The five things you need to know on Wednesday June 8, 2016…
1) DEFENSIVE, MUCH
In some ways, last night’s ITV EU Special said much more about the power of Prime Ministers to dictate media terms than it did about the EU itself. For much of the programme, nervous members of the public had the burden of asking questions of professional politicians. Being Jeremy Paxman ain’t as easy as it looks.
But there was enough bite in the audience questions to get both David Cameron and Nigel Farage onto the defensive. In fact, the PM was so defensive that he earlier in the day decided he had to call a rooftop press conference (it was nothing really of the sort, with just one question from a newspaper) to rebut six ‘complete untruths’ told by Vote Leave. He had no real answer when asked why he was keeping such lying liars in his Cabinet, like Michael Gove for instance.
Farage proved he is no Gove, often sounding prickly and thin-skinned (the ‘calm down’ moment didn’t do him any favours), where as the Justice Secretary was at his most polite and emollient last week. The UKIP leader didn’t drop any major HIV-style clangers, though he did sound like he preferred alternative medicines to a multi-billion UK drugs industry and dismissed his Cologne sex attacks remarks as ‘a tiddly little issue’ (though he's claimed on GMB this morning that Justin Welby 'turned a blind eye' to the issue). His line that he’d rather have ‘no deal than a rotten deal’ sounded like an admission that trade tariffs would go up under Brexit.
As for Gove and Boris, their call yesterday for a face-to-face debate with Cameron was quite a moment. Didn’t Boris say early on after his Brexit declaration that’s precisely what he would not agree to? And didn’t Gove pledge privately the same to the PM? Still, after last night’s event, I longed for a genuine debate. Will Thursday’s ITV event deliver?
Boris and Alex Salmond, Priti Patel and Liz Kendall all debate each other at our Telegraph-HuffPost-YouTube EU special next Tuesday. Andrew Neil - for my money the best political interviewer in the business - quizzes George Osborne on the BBC tonight. Surely that won’t be as bloodless as last night?
On that sun-drenched rooftop yesterday, Cameron came close to sounding the most rattled he’d been so far in this campaign. Maybe he’s picking up that poll narrowing too. As Nick Watt last night revealed on Newsnight, ‘Remain’ campaigner and pollster Robert Hayward now thinks Brexit will win the referendum. Don’t forget Rob was the first man, last January, to call the General Election correctly….
2) REGISTERING DISCONTENT
Here’s a gift for Corbyn at PMQs (which looks like the penultimate one before June 24) In the last minute rush of the unregistered hoardes trying to log on, the Cabinet Office website experienced severe ‘technical problems’.
Corbyn - who has made youth voter registration a big theme - tweeted for the deadline to be extended. In a rare moment of unity, Yvette Cooper agreed, as did Tim Farron. The BBC has a Government source saying the site was kept up for an extra 45 minutes.
But race to register has been phenomenal, with 700,000 people signing up on Monday and Tuesday alone. I know many of the youth of today want to be journalists, but waiting to file right up to deadline is not always the best policy. The numbers registering seem much higher than those who may simply have moved home, and suggests they really weren’t that bothered about their democratic rights in the recent local (or Mayoral) elections.
Our own Owen Bennett revealed last night that 'Computer Says No' could be a problem on the night of the EUref count itself - test runs have seen crashes already.
I suspect the rush to enter our Lobby Euro 2016 predictor league may be similarly intense as the 8pm deadline approaches tonight. (Don't worry, my own tech should be up to the task). Speaking of the tournament, there’s a different take on all the migrant stories around today as Labour’s Shadow Cabinet minister Lord Bassam blogs for HuffPostUK. He reveals he’s going to the Calais camp this Saturday to deliver football kits to child refugees.
3) STEP PARENTAL ADVISORY NOTE
Oh Lordy, step-parents-in-law, what are they like? Sam Cam’s mum’s hubby (are you with still with me reader?) Viscount Astor says in the Spectator that no matter what the result of the EU referendum, Parliament will find a way to block Brexit.
Yes, the hereditary peer (Mrs C was previously married to Sir Reginald Sheffield, 8th Baronet) has told the magazine: “The EU referendum is merely advisory; it has no legal standing to force an exit. Parliament is still sovereign. We will need an Act of Parliament to revoke the European Communities Act 1972, by which Britain joined the EEC or Common Market, or perhaps a paving bill enabling the Government to start the Leave negotiations. But whatever, a vote [in the Commons and Lords] will be required.”
Astor seems rather confused about many things. He slams Eastern European nations as ‘subsidy junkies’, attacks the EU over migration and centralised rule, yet says he favours Remain. Still, his words will add to those of some MPs who are threatening to create merry havoc among the Tories by doing that ‘reverse Maastricht’
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Bernie Sanders has has vowed to "continue the fight" against Hillary Clinton, despite her getting the required delegates.
Trump wasn't stupid last night, telling Sanders supporters 'we welcome you with open arms'
4) SCOTS MISSED
Blink and you missed it, but one of the most intriguing lines from Cameron last night (in a non-intriguing half hour) was his hint that Scotland could get a second independence referendum following a Brexit vote. “Frankly, I do worry about a second Scottish referendum if we vote to leave..and you don’t strengthen your country by leading to its break-up.”
Now this runs directly counter to the line put out by the PM and No.10 for months - that the 2014 referendum was a ‘once in a generation’ decision. Cameron is clearly so determined/nervous that he now thinks he can play the ‘Scary scots’ card. But to prove what a topsy-turvy political world we now live in, Angus Robertson welcomed Cameron’s admission on Twitter - yet the SNP is advocating Remain.
Curiously, Cameron kept contrasting ‘Great Britain’ with ‘Nigel Farage’s Little England’. He liked this debating point so much, he said it a few times. Yet to me he risked sounding like he was talking down England itself (how many of the public really know the historic associations of the phrase ‘Little Englander’?) And with Euro 2016 set to excite English - not British - nationalism, was that a wise thing to do?
Meanwhile speaking at a London School of Economics EU debate last night, Gordon Brown said the opposite: "It should not be inevitable that if there is a no vote there should be a Scottish referendum.” But Gordo added this kicker: "I’d be more worried about Northern Ireland actually because the Northern Ireland government the leading Unionist party is calling for Brexit. Sinn Fein is saying in response that if that were to happen they would call for a broader poll in other words they’d want to end partition and it would open up the whole of the Northern Ireland peace agreement.”
5) GRIM, DIESEL
Patrick McLoughlin’s interview with the London Evening Standard yesterday gets lots of pick up in today’s papers, and rightly so. The Transport Secretary suggested that diesel cars may face a ‘toxic fumes tax’, in a bid to curb their deadly emissions. A source close to Gordon Brown recently told me that Brown’s decision to cut duty on diesel back in 2001 was one of the biggest mistakes of the new Labour government - and one his children were paying the price for on London’s polluted streets. So this is a big deal, and clean air is rising up the political agenda.
The Telegraph splashes on McLoughlin saying hiking fuel duty or low-emission taxes “is something the Chancellor will need to look at” in order to reduce toxic levels of nitrogen oxide and prevent deaths in cities. Jeremy Corbyn has pushed this issue very hard - suggesting at every EU rally he does that there’s a need for more EU-wide action - but it’s not yet clear why Labour lacks a radical policy. It can’t be reluctance to criticise Brown. After all, Shadow energy minister Barry Gardiner admitted last year: “Hands up – there’s absolutely no question that the decision we took was the wrong decision.”
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