The first time I ever became aware of Harriet Harman was when she won the Peckham by-election in 1982. It was the first time I’d been aware of anyone young, female and pregnant getting anywhere near the House of Commons and she was quite a role model for my generation.
Since then, I’ve disagreed with her on many things, but consider that she and I are pretty much fellow travellers when it comes to women’s rights and equality. On Page 3, employment rights and women’s representation, I think Harman has been one of the strongest voices and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves. Like any feminist, she takes a whole load of flack, not least from within her own party, but also from the right wing press. She’s been pilloried as Harriet Harperson and lampooned in every right wing tabloid.
The Daily Mail has spent the last few days trying to get us to believe that Harman, while she was working at the National Council for Civil Liberties in the late 1970s, at the very least turned a blind eye to the organisation’s association with an awful group called the Paedophile Information Exchange. The very idea that Harman could ever have done anything which advanced the cause of paedophiles is at odds with everything I have seen from her in over 30 years. If there are any doubts, then I’m prepared to give her the benefit of them.
I don’t think that there is much in the way of doubt, though. One of the Mail’s allegations suggests that her legal briefing on a piece of legislation affecting children said that taking photographs of children naked was fine if it didn’t cause them suffering. They also publish photos of the briefing. If you read it, it’s actually nowhere near as bad as the Mail suggests and to my mind is quite reasonable. Basically what it says is that the law as written could criminalise parents for taking photos of their babies in the bath. Many of us have to endure the embarrassment of photos of ourselves as a chubby, smiling baby being rolled out at key occasions in our lives, but secretly we are glad that they exist.
There’s also a long section about how you define what’s indecent and how it means different things to different people and how the law could end up criminalising as indecent things like Private Eye covers and any criticism of the monarchy. Reading it, I wonder what happened that enabled her to support so much illiberal Labour legislation when she was a member of the Government.
I don’t necessarily think that Harman’s media strategy has been right on those things, but I can understand her frustration at being targeted by a Daily Mail story that’s more smear than substance. She should have come out and stamped all over it right at the start. I think she’s maybe let her own entirely justifiable antipathy towards the Fail get in the way of a coherent response. I think that she could also have thrown in that, for sure, NCCL shouldn’t have touched PIE with a bargepole especially when it seems as though Jack Dromey, her husband, had a fair bit to do with getting rid of them, according to his statement.
To me, it’s quite clear that this is a typical Fail stitch up. This is a publication that sees politicians they don’t like such as Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and their families as fair game. Harriet Harman made some liberal observations about an illiberal bill being debated in Parliament. At that time, a pretty horrible organisation was affiliated to her employers. There is no relationship between those two facts.
The Fail has managed to target not only someone they’ve loathed for a very long time, but also take a pop at civil liberties, too. It can’t be an accident that this has all come out as NCCL’s successor, Liberty, celebrates its 80th birthday. The Fail is wrong and shouldn’t get away with it.