Harman shows he's just William after all
SEASONED Commons observers thought it would be a political mismatch to rival that of the Alex and Wendy show.
"She's going to get duffed up, like Alex duffs up Wendy every week," said one commentator ahead of Prime Minister's Questions. Several back-benchers held their heads in their hands.
The match-up was the testosterone-fuelled wit of William Hague versus Harriet "humourless" Harman. Surely there was only one winner? After all, she was so hopeless that she has been deprived of the deputy prime minister title normally enjoyed by the deputy leader.
However, Ms Harman (nicknamed Harperson for her feminist views) – sans flak jacket – took to the Commons brawl like her predecessor John Prescott takes to a secretary.
One male sketch writer remarked: "Hague got handbagged by Harman!"
Wrong. He was outgunned and put in his place.
Ms Harman hit the headlines for donning a stab vest on the rather less middle-class streets of Peckham, her London constituency.
But yesterday the only trace of body armour was the padding on the shoulders of her cream jacket.
Mr Hague bounced up, looking as smug as a hedge fund manager who had dodged the credit crunch.
Welcoming Ms Harman, the witty shadow foreign secretary, who charges more by the hour than Heidi Fleiss (for after-dinner speaking), congratulated her on being the first Labour woman ever to answer Prime Minister's Questions.
"You must be proud – three decades on – to be following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher – who we on this side of the House and the Prime Minister so much admire."
Round one to Hague. Beat that Hattie! But Harriet aimed and fired right where it hurt.
Nodding in the direction of shadow Commons leader, Theresa May, she asked Mr Hague: "Why are you asking the questions today? You are not the shadow leader of the House. Is this the situation in the modern Conservative Party, that women should be seen, but not heard?"
Offering Ms May "a bit of sisterly advice", Ms Harman added: "You should not let him get away with it."
The House whooped in unexpected delight. Even Tory spin doctors hid a wry smile.
Mr Hague, who once boasted he could down 13,000 or so pints a night, was left looking the worse for wear. He lampooned Ms Harman for trying to defend her reasons for wearing the Kevlar vest in her constituency.
A day earlier, she had given a toe-curling interview in which she insisted she had worn the vest as a "courtesy", similar to wearing a hard hat to a construction site.
Mr Hague said: "Presumably when you go to a Cabinet meeting, you dress as a clown."
He had another good, er, stab, too. "If she thinks her constituents might want to kill her, she should look behind her."
Ms Harman hesitated, and then delivered a withering riposte, reminding him of his own fashion faux pas: "If I am looking for advice on what to wear or what not to wear, I think the last person I would look to for advice is the man in the baseball cap."
She had only one real gaffe, when she admitted that her blog was called "Harriet on the High Street" and that the folk of "Princess Street in Edinburgh" (sic) had told her that they had no fears of the economy. A propaganda coup for the Nats.
But overall, she changed from Harriet the hopeless, to almost Harriet the hero. If Gordon Brown has a clunking fist with which to beat his opponents, then Ms Harman was sporting a jolly hockey stick – and it hurt.
Honesty proves the best policy as she gives a credible performance, after a fashion
SHE didn't dress up for the occasion. But, Harriet Harman must have asked herself as she selected her dull cream jacket and dowdy black trousers that morning, what right-minded woman would? Every female in a position of power knows that if you want to be taken seriously at work, you don't pitch up on your first day wearing a mini-skirt and a boob tube.
Only Theresa May, the shadow deputy leader with a fondness for knee-high leather boots and leopard-print kitten heels, appeared not to have got the memo. Perhaps that's why she was benched for William Hague. Ms Harman, though, had done her homework. With muted make-up and demure hair, any loudness she displayed was restricted to her voice, which boomed its way across the Chamber in a fashion not seen in a female MP since the days of Margaret Thatcher.
Forget femininity. This was feminism.
Still, there was a frisson in the air as Mr Hague did what any desperate man does when he wants to get at a woman and attacked fashion choices. It was, of course, a non-starter, coming from a man who dresses like Charlie Brown. But it was all too good to be true. Finally, Ms Harman showed her carefully manicured hand. Asked questions that she was unclear on the answer to, she did what many women would consider and no man would dream of. She said she didn't know.
It was almost as refreshing as seeing a woman up there in the first place. Gordon Brown, watch and learn.
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