Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman at the launch of the party's manifesto during the election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Harman warns Labour MPs: "We are not commentators, we are campaigners"

Acting leader tells first PLP meeting that party must "throw off any sense of loss or mourning".

In her new role as acting Labour leader, Harriet Harman has just delivered a typically pugnacious speech at the first PLP meeting of the new term. She told the assembled MPs and peers that they had a duty to "challenge and harry" the Tories "every step of the way", urging them to "throw off any sense of loss or mourning". Harman added: "The Tories want to see themselves popping champagne corks in the City, chin up, all cheerful. The SNP want to be strutting down these corridors, they want to see us be miserable and downcast, we are not going to give them that pleasure."

Turning to the forthcoming leadership contest, she declared that those running for election "must be part of our attack team". After much criticism of Labour's laxity in 2010, which many believe allowed the Tories to define the terms of economic debate, Harman's message was that there must be no repeat. She told MPs that candidates must use "every single interview, every single thing that they say" not only to "show why they would be the best leader or deputy" but to "land one on the Tories with the air time they've got". There are, however, some who will question whether attacking the Tories (who, it bears repeating, won a majority) is the priority after such a terrible defeat. 

In her most notable line, Harman warned the party: "We are not commentators, we are campaigners for the next Labour government" (one of Lynton Crosby's favourite dictums). And in an appeal to avoid bloodletting, she told Labour: "We must look deep into our souls, but we mustn't open our veins". 

On the timetable for the leadership election, which will be determined by the NEC on Wednesday, Harman outlined three options: a short contest ending on 31 July, a longer one concluding after the summer recess in September, and an extended one with hustings held at the party conference (as in the case of 2005). The view among MPs is that the second is the likeliest option (there were audible boos from Committee Room 14 when the third was mentioned). By having a leader in place before the conference opens, Labour hopes to avoid the fraught aftermath of the 2010 contest. In a reminder that the party still hasn't come to love Peter Mandelson (as Tony Blair once hoped it would), there was loud applause when, responding to his warnings over the leadership voting system, Harman said: "You don't need to listen to Peter Mandelson, he is not properly factually informed". She confirmed that the contest would take place under the new one-member-one-vote model agreed last year. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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