The five things you need to know on Monday September 7, 2015...
1) NUMBER CRUNCHING
When David Cameron makes his Commons statement today, he will finally give us A Number. Whether that’s around Yvette Cooper’s 10k or a bit higher remains to be seen. The number of extra Syrians to be taken in by the UK has been hammered out by frantic officials over the last few days.
We can expect a focus on children in particular (note the Sun launched its own Syrian orphan appeal last week). The echo of the Kindertransport scheme of WW2 is very deliberate given the Aylan Kurdi photo that sparked soul-searching in London and the rest of Europe.
But at the heart of the plan are local councils, many of which have ironically had to bear the brunt of domestic cuts in recent years. Osborne’s move to shift overseas aid to help domestic pressures is seen as shrewd politics by many Tory MPs. Similarly, Conservatives are pleased the PM is focusing on camps on the Syrian border rather than encouraging the pull factor of more migration across the continent.
With a near Biblical exodus from Syria, the real problem is sorting the sheep from the goats. It’s easier in the camps, but not easy once refugees are in the EU. Some refugees want to move from places like Turkey for a better standard of living. Are they economic migrants as well as refugees?
Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan due today for quotas for countries to take their share of refugees from Greece is further proof of the kind of thing that brings Eurosceptics out in hives. But the FT reports Juncker has a cunning plan to let nations opt out as Britain has, if they pay cash to help other nations taking people.
Yvette Cooper told Today that the Government ‘reserve’ was normally used for emergency relief and has questions about domesticating the foreign aid budget. The World Food Programme is halving Syrian rations in the camps, she pointed out.
The Guardian splashes on a different angle, with the UN high commissioner for refugees saying his agencies are ‘broke’. Antonio Guterres points out there were 11,000 refugees per day in 2010 and there were 42,000 per day last year, yet funding has been cut. But as the Treasury would point out, in the UK the cash is to increase not decrease. Angelina Jolie is in the Times saying refugees have to be given priority.
Andrew Mitchell, who has been very helpful to the PM (will he eventually get his reward?), was on Today suggesting two new UN safe havens in Syria. The sad anniversary of Srebrenica may suggest that’s not the best option.
2) LABOUR DAZE
Just four days to go (the deadline for ballots is noon this Thursday) and as we enter the final straight of this marathon Labour leadership election, many MPs are still in a daze about the Corbyn takeover. Yvette Cooper’s camp detect a late surge for her, fuelled by claims that under half of members have still not voted (the Burnham camp thinks it is around a third).
Cooper - who gave a wide-ranging interview to HuffPost this weekend - still thinks she can do it, but it’s a tall order to whittle down Corbyn’s lead. One ally tells me: “If he gets 43% of first prefs, we’re dead, we can’t catch him. If we can get him down to 41% we’re, in with a chance. If he’s on 40%, we win on 2nd prefs.” The margins may be that fine.
At Harriet Harman’s final PLP tonight, some Labour MPs are planning to raise the idea of restoring Shadow Cabinet elections, but few expect the idea to take off unless Corbyn agrees. Many are scrambling to try and anticipate a Corbyn victory. Tom Watson will use a speech today to warn Corbynites not to table a mandatory reselection motion at party conference, the Guardian reports.
Ed Miliband is clearly sick of getting the blame for the new rules that could deliver Corbyn victory. The FT quotes an ally of EdM blaming ‘right wing’ Labour MPs for pushing to get the PLP threshold down to 15%, just 35 MPs. Ed had proposed a threshold of 25-30%, it’s claimed. Blairites dismiss the claims as ‘crap’ and Chris Leslie admits the Shad Cab made a ‘mistake’ in letting the rules change without proper scrutiny.
I was there outside the PLP office this summer as Corbyn waited anxiously to get the 35th name he needed to get on ballot. As noon struck, I saw him hug Andrew Smith - hardly a leftwinger - for doing the deed. Little did we realise that one moment could change Britain’s politics for years to come.
3) NEVERENDUM STORY
At 2pm today, Eurosceptic Tories meet in a Commons committee room to decide strategy ahead of the third reading of the EU referendum bill. Before then, and probably after, ministers and whips will hold their own meetings with upto 30 rebels to try to get them on board.
The mood music isn’t good for the whips after last week’s 11th hour amendments were tabled. Owen Paterson tells the Times that David Cameron will suffer defeat on key amendments on so-called ‘purdah’, unless he ends the ‘dirty dealing’ and ‘sneaky little tricks’ over the bill. Bernard Jenkins says of the purdah arrangements: "If the Labour Party presses its amendment and the Government opposes it, the Government will lose.” Paterson raises another unsatisfied demand of the Eurosceps: to allow ministers to campaign for the Out camp.
Labour has still to make its mind up on Amendment 35 -which tries to redefine so called purdah (what ministers can and can't say to avoid influencing an election with taxpayer's money) but I’m told they’re edging to voting against. Let’s see which amendments the Speaker calls, it could prove crucial to the outcome. There are six hours scheduled for debate and they could be a very long six hours for the Government.
The FT has a strong Europe splash, reporting that No10’s band of advisers Ed Llewellyn, Daniel Korski (both seen by Eurosceps as Brussels ‘sleepers’) and Sheridan Westlake have been telling pro-EU businesses to keep quiet until the PM has finished his renegotiation. “Shut up until a deal is done with the EU”, one ally told business. Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday/Survation poll putting Out on 43% and In on 40% has also caused jitters. Some close to the PM are very wary indeed that City PR chief Roland Rudd and his long-standing friend Mandelson will be leading the In campaign.
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4) BBC FREE
There’s no question the Treasury is stronger now than it has been for years. The Chancellor is (as Michael Heseltine has said) seen as acting like the CEO of the Government, while the PM is the chairman. With a spending review looming, and with his own chances of getting to No.10 higher than ever, George Osborne is not a man to be crossed.
Perhaps that’s why BBC DG Tony Hall is going out of his way to reassure the Chancellor that he’s doing everything required to ensure a renewal of the Charter with nice licence fee rises. Hall is shrewdly offering a new North Korea radio service, but more importantly offering to share BBC journalists with local papers - and share its iPlayer service with other broadcasters.
The real problem is that although the BBC will claim it is countering Osborne claims that it has ‘Imperial ambitions’, the Hall plans will entrench Corporation power not dilute it. Local papers could come to rely on their BBC helpers, just as rival stations could rely on iPlayer.
5) PICKET TO RIDE
The Indy has splashed its front page on a joint warning from Liberty, Amnesty UK and the British Institute of Human Rights that new plans to curb picketing would rip up international agreements by forcing picketers to wear armbands and identify themselves to the police.
Many Tories will conclude that such changes are hardly a threat to civil liberties, but consultation on the Trade Union Bill closes on Wednesday and everyone’s getting their submissions in now.
ONES TO WATCH
The number of Islamophobic attacks recorded by the Met has increased from 500 to 800 in the past year, the BBC reports.
The Daily Mail splashes on what Labour is calling another broken Tory promise: the pledge to bring back weekly bin collections. Government sources tell the paper ‘it’s time to move on’ from Eric Pickles’ infamous chicken tikka pledge. A win for Hilary Benn, who always warned the pledge would fail. The real culprit? Council cuts.
The Northern Ireland is back today too. But only just. No.10 are very worried indeed about the possible collapse of powersharing.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have a new report warning that families on low income can only avoid Government cuts by 2020 if both parents go out to work full time.
In Edinburgh, Alistair Carmichael faces a legal challenge to his election.
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