The five things you need to know on Tuesday March 15, 2016…
1) DAZE OF HOPE
You always know a newsdesk are short of ideas when they write a ‘100 days to…X’ feature. But that hasn’t stopped No.10 and the EU In campaign from pushing hard David Cameron’s latest Project Fear message today. Yes, dear reader, we are a century of earth revolutions round the sun until the June 23 EU referendum. And we have "100 days to secure our future", the PM will warn (in a seaside port today), citing higher prices, job cuts and dangerous streets under Brexit. Mandelson even piles in with a speech today.
But what’s this? Lynton Crosby, the mastermind behind his general election victory, suggests that the referendum is very finely balanced indeed and his debut piece in the Telegraph is fascinating reading. The paper splashes too on a new ORB poll (analysed by the Wizard of Oz) in which puts Remain on 47% and Leave on 48%. And when likelihood to vote is taken into account, the Brexit camp would win by 52% to 44%.
Sounds a bit like Andy Burnham who told Cambridge University Labour Club: “If I was to lay money on it now, tonight, I would bet that Brexit is going to win, and I don’t like saying that, but I feel that from talking to people in my own constituency”.
Is ‘Project Hope’ (copyright Boris Johnson) beating Project Fear? Well, Brexiteers’ own Project Fear could swing it, Sir Lynton suggests. The public sees risks in staying in the EU as well as quitting and the big fear is ‘uncontrolled immigration’. No wonder Western capitals are wondering if Russia’s pullout of Syria will secure the ceasefire and reduce the exodus of refugees to Europe.
Meanwhile, the US’s top general in Europe, Lt-Gen Frederick Hodges, tells the BBC Brexit would undermine Nato. No wonder the White House last night repeated its line that it wanted the UK to stay in the EU. (Note that Ted Cruz said this weekend however that Obama’s warnings to the UK “will make it more likely that England will pull out of the EU").
As for Michael Gove’s role in the Queen/Brexit story, he’s been deliberately mischievous with that quote over the weekend suggesting he was indeed one source, however indirectly, for the Sun story. Will he cough more details before the Justice select committee tomorrow? Will he be asked a straight question and give a straight answer?
Today is March 15. That's yer actual date of The Ides of March. And both Cameron and Corbyn are acutely aware of the threats to their leaderships...
2) GOING ROGUE
Labour’s problems with anti-semitism continue and last night’s PLP (read my report HERE) saw Louise Ellman, Tristram Hunt, Angela Smith and Yvette Cooper all urge tougher action to expel people like Vicky Kirby. Some Corbyn allies think they are getting it in the neck unfairly for decisions made by the NEC under Ed Miliband. Note John McDonnell said he was open to a look at making the rules more robust.
There was a bit of light relief yesterday for Team Corbyn with that ICM/Guardian poll putting Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 36%. The whoops of joy were muted by ICM itself suggesting it was a 'rogue' finding.
But what about the bigger picture, and that mooted leadership challenge? The FT reports that the wagons are circling and those close to Corbyn now expect a challenge soon after the EU referendum. Yet it sounded like Chuka Umunna, for one, was backing off the summer coup last night on ITV’s Agenda. He said “he hasn’t been in the job for a year yet” and hinted that most of the PLP agreed he should stay to September. That's not the message some other MPs are putting out.
The Times reports that ‘moderates’ are having success in London at least in their fightback against Momentum at local level. The key will be the NEC CLP elections, and again the ‘moderates’ are hopeful but Momentum is gearing up a big challenge. The Indy reports one of the Left candidates was forced to apologise in 2013 after joking that Tony Blair should share Margaret Thatcher’s coffin.
Simon Danczuk is under fresh pressure with the Sun saying he could be forced to repay £11k in expenses. But will Labour get Tory help in its bid to avoid £8m cuts to its finding in the trade union bill? Lord Cormack formally added his name to a cross-party amendment yesterday and ministers are up for some compromise - but not perhaps the one Labour wants.
3) THE MASTER BUILDER
George Osborne’s reputation for masterful PR ahead of Budgets has taken a knock of late, but his team get full marks for the spin on his expected ‘Northern Powerhouse’ announcement of backing for ‘HS3’ and Crossrail2’ tomorrow. The papers are full of it (some even splash on it), despite much of the £300m cash being preannounced, the fact that this is preparatory work for projects years away and the fact that most of the dosh goes to London not the north (a neat victory for Boris, once more).
William Hague writes in the Telegraph that his former PMQs prep aide (yes that’s how Osborne cut his teeth) is now the ‘most brilliant political mind of his generation’. Rob Halfon may not be convinced of that if there is a fuel duty rise, and the Telegraph reports the Cabinet Office minister is pushing hard against one.
There are a few other pre-Budget tales around, with the IFS warning police and councils will bear the brunt on the deeper cuts. The LGA warns, via the FT, of the ‘stealth tax’ of £400m in extra apprentice costs. The Mail worries more widely about the ‘crippling cost’ of the living wage, with firms like Tesco and B&Q cutting overtime and new hires to afford the 50p rise next month.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this new attack ad against Donald Trump, highlighting his sexism. It's funded by a Republican super-PAC. Just imagine what the Democrats will do.
4) SPEED READ
We report a warning from Big Brother Watch that MPs will spend just five hours today debating the 245-page Investigatory Powers Bill, plus a further 700 pages of supplementary documents that explain the legislation in detail. Funnily enough Edward Snowden retweeted my link to this story (his 1.9m followers explains why my timeline went into meltdown), but BBW has done a neat gif of how this bill would affect your own web-browsing habits.
There are a quite a few Tory civil liberties defenders ready to oppose the bill but that’s all academic if Labour abstains as Andy Burnham has signalled. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has described that decision as ‘gutless’. The SNP are vowing resolute opposition too. (On the equivocation front, I’m told that a last night’s CitizensUK rally, Burnham ally Keir Starmer refused to sign a pledge to take more refugees).
The Guardian has a letter from more than 200 senior legal bods, including former judges, QCs and others, saying that the surveillance bill is ‘not fit for purpose’.
5) 999 EMERGENCY
I wonder, just wonder, if the Chancellor will pump some extra cash into the NHS in the Budget this week? Some in Whitehall have mooted it as one way of taking the edge off the overall ‘cuts’ narrative, by diverting savings into the health service just as it looks like its finances are under severe strain (despite having ring-fenced funding, its appetite for cash is insatiable thanks to our ageing population and agency staff pressures).
The Public Accounts Committee today picks up on the topic of NHS financing that can leave some cold but which is vitally important. Yes, this is ‘the other deficit denial’, the one George Osborne doesn’t like to talk about – the NHS’s huge deficits.
There’s a £2.3bn deficit now. I remember when NHS chief exec Nigel Crisp was fired for running up debts a fraction of that.
Meg Hiller says there is not yet a convincing plan in place for closing the £22 billion efficiency gap and avoiding a ‘black hole’ in the NHS finances”.
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