The five things you need to know on Friday May 6, 2016…
1) COUP DAY TAT
In England at least, Labour has done well enough for Jeremy Corbyn’s allies to argue that talk of a coup is now so much tat. Plotter chatter is far from over, but it seems that some of the critics overreached themselves in predicting the loss of key councils.
The expectation management game is always a dangerous game and the retention of Southampton, Crawley, Exeter, Hastings, Norwich helped Team Corbyn fend off claims that their man was toxic in the South. Redditch and Harlow were good results too. In fact, some Jezza supporters say he may have benefitted from attracting back disillusioned left voters, Lib Dems and certainly Greens in some southern seats. He certainly looked relaxed as he left home this morning (that's him above, looking very Zen).
As expected, Tom Watson has been out on the breakfast media round, doing what deputy leaders do. Watson kept to the line that it was too soon to expect Corbyn to make dramatic progress so soon after the huge 2015 defeat and that what mattered most was Labour was moving in the right direction. On the key issue of JCs’ future, “our members lead the Labour party now,” he told the Today programme. “After eight months it would be very unfair and improper to hang this set of election results on Jeremy Corbyn’s peg alone”. That word ‘alone’ caught my ear though.
And the critics aren’t giving up. One member of the Shadow Shadow Cabinet tells me: “He has until this time next year to prove he won’t hand 2020 to the Tories on a plate, which currently seems the case from these results”.
The threat posed by UKIP to Labour is still evident too, and it’s hard to see what answer the Corbynistas have. Andy Burnham's 10pm announcement that he's considering quitting as Shadow Home Secretary to run for Mayor of Manchester is not exactly a vote of confidence in Labour's chances for 2020.
Losing control of Dudley wasn’t great news, neither was the loss of seats in that general election bellweather of Nuneaton (the 11% swing to the Tories was even worse than 2015). With a Tory government beset by splits over Europe, U-turns on everything from tax credits to disability cuts to refugees, some Labour MPs say it’s just not good enough to be the first Opposition leader in decades not to make council seat gains. One Labour source tells me the message on the low turnout doorsteps across the north was “I’m not voting for HIM”. Expect more Labour councillors today to express unease with the leadership.
Emma Reynolds, Neil Coyle (who had a spat with Corbyn in the voting lobby only last week) and Jo Cox were among the most critical. Cox expressed the view of many in the PLP that Corbyn is now on probation: “the clock is ticking”. Which if you think about it is another way of reading Watson’s call for ‘patience’. But note that Watson was quick to hit back at Cox on the BBC with this: “I’ll say to her, look…she nominated Jeremy to be leader, you know. She must have patience with the candidate she supported now.” Cox and Coyle both nominated JC.
It may well be that although Labour is good at digging in and defending what it’s got in some places, it is still failing to show any effective ground offensive against the Tories. And don’t forget it needs gains, and lots of them, to have a hope in 2020. The coup day isn't today, or Monday. It may not even now be in July. But a challenge will "definitely" happen at some point, one MP tells me.
2) D’YA KEN ME NOW?
In Scotland, however, the picture for Labour is nothing short of disastrous. SkyNews are projecting the Tories are due to come second following a superb performance by Ruth Davidson (who won a stunning victory). ‘Moderate’ Labour types say that the results prove that you just can’t outflank the SNP from the Left and that Trident and anti-austerity messages just didn’t work. Despite that, the left may now seize the moment to knife Kezia Dugdale, with Neil Findlay tipped as a replacement.
In Wales, Labour looks like holding onto power. But the party is certainly not giving London any credit. First Minister Carwyn Jones - who had kept Corbyn away last week - was asked about the Livingstone row: “It’s not helped. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. The lesson is that it’s really important for politicians in London not to say things that are not helpful to colleagues in the UK.” Assembly minister Leighton Andrews, who lost his seat, said ‘UK issues’ were a factor.
The Welsh soft left are certainly as worried about Corbyn as the ‘moderate’ wing of the party. Not for nothing did Peter Hain pop up overnight, saying his leader “hasn’t shown anything like an ability to win the centre ground votes we need to win an election”. Earlier in a Prospect magazine interview, Neil Kinnock warned that Corbyn and his supporters are "an impediment to getting the kind of support that we need".
And the Ken effect was on display in other areas. In Bury South’s Sedgley ward, Labour lost for the first time ever after a 22% swing - in a ward with a substantial Jewish population. In the GLA’s Barnet and Camden seat, with Britain’s biggest Jewish community, Andrew Dismore is waiting nervously to find out if the Tories have taken the seat. No wonder John McDonnell (reviving his GLC-era differences with Ken) said last night “there's no doubt” the Livingstone row had “set us back”.
3) BOFF BIFFS ZAC
The big result many are waiting for of course is tonight’s London mayoral contest. That talk of Sadiq Khan refusing to have Corbyn at his side for any victory celebration tonight - or even tomorrow - has caused real consternation among the leader’s allies (Corbyn, after all, is a London MP).
But last night there was another key development. And it was a Tory development. Senior London Tory Andrew Boff took to Newsnight to say that the party’s decision to smear Khan and religious Muslims as ‘extremists’ had “done real damage” to the Conservatives in London. “I don’t think this sounds like authentic Zac Goldsmith,” he said.
Some muttered that Boff was bitter because he was not put as high on the Assembly list as he’d have liked. But he echoed something I’ve been saying for a while: that Khan’s more vulnerable flank is on his flip-flopping on policy and the thinness of some of his programme.
“We chose to use this particular policy meme as the centre of the campaign, it was ridiculous,” Boff said. “I’m not alone. We don’t shout about it during the campaign. I did bring it up during the campaign to Zac’s team. I thought this was a mistake for the future integration of London. ” And several London Tories sent me exactly that message last night too. But either Zac really did endorse the tactics or he failed to stand up for himself to No10 and CCHQ: neither is a good look.
Let’s see just what impact the negative tactics have had. There are reports across London of low turnout, though it’s unclear if that will help the Tories as much as they hope. The results are due after 9pm but with the cock-up in Barnet it could be later.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
4) TALKING TURKEY
The Telegraph has a report that Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to abandon plans to make a speech in Istanbul later this month, when he was expected to call for Turks to be allowed to join the EU.
There’s one particularly angry Labour insider, who describes the original Corbyn plan as "malicious, naive and incendiary”. Why? Because his speech would have come on the same day the Labour Remain campaign is due to begin a week of campaigning on border security and immigration ahead of the EU referendum in June.
Anti-Corbyn MPs have been warning for a while that Brexit could trigger their own coup attempt IF there had been any hint their leader had undermined support for the In campaign. Pro-Corbyn supporters think this is just another excuse to have a go at him and that in fact restating Labour’s official policy of support for Turkish EU membership is being twisted. Then again, it’s still official Government policy too, apart from the fact that the PM this week said it should take ‘decades’.
5) PHIL YER BOOTS
Sir Philip Green (and boy does he hate it if you don’t use the ‘Sir’) has finally broken his silence over Parliamentary criticism of his role in the BHS affair. He’s called for Frank Field to step down as chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee for suggesting he be stripped of his knighthood.
The billionaire also accused MPs on both the BIS Select and DWP Select of “leaping to conclusions” and said there has been "much inaccurate and misleading information" about his dealings with the retail chain’s collapse and its pension fund.
Field had told the FT he would recommend stripping Green of his knighthood if the retail tycoon did not put up funds to pay off the £571m pension fund deficit. Field said: “I hope that I reflect the anger of BHS pensioners.” Green, in more tit for tat, said: “I think Mr Field needs to stand down from the inquiry immediately as he is clearly prejudiced.”
Green said this was an ‘outrageous outburst’ but Field (one of the few to stand up to Gordon Brown) is no shrinking violet. Still, with the hearings starting on Monday, many will be getting their popcorn ready.
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