The five things you need to know on Thursday October 1, 2015...
1) NUCLEAR BUTTONHOLED
That one word ‘No’ from Jeremy Corbyn (to Sarah Montague’s ‘would you use nuclear weapons?’ question) certainly sparked a chain reaction. For many shadow ministers I talked to yesterday, it encapsulated their Corbyn problem: his sincerely held beliefs put him out of step with ‘ordinary’ Britons as much as his PLP. For others, it just underlined how Labour is turning itself into a five-year long episode of the Moral Maze rather than a functioning alternative party of Government.
What was surprising perhaps was the scale of the public backlash from shadow ministers. But Maria Eagle had made it a condition of accepting her Shadow Defence Secretary post (as had her shadow defence team) that Trident would remain policy until any review found otherwise.
After successfully avoiding a vote this week, she viewed it as an act of open warfare when Corbyn used his leader’s speech to again ram home his opposition. Her words yesterday were ominous, suggesting she’d quit if the party dumped Trident renewal “something will probably have to give at some stage or another." The GMB's Paul Kenny on C4News and Wato made clear Corbyn's very future was threatened by it too.
Andy Burnham said yesterday that Trident ‘would outlive the term of office of any individual prime minister’, a clear hint that it should outlive any individual Labour leader. Still, with the maingate decision and Commons vote due next June, Labour moderates hope they’ve succeeded in making this issue irrelevant by kicking off any change in policy to next September’s conference.
But what if Cameron is super-devious and delays the Commons vote until after Labour conference? He’d guarantee the disintegration of the Shadow Cabinet. That would leave him with an even more leftwing Opposition but would it be a provocation too far? Lots of Tories want Corbyn to remain, after all.
Nick Watt, as astute as ever in the Guardian today, points out the actual procedures for using a nuke. The very first day a Prime Minister is appointed, he has to write a letter to the four commanders of the UK’s Vanguard submarines, to be opened only if the UK has ceased to become a ‘functioning state’ and is under nuclear attack. The PM’ s letter would give the required authority to either use nuclear weapons or not. The assumption from Corbyn’s remarks yesterday is that his letter would not give that authorisation, unlike every previous PM since the UK acquired its own nuclear deterrent.
Jeremy Corbyn is in Scotland, home of the Trident deterrent, today. But there’s little it seems he can do to stop Labour losing seats in Holyrood next May. And even if Michelle Tomson quits and forces a by-election, many expect the SNP to still march to victory. Will the Corbynistas blame ‘moderate’ Kezia Dugdale for not being left enough? And will she now have to restrain her own views on Trident and change party policy to stem the continuing SNP tide?
2) THE GREAT DIVIDE
Just imagine if the ‘finger on the button’ question had come from Andrew Marr on Sunday rather than from Sarah Montague on Wednesday. The whole of the Labour conference would have been overshadowed by genuine anger among Shadow ministers, open dissent and a battle royal between MPs and activists. As it was, Corbyn was lucky the row exploded only on the final day. And for most of the week the Brighton sunshine allowed the party to think it was more united than many thought. ‘It’s like a series of nil-nil draws’, said one insider.
But with five years until the next election, both Corbynistas and moderates alike felt this was a holding conference and the real battle starts over the coming year, culminating in the 2016 Liverpool conference (as I’ve said before, an apt setting giving the party’s history of faction fighting there).
The FT has a nice piece on the simmering divisions. “It is like West Side Story — the Jets and Sharks — circling each other, warily, waiting to strike,” said one senior MP. One longstanding MP gestured at the security barriers surrounding the Brighton Conference Centre: “It is not clear whether they are protecting us, or protecting the public from us — now that all the nutters are in the building,” he observed.
And even Corbyn’s allies have given him a probation period. “If after two to three years the opinion polls are in the doldrums he will have to step down,” says one. The battle isn’t about Jezza, it’s about whether he can leave a lasting Left wing legacy even if he ceases to be leader. That's why many moderates were heartened by Tom Watson's point yesterday about remembering that only Government can deliver change. He has his own huge mandate too.
Diane Abbott is proving one of JC’s most loyal disciples, tweeting her displeasure with Maria Eagle yesterday over Trident. But what was strange this week was Abbott’s absence from the front row of the Shadow Cabinet for Corbyn’s speech. Some say she arrived and was so irritated at being offered a second row seat that she walked off and watched the speech away from her colleagues. Surely that’s just idle gossip…?
Speaking of Ms Abbott, the producers of This Week will be looking for a permanent replacement for her on the Thursday night slot. I wonder if they'd go for Jess Phillips, one of the true stars of the 2015 intake? She's been made a PPS this week, but wouldn't stop her.
3) MORGAN’S RUN
Nicky Morgan has a ‘straight talking, honest politics’ of her own, and has rather refreshingly broken the taboo on ministers not saying they want to be Prime Minister. In her Spectator interview she says that 25 years after Mrs T’s reign: “I hope that, in the not too distant future, there will be another female leader of a main Westminster political party.” And asked if she’d run, she replies: “A lot will depend on family. I’d be saying this if I was male or female, in the sense that being leader of the party is so all-consuming, putting such a pressure on family relationships.”
Morgan has a seven-year-old son but gets strong support from her husband, who gave up work to take on their childcare. Her very own ‘Denis’, but in a way Mr Thatcher would never have envisaged. Morgan retained the key Labour-Tory marginal of Loughborough so knows more than many of her colleagues about winning Labour votes. She is popular with the new intake and could prove the real dark horse in any race in 2018 onwards.
Aptly enough, the other MP biding their time right now while putting their family first is Dan Jarvis. And just as HuffPost interviewed him at Labour conference this week, I will be ‘In Conversation With’ Nicky Morgan at the Tory conference this Sunday. The WaughZone Live event will be packed folks, so come early.
Another centre ground Tory who worries Labour is Rob Halfon and it’s no surprise he’s launching a new move to promote Tory-trade union links. In The House magazine, the Tory deputy chairman reveals that the party’s “membership has gone up by thousands since the general election”. And he says Oxbridge piggate stories have no impact on his voters in Harlow (another former Labour seat): “I was a candidate since 1999 to 2010, I was MP since 2010, not one person’s ever asked me about Oxford University or about Eton or public schools or whatever”..
But class war is on its way to Manchester as the Tory conference looms. The Guardian’s northern correspondent reports that major disruption is likely, with upto 100,000 set to march in an anti-austerity demo on Sunday. Frankie Boyle is at a Laugh Them Out Of Town comedy night and of course Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a union rally on Monday. Moderate Labour MPs will be hoping the violent fringe don’t take over and take literally Tom Watson’s threat to ‘let’s kick the Tories down the road’.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Take a break and watch Matt Damon and James Corden act out his entire film career
4) THE OTHER NIGEL
Lord Lawson is putting himself at the head of the Brexit campaign, the Times reports today as the former Chancellor pens a piece warning that ‘xenophobic voices’ (yep, he means the other Nigel) risk undermining the clear economic case for quitting the EU.
“If we leave the playing field vacant, less moderate, xenophobic voices will dominate the debate and we will fail once the Government, the major political parties, the CBI and trade unions declare that they are backing the ‘in’ campaign,” he writes.
Some hardline Eurosceptics still blame Lawson for his disastrous dalliance with the ERM (memories are long in the Tory party folks) and pro-European destabilisation of Mrs T. But he predicts Cameron’s renegotiation concessions will be ‘wafer thin’. A bit like Mr Creosote’s mints, that could explode Britain’s membership of the EU, he seems to be suggesting. And Lawson knows all about slimming down, after all.
Many are chuckling about Lawson's expat status however, and what it says about his love of the UK. "I am not anti-European. I'm speaking from my home in France" he told Today.
Meanwhile the Telegraph reports that Jean-Claude Juncker has finally released secret ‘Luxleaks’ tax advice but can’t remember discussing it. One to watch.
5) ABHORRENCE OF ARABIA
For some in Labour, Corbyn’s leader speech this week in many ways sounded more like a string of fringe meetings than a comprehensive vision for Britain focused on bread-and-butter issues like jobs and aspiration.
But the Leader of the Opposition does have some leeway to go beyond what Prime Ministers can and can’t say on diplomatic issues (witness Cameron on Russian incursion into Georgia years ago). And on Saudi Arabia, Corbyn is winning praise for raising the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who faces death by crucifixion for demonstrating against the government.
Blairites point out that 9/11 took place before the Iraq war. But others point out that 9/11 was in part prompted by American support for a corrupt police state that is Saudi. And Corbynistas hate Realpolitik more than most, pointing out the Saudis conducted 100 beheadings this year – reportedly more than ISIL.
Today’s Wikileaks of diplo cables show that the UK conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council. Not a good look.
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