The five things you need to know on Tuesday October 13, 2015...
1) MCDONNELL’S TAKE AWAY
The Cabinet meets today, but after last night’s fractious PLP meeting, the more interesting place may be the Shadow Cabinet as it copes with the aftermath of the McDonnell U-turn on the fiscal charter. For those of us outside Committee Room 15, it was quite an event as the shouting, arguing and jeering behind the closed doors was all too obvious.
On one level it makes sense for Corbyn and McDonnell to oppose Osborne’s legislative gimmick (one he himself derided in the past, as Chuka Umunna points out in the Indy). If you’re elected on a tide of anti-austerity sentiment, why not go the whole hog? That would all be fine if McDonnell hadn’t told the Guardian on the eve of Labour conference he would back the Osborne charter.
So why did he? Well, some suggest he simply hadn’t read the charter in detail and missed the fact that public sector net borrowing was in there. Some say he failed to spot the basic Parliamentary fact that the Charter is a statutory instrument and therefore not amendable. He only realised recently that he could not amend it to allow borrowing for investment.
But another key factor is that Kezia Dugdale had warned him that backing Osborne was kryptonite to the Scottish Labour party, a repeat of the toxic Better Together error of being on the same page as the Tories. Not for nothing did McDonnell talk about helping out Scottish comrades last night.
Of course the chaotic way in which the U-turn was handled was what upset people like John Mann, who slammed the ‘huge joke’ of consulting MPs. We discovered the shadow cabinet had a discussion ‘on the phone’ about the change. Yes, a massive switch in Labour’s economic policy didn’t even merit a meeting.
This morning, Chris Leslie told Today that he felt abstaining on the Osborne charter was the best option, stressing ‘It sends the wrong message to the general public’ not to be either ‘clear or consistent’ on a key policy. (Corbynistas argue that abstain in not clear at all, and the clearest message is opposition, while setting out Labour’s deficit plans separately). Let's see how many modernisers do abstain.
Leslie said: “I don’t think it’s right either to be ideologically wedded for or against a surplus”. “It is in my view better to abstain..It would be better for him not to engage in game playing with George Osborne.” He added that “I personally think it would be very regrettable” if attention tomorrow focused on McDonnell’s change of mind rather than the key issue. But with Osborne now due to lead on tomorrow’s debate, you can bet the Chancellor will seize on this in his first ever Commons encounter with his new opponent.
Diane Abbott told Today: ‘We are in the right position' but refused to reveal how McDonnell would explain his U-turn tomorrow. "It has never been the party’s position since Attlee that the deficit can go hang.” She also predicted that the economy would get worse over the next year, which again goes beyond the kind of thing Ed Balls would say.
But what really got some MPs going last night was the way Corbynite Richard Burgon defended the new leftwing Momentum campaign, itself dubbed a ‘party within a party’. He was jeered as he claimed it was no more divisive than Progress or the Fabians. Yet the real agenda that worries MPs is deselection. And Jon Lansman, the man behind Momentum, tells the FT today: ‘I want to see MPs who better reflect the wishes of the party - and Jeremy got 60 per cent of their vote.” Corbyn is, for now, not in favour of automatic reselection. But Lansman rightly points out boundary changes will naturally lead to reselection contests. Watch that space, folks.
2) NOTHING IS WRITTEN
Last week, David Cameron’s quote from Lawrence of Arabia sounded elegiac. Today, it sounds like a description of his EU renegotiation plan. Yes, nothing is written down so far and that’s causing a fair bit of angst over the Channel. The FT’s Alex Barker reports in its splash that Paris, Berlin and Brussels have become increasingly exasperated at the PM’s refusal to spell out his wishes.
Michel Sapin, the French finance minister, talks about a ‘chicken and egg situation’ where the Brits hint at demands but don’t specify them. But diplomats say Cameron is being urged to produce a formal written proposal by early November if he wants progress in the December summit. This week’s October summit isn’t expected to make much headway but the No.10 team believe their tactics will prevail.
The Guardian piles into the story too. “Because of the lack of clarification from the British, we’re in almost exactly the same place as three to four months ago,” said a senior diplomat. “Things looked better in July than now,” added an EU official. “Our side says to them: ‘Please write it down and tell us there will be no more.’ They say no.”
Meanwhile, ‘What Will Boris Do?’ remains the big political question once Cameron’s renegotiation is complete. In Japan yesterday, Bojo sounded like a man drifting to the Brexit door: “We want, in an ideal world, to stay in a reformed European Union but I think the price of getting out is lower than it has ever been. It’s better for us to stay in, but to stay in a reformed EU. That’s where I am”. And if the EU remains largely ‘unreformed’, even after Dave’s attempts, there’s only one conclusion...
The EU referendum bill starts a potentially difficult passage through the Lords today with its econd reading. The really tricky stuff like votes at 16 and expat and EU nationals votes, will take place at committee and report stages.
3) SAUDI, PARTNER
Jeremy Corbyn may well be pleased that he was ahead of the curve on Saudi Arabia in his conference speech. Today, the Sun splashes on a British pensioner facing a flogging for possessing home brew. And the Times has a story that Michael Gove has clashed with Philip Hammond over the MoJ’s controversial prison deal with the Saudis.
Gove apparently wanted the £5.9m deal scrapped but Hammond accused him of naivety, and the row became so bad it was raised at the National Security Council last week. Gove wrote a memo setting out the ‘moral case’ for ending the contract (sounds like his Moral Maze days made real) but the PM backed Hammond.
The Saudis have beheaded 175 people in the last year, more on some estimates than so-called Islamic State.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
The new CEO of the (Ukippy) leave.eu campaign may need a bit more media training before going on SkyNews again. Watch her performance yesterday
4) THE LIVES OF OTHERS
As I said yesterday, under Jeremy Corbyn, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition is seeing a lot less loyalty (to the Govt) and a lot more Opposition. Today Andy Burnham has a reasoned amendment objecting to what he sees as the bad bits of the Immigration Bill and MPs will be expected to vote against 2nd reading once that falls. But some Labour MPs are very nervous of falling for this ‘trap’ as much as the fiscal charter one, thinking they’ll be portrayed as soft on immigration by voting against. One MP told me last night the whips could face a serious problem with MPs threatened by UKIP in northern seats.
David Cameron is hosting a Community Engagement Forum at No10 today and trying to put flesh on his big commitment in his Tory conference speech to combat discrimination. He will confirm he will push ahead with plans to make all police forces record anti-Muslim hate crimes separately and treat them as seriously as anti-semitic attacks.
But it’s the lives of other ‘others’ that are in focus today too: refugees. Richard Harrington (you may not have heard of him but he’s the minister responsible for coordinating the 20,000 Syrian refugee programme) appears before the Home Affairs Committee at 2.45pm (followed by Jonathan Portes, Lord Green and others).
Burnham yesterday urged Theresa May to ‘show some humanity’ and accept refugees from parts of Europe rather than camps bordering Syria. And Yvette Cooper is stepping up her calls for more to be done and faster. Retaining her Labour role on refugees, she wants to know precisely how many of the 20,000 refugees have actually been settled in the UK so far.
Cooper is working with Citizens UK today and has new figures showing that 727 private landlords have offered accommodation, universities have committed £3.5m in scholarships for 147 Syrians and 37 councils have pledged 3,000 places so far.
5) WEED ALL OVER
It’s Health Questions at 11.30am and the debut of Heidi Alexander v Jeremy Hunt. There’s lots to chew over, from junior doctors to ‘supressed’ sugar tax reports, as well as the Times splash today that Medway hospital is paying nearly £1m a year to an accountant (and the Mail report on 400 other NHS staff getting more than a million).
But during topical questions, will any brave Lib Dem try to raise the issue of cannabis legalisation? The Indy has splashed its front page with an exclusive on a secret Treasury analysis that the move would potentially ‘generate notable tax revenue’ of upto half a billion pounds. The study, commissioned for Nick Clegg in the run up to the election, also found there would be large savings for the criminal justice system that would outweigh any extra NHS costs.
Backing for legalisation comes from some unlikely quarters. In the Commons debate last night, the former Conservative Cabinet minister Lilley said cannabis should be made available for medicinal use, telling MPs: “Even Queen Victoria allegedly used cannabis to relieve menstrual pain and if it’s a Victorian value then surely it can be made more widely available.”
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