Harman: Kent elections will be hard for Labour
TONY BLAIR: No need to name departure date, minister says
A SENIOR Labour minister has conceded the party faces an uphill battle in Kent at the May council elections.
Justice Minister Harriet Harman, who is bidding to become deputy party leader, was guest of honour at a fund-raising dinner in Ashford for party activists from across east Kent on Friday.
But the minister rejected suggestions that Tony Blair’s refusal to name a date for his departure from Downing Street would hamper the party’s electoral fortunes in May’s ballot.
Ms Harman said: “It is very difficult for a government in the middle of its term of office.
“But there is a lot of fighting spirit, a lot of hard work being done and a lot of new people.
“The national picture makes it harder.”
Ms Harman denied that ideally, the party would be looking ahead to the May elections with the issue of its leadership settled.
“I do not think there is necessarily a right or wrong way to do it,” she said.
“Tony Blair has been open about saying he won’t stand, which is unprecedented, although it has led to a set of other questions.”
And Ms Harman was cool about the actions of former cabinet ministers Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn, who last week launched a website, called The 2020 Vision, calling for a wide-ranging debate over the party’s direction.
“There does need to be a vigorous debate and not just one for MPs,” she said.
“That debate is ongoing so if the website contributes to that, it will be very welcome.”
Ms Harman was also asked if it was important that Labour had more women in senior jobs.
“I have always argued that decisions are better made if you have a man’s and a woman’s perspective,” she replied.
“It is a more balanced team if you have men and women working together.”
It was important Labour recognised that women voters no longer thought it acceptable for all decisions to be taken by men, Ms Harman added.
But she described Parliament as “still very much a boys’ club.”
Justice Minister Harriet Harman with Jessica D’Souza Watts, the organiser of the Labour Party’s fund-raising dinner in Ashford