The five things you need to know on Monday February 29, 2016…
1) TOUR DE FORCE
The PM is on the road again today with his ‘EU referendum tour’ (imagine being a roadie on that) and he’s channelling his inner Nigel Tufnel by turning the volume up to 11 on Project Fear. The first official Government analysis of Brexit warns that there would be a decade of uncertainty for the UK economy, with trade deals with non-EU states having to be put on hold while we race to sort a new Brussels tariffs deal.
Brexiteers will argue that it’s not beyond the wit of man or woman to actually negotiate several trade deals at once (that’s one jobs boom guaranteed under life outside the EU: ‘trade deal negotiator’). Matt Hancock rolled out the scary message on Today, though he said it was a ‘cautious assessment'. But Chris Grayling said the 10-year timetable was ‘ludicrous’. Graylo did betray a whiff of fear about his own Cabinet future though, telling Sky News ‘it would not be sensible..for there to be a purge’ of Brexiteers post-referendum.
Boris in his Telegraph column says it’s time to rally around Project Hope. Still, he and other Outers would do well to come clean that it would be a bumpy ride for a few years, while stressing the upside medium to long term. But do voters look beyond the short term?
Cameron, who tweeted he’d met 4,000 voters and covered 1,500 miles last week, is good in the shirt-sleeved ‘PM Direct’ setting and knows he can skew broadcast coverage with a general election style schedule of events. The PM is also trying to force Brexit ministers to shut up and stop moaning about Whitehall rules on access to documents about the referendum (No10 insists stuff on Europe per se is unaffected). Gather your popcorn for Sir Cover Up (aka Jeremy Heywood) v Bernard Jenkin at the Public Admin Select tomorrow.
The battle over ‘security’ continues, with Boris dismissing the wilder claims. The Sun has some Falklands top brass for Brexit, while the Times has a letter in similar vein from Rear Admiral Chris Parry (yeah, me neither). You bored yet?
Jeremy Corbyn is back in the front line today. After his CND rally on Saturday, he faces his PLP tonight and questions about defence and Trident may well come up. Emily Thornberry’s new media adviser, one D McBride, also starts work today. And Corbyn is on ITV1’s The Agenda with Tom Bradby tonight (maybe he’ll have to duck out early of PLP to get to it…?).
The PLP may want to ask about another high profile adviser Corbyn revealed this weekend: Yanis Varoufakis. The Telegraph reveals that the Labour leader told his local Islington Tribune newspaper that the former Greek finance minister will be advising Labour "in some capacity”.
‘Moderates’ are breathing a sigh of relief today that they defeated a Momentum-backed candidate for the youth rep slot on the ruling NEC this weekend (by just one vote). But reports of the dark arts on both sides surfaced, with claims that some had tried to smear James Elliott with anti-semitism allegations and counter claims that one delegate was called a ‘scab’ for not voting for him.
Tom Blenkinsop wants Young Labour suspended and a full investigation. I’m told the Labour Students investigation into the Oxford Labour Club has already had some pretty unsavoury allegations put to it, not least the singing in pubs of the Hamas song ‘Rockets over Tel Aviv’. This could get aired tonight. I'd also bet John McDonnell's call for the scrapping of the Compliance Unit, that weeds out infiltrators, will be raised.
3) GEORGIAN ERA
With all the focus on Boris and Dave, George Osborne has risked looking like a bit player in the Brexit debate, his leadership hopes becalmed at best and possibly torpedoed by the Mayor’s high-risk move. But the Chancellor remains the second most important politician in Britain and unlike Boris has some mighty levers of power at his disposal.
Osborne’s ‘Friday night drop’ of warnings of fresh cuts in the Budget were a classic of the genre, letting him leak his own plans with few noticing. He told Laura Kuenssberg that global economic turmoil and slower growth meant "we may need to undertake further reductions”. Within weeks of an Autumn Statement that many warned was complacent, Osborne has been talking up the global risks.
Of course, it won’t harm the Chancellor among some on the Right of his party if he pushes more cuts rather than tax hikes. Yet Labour may argue that the voters are being doubly punished for his own misreading of the global economy and his desire to neuter Boris.
There’s a few pre-Budget stories about today, from the FT splashing on retailers worrying about the minimum wage and apprentice levy to the Sun’s pre-emptive strike from the AA warning against any fuel duty hike. The Times goes big on Ken Clarke telling Osbo to stick to his guns and slash pension tax breaks for higher earners. The Indy focuses on the Chancellor’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’, using a new Joseph Rowntree Foundation report to highlight the ‘Northern Poorhouse’ of 10 lowest growth towns up North. Grimsby is in the list, which may help Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie…
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch 10 year-old Lexi, a Hillary Clinton volunteer, explain why she dislikes Trump. “He sits there and thinks, 'Oh I'm Mr. Donald Trump, I know everything,’ which is sort of like my brother…” (Scroll to 10mins in this video)
4) THE BIG SHORTAGE
David Cameron was elected as ‘the man with a plan’. Yet there are two big ‘public services’ stories around today that suggest what Britain is really pretty bad at planning. In a nutshell, the NHS hasn’t trained enough doctors or nurses and we haven’t built enough new schools to cope with a mini baby boom.
The BBC’s Freedom of Information lead story has some startling stats, with 69% of NHS trusts trying to fix the serious shortage of medical staff by looking abroad. The Government trots out its mantra that more docs and nurses have been trained but the point is that it’s nowhere near enough.
There’s an irony in needing to look overseas of course, given that UKIP and others claim that in fact it is a rise in immigration that is putting fresh strain on both hospitals and schools. The LGA says Free Schools just can’t cope with the demand and want councils to be allowed to build their own new schools. As she’s not seen as much of an ideologue as her predecessor, maybe Nicky Morgan will relent (while pointing out Labour did little to spot the demographic change behind so many ‘bulge classes’ in primary schools you now see in London)?
5) SCOTS MISSED
Nicola Sturgeon is in London this evening and is bound to be asked if the SNP really has done a U-turn on Sunday trading. Unions, Labour and ‘Keep Sunday Special’ Tories were furious at reports this weekend that the party was set to abandon its opposition to the Enterprise Bill allowing greater Sunday freedoms.
In the Commons last week, SNP business spokeswoman Hannah Bardell first signalled the shift, saying ministers were taking into account the knock-on effect on Scots workers. “The SNP welcome the provision for additional employee protections that the UK Government has brought forward”.
With new safeguards set to be added into the legislation ensuring no one is forced to work on a Sunday, the Government would get its way thanks to the SNP move. An SNP source told The Sunday Post: “We believe the Government is coming to a position we can support.”
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