Sir George wrong-foots new Leader of the House
6 Jul 2007

Following Sir George's question to Harriet Harman, this is the Independent Sketch on the exchange.

If you want nothing done, then Harriet is perfect
511 words
6 July 2007
The Independent
(c) 2007 Independent & Media PLC

A new Leader of the House. An important position, if the new PM is to be believed. The essence of his reforms is to give power back to Parliament. To make sure they’ll come to nothing, he has given the job to Harriet Harman.

Is that cynical? Perhaps. But not nearly as cynical as the new PM. Harriet is extraordinarily good at what she does, you know. I note your puzzled look. What is it that she does do? She stays in the Government. That takes talent for someone who has so little to recommend her.

Her core values? This and that. It depends if she’s running for office. Her qualities? Earnestness. Yes. Being a woman. Yes. Enjoying the sight of a “smoking enforcement officer in a high-visibility jacket”? Oh, yes.

Her achievements? Ah, that’s more difficult. She nearly got the Family Courts opened up and failed. But that doesn’t really count, does it? Google can help us: “Harriet Harman’s election” has 254 matches. On the other hand: “Your search – ‘Harriet Harman’s achievements,’” Google tells us, “did not match any documents.” So if the past is any guide to the future we can expect no improvement whatsoever in Parliament’s position vis-à-vis the executive. That suspicion was reinforced by Sir George Young ’s question: If the PM’s constitutional proposals are to give more power to Parliament, shouldn’t Parliament be consulted on the proposals themselves? The answer started with a long “Errr … ” and finished as a comprehensive defeat for optimists and idealists (you’ve only yourselves to blame).

“Departments and myself ” were going to be “taking forward the proposals keeping in mind the overall picture and the individual bits.”

These parliamentary reforms are largely spin. That is to say: insubstantial, presentational, rendered for effect and not effectiveness. That’s why the Leader of the House won’t allow them to be debated on the floor of the House. So when she says, “the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear he sees having a strong Parliament as part of strengthening government” you know she is offering us her most earnest piffle.

Of course, the reforms will come to nothing, or next to nothing, because coming to nothing, or next to nothing, is what the Leader of the House is famous for. Responsibility without power – the prerogative of the Har-man throughout the ages.

PS: I have been castigated – quite rightly – by several readers for leaving out Gordon Brown’s poignant contribution to Wednesday’s PMQs: Why hadn’t he banned Hizb ut-Tahrir? “I’ve only been in the job for five days!” Whining, weak and self-pitying has been the general verdict. But not, I think, the right one.

It was the PM’s hamfisted, club-footed way of trying to say, “I’m new! The Government’s new! It’s all new!” but it came out wrong. And sounded whining, weak and self-pitying.

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