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These occasional encounters between Harriet Harman and William Hague at PMQs make you wish Gordon Brown would go on holiday more often. It’s like watching a brainless sitcom in the middle of endless news bulletins, or seeing the clowns wander in halfway through a Shakespearean tragedy.

Reliably, today’s joust was high on comedy factor and low on substance. William enjoyed himself; Harriet was cross. This unchanging formula is the basis of every episode. While – like Men Behaving Badly – it starts to get rather worn after a while, you can always be guaranteed a few juvenile laughs.

Things picked up where they left off last time, with Hague asking about the Working Capital Scheme. The scheme is essentially a bit of PR tat which was kicked out by the Labour spin machine last year and forgotten about, making it a useful thorn for the Tories to wiggle once in a while. Harman doggedly refused to answer the question, reeling out the textbook ‘do-nothing party’ riposte with such passion you get the impression she actually believes it’s a useful response.

As usual Hague landed a couple of funny blows, at one point painting a picture of Gordon Brown unpacking his Speedos on a South American beach and pointing out that “inheritance must preoccupy the niece of the Countess of Longford” when Harman brought up tax. You just know there are plenty of Labour backbenchers tittering along with these kinds of jibes.

The fact that these exchanges of puerility are such a welcome break from the usual Brown/Cameron drudgery does say something about the level of national debate, though. When Chuka Ummuna came to talk to our City class a month ago he was all for scrapping PMQs and replacing it with something more likely to fire useful discussion. At the time I dismissed this as nonsense. But in the long term there has to be a more constructive way than this.

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Harriet Harman’s clash with William Hague at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday divided the blogosphere. The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow and Nick Watt broke from the pack and said she “hung Hague out to dry”. Jane Merrick, political editor of the Indie on Sunday, also though Harman had the edge.

More predictable were the damning responses from Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts and Iain Dale, all of whom thought Brown’s deputy put on a disastrous performance.

If Harman seriously wants to edge out the likes of David Miliband and Alan Johnson when Brown falls – as this week’s press coverage would have us think – two things are certain. She’ll need to be able to deal with vicious briefings, however misogynistic. And she’ll need to hold up against tougher grillings than she got yesterday, on a daily basis.

Judging by her performance in the dispatch box, I’m not convinced she’s ready for either.

Let’s not understate the testing she got. Hague is a nifty parliamentarian, and his taunts over her rumoured leadership challenge in the clip above – “Why don’t you step in? When Chamberlain lost his party’s confidence, Churchill stepped forward” – were superbly delivered.

Harman also managed a few decent jabs of her own, most notably when Hague suggested senior government figures should show contrition for their role in the credit crunch:

As far as [Hague] is concerned can I remind him – if he wants to learn lessons – what he said when he was leader of the opposition? He said: “As prime minister I will make deregulation one of my top priorities. I will drive deregulation from the centre and I will promote ministers not on the basis of whether they regulate enough but on the basis of how much they deregulate.” So, yes, we have lessons to learn, but we’ll learn no lessons from him.

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But she seemed too easily rattled by the juvenile shouts echoing across the benches, and when Hague asked a well-researched question about the government’s failure to implement its loan guarantee scheme for businesses, Harman reeled off a textbook inanity that showed she didn’t know her brief.

The Tory benches roared with boyish glee.

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I was speaking to an old Labour communications maestro this week, who said something to the effect that the Tory party under David Cameron still hasn’t managed to modernise itself properly. I generally disagree – I’m fairly sure Dave and George Facebook and Twitter each other at ever opportunity – but William Hague certainly let the side down a bit on today’s Andrew Marr Show.

He had a distinctly uncomfortable moment. Scheduled to meet the Chinese PM Wen Jiabao after appearing on the show, Hague was asked whether it was tough raising the question of human rights in Tibet with Chinese leaders as well as working with them on economic and nuclear issues. He said consistency was the key, adding:

Eastern leaders, if I can lump them all together in one bracket, appreciate consistency.

As opposed to Etonian leaders, who prefer vacillation and indecision? I hope Wen hasn’t been reading any Edward Said recently. A slight look of panic crossed Hague’s face as he seemed to realise he’d made some of the world’s most powerful leaders sound like kids with behavioural problems, and he looked glad when Marr moved the chat on. Incidentally, anti-Tibet protestors clashed violently with police ahead of Wen Jiabao’s visist at the Chinese Embassy in London, but they appeared to be miffed about human rights rather than Hague’s moment of Orientalist madness.

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Civil strife seems to be the theme of the week. The most incisive comment reaction to the wildcat strikes that have erupted around the country over contracts for foreign workers at Total’s Lindsey refinery came from Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer. In autumn 2000, truckers and farmers enraged at soaring oil prices blockaded refineries around the UK. At first, Blair’s government treated the situation as a bit of a joke – but it ended up bringing the country to the verge of disaster. Underestimating the strikers this time around could come at a high price. Left-wing Labour MP Frank Field was worried enough to write in today’s Mail:

Labour risks a wipeout at the next General Election unless it gets a real grip of its immigration policy. Failure to do so allows fingers to be wrongly pointed at foreign workers who have added much to our country. Anger should be solely directed at the Government.

Make no mistake. The men and women on the picket lines are not just fighting for their jobs, they are also asserting their national identity.

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Field misses the point that Brown’s original pledge of “British jobs for British workers”, made at last year’s party conference, was an artless grab for the jingo vote and an unrealistic promise. Commentators across the spectrum, from Carol Thatcher on today’s Andrew Marr Show to Andrew Grice in the Independent, pointed out that Brown has given quite a few hostages to fortune over the years, most of whom have been bloodily executed over the past 12 months.

Finally, to the House of Lords scandal, which has already earned itself the tedious tag of “Ermingate”. In today’s Sunday Times Jack Straw promised an overhaul, although given the Commons vetoed a partially elected chamber last year it’s going to be slow progress. Amidst the mudslinging – apparently Conrad Black and Jeffrey Archer will be booted out alongside the Sunday Times Four under emergency rules – one person has come out of it all looking rather good.

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Baroness Royall is, according to The Sunday Times:

The foxy Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who swept in to read the riot act. Flame-haired, cool-eyed, with sexy long black boots, the Labour leader of the disgraced upper house looks more likely to crack a whip than pass the port.

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 As the euphoria around Barack Obama’s barnstorming election victory subsides, a good degree of introspection has set in on this side of the Atlantic.

The crispness of Obama’s victory speech and the graciousness of McCain’s concession contrast rather too starkly with the mucky infighting that’s surrounded UK politics in the past few months.

People instinctively want an injection of the excitement and promise Obama has given to US politics. The New Statesman is already putting its money on Chuka Ummuna, a 30-year-old lawyer and the Labour Party’s prospective candidate for Streatham in south London, who is being tipped for big things by his colleagend_gr_chukaumunna1ues:

Chuka Ummuna is a bold young politician with an easy public presence. If he wins the Streatham seat he will be fast-tracked into what is likely to be the shadow cabinet… He is no Obama yet. But he is prepared to depart from the current government line in a way that would simply not have been acceptable for a candidate in the buttoned-up Tony Blair era.

In today’s Comment Is Free, Gordon Brown – or one of Number 10’s press officers – suggests that Obama’s victory is more than just the triumph over adversity of a remarkable candidate, but rather the symbol of a wider movement towards progressive politics. It’s obviously a thinly veiled advertorial for the Labour Party. You can’t help thinking that neither of the UK’s frontrunners have ever offered anything close to the buzz of the Democrats at the moment.

In case you were tucked up in bed on Tuesday night, this video uploaded on YouTube captures the elation in Chicago’s Grant Park:

Ealier in the week Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, kicked up a stink when he said a British Barack Obama would have been held back by institutional racism within the Labour Party. He went so far as to commend the Tories for a more forward-thinking approach.

On Sky News today William Hague thoroughly rebutted the idea the House of Commons wasn’t ready for a black leader:

That was too strong. I think the same thing could happen in Britain as happened in the US… I think we will see, after the next election, a House of Commons that looks quite different.

It’s not really clear what he meant by the last sentece in the context of race, though. I don’t think anyone’s ever mistaken Cameron’s shadow cabinet for an ethnically diverse, mixed bunch of people from a range of different walks in life. On the other side of the Commons benches, black Labour MP David Lammy declared that “a glass ceiling has been broken”.

Baroness Amos and Dizzee Rascal shared their views on the question of a black PM in a much-talked about Newsnight interview:

On a tangential tip, The Independent’s John Rentoul used an online tool called Who Voted? to see whether the infamous Joe The Plumber cast his ballot. Only four states are signed up to the site at the moment – Florida, Idaho, Ohio and Washington. Luckily Mr Worzelbacher lives in Lucas County, Ohio. It seems he voted in 2004, but this year’s results are yet to filter through.

A quick selection of the rest to satisfy the insatiable Mr Haddon: In The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley warns that every politician and his dog are going to start using ‘change’ as a buzzword to hop on the Obama bandwagon. He also points out what a lot of rightwing American commentators have been saying for a while – that the president elect may veer towards protectionism as the US economy turns down, which may make for some abrasive transatlantic trading.

Matthew D’Ancona boldly reckons that “about 2am on Wednesday, the defining figure of British politics ceased to be Tony Blair and became Barack Obama”. In yesterday’s Guardian Marina Hyde put it more caustically, looking back over Blair’s career as an orator. She says watching him speak at the Labour Party conference followed by Bill Clinton was “a bit like Robbie Williams opening for Frank Sinatra”. It’s funny how quickly political legacies can crumble to dust in the brightness of daylight.

If you’re already bored of the praise being heaped on Obama, just turn to today’s Daily Mail. Peter Hitchens tips a kingsize bucket of bile over the Democrat man and his many fans:

The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as president of the US must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation… If you can believe this undistinguished and conventionally Left-wing machine politician is a sort of secular saviour, then you can believe anything.

Brilliant. James Robinson wrote a bright profile of the lord of the news agenda, Paul Dacre, in The Observer this morning. Apparently middle England’s champion flirted with socialist politics in his student days at Leeds, and even once said that anyone who doesn’t experiment with liberal views at university “should be shot”.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Dubya yet, it’s well worth a watch.