Harman: Blair "saw shadows" over alleged plots to oust him

Acting leader says former PM's stance on cash for peerages shows "how bad" relationship was with Bro

Harriet Harman, Labour's acting leader, has said Tony Blair "saw shadows" where they did not exist over allegations that she was involved with a plot, along with her husband Jack Dromey and Gordon Brown, to damage Blair in the "cash for peerages" affair. The Labour deputy leader has added that the suspicions were "a reflection of quite how bad the relationship had become between" Blair and Brown.

In 2006 Dromey, treasurer to the Labour party, revealed he did not know about loans made to the party by certain individuals who were made peers. In a recent interview with Mary Riddell to help promote his new memoir 'A Journey', Blair was asked if he suspected Harman of being "implicated in his destabilisation". Blair replied: "The answer is that I honestly don't know. I just don't."

But in an exclusive interview ahead of next week's Labour conference, Harman tells tomorrow's New Statesman: "I absolutely did not talk to Gordon about Jack as treasurer and what he was doing on the loans for peerages at all, in any shape or form, and neither did Jack - and the idea that somehow Jack and I were in a plot with Gordon against Tony is completely, completely not true. But I think it's a reflection of quite how bad the relationship had become between the two of them that Tony saw shadows where there weren't [any]. I think that's a real shame because it's absolutely not true."

In the interview, Harman also:

*Blames the economic situation on her refusal to advise Gordon Brown to step down as prime minister in January this year when she had a meeting with him amid the "coup attempt" led by Geoff Hoon, Patricia Hewitt and Charles Clarke.

*Reveals she, too, will write a book, saying "I don't think men should be the only ones who have their say".

*Talks more openly than ever about the "horrible" time she was sacked over a Welfare dispute by Blair and Brown in 1998.

*Defends the controversial move by Labour to elect its own chief whip.

*Says she will "probably" take on a shadow ministerial portfolio aside from her continuing role as elected deputy leader.

For the full interview, see the magazine out tomorrow.




James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.