The five things you need to know on Thursday April 28, 2016…
1) A TOTAL SHAH
They got there in the end, but boy was it tortuous. Naz Shah’s slo-mo suspension by Labour was an unedifying spectacle that once again meant the party was consumed by its own internal troubles rather than doing the job of Opposition.
Some Corbyn supporters are so defensive that even when an obvious course of action appears, they hesitate, partly in a stubborn refusal to follow their critics’ narrative, partly due to a desire for ‘new politics’ and partly, let’s be honest, due to sheer inexperience of fighting media firestorms at this level.
As soon as Guido had highlighted Shah’s actions in sharing the Facebook post about Israelis being relocated to the US, someone should have realised that it was so stupid an act that suspension was inevitable (it’s not just offensive, it runs against party policy, which is to recognise Israel).
Jeremy Corbyn’s own natural inclination to give people the benefit of the doubt was part of the reason for the 24-hour PR car-crash. Shah has indeed built up good relations with Jewish groups in her constituency and after Corbyn met her yesterday morning he obviously felt the whip didn’t need to be withdrawn. And with PMQs looming, it seems he wasn’t as focused on it as he should have been. Yet Labour MPs felt he should have held the meeting on Tuesday night and let the NEC disciplinary processes follow their natural course.
But when Ken Livingstone said yesterday that he didn’t think anything Shah had done had been ‘anti-semitic’, he wasn’t a lone voice and plenty of Corbyn supporters (not least his Jewish ally Jon Lansman) feel that firm distinction between ‘anti-Israel’ and ‘anti-semitic’ has to be maintained. The problem was that Shah’s actions were not just criticising a particular Israeli government, they suggested the state should not exist at all.
Ironically, BuzzFeed’s erroneous report yesterday bolstered the stance of some around Corbyn that making snap judgements was fraught with danger. The site’s claim that someone at “Labour HQ” had doctored Shah’s apology - widely repeated by others even after clear denials - fell apart after two phone calls to check it.
Lisa Nandy went public before PMQs (a move that has put her even more on people’s ‘leadership material’ radar) but other Shadow Cabinet ministers made plain their feelings privately too. Shah’s Commons statement helped repair the damage. Andrew Percy, vice chair of Conservative Friends of Israel was willing to show mercy. But even as she made her apology, it was clearly part of a longer process that she knew would include suspension.
On the Today prog, Lucy Powell refused to say if she’d want to sit alongside Shah, preferring to say the party process now had to follow its course. Thanks to the very long half-life of social media posts, it may only be a matter of time before more emerges. And if you doubt just how virulent anti-semitism still is in Britain and the wider world today, just check out the Anti-Semitic Tweets Tumblr. It was an experiment than ran for two months in 2013 - even before Shah was busy on Facebook.
2) ALF AND SAFETY
Alf Dubs has another powerful ally this morning in his dogged campaign to allow 3,000 unaccompanied child migrants from Europe into the UK: the Daily Mail leader column. Proving the wisdom of building alliances (something the Lords is rather good at) rather than impugning the motives of those who disagree with you, Dubs’ “admirable and moral compromise” is praised by the paper.
It wasn’t a good look yesterday as David Cameron tried to shrug off comparisons with Kindertransport in PMQs. And Yvette Cooper’s powerful intervention won applause from SNP and Labour MPs alike. But it was the speech by Tory MP Stephen Philips that may have just as much impact - proof that you can defy your whips and emerge with honour.
The Mail says of Cameron: “While the Mail respects his argument, we believe that the plight of these unaccompanied children now in Europe — hundreds of them on our very doorstep in the Channel ports of France — has become so harrowing that we simply cannot turn our backs. It is not their fault, after all, that they’ve been sent halfway round the world alone to search for a better life, often after seeing family members slaughtered.
“As for the danger of encouraging more refugees to send their children on the perilous journey alone, the Mail sees why Mr Cameron is worried. But with the right safeguards in place, and rigorously adhered to, it’s a danger that can and must be surmounted.” It backs a one-off amnesty with a limit on the numbers.
I suspect many of those Tory MPs who wrestled with their consciences this week and abstained may now want to vote against their Government when the Dubs amendment comes back (it’s now due in the Commons on May 9th and possibly the Lords again on the 10th). The refined Dubs amendment has no specific figure but offers a way out for No.10. Rather than suffer a humiliating defeat, wouldn’t it show true moral leadership for the PM to take the initiative and offer the 3,000 safe refuge?
3) HILLSBOROUGH AFTERMATH
That tired old phrase ‘Parliament at its best’ is often overused but it certainly applied to the Hillsborough statement yesterday. Andy Burnham made the speech of his life, while Theresa May was pitch perfect in balancing the limits on what she could say with a sombre condemnation of the lies and cover-up by police.
Alison McGovern’s tearful plea for fans to finally unite was notable too, as she said the ‘murderers, murderers’ chants by Man Utd fans has got to stop. Both the ‘murderers’ chant and the rival ‘Munich’ song have long been a stain on both clubs: will the minority of idiots who sing them finally be shamed into stopping?
The focus has moved onto the South Yorkshire Police, not least because of the decision to suspend chief constable David Crompton. Labour MPs have been working hard behind the scenes with PCC Alan Billings to ensure it happened. It’s an irony that the very system that Labour opposed (crime commissioners) allowed it to act so swiftly yesterday.
But Crompton’s days were numbered not because of his actions during the inquest, but by that memo he sent several years ago (thank God for the FoI Act) talking of “the media machine favouring the families and not us” and the need to put a strong case “otherwise we will just be roadkill”.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Carly Fiorina sing to Ted Cruz’s daughters. Cringe isn’t the word. It makes Veep look like documentary.
4) UNHOLY UNION
It’s Ed Balls day today (see my colleague Graeme Demianyk’s 5 Things We Miss list) and it’s worth pondering just what a role he would have in the EU referendum campaign if he was still an MP. As the man who kept the UK out of the euro, it’s possible to imagine him sharing an op-ed (if not a platform) with his one-time enemy David Cameron to argue why we should stay in the EU.
The PM has done just that with ex-TUC chief Brendan Barber in the Guardian, arguing Brexit would pose a ‘triple threat’ to jobs, wages and prices. Arron Banks’ evidence to MPs yesterday didn’t exactly help his cause, saying families losing £4,300 each would be ‘a price worth paying’ to quit the EU. “This isn’t about pounds and pence, it’s about our democracy” he said.
But after a bruising week last week, the Brexit camp’s tails are up (not least as the opinion polls suggest the Obama intervention was politically cost-neutral, and maybe counterproductive, overall). With Priti Patel back in action, eight economists will fight back with their own forecast of how life would over the medium to long term be much better.
As for those claims that Nick Boles caved on the Trade Union Bill to win union backing for Remain, that looks like a brilliant bluff by the union movement (who would never really have gone lukewarm on the Remain campaign). Government sources insist the real reason for those concessions - and we had a huge new one yesterday with ministers accepting opt-in only applied to new union members - was the brutal reality of the anti-Tory majority in the Lords and a desire to get the law done this session.
5) THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-YACHTS
Although its 11,000 staff have little hope of Government support like the steel industry, the BHS row isn’t going away in political terms. And Frank Field, whose Work and Pensions Select Committee wants to investigate the pension black hole of the company, is playing hardball.
Field tells the Times that if Sir Philip Green gives evasive or unsatisfactory answers, then his committee will call his wife to give evidence too. With delicious timing, the couple are soon due to take delivery of a £100 million, four-storey superyacht - a snip given their £3bn wealth.
Lady Green, who lives in the tax haven of Monaco, was the legal owner of BHS and technically controls the Arcadia Group (yep, it’s all about tax). Arcadia sold the high street chain for £1 to a consortium led by a former racing driver who had twice been made bankrupt.
Sir Philip (who was knighted by Tony Blair and tears a strip off anyone who doesn’t call him ‘Sir’) still refused to say last night whether he would attend the committee. He also declined to comment on whether Arcadia would waive its claim to £35.4 million from the ruins of BHS, which went into administration on Monday.
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