The five things you need to know on Monday December 7, 2015…
1) LONE WOLF, BRUV?
The horrific Leytonstone knife attack had some particularly British elements to it, from the unarmed cops facing down the perpetrator to the infamous yell from a passenger ‘You ain’t no Muslim, bruv’.
Of course, it was an American import, the taser, which disabled the attacker rather than a truncheon. And the Mail and Sun have chats with David Pethers, the passenger who fought the knifeman and who criticised others for ‘standing there, just filming it on their phones’.
But it was the phone video of that ‘’bruv’ heckle that swiftly went viral on social media and has arguably done more to get across an anti-extremism message than any taxpayer-funded Prevent programme.
The fear of a ‘lone wolf’ attack is undoubtedly heightened, with more cops on Tubes and more armed response units expected (imagine the outcry if Osborne had gone ahead with police cuts). Some politicians are just thankful that ‘lone wolf’ attacks, as awful as they are, represent a different threat from directly orchestrated terror plots. In his televised address, Barack Obama said last night that there was ‘no evidence’ the San Bernardino attack was ‘directed’ from abroad.
Back here, Alex Salmond said something on Radio 5 Live yesterday that caught my ear. The former First Minister told Pienaar’s Politics: “Not one of the seven foiled plots was directed from Syria. If you look at the Prime Minister and examine his own record you know that.
“They’ve either been inspired by - that is lone wolf stabbers or shootists who are caught up in the worldwide rhetoric of Daesh and decide to do something on their own, and perhaps the incident in the Tube station in London last night was an example of that - or ‘connected to’. And ‘connected to’ is like the shooting in California, where the perpetrator says I’m a supporter of Daesh.”
Salmond is a Privy Councillor and may have had a security briefing, so is he telling us something that neither ministers nor senior Shadow Cabinet ministers have? The assumption among many was that the security briefing that swung Hilary Benn (and Cameron himself) towards bombing Syria was a clear threat posed to the UK from an ISIL operations unit in Raqqa.
Meanwhile, Boris in the Telegraph has entered the Syria quagmire, arguing we have to let the Russians back Assad’s boots on the ground to defeat ISIL. Boris slates Putin (“despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant”) but undermines Cameron’s 70k troops claim (“those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaeda). “Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army.”
As for the political fallout from the Paris attacks, the Front National did well in regional elections yesterday, with one in three voters backing it in the first round.
2) LEADER OF THE PACK
There are plenty of Labour MPs who think Jeremy Corbyn is a lone wolf leader when it comes to the PLP. But he thinks he is the leader of a much bigger pack than his MPs in Parliament, as proved by his strength on the NEC and among the 60% of members who voted for him.
The PLP will want tonight to confront him about reports of a ‘revenge reshuffle’ in the wake of the Syria vote. A reshuffle will happen but the timing is the key factor. If he goes too soon, Corbyn could trigger a mass frontbencher walkout that could rapidly bring to a head a coup attempt. Some believe a summer reshuffle would make more sense, particularly if the May local elections prove as unworrying as Oldham. Anti-Corbyn MPs now see May as their last best hope of getting rid of him before the leader entrenches his position with policy and party changes at conference.
The Telegraph, whose sister paper led the way on this yesterday, has a neat counter-attack: sacking Rosie Winterton and Maria Eagle would be a ‘sexist purge’ their allies say. “"They are bullying women, the way they are behaving is appalling. They are a macho bunch and it feels fundamentally sexist.”
The PLP may also want to (again) raise the issue of Corbyn attending the Stop the War Christmas fundraiser this Friday. Some around him had felt the invite was a distraction and were ready to counsel cancellation, but Tristram Hunt upping the ante on Marr yesterday made that politically impossible it seems. And last night Corbyn’s spokesman gave a vigorous defence of Stop The War for ‘calling it right’ on wars in the past 14 years. Tony Blair yesterday told the Sunday Times that Hilary Benn's speech was a 'tour de force'.
As for harassment of MPs, Corbyn allies are seizing on Tom Watson’s admission that he got it bit wrong in condemning party members for intimidating Stella Creasy’s staff. On Facebook yesterday, Watson even declared “party members who demonstrated outside Stella’s office need to know that I support their right to do so”. That won't stop some MPs demanding Corbyn does more to halt the online death threats to some MPs. Some MPs suspect Corbyn's team privately shares the view of Polly Toynbee on Marr yesterday: that MPs were being 'wimpy' about robust challenge from the public.
3) SCRAMBLING THE EUROFIGHTERS
The Typhoon jets sent to Cyprus the war against ISIL are rarely given their full name: Eurofighter Typhoons. Some in Whitehall suspect that’s because few Tory ministers want to be associated with anything positive about Europe. But Eurosceptics are certainly scrambling this week ahead of two key votes: on an EU scheme to fastback DNA and fingerprint sharing (Commons); and on votes for 16 and 17 year olds in the EU referendum (Lords). On the latter, as I said in the WaughZone last Friday, peers expect protracted ping-pong to push the bill into the New Year. On the former, ministers will rely on Labour votes to face down their own backbenchers.
As Donald Tusk today prepares to lay out the challenges in the PM’s EU renegotiation demands, I was struck by what IDS said on Marr yesterday on the key issue of welfare ‘tourism’. The Work and Pensions Secretary held Cameron’s feet to the fire, saying the four-year in-work benefit ban for migrants was a ‘crucial’ test of his entire EU reform package. He also rammed home that the Tory manifesto included a commitment to the four-year ban: “We need to deliver on that manifesto regardless of the state of the opposition. And of course the manifesto commitments were very clear on this.”
IDS was pointing to a wider message from the PM in his speech today in which he will unveil more home-owning plans and declare “A manifesto shouldn’t be a wish-list; it should be a checklist. A Government that delivers”.
Strong words. But on Heathrow, this may be a government that delays. The Cabinet committee is due to meet on Thursday, and The Times reports that the PM is expected to now delay a decision on a third runway until air quality reports are in. That would conveniently push it back until after the May London Mayor elections and spare Zac Goldsmith’s blushes (while making it tougher for Boris, who is set to be in Cabinet by the summer).
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Barack Obama use the full authority of the Oval Office (and a prime time TV slot) to reassure the American public about the terror threat.
4) OH LORDY
The FT splashes its front page the full constitutional backlash that David Cameron is planning for the House of Lords. Weeks after peers delivered a bloody nose to the Government over tax credits. Lord Strathclyde’s review seems to have come to one main conclusion: stop the Lords from being able to veto secondary legislation.
Once that veto is removed, the PM is expected to step up his government’s increasing use of delegated legislation — also known as statutory instruments — to ram contentious measures through the upper house. “We are being told to use statutory instruments wherever possible to get legislation through,” said one Conservative aide. Statutory instruments receive less parliamentary time and scrutiny than full bills. “The House of Lords has to tread carefully,” one Government source said. “If they don’t accept this proposal, we could stop them having any say at all on secondary legislation. That’s a big bazooka.”
As it happens, SIs have increasingly been used in recent years, much to the dismay of experts like Lord Norton. Last week, Lord Lisvane, aka Robert Rogers and the formidable former clerk of the Commons, complained that secondary legislation was being used “increasingly for matters of policy and principle which should be the subject of primary legislation”. One to watch.
5) THERE WILL BE FLOOD
Back in January 2014, David Cameron famously told the Commons “I very much suspect” that Britain’s floods were linked to climate change. His statement came in response to a question from a certain Tim Farron. And today the Lib Dem leader is getting a national profile once more with a demand for more cash to help his Cumbrian seat and others cope with this weekend’s devastating deluge. Never forget the PM was politically scarred by criticism of his response to the 2007 floods.
Note that Farron points to the cancellation of some flood defence schemes and urges the PM to take a chunk of Northern Powerhouse cash to help the north west. Cumbria County council leader was on Today arguing for more help.
Cameron’s ‘suspect’ words irked some Tory climate change sceptics and Owen Paterson refused to repeat them. Liz Truss has since replaced him as Environment Secretary and is more keen on the science.
Aptly enough, another new Cabinet minister Amber Rudd is in Paris for the climate change talks. A draft text was put together by officials on Saturday, but there are still big differences between rich and poor nations ahead of any deal on Friday. Just as Truss is more on message on climate change science, Rudd is more on message than Ed Davey ever was, certainly as far as the Treasury is concerned. Is the Environment Agency more on message now too? Chris Smith memorably clashed with Eric Pickles, but today it’s not his successor as chairman (Sir Philip Dilley) who’s on the media: it’s chief exec Sir James Beven.
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