The five things you need to know on Tuesday May 3, 2016…
1) COUNTDOWN CONUNDRUM
The papers are full of Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League triumph, a story that has got even the non-sporty interested in a classic tale of English underdogs defying the odds. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell last night tweeted: “Who would of [sic] predicted a year ago that Leicester would win the Premier League & Jeremy Corbyn would be Labour leader?”
Corbyn and McDonnell are genuine football fans and you can see why they relish the victory for the 5,000-1 unlikely heroes. Yet as Thursday’s elections draw closer, even the hardiest Corbynista is not betting on Labour making gains in England’s town halls, the Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament. For an Opposition with a new leader, that's not a great look.
And with the Telegraph splashing that 50 ‘racism’ cases have been considered by Labour’s compliance unit since JC became leader, and GuidoFawkes acting as unpaid compliance chief (three more councillors were suspended this weekend), the anti-semitism row isn’t helping the party’s cause.
Of course, one conundrum for both Corbyn and his critics is just how much weight to put on the recent Livingstone controversy, should Thursday’s results be as dire as some expect. Few voters understand the details, other than a vague sense that Labour is distracted and divided once more over issues that are not exactly bread and butter.
The Sun reports that Margaret Hodge is being lined up as a stalking horse for a coup attempt. Jewish, a former minister and with little to lose if she stands down in 2020, one MP tells the paper: “Margaret is our perfect candidate – she has a lot of gravitas but is also expendable.” Corbyn has a poster launch this morning: will he have some words of warning for the plotters?
If Sadiq Khan somehow loses in London, you can expect that coup attempt to be all the more fierce. And the real spin war on Friday and Saturday will be as much between Corbyn and his Labour critics as between Labour and Tories arguing over what each result means.
Yet Zac Goldsmith is doing a good job so far of gifting Labour the victory it needs to offset the bad PR on Friday (though the result is expected very late on Friday). Sayeeda Warsi and Peter Oborne both this weekend slammed Goldsmith for his Mail on Sunday piece headlined “are we really going to hand the world's greatest city to a Labour party that thinks terrorists are its friends?” Zac’s latest car-crash interview over Bollywood just added to the gloom among some Tories. As the FT put it: losing is one thing; losing without honour is even worse.
One final point, new studies suggest turnout could be very low again in the council elections. And if they are low on Thursday just imagine how much lower turnout could be for the June EU referendum? There’s just a whiff, a faint whiff, of panic from some Remainers that voter apathy could do for them.
2) DEBIT AND CREDIT
It’s one of the younger think tanks, but the Resolution Foundation has certainly made life difficult for this Government - and the Treasury in particular. Today it has a new study that undermines the PR effort by the DWP in promoting its latest roll-out of Universal Credit, declaring it is in danger of becoming “a very complicated vehicle for cutting the benefits bill”.
The Department and the think tank are slugging it out over claims that single parents will be hit hardest by the reforms, but politically the difficulty for the Government is that the wonks are simply underlining IDS’s parting shot that George Osborne’s salami-slicing is ruining a radical programme.
Labour’s Owen Smith has been plugging away at this relentlessly since he was appointed, while hammering home the risks of such an enormous IT change (risks that caused the Treasury’s initial concerns).
Stephen Crabb is “committed” to Uni Credit, but has his own backstory to call on, stressing how his own mother worked her way off benefits. He told the Today programme that 'nobody is disputing' that UC would make people better off, but conceded there was a 'technical discussion' still to be had (was that a hint of a concession?) about taper rates and other details. Note that Crabb pushed hard the national living wage, the one Treasury policy that IDS really cheered, and said the "fundamentals" of the policy were still strong. He added that he didn't understand part of the Resolution Foundation's criticism about 'practical support' and would 'look at it'.
Crabb made plain once more he would not be pushed around by HMT over further cuts. He said he would 'carry on discussing forecasts' about savings with the Treasury. That sounded like he wasn't budging, but didn't want to rub Osborne's nose in it.
3) BUFFETTING BORIS
The EU referendum is of course seen by many MPs as the real election of this summer and today the Remainiacs continue to play the economic card. And it’s another US heavyweight warning against Brexit: billionaire smart investor Warren Buffett, aka ‘the sage of Omaha’, has told NBC: "Certainly if I were to vote on it, I would vote, I would stay in.” He’s not got the glamour of Obama, but some business people may well listen.
The Times reports on another transatlantic high pressure system coming our way: Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are due to join up to warn voters of the dangers of leaving the EU.
Meanwhile, the stat attacks will continue with Alistair Darling claiming UK trade will suffer by £250bn post-Brexit. Vote Leave have countered that their opponents seem to be making up their figures as they go along, varying its scary total from £92bn to £235bn previously.
The Express picks up on the story that will worry Corbynista Eurosceptics: a Greenpeace Netherlands leak of the EU-US trade talks showing that it would include an annual “review state-owned enterprises and monopolies” - including the NHS. And the FT has a tale about Germany seeking progress on a ‘European Army’. Both represent double uh-oh heaven for the Farageistes.
But what of the other story of the referendum - Dave’s friendships with Boris and Michael Gove? In a Grazia interview, the PM reveals: “I’m still friends with Boris, just perhaps not such good friends.”
And he can’t resist suggesting that after June 23, people really should stop banging on about Europe. “Europe will remain a more compelling issue than any other for some people,” he says. “I’m not expecting Nigel Farage, for example, just to go and play golf.” Yet if there’s a narrow In vote, his own backbenchers will be the ones deciding if the PM makes the cut…
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this pair of teenage American Christians vow to ‘Save Glasgow’, a kind of IDS-goes-to-Easterhouse with knobs on. The backlash from SNP supporters has been fierce.
4) STRESS TESTED
The slow burn of the SATS row is getting hotter by the day. Headteachers look like they’re going to turn a blind eye to parents who take their kids off school for the tests for seven-year-olds and the NAHT says it’s time for a rethink.
So far, the DfE has shown no sign of backing off but I would have thought it were in Nicky Morgan’s longer term political interests to at least agree to a review of this year’s tests. And the pressure in the infant school is as nothing compare to the stress reported among those in the final year of primary over new grammar exams.
The Times’ chief reporter Sean O’Neill today reveals he is taking his own children out of school in protest. As he puts it: “Mrs Morgan is the new Thomas Gradgrind, hellbent on sucking the joy out of learning…” He goes on to explain that his kids are being tested on what a ‘split digraph’ is (it is when the “ee” or “ue” sound in a word is separated by a consonant). Yeah, me neither.
Today, Labour’s Lucy Powell points out that Mrs Morgan changed the SATs floor target performance measures at the weekend, just days before primary SATs tests are due to start. The ‘chaos’ line is almost as damaging as the parental anger over the whole thrust of the tests.
5) PING-PONG RIDDLE AYE-NOE
With the Parliamentary session fast running out of road, the annual Parliamentary ping-pong gets more intense and ministers are clearly worried because they’ve left quite a bit of time in the schedule to reverse any further defeats. Ahead of next week’s refugee amendment, this week is all about the Housing and Planning Bill.
This piece of legislation has been gutted more efficiently and ruthlessly than a Billingsgate haddock. There have been at least 16 defeats, concessions and U-turns on the bill so far (and some say 21 overall) and we may get some more. Will ministers relent on ‘pay to stay’ for tenants on higher incomes, or on plans to sell off high value council housing?
Labour’s John Healey tells HuffPost that the “extreme” reforms have to be stopped. There’s an extra Parliamentary anorak note for today: the Lords amendments voted on today will be the first under EVEL and need a majority of English MPs to pass. That eases the pressure on ministers, but it is unlikely to deter the Lords.
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