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.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.