This is the first time I have ever included an article from the Daily Mail. Call me a wishy washy liberal if you like, but I can’t bring myself to respect a newspaper that ran the headline “hurrah for the blackshirts!” even if it was seventy years ago. However, as Deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet gives us a glaring example of post Blairite media ham-fistedness. And of course, the Mail just loved it. Could have been under the headline Hurrah for the blackshirts, 2.
Harriet Harman has defended her decision to wear a stab-proof jacket during a police walkabout in her own constituency – claiming it was like donning a hard hat on a building site.
The Labour Party’s deputy leader rejected claims it suggested she did not feel safe on the streets.
Ms Harman, who is also Commons leader, said she wore the kevlar-reinforced vest as a “courtesy” to the neighbourhood policing team with whom she toured Peckham, South London.
She said: “There was no security issue whatsoever, it was almost like wearing the kit when you go out with the team.
The famously politically-correct MP, known to her detractors as Harperson, spoke out after facing ridicule over the move.
Her decision to wear the body armour was also seen as a sad reflection of a modern Britain where police feel they have to offer VIP guests “protection”.
It happened two months after the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, admitted she would not feel safe walking the streets after dark.
Aides of Miss Smith compounded her gaffe with a desperate attempt to undo the damage by claiming she had recently popped out in the evening to “buy a kebab in Peckham”.
In fact, she has round-the-clock police protection and the owner of the kebab shop revealed that Miss Smith had been accompanied by a burly minder when she dropped in for a £3.90 doner on a late afternoon in January.
Asked whether she would feel safe walking the streets of Hackney, one of the most deprived parts of London, the Home Secretary replied: “Well, no, but I don’t think I’d ever have done. I just don’t think that’s a thing that people do, is it, really?”
The Harman gaffe emerged after aides of the MP for Camberwell and Peckham, who is also leader of the Commons, sent a picture of her touring the area with police to local newspapers.
Privately-educated Miss Harman, 57, also posted the picture on her website, explaining how she had been on the beat with a Neighbourhood Policing Team on the day Labour relaunched its local policing strategy.
“It is absolutely crucial to have neighbourhood policing which is visible,” she wrote. “People feel safer when there is a police presents (sic).”
Sources said that before the walkabout, Miss Harman was asked whether she would like to wear a “Metvest” – the standard issue protective jacket worn by officers in Southwark.
One said: “Everyone is flabbergasted by her decision to wear the vest, especially when she was guarded by three police officers. Senior politicians who have visited Peckham in the past have never worn one.”
This morning Ms Harman told the BBC’s Today programme: “I was not parading the streets of London in a bulletproof vest – I was going out with my neighbourhood police team.
“Just as I might wear a hard hat on a building site or an Indian outfit going to meet Indian constituents, it’s just about wearing the kit.
“There was no security issue whatever. The idea that I put that on because I was fearful of being out and about in my own constituency at nine in the morning is just ridiculous.”
She added: “Then we went out on the streets and they (the police) hitched on their stab vests, I think is what they are called.
“They were telling me about their new version, (which is) much lighter than the old one so that if they have to chase criminals they can do it much more easily and it doesn’t weigh them down.
“And they gave me and my assistant one to wear as well.”
Interviewer John Humphrys said: “You wear a hard hat on a building site because there are dangers there.
“There is the danger that something might drop on your head. You don’t need to wear a bullet-proof vest on the streets of London, do you?”
Ms Harman responded: “No of course you don’t.”
Constituents said Miss Harman had insulted ordinary people who have no option but to walk the streets unprotected.
Beatrice Smith, 63, said: “The only time we see Harriet Harman is either on voting day or during some PR stunt. There is a lot of trouble on the estates but we don’t get given stab vests.
“There were two stabbings nearby earlier today, and I’d rather see her spending time sorting the crime problem out than posing in such a ridiculous outfit.”
Offences of violence in the borough of Southwark, which includes Peckham, have increased by 6.9 per cent in the last year.
In recent years, the inner London district has been the scene of a series of horrific street crimes, including the murder of schoolboy Damilola Taylor in 2000 and the shotgun murder of a woman at a christening.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis attacked the law-and-order record which led to Miss Harman’s decision to don protection.
“Under Labour London has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world and the minister, like the Home Secretary before her, clearly knows it,” he said.
“You would not need body armour in New York, Paris or Tokyo.”
The picture was also seized on by Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s main rivals for the job in May’s election.
Conservative Boris Johnson said: “The Labour Mayor continues to bury his head in the sand, telling everyone that crime has gone down in this city.
“The simple fact is that 27 teenagers were killed last year and a further 11 so far this year.
“Londoners do not have the luxury of personal police protection or stab-proof jackets which is why I have put tackling crime at the heart of my campaign.”
Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, a former senior Met Police officer, said: “The fact that the deputy leader of the Labour Party has to wear a stab-proof jacket to protect her from her own constituents is a sad indictment of Ken Livingstone’s failure to deal with gun and knife crime.”
And lest we forget…….(Younger readers can find notes on the BUF here)