UK Politics

Harman attacks Gordon Brown over 'deputy PM snub'

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Media captionHarriet Harman: "It's old fashioned for parliament to be male dominated"

Harriet Harman has suggested Gordon Brown did not make her deputy prime minister because she is a woman.

In an attack on sexism in Westminster, Labour's deputy leader says she was "surprised" she was not given the title in 2007 and claims that she would have got it if she had been a man.

She also suggests she was relegated to a supporting role at a G20 summit, attending a dinner for leaders' wives.

Damian McBride, a former aide to Mr Brown, said this was "utter bilge".

Ms Harman is the most senior female politician in the Labour Party and a longstanding campaigner for equality for women at Westminster.

She was elected deputy leader of the party at a same time as Gordon Brown became leader in 2007 but, unlike her predecessor John Prescott, was not afforded the title of deputy prime minister.

The position was left vacant for the three years Mr Brown was in No 10.

'Window dressing'

In a speech in Westminster, in which she also attacked David Cameron, Ms Harman took issue with that decision, arguing that "even getting to the top is no guarantee of equality".

"Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour Party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as deputy prime minister," she said.

"If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gordon Brown's former aide launched a broadside at Ms Harman

"Would they have put up with it? I doubt it."

Ms Harman does not mention Mr Brown by name, but she does refer to criticism of the former prime minister by others, including former Europe minister Caroline Flint who resigned from the government in 2009 accusing Mr Brown of treating women as "window dressing".

"We must remember Caroline Flint's denunciation of women being used as window dressing," she said.

Ms Harman downplayed Ms Flint's criticism at the time of her resignation, saying it was untrue that Mr Brown "doesn't take women in politics seriously".

But in Tuesday's speech, Ms Harman she suggests she was sidelined during the crucial G20 summit in London in 2009, where Mr Brown co-ordinated efforts to stabilise the global financial system.

"Imagine the consternation in my office when we discovered that my involvement in the London G20 summit was inclusion at the No 10 dinner for the G20 leaders' wives," she said.

Ms Harman later told the BBC that she expected to become deputy prime minister if Labour won power after the next general election.

'Useless or not'

But Mr McBride said Ms Harman's comments were wrong and their timing were "shameful" given Mr Brown's role in trying to obtain the release of 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants in Nigeria in his capacity as the UN's Special Envoy for Global Education.

"It's utter bilge from Harriet, done to make her attack on Dave look non-partisan," he wrote on Twitter.

"As every man and woman who ever worked for him could attest, Gordon judged people on only one thing: were they useless or not."

Mr McBride said Mr Brown's respect for women was demonstrated by the "crucial role" played by former Labour business minister Baroness Vadera at the G20 summit.

"Shriti Vadera was given a crucial role to play at the G20 not because of her position but because she could make a crucial contribution," he wrote.

The spouses' dinner, he added, "was a gathering of Britain's leading women across all walks of life, of which I thought she (Ms Harman) would count herself as one".

Mr McBride was forced to resign as Gordon Brown's political press officer after using his No 10 e-mail account to discuss smearing political opponents.

In her speech, Ms Harman also attacked David Cameron's record on equality issues, accusing him of surrounding himself with female MPs at prime minister's questions "while the rest of the government benches are nearly exclusively men".

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