The five things you need to know on Friday October 16, 2015...
1) LOSING ON PENALTIES
Every now and again there comes an electric, non-manufactured moment on a TV political programme that catches the public mood. Last night’s Question Time had just one of those as a former Tory voter let rip over George Osborne's plans to slash her tax credits.
In tears, she said: "I work bloody hard for my money, to provide for my children, to get them everything they've got and you're going to take it away from me,...I can hardly afford the rent I have to pay, I can hardly afford the bills I've got to do and you're going to take more from me." As Amber Rudd shifted in her seat with discomfort, the woman shouted, "shame on you!”
This morning, Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter account retweeted my clip of the incident, with the interesting hashtag #WorkPenalty. Which is precisely the user-friendly phrase that Owen Jones this week suggested that Labour should use to denote the tax credits cut. Just like the ‘bedroom tax’, ‘WorkPenalty’ could take off. Tory MPs who worry about the impact of on striving floating voters in their marginal seats may want to replay last night’s video on a loop to a Treasury that so far is not caving at all.
The Independent meanwhile says that the mother whose case Jeremy Corbyn cited as he spoke about tax credits during PMQs has said David Cameron’s response "made her blood boil". Kelly Ward, a nursery manager, claims she will lose £1,800 a year in the Government’s £12billion cuts to the UK’s social security budget.
The Times says Rob Halfon is leading efforts to cushion the impact of the tax credits cuts and dissidents have been heartened by rumours that at least one Treasury minister is fighting for them. Just as striking one unnamed Tory minister describes Osborne as “evil” for pushing through these changes without offering more help. And a Tory-dominated Lords select committee accuses the Chancellor of hiding the impact of his cuts, saying the Treasury's initial assessment was “difficult to understand, even for those used to economic analysis”.
2) LABOUR PAINS
One of the more depressing features of last night’s online reaction to the tax credits woman from Dover was the kicking she got for having been a Tory voter in the first place. And the Twitter and Facebook witchunt from the hard left against the 21 Labour ‘rebels’ on the fiscal charter was even more vitriolic on Wednesday night and yesterday.
Some are sore that the official Labour whips Twitter feed named those who abstained. The Times quotes one of the rebels saying: “I’ve never seen the whips’ office behave like this. They put our names up in lights on social media, effectively telling the Corbynistas to come and get us — they have duly obliged.” As it happens, the Labour whips’ office is far from being a cabal of Corbynistas (quite the opposite in some cases).
Labour Whips often tweets lists of Labour rebels and I'm told its main intention on Wednesday was to make clear the difference between genuine abstentions and those given ‘authorised absences’ (not least as in the past MPs have been accused of actively abstaining when they have been very ill, indeed one was having chemo therapy).
One error Labour whips did make was naming Andrew Smith as one of the 21, when in fact it was Angela Smith who decided not to vote. But there were no ‘double votes absentions’ (where an MP votes in both lobbies), precisely because no Labour MP wanted to be seen voting with the Tories. Hence the need to clarify who was authorised absent, for illness or prior engagements, and who wasn’t.
The Scottish angle on the fiscal charter is interesting. Sturgeon and Callum McCaign told the conference Labour’s U-turn only came after it ‘bowed’ to SNP pressure. Frank Field, one of those slagged as a ‘Red Tory’, came out fighting yesterday, saying Corbyn had overreacted to being outflanked by the SNP on fighting austerity. “ Labour lost heavily [at the May election] because it appeared that the Scottish Labour dog wagged the English tail. Let the Scottish Labour Party fight its own battles.”
3) STURGEON’S CALL
As I wrote yesterday, it seems bizarre that huge decisions about a nation’s fate can be outsourced to opinion pollsters, not least given their erratic reputation of late. But that appeared to be the logic of the SNP’s recent pronouncements that a key trigger for any second independence referendum would be dependent on a significant shift in public opinion among No voters to make them Yeses.
Treading carefully makes sense, but with her BBC 10 o’clock News interview Nicola Sturgeon last night made clear that the final verdict on public opinion was upto her to make. She didn’t exactly clarify just how she would do it (‘soundings’, straw polls, a general mood she picks up?) but at least she stressed it’s her, not YouGov et al, who will call the shots. She told Today that she doesn’t obsessively look at the polls.
What’s just as crucial are the actual other triggers for a referendum and the SNP are determined to hold votes on things like Trident that have the dual benefit of helping their independence push while exposing Labour splits. Angus Robertson revealed he would bring forward an early Commons vote on the nuclear deterrent renewwal.
Sturgeon, who laid into Corbyn yesterday, was on the Today programme saying he ‘can’t unite Labour’.
Robertson also suggested in the Standard last night that going to war in Syria may even be another trigger. Blogging for HuffPostUK, Stephen Kinnock has made an impassioned plea for Cameron to show more ‘respect’ to Russia (he worked there for several years) in Syria and focus on diplomacy rather than military action.
In some ways, Aberdeen has attracted more lobbying attention from business than Labour in Brighton, partly because ‘The 56’ (now ‘The 55’) have such a crucial voting bloc in the Commons. The FT says Heathrow is trying to woo the SNP with the offer of more flights to Scotland in exchange for their backing for a third runway. Guaranteed to get Boris yelling over Hadrian’s Wall.
Our man freezing up in Aberdeen, Graeme Demianyk, reports on Tommy Sheppard’s 10 things that are mad about the House of Commons.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
There was another incendiary moment on Question Time last night.
Watch Rod Liddle clash with Simon Schama over his ‘emotional’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Jewish roots, class warfare, it’s got the lot.
4) DAVE’S DIPLO DANCES
The PM will hold his usual Brussels press conference after lunch today. But aside from the bigger picture of Turkey’s deal on migrants, the main British news is David Cameron’s hints on his EU renegotiation aka his ‘tango’ with Brussels. Cam said he would finally lay out his plans in a letter to summit president Donald Tusk by ” the start of November”. Lots of papers interpret this as Dave caving to pressure from EU partners to get a move on. Angela Merkel yesterday said it was time to ‘clarify the substance’ but warned that freedom of movement and ‘the principle of non-discrimination’ were ‘non-negotiable’. Go figure.
Boris is playing hardball - and not just with rugby-loving 10 year-old kids. The Sun reports him saying that if the UK can’t move towards a loose trade-only arrangement with Brussels “you have got to be prepared to walk away."
Speaking of diplomacy, the Times splashes on senior security sources’ worries about Dave and George’s headlong rush to wooing the Chinese. It quotes military and intelligence officials saying the decision to get Beijing involved in our nuclear power plans are a threat to national security.
“There is a big division between the money men and the security side,” a security source said. “The Treasury is in the lead and it isn’t listening to anyone — they see China as an opportunity, but we see the threat.”
These worries are genuine and have been bubbling under for many months now, but what’s interesting is that they’ve resurfaced just ahead of President Xi’s visit next week. If handled well, couldn’t this be another chance for Jeremy Corbyn to prove he’s standing up to China - and standing up for national security (supposedly his weak point)?
5) SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
It’s been quite a week for Jeremy Hunt. The decision to allow the NHS to recruit more nurses from outside the EU was a big one, though Hunt stressed it was ‘temporary’. Is this a clear sign that there’s a panic on about the looming winter pressures?
But it’s on the topic of junior doctors that things are becoming more toxic and the Guardian has a scoop today that a Whitehall watchdog has been asked to investigate Hunt’s claims about 11,000 weekend deaths.
Two doctors, who represent around 3,380 other doctors, have complained to the Cabinet Office about Hunt’s claim, which he is using to justify both imposing a new contract on junior doctors and turning the NHS into a seven-day service. Referring to statements Hunt made at health questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, they also claim that “in misquoting and misinterpreting the data, Hunt is not acccurate or truthful. Mr Hunt’s claim that ‘there are 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends’ is not supported by the evidence”.
Health Select chair Sarah Wollaston revealed on BBC Daily Politics yesterday her daughter and 8 fellow junior doctor friends had quit the NHS for Australia.
The Sun splashes on a scoop that more than 100 NHS trusts have defied Hunt to increase hospital parking charges in the past year. One increased rates for a stay from £5 to £8.
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