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27 January 2010

Live blog — PMQs

Harman stands in for Brown, away at Northern Ireland talks.

By James Macintyre


Harriet Harman has — to many people’s surprise — been getting the better of the supposedly hilarious William Hague from as far back as 2008. So it will be interesting to see how the increasingly assured deputy leader performs today as she stands in for Gordon Brown, who is locked in Northern Ireland talks.

12.00 — Cabinet Office questions coming to an end. House getting increasingly rowdy.

12.01 — Harman pays tribute to the latest British “heroes” to die in Afghanistan.

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12.03 — John Whittingdale (Con) asks about compensation for troops injured in service.

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12.03 — Harman says MoD is reviewing the compensation scheme.

12.05 — Hague on his feet. Wishes Brown well in Northern Ireland and joins Harman in paying tribute to troops.

12.06 — Hague asks if “this time” effective reconstruction (in Afghanistan) will follow/accompany military action. Asks about tomorrow’s London conference on the Afghan situation and says it should focus on realistic goals that can be delivered. Hague has decided to go for a topic that sounds statesmanlike.

12.07 — Harman says she had hoped Hague would “support” the work of the government instead of “carping”. Hague says the Tories are pushing the same agenda and there is “no need” to make partisan points.

12.08 — Hague asks why the government is not emulating Barack Obama’s bank and bonus reforms. Harman says the government is working closely internationally, including with Obama. Hague is trying to drive a wedge between Obama and Brown, which some might think ironic, given the difference between Obama’s internationalism and Hague’s European isolationalism.

12.10 — Harman says Obama and the UK agree on “fiscal stimulus”; Hague says spending has been frozen in the US.

12.12 — Harman condemns attacks on banking reform “from a party that wanted less regulation”.

12.12 — Hague goes for the News at Ten soundbite moment, listing moves on which Brown was “wrong”. Strange reminder of his style post-1997.

12.13 — Harman says the Tories have talked Britain down. Strange exchange: a score draw, but an odd topic for the Tories to go on.

12.15 — Vince Cable, for the Lib Dems, asks about the growing gap between the richest and the poorest. Harman says inequality widened under the Tories. Cable says the “brutal” truth is that inequality is getting worse and takes a swipe at the Tories for privileging the wealthy through the tax system, but also turns on Labour’s “unreformed” tax (including property tax) system.

12.17 — Harman hits back at the “savage cuts” proposed by the Lib Dems last year. Good performance by Cable.

12.18 — Pete Wishart (SNP) asks whether Harman regrets the Iraq invasion. Harman defers to the Chilcot inquiry.

12.20 — David Jones (Con) quotes Peter Mandelson — alleged to have said years ago that he was “intensely relaxed” about people becoming “filthy rich” — and asks whether this applies to Tony Blair. Harman merely talks up “social mobility”, amid a loud din among Tory MPs.

12.23 — Harman gets a laugh after a written question from Evan Harris (Lib Dem) that Harman struggles to find, saying: “It’ll be worth the wait . . . or perhaps not.” The question is about laws on succession to the throne. “She was right the second time,” says Harris.

12.25 — Chris Mullin, the clever Labour MP and author of acclaimed diaries, asks about inequality and says it is time for the government to discourage outsourcing.

12.26 — Harman says there has been a “pressure downwards” on women’s wages.

12.28 — Harman talks of Holocaust Memorial Day and pays tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust.

12.31 — Anthony Steen (Con) asks a written question about human trafficking. First person to mention Haiti, where he says the problem has got worse. “The traffickers are circling — we need to make sure they don’t catch the children.”

12.32 — Harman congratulates Steen for his “intelligent” work on this issue and says the government will look into it further.

Conclusion: A downbeat — and somewhat inward-looking session of PMQs. Harman performed competently if not exceptionally by her own standards. Hague, too, was characteristically competent, but chose a bizarre subject that seemed opportunistic, coming from a party that is philosophically against regulation. Cable did well, however.