The five things you need to know on Monday May 9, 2016…
1) JEZ WE KHAN'T
Jeremy Corbyn is set to address the PLP tonight and after last week’s elections it will be a real chance for both him and his critics to take the temperature of the Parliamentary party.
Corbyn wants to try to heal the divisions and will no doubt stick to the narrative that the council results were in fact not the disaster many had predicted. The final tally for all seats came in yesterday and it was this: Con -48, Lab -18, LD +45, UKIP +25. The Local Govt Information Unit think tank says that’s effectively a ‘no change’ election given thousands of seats up for grabs. it goes further, saying local councils have come to the rescue of both the two main parties (by doing a good job in the face of Government cuts).
Corbyn may want to ram home Labour’s success in Bristol, where it not only won the mayoralty but yesterday had the seat needed to run the council. But many MPs think last week was just not good enough, with no progress in taking Tory councils and no answer to the UKIP rise.
Sadiq Khan’s election has given the ‘moderates’ the alternative power base they hoped for and the Mayor is certainly using it to warn Corbyn of the need to reach out to non-Labour voters and business. This is the central problem that even some around Corbyn accept needs much more work: just what is the pitch to ensure Labour-Tory switchers?
Speaking of which, we have got some new focus group research among Nuneaton voters which makes grim reading for Jez. The good news is voters don’t like the Tories, and think Osborne is ‘slimy’. The bad news is many think Corbyn is 'scruffy' and not leadership material. As for the PLP, men blame the splits on JC, but women seem to blame the MPs for the divisions. One focus grouper said ‘It’s just a shambles.. how can you vote for someone to run the country when they can’t even sit in the room together?”
As for sitting in the same room, those Jez-We-Khan’t tensions are obvious. While the leader travelled 120 miles to Bristol for a victory photocall with Marvin Rees, no such event could be sorted a mere 3 miles from Corbyn’s home to London’s City Hall. Khan yesterday told Marr ‘I think we are seeing each other tomorrow’. That sounded more like a brush-by in Portcullis House than an actual victory parade. There’s even talk that the first time Khan and Corbyn may meet is actually at the PLP, where the Mayor will get a hero’s welcome as his leader looks on. That would certainly be provocative, if so.
John McDonnell’s Westminster Hour interview last night had a lovely ice-cream van jingle in the background. And the Shadow Chancellor was offering 99s with double flakes all round, even to Jezza’s critics, suggesting they should all get shadow jobs. Still, he reprimanded Caroline Flint for misquoting him on the local elections. McDonnell also ruled out himself running for the leadership..
As it happens, Ken Livingstone looks like he’s on the BBC Radio London Vanessa Feltz show. You know, the one where he last talked about Hitler and the Jews and got himself suspended…
2) CHURCHILL? OH YES
No.10 has got what it wanted today: wall to wall coverage on the BBC and on front pages of the PM’s warning that Brexit could lead to war in Europe. OK, David Cameron didn’t explicitly put it like that (his speech was cannily done early) but he came close enough, and won’t be upset with the blood-curdling headlines.
This is in part an attempt to target older voters (just as they were targeted in the final days of the Scottish referendum campaign), and several World War 2 veterans have backed him. Just how successful this tactic will be is unclear, however. Pensioners can actually remember what life was like before the UK was in the EU - and many of them seem unenthusiastic about its benefits. Younger voters have nothing to compare the current deal with, so are more likely to worry.
As it happens, as extreme as the warning is, the domino/contagion effect of Brexit is one of the things that really does worry other European capitals, as well as Washington. The ultimate break-up of the EU could indeed lead to a return to cross-border tensions, territorial and trade disputes.
As with most of the Project Fear attacks, the Brexiteers can easily respond: well if leaving the EU is so dangerous, why on earth would a PM hold a referendum at all? Particularly as his first duty is to keep the nation safe. Cameron invoked Churchill, but Vote Leave point out Churchill never wanted to be part of a United States of Europe.
Downing Street thinks it has pretty much won the economic argument but knows that migration and security is one of the Brexit camp’s best cards. Gove told Marr that “the open borders policy like hanging out a welcome sign for the terrorists”, a bit like ex-MI6 chief Richard Dearlove has warned.
Yesterday’s ex-MI6 and ex-MI5 warnings about Brexit were pretty effectively rebutted by Michael Howard too. He pointed out the US has no ‘legal framework’ for intelligence sharing with the UK yet still functions effectively. But as with the economic case, the Brexiters have to at some point admit there would be uncertainty during the long period of sorting out new arrangements.
3) PESTO ALLA GIORGIO
George Osborne’s appearance on the new Peston on Sunday (and what a refreshing watch that was) had lots of news lines, not least the way he grabbed with relish Gove finally admitting that he did not want the UK to be part of the EU single market.
The FT has splashed its front page with the story, as until now no leading Brexiteer has coughed on this key issue. Gove, like Dom Cummings, rejects the Norway/EEA model. The Chancellor was withering, referring to Gove as a mere campaigner: “We've just had the Leave campaign admit we'd leave the single market. That would be catastrophic”.
Osborne also warned that house prices will fall under Brexit. And for good measure, he also joked that the UK would work with the next US President “whoever she may be”. That was an echo of Obama’s White House correspondents’ dinner gag - but it was striking nonetheless.
But it was his words about the Tory leadership that were perhaps most intriguing. Normally Osborne ducks this whole question, yet here he was, sans tie, giving a strong hint that he was very much interested.
And the killer line was his warning that the next Tory leader had to be someone who had “sober, serious, principled answers to the big problems the country faces”. Yep, that was a less than veiled attack on Boris. The perception that Boris’s Brexit decision has defined him as ‘unprincipled’ is certainly common among some of his former pro-EU backers. Boris is perceived by some MPs to have had a poor war so far on the EU referendum. Some even say his support among MPs is currently nowhere near enough to get on a leadership ballot. Let’s see.
Chuka Umunna has blogged for us on why ethnic minority voters want to stay in the EU.
Meanwhile, Matthew Elliott from Vote Leave finally appears before the Treasury Select Committee at 2.30pm. Expect a bit of needle.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Mark Rylance at the BAFTAs declare ‘woe to any Government’ that tries to undermine the BBC or Channel 4
4) WEEKEND DEFECT
There’s a glimmer of hope of an end to the long-running dispute between junior doctors and the Government, with talks at ACAS starting today.
Yet some of the more militant doctors may seize on the new Oxford University research declaring there is no evidence of a ‘weekend effect’ on death rates. It points out that stroke data relied on by the Government was deeply flawed because patients were admitted for low risk operations from Monday to Friday.
Prof Peter Rothwell says: ”If you look at those studies that have actually done the due diligence and looked at real data - gold standard data - there's very little evidence indeed of a weekend effect. It really is an excellent example of how poor quality data, badly interpreted, can lead to the wrong answer.”
He says Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron had acted in good faith but had been "badly misled" by their advisers. "Looking at where we are now, you could only describe it as a shambles," he said. Ouch.
As it happens, Jeremy Hunt is before the Health Select Committee to talk about the impact of the spending review on his department. Maybe we’ll get a short update on the talks?
5) CHILD REFUGE
But for last week’s big PMQs U-turn, today was set to be the crunch vote on Dubs amendment to the Immigration Bill. David Cameron saw the looming defeat and changed tack on child refugees from Europe, yet as the vote still looms there are continued questions about just what the Government will do.
Of course, it was partly the genius of the Dubs amendment to not include any figures, for fear of it being ruled out as a ‘money bill’ move, while stating there should be a ‘specified number’. Yvette Cooper and some bishops have written to the PM to demand more details on timing and numbers.
One proposal is to at least take 300 children by September, and all those from the Calais camp. There’s also pressure to admit not just Syrian refugees but Afghans and others.
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