The five things you need to know on Thursday May 19, 2016…
The identities of the ‘celebrity threesome’ could be finally revealed today. But it’s the shenanigans of the political threesome of Cameron, Osborne and Heseltine that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many backbench Tories.
The blue-on-blue action over Europe has been at its most brutal this week and yesterday seemed to reach a new level of bitterness. Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to rip into the Queen’s Speech (for junking anything that may upset the referendum applecart) - effectively tearing up any hopes of a temporary truce on the day of the State Opening - was borne out of anger over Hezza’s attack on Boris.
Now leading Eurosceptic Steve Baker has penned a ConHome piece which hits out at the Remain camp for “insults, personal attacks and petty tabloid smears on key people”. That was in part a reference to false claims about Boris’s wife Marina (the Sun splashed yesterday she was being smeared by gossip about a lawyer who had had sex in the street outside Waterloo station). The Remainers strongly deny they put out such rumours, which few knew about until they were given frontage coverage.
Baker was on the Today programme, saying he wanted “Queensbury rules”. Yet when tackled on Boris’s citing of Hitler (which prompted Hezza’s outburst), Baker himself said Bojo had made a ‘reasonable catalogue’ of 20th century history, but added this rider: “Personally I simply wouldn’t bother using the H-word”.
Yet as with most sibling spats, the ‘he started it’/‘no he did’ merry-go-round is as pointless as it is unedifying to onlookers. Baker’s line “please don’t anyone on any side follow a scorched-earth policy” looks a bit too late. No10 is not in forgiving mood with those Brexiteers who’ve trashed Government policy in recent months. And Leavers are not forgetting slurs like ‘economically illiterate’.
The Times reports on more in-fighting and suspicious minds, saying some in Government blame Michael Gove for leaking the No10 letter from Serco chief Rupert Soames that got Boris so upset. Gove denies he’s the leaker but Labour have asked for Jeremy Heywood to investigate and the Lib Dems have written to the cops.
Given the high stakes here - Cameron will have to quit if he loses the referendum - it's naive of some Brexiteers to think No.10 wouldn't want to play hardball. Still, Tory MPs joked that the decision by Dave’s comms chief Craig Oliver to take a sabbatical with the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign won the 'No Sugar Sherlock Award' yesterday. Oliver will spend 80% of his time working for BSE and 20% in No.10 during Purdah (the last 28 days of the referendum), and will be paid pro-rata.
There are just 36 days until the referendum - but we face possibly years more of this stuff. As I said yesterday, the real problem is the ‘neverendum’ one. Downing Street was delighted by the MORI/Standard poll showing Tory voters were shifting to Remain. Yet if there is a narrow margin on June 23, Tory MPs think the campaign will continue - and lots are talking about the official party policy to hold another referendum if the next EU treaty takes more powers from the UK.
Cameron is on Iain Dale's LBC show at 5pm. Well before then, he may have to react to the news that the Egypt Air plane from Paris to Cairo has crashed.
2) MIGRATION NATION
Lots of papers splash on the migration stats that were kinda buried under the Queen’s speech yesterday (funny that - here are other things in the speech that ministers didn’t want to shout about).
As ever, spin and counterspin are everywhere. The headline stats look like a gift for the Outers. Under Cameron’s watch, the Sun claims 4 in 5 jobs have been taken by EU migrants. And employment of EU nationals increased by 224,000 to 2.15 million over the 12 months to March 2016. Some 131,000 of the 224,000 are from western European countries such as France, Italy and Spain, with others coming from Romania and Bulgaria.
Yet the Inners can point to the the fact that the ‘taking our jobs’ line is just not true: there was a 229,000-strong rise in overseas migrant employment in Britain at the same time as an 185,000-strong rise in the number of Britons in work.
And HMRC figures published last week said that recent EU migrants had paid £3.1bn in income tax and national insurance in the tax year to April 2014 and claimed £556m in benefits - making a net contribution to the economy of more than £2.5bn.
Economist Philippe Legrain, former adviser to Jose Manuel Barroso, had his own report yesterday too, suggesting that migrants added more than 1% to EU GDP overall. But just who the ‘undecideds’ in the EU referendum believe is another matter.
3) BACK FROM THE BLINK
The junior doctor strikes look like they’re over after some belated recognition that continued warfare risked doing serious harm to both sides’ reputations. Who blinked first? Well, the smart thing about using ACAS is that no one will probably ever know, and it’s not in the interest of either the Government or the BMA risk the truce with more name-calling.
The deal itself is kinda complicated, but as with any sensible strike negotiation each party gets to claim they got most of what they wanted. So, Jeremy Hunt gets his 7-day NHS with normal pay for weekends and no increase in the overall wage bill. The BMA gets better pay rates for those who work more weekends than others, plus £10m support for women docs back from maternity and new moves to protect safety and family life.
Hunt was trying his best to be constructive on the Today prog, stressing it wasn't appropriate to 'talk about winners and losers'. He then said "I think it is a 'win-win'". He praised the 'brave decision' of BMA chief Johann Malawana to talk about weekend pay, separating him from more militant elements. Hunt then made what seemed like a major concession that he himself had been partly to blame for the impasse, saying responsibility was on all involved "including the Health Secretary". When a politician uses the third person, you know they're nervous.
There will be a referendum (another one!) and it ain’t all over yet. But it underlines just how close Hunt is to David Cameron. As I’ve written before, the PM and Hunt are as one in their feeling that they are ‘reasonable guys’ who react strongly when threatened. The wider signal to other unions about strike action is obvious: push us and we’ll dig in, talk to us and we may compromise.
Cameron may want to reward Hunt by keeping him in place in the summer reshuffle. Yet one irony of all this is that if the BMA referendum backs the deal, the PM will no longer be worried about making a fresh start in the Department of Health (in the shape of Boris or someone else?) in the middle of a very tricky industrial dispute.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this latest Hillary Clinton attack ad on Trump. Slick, clever and brutal.
4) NEVER MIND THE…BULLETS
Emily Thornberry mouthed the word ‘bollocks!’ in the Commons yesterday, as David Cameron claimed she was a Shadow Defence Secretary who “did not believe in defence”. Thornberry said the word not once but twice and some haven’t been slow in picking up that it was just the kind of language a St George’s flag-bearing White Van Man would use.
Team Corbyn said it was up to Thornberry to explain her use of the phrase, but a spokesman said: “She was responding to being attacked by the Prime Minister. She was entitled to react to it.” A source close to the Islington MP added: “If the Prime Minister is going to insult MPs by saying they don't care about the defence of this country, he should expect to take a little back.”
As to whether it was ‘un-Parlimantary language’, there’s claims that Labour MP Alex Woodall got away with it in 1986. In 2008, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth was blamed for saying ‘absolute bollocks’ when a Tory MP complained about troop kit shortages. Hansard had to be rewritten after Ainsworth complained it was another MP not him.
5) SHOPPING LIDDLE
Rod Liddle reveals in the Spectator that he has been suspended from the Labour Party (yes, he’s been a member for 37 years, believe it or not) and summoned to appear before the Chakrabarti Inquiry. He was told by email that the reason was the ‘language’ he had used in a blog recently about the anti-semitism row in the party.
Liddle says he has no idea what specific words upset the party, but there’s a clue. “I don’t know what they objected to in my blog - that anti-semitism is rife among a lot of Muslims? Plenty of Muslims will tell you the same….That I’d prefer Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party than the ghastly Margaret Hodge? That’s like saying I’d prefer Benny from Crossroads to Joey Essex.”
It’s unclear who shopped Liddle, but the former Today programme editor (yes, it’s hard to remember now) points out that Owen Jones had attacked his piece as ‘rampant racism’. It’s difficult to imagine Chakrabarti wanting to give Liddle any publicity of a public hearing, so that’s unlikely.
On a separate note, some MPs wonder just what her ‘two or three’ ‘seminars’ will actually look like. And their bigger issue is just whether the Jan Royall findings will be published in full.
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