The five things you need to know on Monday May 23, 2016…
1) DIY SOS
The Treasury’s ‘short term’ study into Brexit certainly won the Monday morning headlines it wanted, with scary forecasts of a recession and a ‘profound shock’ that would shrink the UK economy by 6%.
But as the Brexiteers suggest this is yet another ‘dodgy dossier, the FT has a nice story that the Treasury was so nervous that it employed Charlie Bean, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, to cast a critical eye over the process and give it the stamp of approval.
On the one hand, many Outers admit there would be a ‘shock’ to the UK economy, but the question is how deep and how long (Steve Hilton in the Mail today accepts there is a risk of leaving). The Treasury’s guesswork is inherently uncertain yet tries to pin certainty on the debate. Yet George Osborne’s key line, alongside the PM in Hampshire after 9.30am, will be this: “Does Britain really want this DIY recession?”.
Some Eurosceptic Tories now see Cameron and Osborne as having all the credibility of 'the Chuckle Brothers' but without the laughs. Iain Duncan Smith has already said the forecasts are ‘not honest’.
And IDS on Radio 4's Westminster Hour last night underlined just how much damage is being done to Cameron and Osborne from this blue-on-blue conflict, using a line straight out of a Labour attack ad. He said “Pinocchio…with his nose just getting longer and longer and longer….[is] very similar to the chancellor. With every fib you tell, it gets longer. Who am I to judge how many there have been?”
Mark Carney is a much better source of ammo than the Treasury. And I suspect the Cam and Osborne Q&A (and the 'technical briefing' at HMT) may focus on how dodgy some of these stats really are. But never forget that Project Fear simply depends not on facts but on fear - and the belief that there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Vote Leave wants to hit the NHS issue hard this week so were dismayed by Simon Stevens’ Carney-like warnings of ‘dangerous’ Brexit on Marr yesterday. No wonder IDS said: “It’s a real issue about the misuse of the Civil Service here.” Still, Stevens will hate the implication he’s anybody’s tool.
The Mail on Sunday story yesterday about Boris offering the keys to No11 to Andrea Leadsom (and two others), in return for support in a leadership bid, is seen by Team Bojo as a ‘black op’ by his enemies. More worrying is the threat posed by someone more Eurosceptic than Boris, with the guarantee of a second referendum. As for other future hopefuls, IDS told the BBC this morning he was "deeply disappointed" in Sajid Javid, who he claims told him privately he wanted Britain to leave the EU.
Carney is before the Treasury Select tomorrow, the IFS is out on Wednesday and you can bet the G7 will have an anti-Brexit line later this week. In the Commons, the Queen’s Speech debate dominates everything this week and today the focus is ‘public services’. After last week’s TTIP ambush, word is that Brexiteers are looking for more Parliamentary theatrics in the debate itself.
2) COLD TURKEY
After a scrappy match, England beat Turkey 2-1 yesterday. But the Turks showed enough to prove they could be a handful in Europe this summer. And with fresh talks on the EU-Ankara migrant deal today, it’s a similar story off the pitch and in politics.
Turkish accession to the EU has become a central theme in the Brexit case, and as well as a focus on the NHS this week, the campaign is due to push posters today raising the spectre of all those Turks arriving on these shores. But its image of dirty footprints entering the ‘backdoor’ of the UK has upset Trevor Phillips with its ‘straightforward prejudice’. Angela Smith told the Westminster Hour that Vote Leave’s tactics were ‘distasteful’ and reminded her of attacks on Sadiq Khan (Khan launches his own pro-EU effort today).
Of course Penny Mordaunt’s suggestion on Marr that the UK didn’t have a veto over Turkish accession was plain wrong. What was just as notable was the relish with which the PM laid into her on Peston “The fact that the leave campaign are getting things as straightforward as this wrong should call into judgment the bigger argument about leaving the EU.” Some Eurosceps suspect this was payback for the way Mordaunt had questioned the PM’s family finances during the early Panama Papers revelations. But it was brutal nevertheless.
IDS rightly pointed out last night that the PM’s official position is to support Turkey joining the EU, despite his recent claims that it would take until 3,000AD to get there. IDS was said Cameron had declared we “want to pave the road from Brussels to Ankara”. “It’s a bit disingenuous now to suddenly say ‘don’t worry, it will never happen, even though we want it to happen'.”
3) FULL ENGLISH
Labour unrest has calmed a bit since the local elections, but long-term unease still simmers away in the PLP. Today, Tristram Hunt has a new collection of articles by defeated Labour Parliamentary candidates on why the party needs to establish an English identity. Portsmouth council Labour group leader John Ferrett blames Ed Miliband’s lack of support for English shipbuilding, and warns Corbyn’s anti-defence stance is ‘toxic’.
Susy Stride, who got hammered in Harlow by Rob Halfon, has a line that sums up how many 'moderate' MPs view the party's drift under Miliband and now Corbyn, and their approach to working class voters' concerns on things like migration and welfare: “The Labour party was viewed like middle-class Ryanair passengers having to stomach a couple of hours’ flight with people they shared little in common with. It could be uncomfortable but it got you where you needed to go.”
Another contributor was Jon Cruddas, whose report due this week (on Labour’s woes and its UKIP challenge) also uses the t-word. “Labour is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports an ‘open door’ approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy, and is a ‘soft touch’ on welfare spending”.
The Times has an intriguing report claiming that Corbyn supporters want to see Ed Miliband given a Shadow Cabinet post in any reshuffle. It may be a forlorn hope, given that the former leader has made quite clear to friends that he has no intention of going back to the frontline. But there’s still a lovely line from one former frontbencher: “Ed shouldn’t be in the shadow cabinet…He should be in jail for what he did to the Labour party.”
The summer reshuffle could prove very tricky for Team Corbyn. If mishandled, it could spark a fresh PLP revolt. So too could Corbyn using the Chilcot report to call again for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes. That would be seen as a step too far for many Labour MPs.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
This video of an American mum’s Star Wars obsession has gone viral with 130m views. It’s probably her laugh that did it.
4) RULE BREAK
Among the off-cuts from David Cameron’s Peston interview was his first hint that the Tories may have blundered in the battle bus expenses row. “If there were misdeclarations or things left out, we have to put those in place,” he told the ITV pol ed, before adding: “But I’m confident we can answer all the questions that are being put to us.” Let’s see if the cops are as sanguine.
The PM also made clear that he’s still no pal of Donald Trump. Having said Trump’s Muslim ban plan was “stupid, divisive and wrong” Cameron went further, adding “I’m making it worse now, but it’s a very dangerous thing to say as well as a divisive and wrong one.”
And while protocol may dictate that Trump will get a meeting with Cameron once he’s the Republican nominee, the PM didn’t sound keen. I hear it’s possible he may not get the money shot of a No.10 doorstep greeting, and the meeting could take place elsewhere.
5) HIGHLAND FLINGS
Stewart Hosie announced last night that he was to step down ‘in the autumn’ as the SNP’s deputy leader, citing health issues around his blood pressure and stories about his affair with journalist Serena Cowdy. Nicola Sturgeon, who is a friend and colleague of Hosie’s wife, was notably cool in her reply, not even mentioning his health. (Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit Victorian the way the ‘mistress’ is getting more of a kicking from several columnists, rather than the man in all this?)
On a happier note, the Sun has an exclusive of brighter Scots political relationship. Ruth Davidson got engaged to girlfriend Jen Wilson last night during a romantic Paris break. A source close to the couple said last night: “It was very romantic. They’re both thrilled.” They have known each other for almost a decade.
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