POLITICS

The Waugh Zone March 29, 2016

29/03/2016 08:53

The five things you need to know on Tuesday March 29, 2016…

boris johnson

Paul is on holiday. So this morning's WaughZone is written by Graeme Demianyk

1) THERE GOES THE FEAR

As Westminster wound down last Thursday, one top spinner involved in the EU referendum noted to me how the quiet Easter holiday was a good time to cause some mischief. They weren't kidding. Today's papers are full of referendum-based horseplay: dossiers, investigations, speeches. It’s as if the Budget balls-up never happened.

"Deadly cost of our open borders," screams The Daily Mail on its splash, citing research from the Vote Leave group suggesting free movement rules have allowed "dozens of foreign criminals commit horrific offences in Britain". The analysis claims 50 of the most dangerous European criminals showed they were responsible for numerous serious crimes in the UK, including 14 killings and 13 sex offences.

Most papers pick up on the same research, though The Guardian leads with the response of the remain side, branding the claim “scaremongering of the worst kind”. It’s now a familiar waltz. Claim followed by counter-claim and a race to label your opponent a disciple of Project Fear. No wonder the public are confused.

And there’s more.

"Expats quit Europe," thunders The Times, its page one tale concerning a vote to leave would "trigger an exodus" of British expatriates from the continent. It says 100 Britons are already leaving Spain each day amid "economic woes" in southern Europe, and experts believe the number will increase due to "uncertainty" over the UK's possible EU exit.

Education Secretary and remainer Nicky Morgan joins in the fun. In a speech today, she will appeal directly to grandparents and parents by warning of a “lost generation” youngsters caused by Brexit denting job prospects.

Proof that in politics a sharp U-turn is the best U-turn. There’s barely a mention of cutting benefits to disabled people that dominated Westminster before Easter.

2) TATA FOR NOW?

Westminster has a habit of losing perspective, becoming obsessed with stories that have little resonance in the real world. But today is different. A board meeting is being held at Tata in Mumbai to discuss the future the company’s Port Talbot steelworks in South Wales.

Company bosses will be deciding whether to accept a survival plan which would result in 750 job losses at the plant, and the Government has warned Tata that it faces damage to its international reputation if it decides to close the plant, the FT reports.

On the Today programme, local activist Rob Edwards described the facility as "Treasure Island" so reliant the community is on the work. Business minister Anna Soubry also appeared, warning anyone listening not to "under-estimate" the Government's desire to keep making steel in the UK - but had a dig at former Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable: "Vince could have done more."

When asked whether ministers had a plan for the area if Tata rejected the rescue strategy, Soubry said: "We are looking at all manner of plans that may or may not be available to us." Higher tariffs for cheap imports were a matter for the EU, she said, and we're almost back to the fear again.

3) CHUCK BORIS

There were two things polticos absolutely positively had to tweet about this weekend: the 1966 general election re-run on BBC Parliament yesterday; and that Matthew Parris column in the Times ripping into Boris Johnson. The latter was an old-fashioned hit job, but online it was shared like the Westminster equivalent of a cat gif.

The former Tory MP and parliamentary sketch writer wasn't going to leave his readers in any doubt about how he felt about Brexit’s most visible supporter. Off a long run-up, he wrote: "Somebody has to remind us that it’s not enough for those who seek to govern us simply to be: they have to do. Incompetence is not funny. Policy vacuum is not funny. Administrative sloth is not funny. Breaking promises is not funny. A careless disregard for the truth is not funny. Advising old mates planning to beat somebody up is not funny. Abortions and gagging orders are not funny. Creeping ambition in a jester’s cap is not funny."

Ouch. These are the oft-cited vulnerabilities that many think will come back to haunt the London Mayor if he has a tilt at the top job. More followed when Boris's former lover Petronella Wyatt wrote a first-person piece in the Mail on Sunday about their "amitié amoureuse". But it was no kiss 'n' tell: the big reveal appeared to be that close friends and family call him "Al". For BoJo, it was business as usual. His Telegraph column was a clothes-peg-on-nose piece in praise for Assad/Putin for re-capturing the ancient city of Palmyra from Isis.

4) EASTER TRUCE

It was a quiet weekend of the Labour Party, with only one round of calls for Jeremy Corbyn to quit. MP John Woodcock warning the party “cannot go on like this” for the “sake of people being bled dry” was slapped down by a spokesman for the leader, who once more told disgruntled MPs to respect his mandate. With Parliament not sitting there’s no Monday night fireworks that is the weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, so maybe Corbyn will enjoy an Easter truce.

But shouldn’t opposition parties be looking to own the recess heat? The down-time is a good opportunity to get out stories usually crowded out by the market. Andy Burnham’s warning of the Home Office making a “very serious mistake” if it presses ahead with reductions of up to 6% in the Border Force’s budget is its most prominent news win of the weekend. But it’s actually the Lib Dems with the biggest hit for the Opposition parties today.

Norman Lamb tells the i that the Government is falling short of mental health health targets. The former health minister says new waiting-times targets for conditions including bipolar disorder and OCD “won’t happen” because the pledge to spend £1bn extra a year is not enough.

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR: Watch Ed Balls line dancing with pensioners a year ago, just because you can. Or more recently: the Obamas act out Where The Wild Things Are for Easter with admirable levels of gusto.

5) TERROR DIVISION

As Brussels institutions today attempt to restore some semblance of normality after last week’s atrocities, the Belgian authorities are facing international ridicule for releasing the ‘man in the hat’ because of a lack of evidence. Meanwhile, in the UK, a flagship Government anti-terror programme has hit difficulties.

At its conference this weekend, the National Union of Teachers voted down the Prevent scheme after warning it could be used to target young Muslims. The Government's anti-radicalisation strategy urged teachers to refer to police any pupils they suspected of engaging in radical behaviour, but it has been considered a failure since around 90 per cent of referrals result in no action being taken.

Kevin Courtney, NUT deputy general secretary, cited a catalogue of high-profile examples, including a group of young Muslim girls refusing to discuss Charlie Hebdo after the Paris attacks over concerns it would get them in trouble.

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Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Paul Waugh (paul.waugh@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com), Graeme Demianyk (graeme.demianyk@huffingtonpost.com) and Owen Bennett (owen.bennett@huffingtonpost.com)

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