The five things you need to know on Wednesday July 22, 2015...
1) BELIEVE IN THE BEARD
Well, people can’t say they weren’t warned. It’s been the gossip in Labour circles for weeks that Jeremy Corbyn was ahead in secret Kellner fieldwork. The New Statesman got hold of a survey with a 13 point lead last week. But today’s Times YouGov poll has a stonking great 17 point lead on first preferences (Corbyn 43, Burnham 26, Cooper 20, Kendall 11).
Even after second preferences are taken into account, Corbyn beats Burnham by 53% to 47%: proof that even in alternative vote systems it’s hard to claw back a frontrunner. In the deputy race, Tom Watson is miles ahead of Stella Creasy too.
Will Corbyn’s lead be the electric shock therapy Labour members need to mobilise against him...or is it just confirmation of how far the party has shifted in the last 20 years?
Last night, Yvette Cooper’s camp was the first to respond: "This doesn't reflect our internal data and significantly understates the huge number of members and supporters giving Yvette their first preference. However, what it does show is that Yvette is now the only candidate who can win the leadership election.”
MPs like Ian Austin are already telling their colleagues to ‘calm down’, clearly disbelieving the poll. As Jonathan Ashworth this morning pointed out, polls in 2007 had Hilary Benn winning the deputy leadership (in a YouGov poll no less). I would add that Benn also won most CLP nominiations. In the end, he came fourth. Tristram Hunt is not so sanguine, telling Today that Labour would become a mere ‘pressure group’ if Corbyn was leader.
But the fact remains that Corbyn has had cut-through because of his simple message on austerity, nationalisation, student fees and Trident. This week’s splits over the welfare bill were a gift for him, unburdened as he is by any frontbench job.
Corbyn has a speech this morning. But Tony Blair may get more headlines as he’s set to make his big intervention in the race today at the Progress interview. Sadly the op note said “Please not that media representatives will not be permitted to ask questions”. So it’s all upto Matt Forde.
For years the accepted wisdom was that the Tories were fixated by and paralysed by how they dealt with their Thatcher legacy and matricide. Yet it appears that Labour is much more paralysed by its Blair legacy. Love him or hate him, Blair recognised that Labour could only get elected if it offered a charismatic, credible Prime Minister figure (don’t forget the party was still behind on economic competence even in 1997, so leadership is all). Even Corbyn’s best friends admit he’s a reluctant leader. But they then also say ‘look at quiet Clem Attlee, the man who beat Churchill’.
Yesterday’s photo Tweeted by Gerry Adams of himself sitting alongside Jeremy Corbyn in Portcullis House looked like a carefully calculated show of support. It was payback for the support Corbyn had given to Sinn Fein even in the days when it was hugely controversial to talk to them. But it also prompts this thought: it took Blair, and a huge mandate, to give Adams the power his party now has.
2) ENGLAND FOR THE ENGLISH
Scotland gets lots of focus but one of Labour’s biggest problems, and opportunities, has been The English Question. Liz Kendall this week was warm to the idea of an English Labour Party, not least thanks to the letter from Jon Cruddas and Graham Allen demanding a greater English identity for the party.
Today, over in Washington, Chuka Umunna has gone even further and become the first senior Labour politician to call for an English Parliament. Yes, you read that right. ‘A new English Parliament to sit alongside bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’. Radical indeed - but is it the answer to the rise of UKIP and the SNP, or a capitulation to them both?
On the domestic scene, Chuka adds: “Too often over the last 5 years in opposition we behaved like a party of protest. Now we urgently need to modernise again so people give us back their trust to govern once more and fulfil our historic promise." Strong stuff. Yet his problem is that ‘too often over the past five years’ he was seen by the Blairites as a cheerleader for the Compass-influenced soft-left Ed Miliband. To hear some of the older guard MPs, I can’t work out which they dislike more: Andy Burnham’s leftward shift or Chuka’s rightward journey. But that may look like mere quibbling in the face of the larger stormin’ Corbyn threat right now. Chuka, like Dan Jarvis, will almost certainly become a very strong contender should the beard crash and burn.
As for English Votes For English Laws, last night’s Government defeat in the Lords showed this is still a tricky area. Tory rebels included six former ministers, from Lord Lawson to Forsyth.
3) NORTHERN COWERHOUSE
Another Lords defeat (that’s 10 since May) last night was on devolving NHS powers to councils, with peers insisting on national standards.
In the FT, Boris makes clear he’s not cowering despite the double slights of late from Osborne (that Budget airport jibe) or May (the water cannon dousing). Underlining something he’s long argued, the Mayor of London wants greater powers for London to counter both those of Scotland and the ‘northern powerhouse’ and ‘Midlands engine’. Suburban rail services, planning, housing and even courts are in Boris’s sights. He gets on well with fellow ‘urban Tory’ Greg Clark, but will the Treasury agree?
Boris at least can count on cross party support. Hackney’s directly elected Labour mayor Jules Pipe warns in the paper: “there’s a real risk of London falling behind even Cornwall”. Well, it is the PM’s favourite domestic holiday destination guys...
Also in the FT, new Treasury minister Jim O’Neill is learning that politics ain’t simple. He claimed that Manchester was ‘at the heart’ of the Northern Powerhouse. As a Mancunian, O’Neill probably felt that was a statement of the obvious. But the minister has come under fire from the North East and Yorkshire for his remark - even though he was at pains to add that the powerhouse “can and should potentially be anywhere, east and west of Manchester and north to the Scottish border”.
BECAUSE YOU’RE READ THIS FAR...
Watch John Bercow turn into a member of indy band James as he tells George Osborne to ‘siddown man!’
4) ASPIRATION CONFLATION
It’s not just Labour who are worried that The Axeman Cometh. His name is Greg Hands and he looks even scarier than Danny Alexander on a bender. And as with any spending review, The Cabinet may agree in principle with balancing the books but they are slightly worried that their own particular corner of Whitehall gets it in the neck more than others. ‘After you, Maude’ used to be the joke, but these days ministers know they’ve got to find clever efficiency savings or smart scalpel cuts rather than cite bleeding stumps.
The Cabinet meets on an away day at Chequers and each member is still digesting the mindblowing letter from Hands, demanding cuts options of upto 40%. Philip Hammond, a former Shadow Chief Secretary, was however magisterially dismissive yesterday. Suggesting this was all just a bluff, he told the Foreign Affairs Select: “Past experience would suggest that initial pitching by the Treasury should be regarded as aspirational". His wry smile said it all. But will HMT wipe that smile from his face?
As George Osborne dominated Parliament yesterday, the Treasury document ‘a country that lives within its means’ had lots more clues to how the big cuts will arrive: ‘fairer’ funding for schools in Tory areas, an end to progression pay in the civil service, even more welfare reform. Meanwhile, ministers joke that even the leftwing PCS union used the phrase to justify its own cutbacks recently, as a union ‘living within its means’
5) NAILING IT
Hammond was certainly in feisty mood yesterday, almost as if the sniff of the suncream and the splash of the summer swimming pool was making him demob happy. On the vexed topic of the European Union, he warned the PM that he had to get treaty changes ‘nailed down’ from Brussels in any renegotiation.
Hammond said the way Juncker recently had discarded a binding agreement to protect Britain from eurozone bailouts showed we cannot rely on an informal “understanding” with fellow leaders.
“It gives us a very obvious riposte to those who say, ‘Don’t worry too much about treaties, let’s just have an understanding together’.
“Sadly our experience is, once again, that you do need to have these things nailed down otherwise they can come back and bite you. So we will be wanting to make sure that the package we agree is delivered in a way that is permanent and not subject to either political or legal roll-back in the future.”
Meanwhile, Theresa May played a straighter bat than her cricketing hero Geoff Boycott at the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. Just 112 more days and she becomes the longest serving Home Secretary in history folks - but her evidence session was so dull that it felt like those 112 days in one day, observers tell me. Still, that’s the way with May, she may bore you into submission but she has a knack of getting her way. Boris may be the Kevin Pietersen of the Tory team, but the Home Sec fancies the steady, long haul of Boycs. You’ve been warned.
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