The five things you need to know on Friday February 26, 2016…
1) HOWARD’S END
Michael Howard has been on the Today programme, following up on his Telegraph piece declaring for Brexit. Sadly, he didn’t once say ‘peeple’, but he did make crystal clear he thought David Cameron was on the wrong side in the EU referendum.
Of course, Howard has known Cameron for 25 years and indeed in many ways helped his protege clinch the leadership (by staying on for six months, promoting Dave beforehand to key jobs). Never exactly wildly popular with the general public - don’t forget Blair still tonked him in 2005 despite Iraq - Howard nevertheless is a big, big figure within the Tory party. And his decision to back ‘Leave’ will further embolden ‘sensible’ Tory voters who are thinking of flirting with Brexit. As with Gove and Boris, it’s yet another reassurance for waverers that they are not joining the loony fringe. That’s the power of today’s announcement.
Howard was pretty robust on Today, dismissing claims that the UK can’t survive outside the EU (“we are the fifth largest economy in the world….we won’t be supplicants”) and ramming home the march-of-history argument that the EU was heading for an ignominious end (“an outdated model…it tries to impose a rigid straightjacket of uniformity…that’s why it’s a failed and flawed project”).
In the strange-bedfellows department, Howard is now on the same side as Boris, the man he once sacked from a shadow post for lying about his affair with Petsy Wyatt. But as Boris has backed off the ‘Second Referendum’ idea, Howard doubled down on it. He said Cameron should “give it a month or so” after at Leave vote to trigger the Article 50 process for quitting the EU.
Howard also said Dave shouldn’t quit, pointing out the distraction of a leadership race while in office and renegotiating with the EU would be a non-starter. But maybe Cameron will just follow his lead and hang on for six months until it’s all a bit clearer? Howard didn’t sound that convincing as he said: “I’m absolutely confident David Cameron could stay on, should stay on”
And finally, Sarah Montague cleverly got in the ‘bastards’ question. Howard was believed to be one of the three Cabinet ‘bastards’ John Major was caught on mic referring to way back in 1993. Wouldn’t Cameron be entitled to think the same about him now? "That's something you will have to ask him about," Howard replied. (To be fair, Major was more focused on Lilley, Portillo and Redwood, but hey who remembers the detail?)
There’s lots more EU stuff in the papers, not least the Times claiming Cameron is plotting 40 new peerages as rewards for allies post-referendum. Labour’s Angela Smith is not happy about another 'rigging of the system' (see Cleggy below). The FT splashes on moves by George Osborne to get the G20 finance ministers to issue dire warnings about Brexit. The Economist’s leader today has a blood-chilling warning about the dangers of leaving the EU too.
There’s also growing contempt among Euroscep MPs for colleagues who have caved to No.10 pressure to back ‘Remain’. We’ve come a long way though. I remember when Tory MPs were threatened with the withdrawal of the whip under William Hague for even hinting they wanted to quit the EU. At a Freedom Association fringe at the 2005 Tory conference, Philip Davies became the first Conservative MP to advocate withdrawing from the EU. A year later 10 MPs had signed up to ‘Better Off Out’, even though Cameron barred anyone with membership of the group from his shadow frontbench. As recently as 2010, membership was seen by CCHQ as a ‘skeleton’ in the closet of candidates. After Howard today, that Tory split loomed a lot closer.
The Sun and Mail and others have let rip at Cameron over the issue that could swing this EU referendum: migration. No.10 believes yesterday’s figures from the ONS actually show the corner may have been turned on record EU migration, with the numbers beginning to fall. Others fear this is ‘the new normal with 257,000 EU nationals coming to the UK in the year to September 2015.
The Romanian and Bulgarian increase of 15,000 was ‘statistically significant’, the ONS says, and many Brexiteers think it was ‘politically significant’ too. Nigel Farage was ridiculed by ministers when he predicted this surge but he was right, it turns out.
The Sun points out Osborne is actually relying on migration to fuel his growth figures and to hit his surplus. But it and other papers attack ‘The Great Migrant Con’: 630,000 EU citizens registered for a national insurance number, way more than the numbers who officially stayed for a year. As it happens, Madeleine Sumption of the Oxford Migration Observatory had an explanation on the Today prog: many of those claiming an NI number can stay for just a few weeks (as opposed to the year-long stay for the official migration stats). We will get to find out in May when the ONS publishes its ‘short term migration’ stats, along with a fresh batch of overall numbers. That’s just a few weeks before the referendum: No.10 will be crossing its fingers there’s progress.
3) LABOUR PAINS. AGAIN
Labour is in the difficult position of privately relishing the Tory chaos on Europe while wanting to publicly do nothing to undermine Cameron's In campaign. And the party has splits of its own. Jeremy Corbyn’s gearing up for his CND rally on Saturday, but (as previewed here yesterday), GMB shop stewards let rip in Newcastle over moves to dump Trident. One said Corbyn and his allies were “armchair generals playing student politics”.
The Telegraph reports how Corbyn received half as much money in party funding and donations as Ed Miliband did in his first three months as party leader. Money given to the central party fund under Mr Corbyn amounted to just over £3million compared to the £6million handed to Mr Miliband in 2010.
Corbyn hit back quite neatly yesterday at Cameron’s suit jibes, claiming he’d rather be more ‘Holloway Road’ than ‘Bond Street’ (sounds like a really fun game of Anti-Monopoly). But Momentum and Ken Livingstone are still an issue for many Labour MPs. Momentum is keen on victory in this weekend’s Labour Students vote for the NEC (we have a story on this later).
Yet following the Oxford Uni allegations of anti-semitism, Chuka Umunna in The House magazine is in no doubt Livingstone is part of the problem: “I think there is a problem with anti-Semitism on the fringes of the left, there is no doubt about that; it would be completely disingenuous to deny that. And there are some people who have clearly said some things which have very much offended the Jewish community. Ken Livingstone's the obvious example."
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Donald Trump finally get burned (or singed) by Rubio and Cruz in last night’s TV debate. It only took 10 debates and 8 months to do it.
4) THE HUNT EFFECT
The Government likes to talk about the ‘weekend effect’ of doctor staffing. But among doctors this talk brings out the ‘Jeremy Hunt effect’: a condition whose symptoms include abuse raging from mild ridicule to full-on, red-faced anger.
On the BBC’s Question Time last night, one junior doctor vented his spleen, claiming the Health Secretary basically lied about the statistics, declaring that in fact the highest death rate in hospitals was on a Wednesday. “It is misrepresenting and lying, frankly, because when you’re told something is wrong and you continually repeat it, it becomes a lie. He is lying about what is happening in hospitals.”
For all the ‘your mum’ jokes at PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn’s allies say Cameron will come to regret backing Hunt. But the Department of Health thinks there’s too much heat and not enough light on this subject, and points to its own letter to the Health Select Committee that suggests 6 out of 8 studies show a weekend effect.
As for the BMJ’s editor Fiona Godlee, who is set next week to step up attacks on Hunt, some in Government point to her quote in an interview in January: “Health care is political…We strive to not be party political, but you couldn’t fail to call the editorial team liberal. We are in favour of social justice and equity, because those things seem to us to promote better health.”
Meanwhile, the Indy’s Charlie Cooper has a story revealing the Public Accounts Committee has been sent evidence from Cass Business School suggesting the new contract will impact on patient safety because of disruption to doctors’ sleep patterns.
5) NICK 'THE CAT' CLEGG
Nick Clegg, remember him? This week the Cleggster has had a mini renaissance, first by being called by Mr Speaker in the EU statement (ahead of his party leader) and today with his most significant newspaper interview since last May.
Clegg tells the Independent that the ‘One Nation’ Tories are becoming the ‘One party state’ Tories by ‘rigging the rules’ against Opposition parties. As it happens, HuffPost yesterday published a handy guide to the claims on this, from Short Money to the Trade Union bill.
But it’s worth noting that Clegg was picking up not just from Tom Brake (who compared Cameron to Robert Mugabe recently - no, really), but also Labour’s Cat Smith. Smith was the first to use the soundbite in the Commons this month: “the so-called one nation party is trying to create a one-party nation”,
Clegg no longer has football fanatic James McGrory at his side. But he is keen on a footie metaphor, comparing George Osborne to Jose Mourinho, saying they were both “very clever, very skilled” but took “a little too much pleasure at the misfortunes of others” and “twisting the knife”. Oooer.
We have not one but two Commons People podcasts this week: one focusing on the EU referendum, and one a totally EU-free zone. Check out the Quiz of the Week on each, though.
On the non-EU podcast we have ‘Public Outcry or Big Fat Lie? Which of these was a genuine e-petition and which is made up?’ Listen HERE
One the EU special, we have ‘Blonde bombshell or Blond Buffoon? Which of these quotes is Marilyn Monroe + which Boris?’ Listen HERE.
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