Harriet Ruth Harman QC (born 30 July 1950) is a British solicitor and Labour Party politician who has served as the Member of Parliament since 1982, first for Peckham, and then for its successor constituency of Camberwell and Peckham since 1997. She has served in various Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet positions and, in her role as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, she has served as the Acting Leader of the Labour Party twice and Leader of the Opposition: from May to September 2010 and from May to September 2015; and remains the only politician to have held this position on two separate occasions.
She qualified as a solicitor and worked for Brent Law Centre from 1978 to 1982, when she was elected MP for Peckham in a by-election following the death of sitting Labour MP Harry Lamborn.
Promoted to the Shadow Cabinet by Labour Leader John Smith, she served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992–1994) and then as Shadow Employment Secretary (1994–1995), Shadow Health Secretary (1995–1996) and Shadow Social Security Secretary (1996–1997) under Smith's successor, Tony Blair.
Blair appointed her as Secretary of State for Social Security and the first ever Minister for Women, serving until 1998; when she left the Cabinet. In 2001, she was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales, serving until 2005 when she became Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs.
In 2007, Blair resigned as Prime Minister after ten years and John Prescott resigned as Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Labour Leader. Harman ran in the subsequent deputy leadership election and defeated five other candidates, ultimately winning over Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson by 50.43% to 49.56%. Gordon Brown, who was elected as party leader, appointed Harman Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for Women and Equality and Labour Party Chair. However she was not appointed Deputy Prime Minister.
She held all of these government positions until Labour lost the 2010 general election. Upon defeat, Brown resigned as party leader and Harman became Acting Leader and Leader of the Opposition until Edward Miliband was elected leader. She subsequently served as Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, combining the position with that of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development (2010–2011) and then Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (2011–2015). After Labour's defeat at the 2015 general election, Miliband resigned as Leader of the Labour Party and Harman once again became Acting Leader and Leader of the Opposition. She announced that she would also resign as Deputy Leader, prompting a concurrent deputy leadership election, which was won by Tom Watson.
Opposition Member of Parliament
Harry Lamborn, the Labour MP for Peckham, died on 21 August 1982. In the subsequent by-election held on 28 October 1982, Harman was elected to succeed Lamborn with 11,349 votes (50.34%), a majority of 3,931 over Social Democratic candidate Dick Taverne, a former Labour MP for Lincoln. The Conservative Party candidate was John Redwood, who came third, and went on to be elected MP for Wokingham in 1987.
In 1984, Harman became a Shadow Social Services minister and served as a Shadow Health minister in 1987. After the 1992 general election she entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992–1994) and later served as Shadow Employment Secretary (1994–1995), Shadow Health Secretary (1995–1996) and Shadow Social Security Secretary (1996–1997).
Labour in Government
After Labour's victory in the 1997 general election, she became Secretary of State for Social Security and the first ever Minister for Women. She was given the task of reforming the Welfare State. During this time, her more notable policies included introducing a minimum income guarantee and winter fuel payments for the elderly. It was later ruled that the fuel payments policy breached European sex discrimination laws in that men had to wait five years longer to receive them than women. The policy was amended so both sexes qualified at age 60.
Harman made a return to the front bench after the 2001 general election, with her appointment to the office of Solicitor General.
After the 2005 general election, she became a Minister of State in the Department for Constitutional Affairs with responsibilities including constitutional reform, legal aid and court processes and she represented Lord Falconer in the House of Commons on the frontbench.
On 16 March 2006, Harman relinquished her ministerial responsibilities for electoral administration and reform of the House of Lords. She stated that this was to avoid any potential conflict of interest after her husband Jack Dromey, the Treasurer of the Labour Party, announced that he would be investigating a number of loans made to the Labour Party that had not been disclosed to party officers. She retained her other responsibilities.
After Labour's victory in the 1997 general election, she became Secretary of State for Social Security and the first ever Minister for Women.
In 1998 Harman headed up New Labour's controversial cut to single parent benefit despite the majority of those affected being women. There was public outcry at this perceived attacked on the living standards of some of the poorest women and children. According to The Independent, a group of women protesters shouted "Labour scum" as the measure was approved in Parliament - albeit with a rebellion of 47 Labour MPs (including John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott) and the abstention of many others. Deputy Leadership election
Harman announced her intention to stand for Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party when John Prescott stood down.
While she supported the Iraq War, during the Deputy Leadership campaign, she said that she would not have voted for it had she been in full possession of the facts, specifically about the lack of concrete evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
On 24 June 2007, in what was a close contest Harman was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Alan Johnson had led in all but the first of the previous rounds, but when second-preference votes had been redistributed after the fourth round, Harman stood elected with 50.43% of the vote to Johnson's 49.56%
Harman was known as a long term supporter of Gordon Brown and is regarded as a personal friend. On 28 June 2007, after she became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Brown was appointed Prime Minister, Harman joined Brown's Cabinet as Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Women and Equality, and was also given the title of Labour Party Chair. Unlike the previous Deputy Leader, John Prescott, Harman was not made Deputy Prime Minister.
Following the resignation of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party on 11 May 2010, Harman automatically became the temporary leader of the party as well as the Leader of the Opposition, entitling her to the salary and government car that come with the role. Although she was informally described in the media as 'Acting' Leader, she was fully Leader by the terms of the party's constitution, albeit on a temporary basis, as was the case with Margaret Beckett in 1994.
Following Brown's resignation, she quickly announced that she would remain Deputy Leader rather than standing for election as Leader. Her only public explanation was the assertion that: “You can’t run for leader at the same time as being deputy leader”.
She nominated Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, to prevent the election from being all male. But she nonetheless asserted her intention to remain neutral throughout the contest and said, "This is a very crucial period and we have got five fantastic candidates. All of them would make excellent leaders of the party."
Following Edward Miliband's election as leader, she returned to her role as Deputy Leader, shadowing Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister and with the title of Deputy Leader of the Opposition. When Miliband assigned portfolios on 8 October 2010, he appointed her Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
Following the 2015 general election and Ed Miliband's resignation, Harman again became acting leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition after announcing that she would stand down from this role once a Labour leadership election had taken place.