The five things you need to know on Friday April 29, 2016…
1) KEN GOES NAGASAKI
The 5.40 at Chepstow today has a horse at 3/1 favourite: ‘Jezza’. Those around Jeremy Corbyn may well put a few quid on it as a symbol of their determination to stick by the man who won the Labour leadership by a landslide last year.
And the wagons are circling around him. JC himself yesterday made plain to the BBC that he felt that some of his MPs wanted to nobble him, by exploiting the whole Ken Livingstone debacle we witnessed on TV, radio and online.
Ken finally self-imploding with a mushroom cloud of cod Hitler history and ‘anti-semitism-isn’t-exactly-the-same-as-racism’ claims was truly an extraordinary spectacle. His nuclear meltdown was so severe that his suspension was inevitable, and one key trigger was the withdrawal of support from Jon Lansman.
As someone who is Jewish, a fierce critic of Israeli government policy and a close ally of Corbyn and John McDonnell, Lansman had the perfect qualifications to say enough was enough. His tweet that it was time for Ken to retire from politics came just after 1pm, 20 minutes before Ken’s suspension was confirmed. Note too that Tom Watson retweeted Lansman, another significant move.
Some in Corbyn’s team argued strongly that Ken could not be suspended explicitly for anti-semitism, but it was agreed that his remarks on BBC Radio London had been inflammatory and so a charge of bringing the party into disrepute was chosen instead.
During frantic discussions between Corbyn (on a visit up north) and the party down in London, I’m told the idea of suspending John Mann was certainly discussed. The idea of equating Mann’s conduct with Ken’s prompted outrage, and a dressing down for Mann by the Chief Whip was the compromise finally worked out. But I understand the episode has deepened the determination of some in Team Corbyn to finally overhaul the Whips’ Office in a coming reshuffle to get it under the leader’s control. They’ve tried before to sack Rosie Winterton and her top team, but if they try again, that’s when we really could see Labour’s civil war erupt.
In one of the more surreal moments of yesterday, George Galloway put out a video declaring ‘the coup against Jeremy Corbyn has begun’. And allies of the leader suspected careful coordination in more than 30 MPs tweeting Ken should be suspended within minutes of his radio interview. Corbyn himself made clear on the BBC that he felt some of his critics were motivated by fears over deselection and a failure to recognise the party in the country had changed.
His key quote was this: “I suspect much of this criticism that you are saying about crisis in the party actually comes from those who are nervous of the strength of the Labour Party at local level.” John Woodcock hit back that “after this horrible day…I would urge Jeremy not to do anything that seems to cast doubt on their motives for speaking out.”
Nah Shah’s contrition may well lead to her suspension being lifted at some point. Ken’s stubborn refusal to ever admit any mistakes may make his own expulsion more likely. The key issue on both will be timing. Simon Danczuk’s suspension has lasted months, but will the NEC want to delay on Ken?
Jon Trickett on Newsnight stressed that fresh steps would be taken by Corbyn to root out anti-semitism and try to heal the rift with British Jewry. Meanwhile, Ken’s suspension means he can’t run for the NEC (and Lansman’s withdrawal of support made him look like a dead duck anyway). It also means he can’t influence the defence review. And with those NEC elections looking increasingly crucial in any showdown with the leadership, and Tom Watson warning of the damage done to the May elections effort by the row, that talk of a July coup is very much alive again.
At least there’s one prince-over-the-water who looks like he won’t be taking part directly in any plot. The Sun reports that David Miliband recently confided in friends in the UK that he expected Hillary Clinton would give him a job, possibly as a foreign envoy. Imagine if it was to Israel and Palestine…?
2) RUBBER DUBS
Like a rubber ball, he keeps bouncing back again. And again. Yes the doughty octogenarian Labour peer Alf Dubs is a big worry for the Government as his amendment on child refugees wings its way back to the Commons the first Monday after the local elections.
Yesterday, he gave a warm welcome to the Daily Mail for its full-page opinion piece backing his compromise plan to take in a ‘specified’ number of children from European camps. He liked the article “so much so that when I heard about today’s editorial I went out and bought the paper for the first time in my life”.
Alf has given us an interview today and he’s revealed some poignant memories of being a boy in Nazi Czechoslovakia, recounting how his textbooks had to have pages replaced with Hitler’s image. He also has a moving account of his father (a Jew who fought for Austria Hungary in the First World War) handing him a box of toy soldiers before he died. He also warns that further Government intransigence would be ‘shameful’.
And it looks like the continuing Dubs effect, plus that Mail piece, is having that impact on those Tory MPs who abstained this week. The Times suggests that ministers are indeed rethinking what they do. The Government won by just 18 votes on Monday, but four DUP MPs stayed away (the other four split two for and two against the Dubs amendment). The DUP is hinting is may get all its MPs to back the new amendment. As I said yesterday, David Cameron would do well to listen and take the initiative rather than face defeat.
3) BAD KOREA MOVE
For Inners, today’s Radio 4 ‘Essay’ was delivered on the 8.10 slot by Sir John Major, a man who knows more than most about the vehemence of Tory Eurosceptics. He really went for it on No.10’s behalf declaring “if you want undiluted sovereignty in the modern age when everybody is interconnected, then go to north Korea because that’s where you’ll get it”. The aim was to make Brexiteers sound like loons, but it could backfire because of the sheer hyperbole.
Major chuckled when asked if Ken Clarke was right that Cameron wouldn’t last 30 seconds if he lost the referendum. But he was swift to seize on Brexit economist Patrick Minford’s line that Brexit would mean the elimination of British manufacturing. With a new poll showing a clear majority of farmers back Brexit, it was left to the Commons’s most famous former strawberry farmer and now farming minister George Eustice to put the counter case.
And while Bernard Jenkin claimed a ‘cash for questions’ style scandal over No10 agreeing concession on the Trade Union Bill, I hear that some unions (the FBU and Napo among them) are actually just as furious with Brendan Barber for teaming up with David Cameron yesterday, and are writing to the TUC to complain.
Penny Mordant is seen by some Eurosceptics as having had a ‘good war’ in the referendum campaign and her name is whispered (along with those of Dom Raab and Andrea Leadsom) as future dark horse Tory leadership contenders. She’s given an interview with The House magazine in which she warns that Europe is ‘sleepwalking’ into ‘civil unrest’ thanks to the continuing ‘forced harmonisation’ of the eurozone.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch a tuna fish (looks like a shark but really is a fish) eat a seagull by mistake - and then spit it out again.
4) PLAYING THE JOKER
Last night’s Westminster Correspondents Dinner (a bit like the White House equivalent, though we have better jokes and worse dental work) saw George Osborne as the guest of honour. He kept true to tradition with some risqué gags that you’d never get from a US President, as well as delivering a policy nugget to help local newspapers.
The Chancellor had a dig at John Bercow’s ego and referred to ‘the Albanian model’ of Brexit, joking ‘that’s enough about John Whittingdale’. Whitto, to his credit, was in the audience and laughed like a drain.
But the real ridicule was reserved for one big fat blond target: Boris. Referring to dessert, he said ‘I’m sure the Eton Mess was a bit of a joke’. He also had a dig at Bojo’s perceived lack of friends among MPs, saying that the Members’ Dining Room venue for the dinner was known to the Mayor as "strangers'". It was the innest of in-jokes by an inner about an outer. If you see what I mean.
Osborne did have the obligatory self-deprecating gag, however. He admitted he had pined for an "uncontested leadership election”. If Boris does ever get to host one of these gigs in future, you can bet he’ll have a whole routine devoted to his pal George….
5) STRESS TESTS
I’ve mentioned it before, but away from the ongoing ‘forced academies’ row (and full marks to Lucy Powell for getting that phrase off the ground, unchallenged by DfE ministers, a bit like ‘the bedroom tax’), the real under-the-radar issue in schools is this year’s primary school tests.
The return of a test for 7-year-olds is causing genuine anger among parents and a slow-burn resentment against Nicky Morgan. And even though the spelling bit of it was abandoned after being leaked online, the other tests have prompted a boycott. In north London the Let Kids Be Kids movement will see lots of parents taking their offspring to the park for the day of the tests in protest. Teachers have also slammed the new assessments for the stress they’re causing.
But just as stressful have been the SATS for the final year of primary, with new SPAG (spelling and grammar) tests introducing grammar papers so difficult even English graduates find them too hard. Today the headteachers’ union, the NAHT (often seen as the ‘moderate’ wing of the teaching unions) slams the ‘inappropriate content’ of the SATS and the chaotic way they’ve been introduced. The DfE is standing firm insisting higher standards are needed but this looks like a major headache - and one the Government can do without right now.
We have an excellent round up from a parent and former teacher on six reasons teachers are so angry about the changes.
Listen to our latest podcast on the whole Ken row, Naz Shah and the child refugees amendments.
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