The five things you need to know on Thursday January 7, 2016…
1) RESHUFFLE KERFUFFLE
It’s Day Four and the Corbyn reshuffle seems like a never-ending story, with junior ministerial posts still to be juggled around and vacancies filled. The Shad Cab bit of the changes took 34 hours and 13 minutes. The Indy dubs it ‘the night of the blunt knives’, which is true for Hilary Benn though certainly not for Maria Eagle, Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden.
After the three resignations yesterday, I hear there were intense discussions last night to try to fill Kevan Jones’ post in Defence. Word in the bars last night was that Conor McGinn turned down the post, preferring to stay in the Whips’ office, and his boss Alan Campbell was also offered it (though it’s unclear if he’ll accept). Both men voted for bombing in Syria and some around Corbyn would dearly like both out of the Whips’ Office.
Several MPs had expected Toby Perkins to quit along with the three others yesterday, but word is he was talked off the ledge by Tom Watson (who had tried and failed to do the same with Kevan Jones). Perkins, like others, are for now remaining in the ‘stayers’ camp, believing they can influence from within. I understand Perkins has agreed to stay in the Shadow defence team after it was clear that Emily Thornberry will allow him to continue to argue for Trident. ‘There’s enthusiasm for a variety of views’ on the defence review, I’m told.
But some in the leadership were quite pleased at the resignations yesterday. One Corbyn ally joked that “It's like a Spanish Christmas, when you get your presents 12 days later." That kind of goading could make some ‘stayers’ stay on even longer.
Hilary Benn was pretty defiant yesterday, declaring he had not been ‘muzzled’. One new test for Benn-Corbyn relations comes in the shape of the awful stories of starvation in the Syrian town of Madaya, where 40,000 people are under siege by the Assad regime and its Hezbollah allies. Syria Solidarity UK last night called on the RAF to do food drops. Will Corbyn agree, given he doesn’t want the RAF over Syria at all?
And the bad blood continues. Diane Abbott told Newsnight last night that those who walked were often former spads and politics graduates. The Twitter backlash was strong from Jonny Reynolds, who pointed out he’d not been a spad - and for good measure accused Abbott of being a ‘sell out’ for sending her son to a private school. Peter Mandelson had a Newsweek piece trying to rally ‘moderates’ to act.
Meanwhile, here’s a classic ‘mystery surrounds’ story: the MailOnline reports that Keith Vaz suddenly appeared to delete both his Twitter and Facebook accounts last night after receiving abusive messages.
2) COMPLACENT, MOI?
George Osborne is nothing if not relentless about austerity. And although he’s prone to tactical errors (as tax credits proved in spades), Tory MPs admire his strategic approach to both politics and economics. Today, he’s delivering a Big Speech in Cardiff (no coincidence this, given the Tories under Stephen Crabb are very much on the up in Wales) setting out just why he wants to “shake people out of the complacency” on the economy.
The Chancellor, who was on the Today prog too denying this was a ‘debt-fuelled recovery’, points to a ‘dangerous cocktail’ of global threats, and given what’s happening to the Chinese stock exchange it’s quite timely. He points out the oil price plunge has hit China, Brazil and Russia. Of course, Labour may argue that Osborne himself was the one who sounded pretty complacent in his Autumn Statement as he took credit for the oil price drop to hail the cost of filling your tank was it’s lowest in years.
And the real game here is to ram home just how much the nation needs to stick to George’s marvellous medicine of spending squeezes. It also looks like he’s trying to soften us all up for interest rate rises when they come, which however small at first will worry many. Still, with figures on record car sales (the highest since 2003) due later, it’s a tricky task trying to persuade the punters the economy is near the rocks.
On Brexit and Tory splits, Osborne sounded a tad complacent himself too on Today, claiming that Cameron had for some 'considerable time' decided to allow Cabinet freedom: "He hasn't changed his mind".
3) THERE WILL BE FLOOD
It’s raining again, hard. And amid all his sea of troubles yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn made the right call in raising flood defences and funding at PMQs. This is a classic area where an Opposition leader can hit a Government, not least as it’s a very visible aspect to the often politically invisible cuts of the early days of the Lib-Con Coalition. And the PM and Chancellor seem to be caught bang to rights on cancelling the flood defence scheme for Leeds in 2011.
Corbyn didn’t get a straight answer to his main question about funding, though we got a bit more clarity in the post-PMQs huddle with No.10 spokesman. We had a bit of Yes Minister-style linguistic gymnastics about whether the Leeds scheme had been ‘cancelled’ - “there was a proposal made, it wasn’t adopted”. But then No.10 said on funding: “Decisions you make are on what would be the most effective way to spend the resources you've got”.
Flooding has long been a political problem for Cameron, ever since he was criticised for not being around for the 2007 floods in Opposition. As it happens Neil Parish, chairman of the EFRA Select Committee and a farmer himself, today says what many have long said: pay farmers to store water on their land because it’s a ’rational use of public money’. Will Rory Stewart, normally a freethinker but apparently stuck opposed to ideas like this and to reforestation on hilltops, shift?
Lots of papers have fun with Environment Agency chairman Sir Philip Dilley claiming yesterday he felt like he wasn’t really ‘away’ when he was in Barbados over Xmas (no one sadly did the ‘Woah!He’s gaffeing on Barbados’ headline).
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this head coach headbutt the referee during a basketball game. Looks like a Lobby v MPs football match..
4) OH SUGAR, SUGAR
The Times splashes on ministers considering a U-turn on their previous opposition to a ‘sugar tax’. A study published today but seen by ministers several weeks ago shows that a 10 per cent tax on sugary drinks in Mexico led to a 12 per cent fall in sales.
Given we spend £6 billion a year on the medical costs of obesity and a further £10 billion on diabetes, and chuck in that NHS chief Simon Stevens rates this a national crisis, and you can see why it’s back on the table. Jamie Oliver may be happy someone is finally listening to him, but the PM however seemed pretty sure in the past that he didn’t want to increase costs for the poorest families. A childhood obesity strategy is published soon.
As for the inevitable ‘nanny state’ stories, I wonder if this isn’t an idea whose time has come. Blair took some convincing to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants but now everyone think’s it’s the new normal.
5) TRUMP CARD
Parliament’s decision to hold a debate on banning The Donald from the UK has met the inevitable backlash. Donald Trump’s threat to pull £700m in golf links investment from the UK makes our splash and that of the Telegraph overnight. The Trump Organization (great name, huh?) thundered: “Any action to restrict travel would force The Trump Organization to immediately end these and all future investments we are currently contemplating in the United Kingdom."
Tim Farron says Trump’s threat "makes him look petulant and shows him to be the party clown that he is.” Tulip Siddiq (Michael Dugher’s ex PPS). The United Kingdom should not be held to ransom by corrosive billionaire politicians. All of which will look like mild language I suspect when Paul Flynn leads the parliamentary debate on January 18.
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