The five things you need to know on Wednesday June 24, 2015...
1) POVERTY OF EXPECTATION
As I pointed out in yesterday’s WaughZone (and reported on the day), the most interesting line in David Cameron’s welfare speech on Monday was his very clear signal that he wanted to reform the child poverty target. Today, several papers have picked up on the significance of what he said, with the Guardian and Times putting it on their front pages.
The Cabinet meeting yesterday certainly gave the story legs as Nicky Morgan, IDS and Oliver Letwin (a quietly important figure in many of the PM’s deliberations) led a discussion on the ‘right’ definition of poverty. The PM does agree with IDS that it is ‘absurd’ that a rise in pensions can shift more children over the poverty line, defined as 60% of median income.
One option is to widen the definition to run alongside a new version of a relative poverty measurement, adding in a mix of key indicators of real deprivation such as family breakdown, worklessness, poor education, debt, addiction. With the latest figures due out tomorrow, ministers are braced for the worst, but IDS appears to be winning his long battle with the Treasury that a wider definition is needed.
The Times says that the Child Poverty Act - which many agree now looks out of date because it commits governments to eradicating child poverty by 2020 - will be repealed, partly because ministers fear a legal challenge could curb the next round of welfare cuts. Expect Harriet Harman to pounce on that one today in PMQs. Privately Blair always felt that the Act would only serve as an incentive to get the numbers down and few believed the target would be hit. But perhaps it’s a lesson in how legal straitjackets and ‘binding’ targets aren’t always a good idea.
2) UPSETTING THE A LA CARTE
Calais may have been recaptured by the French in 1558 but it has long been seen on both sides of the Channel as an ‘English problem’. Henry VIII would probably have preferred to run through a few migrants but that option isn’t open to our border force staff as they struggle to contend with the aftermath of yesterday’s wildcat strike. James Brokenshire has been manning the political defences on the Today prog. Expect the PM to say more in PMQs today. Labour (under David Hanson) has been pushing this issue for some time, while UKIP too will seek to exploit it.
The trickier European problem for David Cameron is his EU renegotiation and he’ll be happier to be visiting Germany rather than France this afternoon. French economy minister Emmanuel Macron has told the BBC that the UK could not be allowed a "Europe a la carte". "I don't understand how it is possible to say 'we the UK have all the positive aspects of Europe but don't want to share any of the risk with any member states' It just doesn't fly. It's a common responsibility."
The FT points out that while the PM will be arriving in the slipstream of the Queen (and her proud German roots), he has sometimes overestimated the ability or willingness of Angela Merkel to deliver what he wants in Brussels. Officials in No10 refer to Germany as ‘the G1’ in Europe, but Gisela Stuart tells the paper: “Cameron doesn’t understand that for Merkel the EU is existential — it is a fact of history and geography — it is not optional”.
3) LANCING THE ROYALS
Is the SNP exacting revenge on the Queen for her infamous line during the Scots indyref that ‘I hope people will think very carefully about the future’? Well, there’s a mixed picture today. Several papers splash on the line from Palace officials that Scotland intends to retain profits from the Crown Estate, a move that could cut funding to the Monarchy by £2m.
Courtiers (dontcha love that word) used a briefing on the Royal finances yesterday to play a bit of poker, suggesting that Nicola Sturgeon seemed more hardline on the issue than Alex Salmond. A Scottish government spokesman appeared to insist that the shortfall would be made up from general taxation. “Scotland will continue to make the same financial contribution to the monarchy as at present – there will be no reduction in the sovereign grant as a result of devolution of the crown estate.”
All of which could have been a neat ruse for the Palace to distract from the fact that the Royals had received a 6.7% increase in funding despite wider austerity for the public. And in a nod to Parliament’s own woes over renovation, officials said the Queen could move out of Buck House temporarily while £150m is spent on a refurb. It’s a battle between two of the cannier PR outfits in public life. Sturgeon, a dab hand on the media, could respond today.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of Japanese bullet train staff prep every carriage in just seven minutes flat. Their average age is 52.
4) LEADING LABOUR
The Independent has an ORB survey claiming that Andy Burnham is seen by the public as the candidate most likely to improve Labour’s chances at the next election. Burnham is on 36%, to Liz Kendall’s 25%, Yvette Cooper’s 20% and Jeremy Corbyn (not that far behind) on 18%. Burnham’s camp will hope this helps dispel his reputation as a ‘left wing’ candidate, and tonight he has a speech on reviving home ownership.
There are bits of the poll (and of course all polls are these days seen with very jaudiced eyes) that the contenders can cherry pick. Kendall is the favourite of under-24s, Cooper is the women’s choice. Corbyn is seen as the candidate who would do most harm to Labour’s chances in 2020 (by 36%). As for those ‘Tories for Corbyn’, Michael Gove became the latest recruit to the cause yesterday, though Labour has decided to pocket their cash while denying them a vote.
5) GOVE LOVE
Michael Gove’s speech yesterday had the legal profession cooing with praise for its reforming vision and conciliatory tone. But there was a hint of mischief and steel in his warning that richer solicitors should do more legal aid work for free, never mind his review of FoI laws.
Yet what was also clear was his strong hint in the Commons that he would axe the Grayling-Clegg plan for a Secure College aka a ‘mega-Borstal’ in Leicestershire. The 320-bed fortified school for teenage offenders had been slammed by many charities who worried it would bring back the days of ‘Scum’ and Ray Winston’s billiard-ball-in-a-sock violence.
But Justice Secretary took the wind out of Labour’s sails by making plain it wouldn’t go ahead. The Treasury will be pleased at the £100m saving, but expect Gove to come back to the issue of educating prisoners - of all ages.
After Gove’s edict on civil servants’ grammar, a few papers relish Gove’s revelation on Wato that Stephen Fry had texted him “correcting me on some of my own errors linguistically."
ONES TO WATCH
The Guardian has an interview with Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb ahead of his big speech on new devolution powers.
Boris’s final State of London speech last night had some good lines, not least his plan for a ‘Knowledge-lite’ for Uber drivers. He also suggested the PM would definitely rule out a third runway at Heathrow. There was lots of banter but the Mayor came unstuck when he asked an audience member 'Why aren't you standing?' The man replied: 'Because I'm in a wheelchair'. How very Joe Biden.
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