The five things you need to know on Thursday September 17, 2015...
1) RHETORIC REALITY CHECK
Jeremy Corbyn’s personal views and Labour policy are not the same thing. That’s quite a novel phenomenon for any party leader and it’s a reality that Westminster is only just getting its head round.
Yet for those Labour MPs who have joined his Shadow Cabinet (and we will get his full shadow junior posts by close of play today), the fact that policy is set by the party, and not the leader’s diktat, was a key factor in their decision to join the Corbyn caravan.
Corbyn’s EU statement to the BBC last night was as categoric as he could be that he will make it a 2020 manifesto pledge to stay in the EU. Although he argued he still didn’t want to give Cameron a ‘blank cheque’ on his renegotiation, his words made clear he’d been forced by colleagues to stick to the current policy: 'We have to stay in Europe...that would be a manifesto commitment up to 2020'. (He muddied the waters slightly later, when asked if he had the final say on policy and replied ‘Yes’).
In the Guardian, new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith set out a new tone on benefits. But he also warned against over-interpreting Corbyn's TUC line about wanting to “remove the whole idea of the benefit cap”. Smith said “extrapolating from a line in a speech” did not give a s"ufficiently nuanced position”. “The difference is between one short line in a speech, and the rather more necessarily complex policy. You can’t necessarily extract from rhetoric into the complexity of the detail”.
Yes, you can’t extract from rhetoric into the complexity of the detail. That sums up the Corbyn/Labour axis right now.
The Indy reports on another area of ‘rhetoric’ on the leadership campaign trail that some want Corbyn to act on. He spoke of the need for “all grammars to become comprehensives and end the 11-plus where it still exists” and is now being pressured to make it Labour policy to end grammars.
Mark Carney gave a gentle warning over another bit of rhetoric on Corbynomics, a ‘people’s QE’. Kerry McCarthy told Wato yesterday: “What is our new economic policy... because I certainly don’t know yet,” Our economic policy has not changed as far I’m concerned. It is still the policy that we stood on in the manifesto.” McCarthy said that there “would be an issue” if Mr McDonnell tried to dictate policy.
John McDonnell, who has criticised Ed Balls’ decision to make the Bank of England independent, is on Question Time tonight. As are Alex Salmond and Liz Truss. Could be a corker. I’d expect McDonnell to condemn IRA violence but it’s his views on the economy that will be worth hearing.
2) BROUGHT TO KNEEL
Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to join the Privy Council continues to make waves. I’ve been told by members of the august body that yes it’s true they have to kneel on a small stool and kiss Her Majesty’s hand at the first ceremony. But Laura K’s interview last night revealed just how little Corbyn knew about the process.
"I didn't know that was involved actually. So we'll have to find out about it, OK?" Asked if he’d still go ahead, he added: "It's the first I've heard about it and I want to discuss that with colleagues, the whole process."
Corbyn said "of course I'll end up being a member of the Privy Council if that's what the requirement of the job is" but added: "I think some things ought to change in our society and maybe that's one of them." To be fair, I suspect quite a few people think it ridiculous that such conventions hold. After all, a new PM no longer has to kiss the Monarch’s hand after his election.
What’s odder is that Corbyn didn’t know No.10 had announced he’d been accepted into the Privy Council. Maybe that’s all just teething troubles about who sends which letter and to whom in the protocol. Let's see when the actual event takes place.
Despite his own republican tendencies, Ken Livingstone never had a problem with taking his mum to meet the Queen. And it seems Corbyn is realising that the Livingstoneites are his best hunting ground for talented staffers (there aren't many leftwingers who've actually run things in recent years, don't forget). Ex-City Hall and HomesForVotes veteran Neale Coleman was last night appointed as exec director for policy and rebuttal. Alongside Simon Fletcher, Ken’s chief of staff, the Ken era is back in force.
Team Corbyn aren’t overly amused about the Times reporting on his ‘brief fling’ with Diane Abbott in the 1970s. As for other process stories, I’m told the idea of ‘centralising’ Labour advisers misunderstands the current process and lines of accountability. There’s ‘no change’, a senior source tells me.
The 'people's PMQs' got a good reception on the whole, but I'm told Corbyn won't deploy it every week. He wants to keep Cameron guessing and won't give advance notice of when he's going to cite Marie et al again.
3) RAPPED IN MUSLIM
Hungary’s ambassador to London has been on Today with a Cameron-esque message that states should be trying to help Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan camps. Despite UN criticism that the country broke the Geneva convention yesterday with those scenes of tear gas and water cannon fired at asylum seekers, he said: “this week is the first time we have controlled our borders” in the past year.
His Prime Minister Viktor Orban has a typically inflammatory interview to the Times, explaining why he wants to keep out Muslim refugees: “I am speaking about culture and the everyday principles of life, such as sexual habits, freedom of expression, equality between men and women and all those kind of values which I call Christianity. If we let the Muslims into the continent to compete with us, they will outnumber us. It’s mathematics. And we don’t like it.” The Serbian PM said Hungary’s behaviour was ‘un-European’ but Orban insists he’s just enforcing existing regulations.
Theresa May said yesterday that the first Syrian refugees will arrive in Britain ‘within days’. Home Office sources suggest that won’t happen before the weekend though. But today her focus, and that of the PM, is on new duties on universities to stop Islamist extremism on campus. King’s College, London, Queen Mary London and SOAS are all to be ‘named and shamed’.
Meanwhile, in the US, President Obama has invited to the White House a 14-year-old Muslim boy who was arrested by police after he took a home-made clock to a science lesson. Mark Zuckerberg has also invited Ahmed Mohamed to Facebook HQ.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Carly Fiorina glare at Donald Trump last night over his remarks about her ‘beautiful face’
4) NEWS AT WHEN?
John Whittingdale is delighting Tory MPs with his frequent warnings to the BBC. While ever so politely stressing that no politician should tell the broadcaster what to do editorially, he used his RTS Cambridge session yesterday to call for iPlayer to be available abroad - and for the BBC to shift its 10 O’Clock News bulletin.
‘It is important to look at the impact that the BBC has on its commercial rivals and – to give just one example – whether it is sensible for its main evening news bulletin to go out at the same time as ITV’s.’
The BBC moved its evening news from 9pm to 10pm in 2000, ending 30 years of tradition. But this was because it saw an opening after ITV had shifted its own landmark bulletin. Since 2008, News at Ten on ITV is in a regular slot. And under Tom Bradby, ex-political editor, it should be a much bolder show.
The Indy reports on a new Charge.org petition calling on the BBC to either stop calling Jeremy Corbyn ‘left-wing’ or start referring to David Cameron as ‘right wing’. It got 8,000 supporters in four hours.
5) 330 SQUADRON
Michael Fallon has revealed that 330 IS militants have been killed by RAF airstrikes in Iraq (via that quaint device of a written Parliamentary answer to Caroline Lucas), though he stressed the number was ‘highly approximate’.
Meanwhile, as Dominic Grieve gears up for a possible inquiry into drone strikes that killed British militants, David Davis has stepped up the pressure. Chairing an emergency meeting of the cross-party parliamentary group on drones yesterday, he said the lack of arrests in the UK in connection with the plots drove a ‘coach and horses’ through the Government’s ‘imminent’ threat justification. And Keir Starmer backed him up.
As for another subject close to DD’s heart, data protection, I note on the Order Paper a series of Written Ministerial Statements from the PM: Machinery of Government changes: Data protection policy; Information Commissioner’s Office; The National Archives; and, Government records management policy.
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