Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 13:34 UK

Harman in the spotlight

By Tim Iredale
Political correspondent, BBC News

Harriet Harman has been making headlines which will have troubled many of her male colleagues in government - not to mention the male population at large.

On Sunday, Ms Harman told a newspaper that she did not agree with an all-male leadership of the Labour Party because "men cannot be trusted to run things on their own".

Harriet Harman
Ms Harman is amongst ministers running the country while Mr Brown holidays

Those comments were followed on Monday by a TV interview where the Minister for Women and Equality criticised the male domination of the banking sector.

She suggested the credit crunch could have been averted if the US investment bank that triggered the crisis had been known as "Lehman Sisters".

Now there are newspaper claims of a cabinet rift over proposed changes to the rape laws. A scheduled review of the way the criminal justice system treats rape victims has reportedly been postponed because Ms Harman could not agree terms with officials at Jack Straw's Ministry of Justice and Alan Johnson's Home Office.

The overall theme suggested by some papers is that Harriet Harman is using her time standing-in for the holidaying Gordon Brown to promote her own "feminist agenda".

The other suggestion is that Ms Harman is using her stint as "temporary PM" to flag-up her credentials in preparation for a tilt at the "top job".

'Flee the country'

One figure who is not impressed with that kind of talk is John Prescott - the man Harriet Harman replaced as Labour's deputy leader. On his blog Mr Prescott questioned Ms Harman's loyalty in such difficult times for the Labour government, telling her to "stop complaining and get campaigning".

Unlike Mr Prescott, Harriet Harman cannot boast the title of deputy prime minister. That role - in all but name - appears to belong to Lord Mandelson, who is also due to shuffle into the Downing Street driving seat while Gordon Brown is away.

There have been recent reports of tension between the two over the issue of extended maternity leave - an idea supported by Harman but reportedly opposed by Mandelson because it would force extra costs on to firms already struggling during the recession.

Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary of State, has himself been at the centre of fresh leadership speculation in the past few days with bookmakers slashing the odds on the prospect of Lord Mandelson returning to the Commons and succeeding Gordon Brown.

Harriet Harman once joked that if she became prime minister "there wouldn't be enough airports for all the men who would want to flee the country".

If you believe everything printed in the August newspapers then Captain Harman is asking us to fasten our seatbelts. We could be in for a bumpy ride.

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