The five things you need to know on Tuesday November 3, 2015...
1) CAMERON'S MIG PROBLEM
The Guardian and Times have beaten the pack with their splashes that No.10 has backed off a Commons vote on extending UK military action to Syria. The Guardian was more cautious, preferring to say the vote has been ‘shelved’, while the Times said it had been ‘abandoned’. Downing Street sources were swift last night to describe both reports as ‘total nonsense’, but made clear that was on the grounds that the PM has never said he would table a vote unless he was first certain he had a majority. We in a classic Westminster bubble situation where the facts of the stories seem true but the interpretation of the words is in dispute.
Senior Whitehall sources are standing up the Guardian/Times line, saying both No10 and the MoD have concluded that no vote is ‘imminent’ because Russia’s intervention has made Labour moderates (and Tory rebels) less likely to back the PM. As the FT points out, an analysis of Pentagon data shows the number of US airstrikes has dropped sharply in Syria since Russia sent its own MIG jets in. Philip Hammond says overnight that military action is proving effective in Iraq and the UK 'remains committed to using every tool available'.
Labour sources smell a rat, saying this is ‘standard operating procedure’ for Cameron: float story, deny story, leave options open, all part of an attempt to hide the Government’s own incoherent policy behind claims that Labour is to blame for not acting. Sources say it’s a ‘fabrication’ to say 30 Labour MPs have been contacted by the Government, and it could be the figure is just over 10. One tells me: “It is all part of the desperate political management exercise HMG have engaged in for three years now, where the question has miraculously been ‘what will Labour do on airstrikes’, when they cannot answer ‘what is your actual plan to win the peace?’”
And Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, last night hinted on Newsnight that this whole ‘vote shelving’ story was all aimed at throwing up chaff to distract from his own report published at midnight, which warns there is no military or legal justification for extending airstrikes right now.
Still, Labour has a separate PR problem. Speaking at a Stop the War event last night, Catherine West, a Shadow Foreign Office Minister, seemed to give the peace campaigners a brand new role in party policy making. Referring to any Syria vote, she said: “Obviously, if that proposal does come forward, then we will need to speak to you and talk to you about what your view on that is.”
A Labour spokesman later confirmed this was no off-the-cuff remark: “Labour would, of course, listen to representations from the Stop the War Coalition, as it would from other external bodies, before coming to any decision.”
Jeremy Corbyn stood down as chairman of Stop the War after becoming Labour leader in September. But the Shadow Cabinet, already nervous over the Scots Trident vote, may be dismayed at the idea of contracting out defence policy to STW.
2) THE OLDHAM TEST BY-ELECTION
The Oldham West by-election is hotting up after Rosie Winterton fired the starting gun by moving the writ for December 3 yesterday. Michael Meacher’s funeral hasn’t even been held yet (it’s on November 13, in Wimbledon) but the old days of waiting for such things has gone.
The by-election is as much a test for UKIP as for Labour. Nigel Farage is expected to be up in Oldham today to unveil UKIP’s candidate (who was selected recently but who has been kept under wraps). With Paul Nuttall ruling himself out, it looks like John Bickley - who came so close in Heywood - could be the man. Our Owen Bennett reports that this will be a UKIP campaign with a heavy northern accent, with UKIP’s Paul Oakden - who masterminded the Heywood campaign - warning that Jeremy Corbyn is ‘so anti-British it is ridiculous’.
Labour yesterday whittled down its long list to a shortlist yesterday and four names will go through to Thursday’s local party selection hustings: Jim McMahon, Chris Williamson (who has not pulled out despite rumours last night, in fact I’ve interviewed him for HuffPost), Jane East and Mohammed Azam.
Away from the patriotism attack from UKIP, the whole issue of poppies and Remembrance Sunday took on a bizarre twist last night as somebody in No.10 decided to Photoshop (badly) a poppy onto the PM's Facebook pic. Surely a Labour MP will use that at PMQs - or is that the 'old politics'..?
3) GRIM BLUE LINE
The Indy and ‘i’ splash on an exclusive that seven police and crime commissioners have written to police minister Mike Penning to warn its ‘unjustified’ and ‘deeply flawed’ funding reforms will slash millions from the fight against crime. And they’re threatening legal action if they don’t get their way.
What gives this extra spice is that Boris’s own deputy mayor for policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, is among them. The biggest loser in monetary terms would be the Metropolitan Police Service, which faces a reduction of £184m in grant funding. Those Bojo v Theresa headlines just write themselves. (Note that quietly yesterday, Boris defied Osbo over the garden bridge, slashing funding to it by using a loan rather than a grant).
Penning is standing firm, pointing out that crime has fallen in recent years despite pressures on budgets. He may think the police chiefs are just bluffing about their threat to be “taking legal advice with a view to initiating a judicial review, should our concerns not be addressed”. Even if they do take action, a JR is far from certain to be successful.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Chewbacca get arrested in Ukraine. It’s not clear if he’s a rebel separatist.
4) SEVEN UP
Nicky Morgan’s tricky balancing act of being as radical as Michael Gove, without sounding like Michael Gove, faces a big test today. The Education Secretary was appointed for her voter-friendly tone, focus on bread and butter issues and grip on marginal seat concerns. But her big speech today suggests she isn’t afraid of a row either.
And a row she may get, at least from the teaching unions, over plans to look at the reintroduction of national tests for seven year olds. It’s still a consultation but could result in external examiners and public league tables, both of which went out a decade ago as teachers convinced Labour that informal testing was better. On secondary education, Morgan is setting a target that 90% for pupils should take ‘core’ traditional GCSE subjects.
As for those marginal seats, Morgan is putting flesh on the bones of the Tory election pledge for a National Teaching Service. It all recruit a pool of 1,500 high-achieving teachers over five years who would be deployed to schools in areas with weak results, such as coastal towns. Lucy Powell, and the NUT, point to severe teacher shortages.
5) POLICY WONKY
With Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest BBC prog last night showing just how much food the UK (supermarkets, fast food joints and households) wastes a year, The Telegraph rather shrewdly reports on Environment Secretary Liz Truss’s tips for tackling the problem.
Asked if she eats food which is past its best before date, Ms Truss replied: "Definitely. I will just see if it smells OK and eat it. Absolutely.” She added: "I'm of the school that if the cheese has got mould on it just cut the end off and eat the rest of the cheese.”
Truss also said she likes "wonky" vegetables, which are often discarded by supermarkets on cosmetic grounds, and has been in talks with retailers about ensuring more are sold.
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