Harriet Ruth Harman

Harriet Harman

Harriet Ruth Harman QC MP (born 30 July 1950) is a British solicitor and Labour politician. Since 24 June 2007, she has been the Deputy Leader and Party Chair of the Labour Party. On 28 June 2007 she was appointed Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Women and Equality. On 12 October 2007 she became head of a new UK Government Department, the Government Equalities Office, made up of staff transferred from the already existing Women and Equality unit. She still however retains her title of Minister for Women, bringing her total number of jobs to five.

Harman is a well known feminist and has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Camberwell and Peckham since 1997, having previously been MP for Peckham since 1982. She is the longest serving of all current female MPs.

Early life

She was born in London to the Harley Street physician John Bishop Harman FRCP (who was an expert witness in the trial of suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams) and his wife Anna, a solicitor, the only child of Group Captain Malcolm Spicer, RAF, son of James Spicer of Eltham, who was a member of the paper manufacturing family and a brother of the Liberal MP Sir Albert Spicer and also a brother of the surgeon and campaigner for women's rights, Louisa Martindale. Her parents both came from non conformist backgrounds — her grandfather Nathaniel Bishop Harman was a prominent Unitarian and the Spicer family were well known congregationalists. She was educated at the independent St Paul's Girls' School and the University of York, where she gained a BA in Politics. Between 1978 and 1982 she was legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties and as such was found in contempt of court in the important civil liberties case Home Office v. Harman 1983 1 A.C. 280, 308, before becoming MP for Peckham in a by-election in 1982.

Harman was later involved in a European Court of Human Rights case against MI5 after it was revealed by whistleblower Cathy Massiter in 1984 that personal files were held by MI5 on her and another leading member of the NCCL — Patricia Hewitt. 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. The success of the case was largely resultant in the subsequent implementation of the 1989 Security Services Act by Parliament.

Member of Parliament

In the by-election held on 28 October 1982 she was elected Member of Parliament for Southwark, Peckham with a majority of 3,931 votes. She became Labour's front-bench spokeswoman for social services in 1984, and then health in 1987. After the 1992 general election she entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992-1994), Shadow Employment Secretary (1994-1995), Shadow Health Secretary (1995-1996) and Shadow Social Security Secretary (1996-1997).

In government

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. She left this position in a cabinet reshuffle in 1998. According to the Daily Mail, this was the result of a series of public rows with junior minister Frank Field. She 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.

Voting record

Harman has supported the Labour government, and voted with the party in all but a few instances. Like most Labour MPs she supported the Iraq war, although during the Deputy Leadership campaign, she claimed that she would not have voted for it had she been in full possession of the facts, specifically about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction.

How Harriet Harman voted on key issues since 2001:

Minister of Justice

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. During this time she was made an honorary silk (Queen's Counsel), gaining the letters "QC" after her name.

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 which had not been disclosed to party officers. She retained her other responsibilities.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs was reorganised into the new Ministry of Justice on 9 May 2007, where she became Minister of State.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Harriet Harman announced her intention to stand for Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party when John Prescott stood down. On 27 November 2006 Patrick Wintour reported that she had commissioned an opinion poll which found that she would be more popular with the electorate than any of the other likely candidates. She used this point to argue that she should become the next Deputy Prime Minister of the UK in an interview with the BBC.

Harman did not have the support of any major unions, and had to borrow money to fund her campaign for deputy leadership, taking out a personal loan of £10,000 and a £40,000 extension to her mortgage. Harman failed to report some donations and loans on time, and was subject to an Electoral Commission inquiry for breaches of electoral law. On 24 June 2007, Harriet Harman won the contest and became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

She won the election, receiving 50.43% of the vote in the final round of a closely-fought contest. Alan Johnson had led in all but the first of the previous rounds, but the members' votes after re-distribution in each of the 4 elimination rounds – particularly the votes re-allocated from Jon Cruddas according to second preference – led her to narrowly beating Johnson in the final round.

Return to Cabinet

Harman is known as a key supporter of Gordon Brown and has been closely associated with him since the 1980s. She was appointed to sit in newly-appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (combining these post with the Deputy Leadership and Chairmanship of the Labour Party). She also holds the post of Minister for Women the result being that she has five roles. She attacked the Conservative Party at the Labour Party Conference 2007, referring to them as the nasty party and suggesting that there will be little competition at the next election. Harman stood in for Gordon Brown during PMQ's on Wednesday 2nd April, as the Prime Minister was attending a NATO summit in Romania, she became the first female Labour Minister to take Prime Minister's Questions. She stood in for Gordon Brown again on Wednesday 9 July, as the Prime Minister was attending the G8 Conference in Tokyo, Japan.

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 the "Harriet" and "Harman" as her username and password.



Harriet Harman has been criticised by some for her feminist views and activity. Erin Pizzey, a fierce critic of feminism, has criticised the views expressed by Harman and other leading female labour figures in the 1990 IPPR report "The Family Way". Writing in the Daily Mail, she accused the report of being a "staggering attack on men and their role in modern life" of , as a result of it questioning whether "the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social harmony and cohesion".

However, rather than attacking traditional family forms, the report aimed to "encourage the formation of strong, loving and lasting bonds between fathers and their children". and argued that quality of relationships matter more to children's upbringing than family structure. It also encouraged men to take more responsibility for the upbringing of their children, stressing "inter-dependence" as opposed to women's "independence". Indeed, reviewers have described The Family Way as lacking feminist radicalism. Despite this, the Daily Mail has called her "hardline", accused her of "hating marriage" and said she "clings to the dogma of the left".

In June 2008, two members of Fathers 4 Justice, Mark Harris and Jolly Stanesby, staged a protest on the roof of her house in Herne Hill, south east London. Harris and Stanesby displayed a banner which 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. On the morning of 9 July 2008, another Fathers 4 Justice protest began on the same roof. Nigel Ace and Tony Ashby displayed a banner reading "Stop war on dads".

Harriet herself has joked that she could never be prime minister because "there aren't enough airports in the country for all the men who would want to flee".

Equality Bill

As part of a proposed Equality Bill, Harman announced a consultation on changing the existing discrimination laws, which included options for Positive Action 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. Harman has claimed that this proposal would not simply involve discrimination against white males, and than men will benefit in some circumstances; for example if a school wanted to balance a predominantly female workforce by discriminating in favour of employing a male teacher. The white paper also proposed measures to end age discrimination, promote transparency in organisations and introduce a new equality duty on the public sector. 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, color, language, religion and on several other criteria.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Leo McKinstry, a former aide to Harman condemned her proposals stating that they were a "direct contradiction of equal opportunities" and that "nothing could be more unjust, patronising or discriminatory than awarding jobs on the basis of skin colour or gender".

Others have criticised Harman's Equality Bill for not going far enough. John Carvel, social affairs editor of The Guardian has described the bill "watered down" as it does not include a requirement for all private sector companies to conduct compulsory pay audits as a way of promoting equal pay for women.

Whereas 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."

Harman also commissioned a report on allowing political parties to draw up all-black shortlists designed to increase the number of black MPs in Westminster. A further measure extended the arrangement allowing all-women shortlists until 2030 All-women shortlists have already been used by the Labour Party to increase the number of female MPs. These proposals are supported by members of all the major parties.

Choice of school

She was involved in a media controversy when she sent her eldest son, Harry, to a grant-maintained school the London Oratory School in 1993, then her younger son Joseph to St Olave's Grammar School, Orpington in 1995. Harry was head boy of the Oratory School from 2000-1. Euan Blair was deputy head boy the following year. Labour policy opposed these forms of education and Labour abolished them in 1998 but she retained office with the support of the Labour leader, Tony Blair.

Controversy over Iraq War apology

Harman has been accused of going back on a pledge to apologise for the Blair government's policy on Iraq. During the deputy leadership campaign Harman had participated in a live debate on Newsnight with the other deputy leadership candidates. Jeremy Paxman asked the candidates whether, if knowing what they knew now, any of the candidates would have voted against the war, Harman responded by saying that
"if I'd have known if there weren't weapons of mass destruction I wouldn't have voted for the war. Clearly it was a mistake. It was made in good faith. But I think with a new leadership we have to acknowledge the bitterness and anger that there has been over Iraq and that we were wrong."

Later, when asked by Paxman if the Labour Party should say sorry for what happened, Jon Cruddas said that it should; Harman replied:

"Yep, I agree with that".
When Cruddas further said that the Labour Party could "rebuild a sense of trust and a dialogue with the British people" by acknowledging its culpability in the situation in Iraq, Harman replied:
"and I agree with that".
On June 25, her first day in the job, 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.

Speeding convictions

In 2003 Harman was fined £400 and banned from driving for seven days after being convicted of driving at on a motorway, above the speed limit. The sentence was criticised by some given that Harman's salary at the time was £115,989 plus full parliamentary pay.

On 7 April 2007, Harman was issued with a £60 fixed penalty notice and given three penalty points on her license for driving at in a portion of the A14 in Suffolk which had a temporary limit. Harman paid the fine several months late and avoided appearing at Ipswich magistrates court. A Labour Party source said of her failure to pay the fine "She made an innocent mistake. She forgot to pay on time because she was spending all her time on the deputy leadership contest touring the country.

Campaign donation from David Abrahams

In November 2007, it emerged that property developer David Abrahams' secretary Janet Kidd had given a donation of £5,000 donor 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". Harriet Harman was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme on 27 November 2007 and was evasive when asked to confirm or deny that her campaign team had contacted Janet Kidd soliciting money and was unable to answer this question directly, preferring to change the subject. On 28 November the BBC's Nick Robinson reported on his blog that Mrs Harman had now revealed that her team "may" have asked Mrs Kidd for a donation. The blog entry goes on to wonder whether Mrs Kidd informed the campaign team at that point that she was acting as a proxy. Margaret Jay, Baroness Jay of Paddington who was working on the deputy leadership of Hilary Benn, questioned and turned down a similar donation of £5,000 by Mrs Kidd; but it was subsequently accepted by Benn's team when made under the name of Mr Abrahams. Kidd offered another donation to the leadership campaign of Gordon Brown, but was turned down as she was not a known donor.

Stab vest for constituency walkabout

On 1 April 2008 the Daily Mail reported that Harriet 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".

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?" Media reports quoted a police source who said that "everyone was flabbergasted by her decision to wear the vest, especially when she was guarded by three police officers" — in apparent contradiction of Harman's own claims that it was as a courtesy to the police that she wore the jacket. Beatrice Smith, a Peckham resident, was quoted by the Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph observing that, "The only time we see Harriet Harman is either on voting day or doing some PR stunt. There is a lot of trouble on the estates but we don't get given stab vests.... I'd rather see her spending time sorting the crime problem out than posing in such a ridiculous outfit.

Personal life

Family connections

Harman has significant family connections. Her father was a brother of Elizabeth Longford, the writer who wrote biographies of, amongst others, Queen Victoria and Wellington. Lady Longford was married to Francis Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, the lawyer and social reformer. Harman's first cousins include the writers Thomas Pakenham, Rachel Billington and the historian Antonia Fraser. Fraser is married to Harold Pinter, and was once married to the politician Sir Hugh Fraser and is the mother of Flora Fraser, another writer. Also, Harman's great-grandparents were Arthur Chamberlain and Louisa Kenrick. Arthur Chamberlain was the brother of Joseph Chamberlain, the social reformer and radical politician who served under Gladstone and Salisbury. Louisa's cousin Harriet married Joseph Chamberlain and they were the parents of Sir Austen Chamberlain, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary. Louisa Kenrick's sister Florence married Joseph Chamberlain after Harriet's death and they were the parents of Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1937-1940.

Her sister Sarah was a lawyer and part-time judge. She resigned having been caught passing confidential papers to Harriet Harman, then Solicitor General. Sarah Harman was found guilty of contempt of court and "conduct unbefitting a solicitor". She was ordered to pay £25,000 costs. Her other two sisters, Janet and Virginia, are solicitors.

Harman has a house in Suffolk, in addition to her 'main' home in Herne Hill, South London. She married Jack Dromey in 1982 in the borough of Brent, 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 (born January 1987).


  • Ms Harriet Harman (1950–1982)
  • Harriet Harman MP (1982–1997)
  • The Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman MP (1997–2005)
  • The Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman QC MP (2005–)



  • Sex Discrimination in Schools: How to Fight it by Harriet Harman, 1978, Civil Liberties Trust ISBN 0-901108-73-1
  • Justice Deserted: Subversion of the Jury by Harriet Harman et al, 1979, Civil Liberties Trust ISBN 0-901108-79-0
  • Violence Against Social Workers: The Implications for Practice by Dan Norris, foreword by Harriet Harman, Jessica Kingsley Publishers ISBN 1-85302-041-9
  • The Family Way: A New Approach to Policy Making by Harriet Harman et al, 1990, Institute for Public Policy Research ISBN 1-872452-15-9
  • The Century Gap: 20th Century Man/21st Century Woman by Harriet Harman, 1993, Vermilion ISBN 0-09-177819-0
  • Winning for Women by Harriet Harman and Deborah Mattinson, 2000, Fabian Society ISBN 0-7163-0596-8
  • Women with Attitude by Susan Vinnicombe, John Bank, foreword by Harriet Harman, 2002, Routledge ISBN 0-415-28742-1

External links

Video clips


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