The five things you need to know on Monday April 18, 2016…
1) THE (OS)BORNE ULTIMATUM
Today’s a day for ‘facts’, says George Osborne. In his Times op-ed ahead of the publication of his Treasury document on the cost of Brexit (£4,300 per home dontcha know?), the Chancellor says: “People want less rhetoric and more fact.”
The problem is that ‘facts’ are rare in any hypothetical debate about the future, let alone a political one. And many Tories are already furious that last week’s £9m leaflet talked of ‘the facts about the EU’. John Redwood MP, who was on Today saying the Osborne document was ‘completely worthless’, has pointedly gone for Cameron too: “The Prime Minister was one of the senior advisers working in the Treasury while John Major's Government tried to keep this country in the EU's disastrous Exchange Rate Mechanism.” Ouch.
Osborne’s claims were slightly undermined too by Vince Cable who last night told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that he disputed the Treasury’s case that the UK would be ‘permanently’ poorer from Brexit, admitting there would be a temporary shock but then things would get back to normal: surely Vote Leave will seize on that?
The Sun has a new ComRes poll on the EU referendum: Remain keeps 7% lead, but don't knows up 6 points to 17%. Remain is on 45%, leave 38%. But that means 17 million votes are still up for grabs. And the most undecided group at the moment are female unskilled workers in the North, aged 45-54 - hence Boris’s Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle visits this weekend. Osborne is targeting key Tory waverers by holding his speech in the South West today.
The FT has a report that Brexit fears are having a ‘chilling effect’ on City firms hiring and house prices (actually two things Leftwing Brexiteers may say are a good thing). On the Today prog, Osborne cited the London School of Economics and the IMF in his favour. “Where is your document, where is your assessment?” Osborne said, underlining the main political thrust of today’s event: to force Leave to show how few facts they have. He also tried a new tack, saying the ‘poorest’ would be the ones who would suffer most from Brexit.
Yet he sounded uneasy when told that the Treasury is relying on more immigration to get growth. And in his Tel column, Boris lets rip at Angela Merkel for acting like the ‘Statue of Liberty’ to refugees and warns that another migrant crisis could indeed be the big factor in the referendum.
The Chancellor is also on Tom Bradby’s The Agenda at 10.35pm tonight. Chris Grayling will tonight share platform with Farage.
2) PRESIDENTIAL SWEET
No10 are hoping that Barack Obama’s visit later this week will be one of the big factors that help persuade wavering voters not to take a risk on a Leave vote. Obama will be circumspect about respecting the wishes of the public and not interfering, but as ex-White House staffer James Rubin put it yesterday “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”.
This is all very sweet payback for Dave for his 2012 Washington trip when he added to Obama’s re-election campaign with shots of them sharing hotdogs at the basketball and lavish British praise at the White House. But will it work? It’s far from clear that the US won’t still be able to work with an independent UK and the EU on things like security and trade. Boris was smart to get his retaliation in first in the Standard last week, warning Obama against ‘hypocrisy’.
As for Obama, Team Corbyn have dumped on the Times story suggesting the Labour leader is flirting with snubbing the Pres on his trip: “complete and total bollocks” says one source. Corbyn is no lover of US foreign policy, it’s true, and it seems US interference in our eating habits has upset Labour (the Sun on Sunday had the scoop that the NEC have blocked a McDonald’s stand from this year’s Labour conference).
But Corbyn’s sceptical backing for Remain last week is still important. Which is why today’s Treasury doc is tricky for Corbyn and McDonnell: both have slammed Osborne’s ‘dodgy stats’ on the economy so how can they now back his ‘dodgy stats’ on Europe? (McDonnell is delighted ex-Tory voter Michelle Dorrell of QuestionTime tax credits fame has now joined Labour).
Meanwhile, Tristram Hunt wants more subsidiarity at home: he has a speech saying Labour risks missing a “golden opportunity” to let towns and cities run their own affairs because of its “centralist instincts”. He’s written a blog for HuffPost on this too (which echoes Labour’s local government star Jim McMahon in The House mag last week: “We should be saying: ‘You’re timid. You call that devolution? This is devolution.”)
3) SCHOOLS OUT
Anxious parents will today find out if they’ve got the place they want at primary school. Those who lose out may be looking for someone to blame and Labour (and councils of all stripes) wants to pin that blame on Nicky Morgan. Some new stats suggest there will be a shortfall of 10,000 places by 2020, though Labour says it could be as high as 85k. The DfE says Free Schools will make up the 10k gap.
And the forced academisation row has inevitably been roped into the issue, with Lucy Powell saying in future no council will be able to use current ‘levers’ to get schools to take extra kids through converting non-classroom space or expanding class sizes. The Government insists councils will still have a role (and let’s be honest they often force schools into taking bulge classes) but it’s far from clear how that will work. It’s also worth pointing out the last Labour government - any many councils - failed to spot the demographic bulge and react quickly in time. Perhaps more worrying for Morgan should be the number of parents furious at the ultra-tough new SATS tests for grammar for kids in their final year of primary. That’s a looming political issue too.
Labour aren’t the only people shoehorning another row onto the school places issue. Vote Leave’s Priti Patel sees it through the prism of extra immigration. The Sun, Mail and others quote her saying it’s “another example of how uncontrolled migration is putting unsustainable pressures on our public services”. The Express says ministers have been accused of a cover-up after a report on the impact of immigration on schools was delayed.
Meanwhile, a study by Teach First found that poorer families’ children are four times more likely to be at weaker schools and have half the chance of the wealthiest of being sent to a top-rated institution. And here’s the guilty little secret many parents know: house prices are often the main driver of catchment areas.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch heart-throb-geek Canadian PM Justin Trudeau win applause for showing a cheeky reporter that he really does understand quantum computing.
4) EYE-TO-EYE CONTRACT
Five junior doctors are in the High Court today with a legal challenge to Jeremy Hunt’s plans for their new contract. The Guardian gets a front page splash out of it because documents in the case appear to show the Health Sec changing tack, referring no longer to ‘imposing’ the contract but to merely ‘introducing’ the contract.
The difference is significant, the docs claim, because it suggests Hunt has U-turned on his ‘nuclear option’ of imposition. Labour says it suggests Hunt has misled Parliament by referring repeatedly to ‘imposition’.
Few in Government think the doctors legal challenge will fly, but maybe the semantics are more revealing. Hunt has Tweeted there has been ‘no change of approach’. But it could be that Hunt has been advised that the really shrewd way to ‘impose’ the contract is through the back-door: by making it financially difficult for trusts to refuse to introduce the contract. Thanks to Health Education England (which funds junior doc posts) it sounds to many like Hunt has made hospitals ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.
5) HUG A DRUGGIE
Nick Clegg’s been a busy boy ahead of a major UN conference on the global drug trade. Last week he had his own film on Newsnight (and a clash with a guy who pointed out legalising cannabis kinda undermines Clegg’s own fight against mental illness).
Today, the ex-DPM grants the Guardian an interview in which he comes up with something new: he accuses Theresa May of trying to delete sentences from a Whitehall report after it concluded that there was no link between tough laws and the levels of illegal drug use. The Home Office deny both that Mrs May tried to interfere and that the report concluded there was no link.
Cleggy’s best line is this though, referring to Cameron and Osborne: “Part of the problem is that for some of them when you say drugs to them, they think of Notting Hill dinner parties. They think it is all a slightly naughty recreational secret.”
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