The five things you need to know on Wednesday May 18, 2016…
1) HER MAJESTY’S PLEASURE
Ah, Queen’s Speech day. Are you ready to Humble? Will the clip-clop of the horses drawing the Monarch’s carriage for the State Opening of Parliament drown out the flip-flop of recent months of U-turns, rethinks and setbacks to David Cameron’s domestic agenda?
Key aides counselled the PM to stage the Speech before, rather than after, the EU referendum. But that desire - to look like he was still getting on with governing - appears to have been trumped by the sheer lack of legislative ideas and focus.
And the fact remains that the Queen is the only enduring certainty about this whole event. She will be making a Speech for a Prime Minister who may or may not be in post after June 23, in a country that may or may not be in the European Union.
Even the traditional backbench proposers of the Loyal Address look like they’ve been chosen because they’re not Brexiteers. I understand Caroline Spelman (firmly pro-EU) will propose the Loyal Address and Dr Phillip Lee (seen by some as a real rising star and notably an ‘undecided’ on Brexit) will second.
One former backbencher who caught the PM’s eye in a previous Queen’s speech was of course Penny Mordaunt. Yet the minister is among those Brexit ministers now on the naughty step (after her Panama Papers criticism of Cameron). The Times has a bit of ‘revenge reshuffle’ action, suggesting Whitto is for the chop (for saying the living wage would provoke more migration, as well as slagging the ITV EU debate), Priti Patel is in trouble for suggesting migration had hit school places.
Yet this Speech supposed to be about healing the wounds, not rubbing salt into them. We will get more of the Cameron theme of social renewal outlined in his party conference speech and radical prison reform was the overnight main news line. There was rumour last night that the 7-day NHS could feature too. Gove will face questions about the watered-down British Bill of Rights and the Sun reports the Sovereignty Bill has disappeared altogether.
What would a Corbyn Queen’s Speech look like? He gave us a clue in his Ralph Miliband lecture last night, saying he would make ‘big promises’ in his 2020 manifesto. In the ‘i’, Jon Trickett points out Jez intends to stay on as leader for the long haul.
2) HEZ-BOZZA UPRISING
David Cameron sparked further Project Fear ridicule yesterday when he declared Islamic State chief Al-Baghdadi ‘might be happy’ with Brexit. For those of us present for the Mansion House event, it was a fascinating example of how the PM can’t help himself sometimes. Like a batsman playing a straight bat to get to 99, he had been studiously boring on Brexit until the final Q&A, then had a rush of blood and blurted out the IS line.
But what was much more interesting was the way Cameron shrewdly pounced on Farage’s hint that if the EU referendum result was a narrow ‘In’, there may have to be a second referendum. Just as the SNP built its momentum from defeat, some Tory MPs agree with UKIP that the same could happen with public demands for Brexit.
There are real dangers for Boris in these waters, as some Eurosceps believe the next Tory leadership race will be won by a candidate who commits just such a second referendum. Some believe Boris would not have the nerve to do so, allowing a more hardline contender to come through to face-off against Osborne in 2019. Maybe Bojo will be crossing his fingers that the In camp wins by a very large margin?
Lord Heseltine’s outspoken BBC attack on Boris underlines what many pro-Bozza but pro-EU Tories have been saying for a while: that the former Mayor has had a dreadful referendum campaign, revealing his worst traits of buffoonery (as his bananas gaffe proved), ill-discipline and shallowness. Saying he no longer looks fit to be a Tory leader was Hezza’s coup de grace.
The great irony is that Boris could have used his ‘two speeches’ moment (having written an In and Out column for the Tel) as a strength, not a weakness. He could have said he was only ‘on balance’ backing Brexit, like Theresa May. As with Corbyn’s ‘reluctant Remainer’ approach, that would chime much more with floating voters. It would have given him the chance to sound more statesmanlike than Cameron and to better able to ridicule the Project Fear excess. Instead, he’s gone for excess in the opposite direction. That could be the defining judgement call of the whole campaign.
What infuriated No.10 yesterday was Boris suggesting Cameron had fiddled public sector contracts with firms to get them to back him on the EU. As with the Vote Leave suggestion that the NHS is ‘in crisis’, it’s seen as overstepping the line in a way that makes life very difficult post June. Just what Cabinet job to give Boris is increasingly seen as the nightmare in Downing Street. There’s talk of a downgraded offer of Transport again, with the prospect Boris would reject it.
And as if to rub the Brexit camp’s noses in it, it is being rumoured today that Dave’s comms chief Craig Oliver is being seconded to the Remain campaign for the duration. Given Remain is official government policy, that would be strange but more proof the Queen’s Speech really is a sideshow.
3) BY ROYALL APPOINTMENT
Baroness Royall’s report into allegations of anti-semitism in Oxford University Labour Club was completed some time ago. She told us on Monday she intended to publish it online after presenting to the NEC. Yet I’m told that after a discussion with the Leader’s office on Monday night, her report was amended. A Labour spokesman insists ‘Jan Royall’s report was wholly her responsibility’.
Still, Royall is clearly upset at the way her report was presented yesterday, with the emphasis on her finding there was no ‘institutional antisemitism’ in OULC, rather than her more worrying conclusion that Jewish students didn’t feel they had a ‘safe space’ for discussion. Did someone persuade her to promote the ‘institutional’ line high up her executive summary? Or was it just naivety to think that wouldn’t be picked up?
In a blog for the Jewish Labour Movement last night, Royall made plain her ‘disappointment and frustration’ with the presentation of her report. And its chair told me she was frustrated that the NEC decided not to publish her report in full - complete with examples of anti-semitic incidents.
Some MPs think there’s a real danger that Royall has been marginalised. First her work was wrapped into a wider inquiry (Shami Chakrabarti is said to be very close to Seumas Milne) that some fear dilutes the anti-semitism problem. Second, her findings haven’t been published in full as she wished. Third, there was a line in her recommendations that those expelled for anti-semitic conduct should not be banned for life, a line that seemed to jar with the rest of her findings - and which gives Ken Livingstone a possible way back.
Michael Dugher has a speech today to the United Jewish Israel Appeal. He will say: "It is clear in my view that what happens to Ken Livingstone will be seen as a test case for Labour and our leadership. Given the condemnation of Mr Livingstone, in my view it is inconceivable that Livingstone not be kicked out of the Labour party for good.” Note those two words: ‘for good’.
Meanwhile the party’s international policy commission meets again today. And Ken has been replaced by the more Trident-friendly Cath Speight. One crumb of comfort for the anti-Corbynistas, along with their hopes of getting their CLPs slate elected to the NEC this summer.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Newsnight’s Downfall spoof of Brussels reacting to Boris’s Hitler remarks
4) DIVERSE OF BLOOD
Nigel Farage came very close to a ‘rivers of blood’ moment last night with his John Pienaar interview. The UKIP leader told the BBC that if immigration wasn’t curbed and open borders with the EU weren’t changed, there would be trouble. “If people feel voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step,” he said.
It was yet another clue that, just like Trump, Nigel can’t help himself making such remarks, despite other attempts to cool his rhetoric. And there was a similar moment during the Mirror’s EU referendum debate yesterday, with him claiming Peter Mandelson had wanted to ‘rub our noses in diversity’.
Even though a former No10 aide had used the phrase about Blair’s pro-Polish migrant policy, Farage just looked crass. Mandelson’s looked genuinely, rather than theatrically, angry. And it was notable that fellow Brexiteer, black author Dreda Say Mitchell was very uncomfortable. Andrea Leadsom’s claim the UK had been ‘overwhelmed’ by immigration upset Mitchell too. Leadsom then declared: “There’s not a racist bone in my body”. If you’re explaining, you’re losing…?
Meanwhile, the Express reports that moves are afoot for Farage and Boris to finally share a stage. Bojo said: “we will see what happens”, but stressed it was up to his Vote Leave ‘minders’.
5) KIM JONG TRUMP
Government sources have been busy briefing that the Government is going to have to find a way of sorting a Donald Trump visit to the UK this year. Both lobby-turned-diplo hacks James Landale and Patrick Winter say Whitehall is gearing up for the Donald.
The Herald points out Trump could come as early as June 1, for the reopening of the Ailsa golf course at Turnberry following renovation, but he may want to wait until after his confirmation as official Republican nominee after July’s convention. At that point, protocol dictates he gets a meeting with Cameron (and Corbyn, which should be tasty). It may all make the Romneyshambles of 2012 look mild. Sadiq Khan is itching to school Trump in person too.
Overnight, Trump’s Reuters interview offers more ammo for Clinton, with him saying he would meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. He said Cameron’s criticism of his Muslim ban was ‘inappropriate’ Oh, and Trump would renegotiate the Paris climate deal as a minimum, and as a ‘maximum’ may even go in the opposite direction.
But it aint all plain sailing for Hillary. I note Landale had a line in his report that some UK Government sources think she could face indictment over the alleged use of private email for government business. And that Clinton has done nothing to stop Trump winning blue collar workers.
The Sun rightly picks up on Trump’s GMB denial that he had a thing for Princess Diana. But don’t forget he was asked by shock jock Howard Stern months after she died in 1997: “You could’ve nailed her?” Trump replied: “I think I could have.” He also said Diana “was crazy” but he “could have slept with her” anyway. Piers Morgan gave him an easy ride, but others won’t.
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