David Cameron and Harriet Harman at the state opening of parliament last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Harman recovers some ground as she disciplines "gloating" Cameron

Labour's acting leader delivered an improved performance. But how wise is her new tactic?

After becoming the first prime minister since Lord Palmerston in 1857 to increase his party's share of votes and seats (as he recently boasted to European leaders), David Cameron is in even more confident form than usual. Having been roundly defeated at last week's PMQs, Harriet Harman tried a new tack today. After Cameron contemptuously dismissed her call for 16-17-year-olds to be allowed to vote in the EU referendum, Labour's acting leader chided him for "ranting and sneering and gloating" before adding, in her best line, "Frankly, he should show a bit more class". A suitably chastened Cameron responded with far more emollience to her next question (on the neutrality of the government during the referendum). The ease with which Labour's headmistress disciplined the unruly pupil suggested the Tories should invite her to lead one of their free schools. 

But after a civil interlude, Cameron riled Harman again when he quoted her statement that some Labour voters were "relieved" the party didn't win. "He just can’t help himself but gloat, can he?" she said. "Go right ahead and gloat, but why shouldn’t he just answer the question about childcare ... Perhaps we can have an answer instead of a gloating session." This time, however, Cameron opted to attack rather than to appease. "I'm sorry if the Right Honourable Lady thinks I'm gloating," he replied. "It must be the first time someone's been accused of gloating while quoting the leader of the opposition, I mean for instance, she said the other day, 'people tend to like a leader who they feel is economically competent'. I think she's been talking a lot of sense and I'm going to be quoting her as often as I can!" 

Harman's tactic ensured a better performance than last week. And Cameron would be wise not to gloat - he does after all have a majority of just 12. But whether Labour should seek to interrupt its opponent when he is making a mistake is open to question. Others will argue that Harman should focus on defeating Cameron on substance, rather than tone. 

On policy, it was notable that Cameron refused to rule out holding the EU referendum on the same day as next year's Scottish and local elections (which would likely favour the In camp). Harman's rejection of this option was aimed at the Tories' divisions but also reflected Labour's belief that the ballot must be seen as fair and not "rigged". For the same reason, Harman argued that the government must not use public funds or the state machine to bolster the In campaign. Expect Labour to seek to force Cameron to capitulate to his backbenchers on this front. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.