The five things you need to know on Tuesday, May 9…
1) THE JEZ-OLUTION FOUNDATION
Jeremy Corbyn launches Labour’s general election campaign in Manchester today and he is certainly offering Britons a revolutionary road to the future. The overnight extracts of his speech included a Citizen Smith-style warning that a Corbyn government would take on the rich and the Tories: “We have four weeks to ruin their party. We have four weeks to take our wealth back”.
Of course many Labour MPs fear Corbyn and his supporters have ruined their own party, but they will be muted today as their leader sets out his Big Vision for Britain. In a bid to counter Theresa May’s juggernaut rolling across Labour Leave heartlands, he says Brexit as an issue ‘has been settled’ but he wants “a jobs-first Brexit” as part of a fairer, more equal country.
He will warn the public: “Don’t wake on up on 9 June to see celebrations from the tax cheats, the press barons, the greedy bankers, Philip Green, the Southern Rail directors and crooked financiers that take our wealth, who have got away with it because the party they own, the Conservative Party, has won.”
Swapping his usual Gentle Jezza for his inner Angry Jeremy, it sounds like Corbyn’s version of the famous Neil Kinnock lines before the 1983 general election (“If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. And I warn you not to grow old”). Yet with a new ICM poll giving the Tories a record 22 point lead yesterday, is it deja vu all over again, with Labour facing a 1983-style landslide?
Corbyn had his first Big Speech of the campaign last month, but he and his team have obviously worked harder on this one. There will be no big new announcement today but I understand that a ‘rolling manifesto’ is a reality and big bold policies will emerge in coming days and weeks. So far, we’ve had ‘retail offer’ policies on NHS car parking charges, free school meals etc, but they may look like small fry in comparison.
The Labour leader said last month he ‘won’t play by the rules’. Yet one of the rules of the British system is that we still have a first past the post system. His biggest weakness appears to be that he acts as if he operates in a PR system, where you can be true to your principles and don’t need to appeal to floating voters or voters of rival parties. I remember the late Robin Cook once telling a Labour fringe he backed PR because it would mean he could at last say what he wanted rather than tacking to Middle England in marginal seats. But the fact remains that under our electoral system, coalitions have to be built with voters before an election, not with other parties after it. And when ‘compromise’ is as dirty a word as ‘capitalism’ in your political lexicon, that’s a problem.
Still, Gentle Jez is very much in evidence. In an interview with BuzzFeed that captured him well, Corbyn says he is “Monsieur Zen” and he is fine. He also says he won’t quit if he loses the election. "I was elected leader of this party and I’ll stay leader of this party”. That sounded very much like his line to us last summer, when he said ‘the party members will decide’ his future. It’s a message that will hearten his supporters and dismay his critics: he’s going nowhere after June 8.
2) HITTING THE SIX
The Tory privatisations of the 1990s were seen by some as proof of what happens when one party stays in government too long. The liberalisation of the energy, water and rail sectors have had mixed results to say the least as the regulators in each sector looked toothless and the taxpayer and consumer ended up paying big bills.
But as part of her mission to mop up as many votes as possible, Theresa May is determined to be seen using the power of the state to intervene in what she last year called ‘dysfunctional markets’. Her article in the Sun today vows to tackle fat cat firms ripping off the public, citing reports showing the public were paying £1.4bn more than they needed to, while the profits of the Bix Six energy giants shot up by £1.1bn.
Energy Secretary Greg Clark, the embodiment of the quiet, northern urban Tory revival May wants, was on the breakfast sofas arguing this was part of a ‘Conservative tradition’ to protect consumers. (On the Today prog, he was also quizzed about immigration targets, and said in the ‘medium to long term’ he wanted to build Brits’ skills, was that a hint the target will be set over a longer timeframe?)
May wants to legally cap bills for those 17 million households on standard tariffs. Call it compromise, call it cynical opportunism, call it anything you like, but it may be popular with the punters. The Daily Mail front pages hails the plan with a headline ‘£100 Off Your Energy Bill’. Which is of course a long way from its reaction to Ed Miliband’s similar plan (and his ‘freeze’ was in fact a cap), when it declared ‘Back To The Bad Old Days’ as ‘Red Ed Revives 1970s Socialism’.
While Corbyn talks revolution, is Red Theresa walking the walk? Not really, but it is certainly causing jitters in the City. George Godber of Polar Capital told BBC that “30% could be wiped out from profits from some of the suppliers”, with “significant implications for the dividend payments [and pension funds]”. He argued the real reason for higher bills was not a ‘greedy conspiracy’ but subsidy for renewables and nuclear.
Speaking of the City, what’s not often remarked on is that the PM’s eyes and ears in the Square Mile is her husband Philip. And tonight Mr May will appear with her on the BBC’s The One Show. He’s notably witty and personable in private and it looks like a win-win for the PM. But with live telly, will it hrow up some surprises?
3) THE BUILDER BEAR GROUP
When the Labour and Tory manifestos drop next week we will be able to see just how radical each of them is when it comes tackling the complex, pressing and seemingly intractable problem of our housing crisis. Today, we report a new analysis of house building going back more than a century that shows house building under the Tories has fallen to its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s. House prices haven’t fallen, but completion rates have.
As part of our ‘Beyond Brexit’ series (which looks beyond both this election and 2019), we also talked to some experts in the field to ask their Three Ways To Solve The Housing Crisis That Frighten Politicians: they came up with rent controls, building on the green belt and reforming the benefits cap.
As it happens, Jeremy Corbyn has announced that housing is his personal policy priority for this election. He told the Guardian: “There are obviously many priorities but the crisis of housing and setting in train a housing programme that would build more council housing at socially affordable rents and ensuring there is proper regulation of the private rental sector is a very high priority for me.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Iain Duncan Smith rap some Eminem lyrics. Chuka Umunna doesn’t look impressed.
4) FOR FOX SAKE
Given that today’s political news is red in tooth and claw, it’s somehow apt that fox hunting should rear its head again. The Daily Mirror has splashed its front page with a story that the red-coated killer toffs/harmless country sports enthusiasts (delete as appropriate) are plotting to use a May landslide to repeal Tony Blair’s ban on the practice.
The Mirror has got hold of a leaked email from Tory peer and chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, Lord Mancroft, urging hunt masters to “mobilise supporters” and campaign for pro-hunting Tories in marginal seats. He says May’s huge lead in the opinion polls presents a “seminal moment” and “the chance we have been waiting for” to bring back the sport after a 12-year ban. ” A majority of 50 or more would give us a real opportunity for repeal of the Hunting Act.”
Will Theresa May repeat Cameron’s 2015 pledge to have a free vote to repeal the act, a pledge he saw as a way of shoring up rural votes but didn’t seem keen on pursuing given the SNP’s opposition. The Mirror has dug up some May quotes from 2009 when she said: ”It’s not about the love of cruelty. It’s about a method of actually keeping fox numbers down.” Is her opinion poll lead big enough for her to ignore the rural lobbying and stick to the Tory ‘urban revival’ narrative? Let’s see.
5) MINDS MATTER
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a fact acknowledged by the PM’s own policy trail on Sunday, with more trained teachers and plans to scrap the outdated Mental Health Act. The reaction got buried in the wider election noise but it was not everywhere favourable. The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) welcomed reform of the legislation but expressed disappointment that the Conservatives have announced no new cash. “We need new money for mental health, not just recycled promises,” it said.
Everton winger Aaron Lennon has received a wave of support after it emerged he was detained under the Mental Health Act and receiving treatment for a stress-related illness. The number of players requesting support from the Professional Footballers AssocIation welfare department has increased, with 62 current and 98 former players saying they need help.
Of course, the best way to tackle the issue is at an early age and after our pioneering Young Minds Matter series last year, today we have talked to experts across the field to check what they want from our politicians. Here’s the 13 Things The Next Government Needs To Do To Improve Children’s Mental Health. Read too this very moving account by my colleague Poorna Bell of her late husband’s suicide.
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