The five things you need to know on Wednesday June 3 2015...
1) THE HIGHLANDER
It’s the first PMQs of the new Parliament and of the new Tory government. Thanks to the SNP tsunami, the shape of the event will look very different, with just four questions for Harriet Harman and two for Angus Robertson. The Lib Dems, on that rump of just 8 MPs, are to be allowed a sole question every few weeks.
But today, the Scottish flavour of the new-look PMQs will take on a more poignant note after the death of a great Highlander, Charles Kennedy. After David Cameron’s half-hour session, the tributes to the former Lib Dem leader will begin in earnest. The Speaker, wearing a black tie, fought back tears yesterday as he announced Kennedy’s untimely death and I would expect more in the chamber today.
The Times reports that friends say Kennedy had been considering a swift return to politics, with both a peerage and crack at a seat in the Scottish Parliament both possibilities. He was keen to take an active role in the EU referendum campaign too.
Bob Maclennan, the former SDP leader, says he had lunch with Charles ten days ago and he had been ‘on good form’. Alastair Campbell, whose blog is reprinted in many places, says that a week after the election, Kennedy sounded ‘pretty accepting’ of his defeat.
Many MPs will want today to focus on his achievements, but I’m sure it will be the smaller, private moments of personal generosity and wit that are sure to shine out.
2) ACADEMY AWARDS
Nicky Morgan has been on the airwaves promoting her new plan to force the poorest performing schools to turn into academies. She told BBC News: ”We just think that a day spent in a failing school is a day too long”. She told Today: ”I don’t think it’s right that a whole year is lost to the conversion process”.
Morgan is certainly keen to get going with reform and is another part of the PM’s own sense of urgency for this early stage of the Parliament (partly because he knows that his EU renegotiation is a long haul and risks overshadowing his domestic agenda).
The Education Secretary, while softer in tone than Michael Gove, is nevertheless as firm as her predecessor on the merits of academies, despite a mixed verdict by the Education Select Committee. The teaching unions and others are sure to point out that localism seems to be going out of the window as the new legislation removes rights of appeal by parents and governors. The new Shadow Leader of the Lords, Baroness Smith, yesterday served notice that she'd take the Government 'to the wire'. With the Lib Dems also planning to defy the Salisbury Convention, a Lords fight over school appeals could be very much on the cards.
Morgan’s modus operandi reminds me of Jeremy Hunt. He too was brought in as a softer, more telegenic face after a predecessor who was seen as more ideological. Yet Hunt has proven that speaking softly doesn’t mean any let up in a zeal for reform.
3) QATAR STICKS IN THE THROAT
“Who got him? Who shot him? What happened between then and now?” Greg Dyke had a lovely turn of phrase last night as he weighed up Sepp Blatter’s surprise decision to announce his departure.
The hot news in the US papers (including the New York Times and Washington Post) this morning is that the American prosecutors were targeting Blatter himself. They hoped to gain the co-operation of some of the Fifa figures now under indictment on charges of racketeering and money laundering to try to build a case against Mr Blatter.
The story also seems to be moving onto just whether Qatar will keep the 2022 World Cup, not least as Greg Dyke pointed out that half the executive who defied concerns about summer heat have now quit amid corruption allegations.
Overturning the Russian award would be more difficult, unless the US Dept of Justice has some concrete proof of bribery. Note that John Whittingdale last night moderated his tone on Russia, saying it would keep the finals unless there was evidence of wrongdoing. Still, England could yet be in the running for 2022.
The FT’s Simon Kuper, one of the best football news writers around, disputes Blatter’s claim to have developed ‘world football’, spreading the game to poorer nations. Kuper points out it was the spread of television that drove the game. And with TV, of course, comes sponsorship. Word is that sponsors, as much as US prosecutors, signalled over the weekend that it was time to exit.
Blatter still hopes for an orderly transition of power, possibly staying on until early next year. But as we all know at Westminster, such transitions rarely happen smoothly. He could be gone much, much sooner.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Check out Charles Kennedy’s lovely letter explaining just who his favourite Muppets character is: Gonzo.
4) MR BURNHAM GOES TO BRUSSELS
Andy Burnham is due in Brussels today and his message to Labour is clear: don’t repeat the mistakes of the Scottish referendum in the EU referendum. Burnham wants his party to act on its own rather than be seen to be allied to the Tories, as it was in the independence referendum.
The Guardian reports that some in Labour worry that this could all be code for having a sceptical campaign on Europe, in a bid to woo voters lost to UKIP. Some northern and Midlands MPs certainly think a more hard-headed approach is needed. But Pat McFadden warns in Progress that “there is a difference between campaign tactics and holding to our strategic position”
Jeremy Hunt yesterday learned from Theresa May’s mistakes last week in the Queen’s Speech debate, when she allowed Yvette Cooper to go on the offensive. Instead, Hunt decided he’d ridicule both Burnham and Liz Kendall’s leadership ambitions. Hunt told Burnham the Tories’ and Len McCluskey both wanted his ‘left-wing leadership bid’ to succeed. For good measure, the Health Secretary added that Kendall was ‘an insurgent entrepreneur’. Neither Labour contender saw the funny side.
Meanwhile what about Ed Miliband? He probably won’t make the mistake of turning up to PMQs. The Sun says some Labour sources want him to come back to the Shadow Cabinet. But others want him to ‘disappear for a while’. Will they get their wish?
5) HITTING PAYDIRT
No. 10 sounded distinctly uncomfortable yesterday as they told us that IPSA’s proposal for a 10% pay rise for MPs was a matter for the independent body - and that was that. This was a marked shift in tone from the PM’s own blood-curdling warnings, before the election, that any such move would be ‘unacceptable’.
Just as significant was the PM’s official spokeswoman rejecting repeated offers to say if David Cameron would donate his own rise to charity. As with his overall stance of now letting the rise go ahead, this was a clear sign that the PM is determined not to upset his backbenchers. Many of his MPs were very sore at the suggestion that wealthy ministers were lecturing their lower paid colleagues on the merits of taking a pay hike.
But Cameron is walking the tightrope of not offending his own troops in the Commons and risking a public backlash, not least from the trade unions, over a whopping pay rise. You can bet there will be plenty of placards with ‘You get 10%, we can’t get 2%’ on the picket lines in coming months. Strikers know that’s one way to get voters on side.
COMING UP LATER
PMQs are at noon and at 12.30pm the tributes to Charles Kennedy will begin.
The Queen's Speech debate continues, on devolution today. Expect lots of Scots voices.
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