The five things you need to know on Thursday May 12, 2016…
1) MASS DEBATE
The vexed issue of who will debate whom in the EU referendum short campaign is the hot topic today. And while it’s normally the BBC that takes incoming over a range of issues (thankfully that sexist anti-Laura K petition has been dumped), it’s ITV in the firing line.
ITV revealed just after 10pm (the Telegraph just before 10pm) that its debate would see David Cameron take questions for 30 minutes, followed by Nigel Farage for 30 minutes. Given the desire among many Tories not to see ‘blue on blue’ action, and given Farage won lots of votes in 2015, that seems on one level kinda sensible.
But boy has the backlash from the official Vote Leave camp been swift. In an extraordinary statement, one source claimed that ‘ITV is led by people like Robert Peston, who campaigned for Britain to join the euro’. It added that ITV ‘has effectively joined the official In campaign and there will be consequences for its future- the people in No10 won’t be there for long’.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the threat to a national broadcaster in all that. Many in Government suspect the hand of Dom Cummings but the most damaging thing of all is that it leaves the Leavers sounding exactly like the wild-eyed extremists that they accuse Farage of being.
In case you thought that source quote was a late-night, alcohol-fuelled eruption, Vote Leave spinner Rob Oxley told Today that it was 'blatantly obvious' there would indeed be 'consequences' for ITV if it went ahead with Farage, because he was not part of the officially designated out campaign. John Whittingdale may be asked to slap down his fellow Outers during his BBC statement in the Commons.
You can see why they’d want Boris to get prime time (his battlebus reception proves he’s popular), yet Bojo himself said soon after his Brexit declaration that he wouldn’t debate the PM (is this just semantics, given there is no ‘debate’ only consecutive TV appearances?).
The BBC will announce its own plans later today. But there’s lots of bile around, not least after George Osborne finally confirmed he did have contingency plans for Brexit after all. Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames has given us a spicy interview on the whole EU debate (complete with Anglo-Saxon expletives)
The Outers would perhaps do better to focus on the ONS data release today on national insurance numbers used by migrants. As for the Inners, I can reveal that Eddie Izzard will be launching his own campaign (independent of the official Stronger In camp). In “Stand Up for Europe” he will travel to 31 cities in 31 days and speak to young people across the country. We have an exclusive blog from him this morning.
2) DONALD DUCKS
Ah, the Donald. He’s a quixotic beast. Yet it looks like the brutal reality of Sadiq Khan’s election has done more to force him to rethink his Muslim travel ban than the avalanche of criticism he sparked last year. Trump has knocked out 15 Republican rivals (and may yet knock out Hillary Clinton) but Sadiq may have done something no other opponent has to date: force a genuine policy shift.
On Monday, Trump said he could make ‘exceptions’ to allow the new Mayor of London into his country. Khan was swift to reject that particularly limp olive branch, insisting that “this isn’t just about me”.
And yesterday in City Hall, the Mayor went further. When I asked Sadiq if he planned to visit the US, he said it would be ‘wise’ for him to do so before January, given that’s when a President Trump could possibly be inaugurated. Khan slammed Trump’s ‘ignorance’ and said he was ‘happy to help’ Hillary Clinton learn from the way he had defeated the racially-tainted Tory campaign in London.
Now, overnight, Trump has told Fox News that his Muslim ban plan was “just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on”. That seemed like a serious downgrade, although with the Donald you can never be sure if he’ll flip-flop again. He also laid into Khan, claiming “I assume he denies there is Islamic terrorism”. Trump may just be tacking his positions ahead of a meeting with the Republican leadership today.
Donald can duck, but he’ll never apologise. David Cameron last night finally apologised for his claim that an imam who had shared a platform with Khan was - wait for it - NOT a member of Islamic State. If that had emerged before PMQs, perhaps Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t have given such a dire performance. Still, Khan is not letting Cameron off the hook for the Tory mayoral campaign. He says it came right ‘from the top’.
As for the Tooting by-election, the shortlist is out and the ‘one to beat’ is Rosean Allin-Khan, the junior doc and impressive Wandsworth Labour group deputy. The ‘'one to watch' is Naushabah Khan, who fought a very good campaign in the Rochester and Strood by-election.
I don’t know about you, but stories about the governance of the BBC bore me to tears - not least because you have to hack through the thicket of self-interest in most of the coverage. But the issue stirs up real passions among MPs and today we get John Whittingdale’s White Paper on the BBC charter.
It looks like the BBC Trust (yeah, me neither) will be merged into a unitary board and Ofcom will have more of a say. But the Government has stepped back from the brink of trying to genuinely interfere with BBC ‘independence’.
Senior Tories like Damian Green were very vociferous yesterday on this topic and there was a mood abroad on the backbenches that this was another Parliamentary car-crash heading the way of the whips.
Clearly, someone in No.10 has finally learned from the rebellions of recent weeks and they’ve decided to junk some of the more radical Whitto ideas (some think it unfair but Whitto has undoubtedly been weakened by all that stuff about his private life).
So, plans floated to hand chunks of licence fee to others have been dumped, as have plans to force the Beeb to stop scheduling highly rated shows against rivals. And on the vexed topic of bumper pay, the PM himself intervened to say that transparency should start at £450k deals, not £150k. Whittingdale is up in the Commons for a statement around 11.15am.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Ever been annoyed by drones? Watch this Russian medieval re-enactment enthusiast chuck a spear at a spy-in-the-sky.
4) CORRUPTED FILE
David Cameron’s global anti-corruption summit gets underway with all the pomp and splendour of Lancaster House. There are some new news lines overnight, not least the Guardian story that the UK property market will be cleaned up, and the Times reporting new criminal laws to target financial crime.
But of course, as worthy as all that is, few people would really have clocked the existence of the summit but for the PM’s on-mic remarks about Nigeria and Afghanistan being ‘fantastically corrupt’. Although No.10 originally suggested he knew exactly what he was doing, Cameron himself suggested at PMQs that he’d been gaffetastic. ‘I’d better check that the microphone is on before speaking’, he said, referring later to ‘one of my many unforced errors in the past 24 hours’.
The backlash from President Buhari of Nigeria was pretty brutal, saying he didn’t want an apology from the PM, he wanted the missing money back - and suggesting it was actually in British banks.
Labour’s Tom Watson has not been slow to criticise the guest list today too. Panama, FIFA and the British Virgin Islands are all notably absent. No.10 told us that the list was not meant to be ‘exhaustive’ and that talks would continue with those big players in this game - but it didn’t look good.
5) WHIFF WAFTS
End-of session Parliamentary ping-pong is always a pain to ministers, but seen by many as just part of the process of governing. Yet having seen his Housing bill so repeatedly gutted, it has become clear that housing minister Brandon Lewis was highly irritated by the House of Lords’ batting back amendment after amendment.
John Healey has been busy filleting the bill too (he blogged for us with a claim that Labour, not the Tories, are the party of home ownership). And Lewis really went for it in the Sun yesterday, slating former civil service chief Lord Kerslake for his role in the Lords dissent, threatening to keep MPs and peers up all night if necessary.
Last night, the Lords backed down (they usually do, it’s all part of the game). But Labour sniffed a nasty smell in the whiff-whaff battle. And the bad blood was obvious when one Tory source was overheard in the Lords declaring “Bob Kerslake should be dissolved”. One to watch.
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