by HUFFPOST WAUGH ZONE | Opinion
|* Paul Waugh|
It got slightly lost amid the noise and fury last week but Harriet Harman’s Budget response focused on the need for Labour not to offer ‘blanket’ rejection of George Osborne’s plans. The interim Labour leader warned against Opposition for opposition’s sake. That approach was signed off by the Shadow Cabinet as a holding pattern, but Harman has clearly taken it to heart, telling Andrew Neil yesterday ‘I think we won’t oppose the Welfare Bill’, and that she won’t oppose the household benefit cap and won’t oppose the two-child benefit restrictions.
Now, it’s worth noting that Harman did not say Labour didn’t have problems with the tax credit cuts. But that hasn’t stopped Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn all reacting swiftly to burnish their credentials with the party rank and file. So far, only Liz Kendall has not rushed to condemnation.
‘She’s an interim leader who ought to start behaving like an interim leader’ one campaign manager mutters darkly. The gap between Labour having to do its ‘day job’ of Opposition and its process of selecting a new leader has never been so stark. Yet I suspect that Harman is remembering how she last played this acting leader role in 2010 - and how Labour allowed the Coalition to paint it into a corner under Ed Miliband.
Harriet Harman (pictured in glasses) and Chris Leslie will face the PLP tonight. Note that Leslie’s failure to oppose public sector pay freezes last week caused a few eyebrow raises among the leadership bid campaigns too (not least in the Cooper camp).
The Sun puts on its front page a story denouncing ‘hypocrite’ Burnham over his refusal to talk to the paper (an echo of Labour’s stance under Ed Miliband in the general election) on the grounds of its coverage of Hillsborough. It says he was happy to talk to the paper in 2010 but won’t now.
And it all got pretty nasty pretty quickly yesterday. Tristram Hunt, who said the party ‘needs as many friends as possible’, came under swift attack from one shadow minister who told me he was a ‘public school academic’. In turn, former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith Tweeted that the anonymous MP should ‘shut the f*ck up’. That gap between appealing to the wider voters and the party never looked so wide.
Labour in-fighting is a gift to the Tories, which is of course partly why Osborne lays his benefit traps. But it’s worth reminding everyone that this is a leadership race like none other and it’s genuinely very difficult to read the party membership’s mood.
Constituency Labour Party nominations are great for us hacks (and Corbyn is second - hence the Labour First move, revealed by HuffPost, to stop him) as they give us something to measure things by. Yet CLP nominations are not a reliable guide at all to the thinking of those party members who don’t turn up to meetings. We had ‘shy Tories’ at the election, so it’s no wonder that Kendall hopes ‘shy Blairites’ could win the day for her. A few MPs are now wondering whether one ‘shy Blairite’ is Harriet Harman herself...
* Paul Waugh, is the Executive Editor, Politics, HuffingtonPost UK.