's questions on Wednesday.

Media attentions

She dismissed William Hague's suggestion she might "step in" while Mr Brown was in Washington as "political gossip".

After the session she also apologised for suggesting that former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin - whose 703,000-a-year pension deal has been the subject of much criticism - had been knighted for his charity work.

May I invite her to my office for a comforting hug, a heart-shaped chocolate and an openly declared hefty cheque from me, for her leadership campaign?
Alan Duncan
Shadow Commons leader

He was actually knighted for "services to banking".

At business questions on Thursday, shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan opened by saying he hoped Ms Harman had "fully recovered" - but thanked her for quickly putting the record straight.

Requesting a debate on how TV and local newspapers were coping with the recession he suggested she might be "tiring of the affectionate attentions of her friends in the media".

'Overachieved'

He went on to add: "May we have a debate on the way MPs are treated by the press? In the last few weeks we have seen some very cruel references to the right honourable lady.

"We've had 'hapless Harriet', 'the mad Hattie', 'Hattie the harridan' - and that's only from her own side.

"So may I invite her to my office for a comforting hug, a heart-shaped chocolate and an openly declared hefty cheque from me, for her leadership campaign?"

Ms Harman congratulated him on his "excellent response" and suggested Mr Duncan might himself have his eye on a promotion.

"I think he's rather overachieved," she said.

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"Surely he must at least now be on the shortlist for moving on to the Wednesday slot and standing in for the leader of the opposition."

There have been weeks of speculation in the media about cabinet ministers jockeying for position, should Labour lose the next election - due to be held by May next year. In a speech Communities Secretary Hazel Blears warned her colleagues to "get a grip".

A passionate attack Ms Harman reportedly made on City bonuses in a cabinet meeting was seen by her critics as an attempt to woo left-wingers, whose support she would need for a leadership bid.

There was also a claims she had planted a story about Mr Brown possibly being offered the job of a global financial regulator - which were dismissed by Downing Street.

Her comments in a BBC interview at the weekend about Sir Fred's pension deal were also said to have frustrated some cabinet colleagues.

It was seen as a hint at a retrospective law to claw back his 703,000-a-year pension, an idea dismissed by Lib Dem deputy Vince Cable as "potty".

But Ms Harman has dismissed reports she was planning a leadership bid. She told the BBC there was "not a shred nor iota of truth" about such claims.

"I am very proud to be Gordon Brown's loyal deputy and that is what I am," she said.

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SEE ALSO
Harman in Sir Fred honour gaffe
04 Mar 09 |  UK Politics
The Full Story: PM's questions
04 Mar 09 |  UK Politics
Why is Harman after Sir Fred?
02 Mar 09 |  UK Politics
Labour leadership talk dismissed
01 Mar 09 |  UK Politics

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