The five things you need to know on Thursday June 30, 2016…
1) MAYBE IT’S MAY, BELIEVE
It was Lenin* who said “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. That’s what these past seven days certainly feel like, as the aftershocks of the Brexit vote continue to disorientate all our political parties. And today, we have at least five, possibly six, leadership bids for the Government and Opposition.
First up is Theresa May. Serious, dogged, principled, a calming influence at a time of anxiety, that’s the pitch from her team as she launches into what could be a very dirty fight with Boris Johnson. Expect a lot of talk about her being the Angela Merkel for the UK.
May’s piece in the Times is a direct hit on Boris’s weak underbelly: his perceived inconsistency, shambolic planning and Etonian background. “Some need to be told that what the government does isn't a game, it's a serious business that has real consequences for people's lives.” She also proposes a Brexit Department led by a Leaver.
Her six year stint as Home Secretary, as well as her ‘reluctant Remainer’ stance in the referendum (sharing a loyalty to David Cameron that many grassroots Tories share), are seen as her strongest cards. But May’s team also point to her record on social justice issues such as the Stephen Lawrence case, Hillsborough, Gary McKinnon and modern slavery and FGM.
Part of the early task was just to get enough MPs to believe that May could actually beat Boris in a run-off among the rank and file members. Today’s YouGov/Times poll gives her a substantial lead among party members, with the Home Secretary on 55% to Johnson’s 38%. One ally of Boris who knows the rubber chicken circuit better than most tells me that this fits with their experience up and down the country. Which is why Michael Gove’s support is crucial to cancelling it out (see below).
Another state-educated Tory, Stephen Crabb, had a successful launch yesterday, with an impressive speech and pitch as the John Major candidate. He too had a pop at Boris’s preference to wait for the rugby ball to pop out of the scrum rather than grab it with both hands. Crabb also had a real ‘new generation’ feel with key 2010 and 2015 backers.
Note that Liam Fox is set to launch too, but amid rumours that he is only doing so after May’s refusal to promise him the Foreign Secretary job he wanted (one ally tells me “Theresa never does deals and never will”). Former Fox aides like James Heappey went with Crabb yesterday, believing the ex Defence Sec was not running. Fox will be the only ‘traditional’ candidate for the Tory ‘Right’. But many of those - like David Davis - have opted for Boris already. Social liberals plus Thatcherites - that’s the Bozza coalition May may find most difficult to beat.
* h/t to the lovely Pippa Crerar for that Lenin quote
2) BOGO OF BOGOF?
Buy one, get one free, or BOGOF as they say in the supermarket trade. That’s the pitch to Tory members of the joint Boris-Gove ticket we expect to see today. Gove is incredibly popular among many of the Conservative Associations that will be the real battleground in this election. He brings a weight and a radical zeal that is seen as the perfect foil to Boris’s showmanship.
Yet is it the Bo-Go or Go-Bo show? Sarah Vine’s email leak to SkyNews yesterday laid bare the Gove household’s worries about Boris’s tendency to cut corners or simply drop the ball on key issues like immigration or a concert post-Brexit plan.
I understand that it’s not just Gove who had to extract real commitments from Boris after this week’s ‘tired’ and ‘hurried’ Telegraph column. Senior figures wanted pledges on immigration and other key policies before giving support. Crispin Blunt’s speechlessness on Newsnight last night, when asked what Boris meant by his claim nothing much would change for Brits in Europe, was a sight to behold.
Boris’s launch is later in the morning, so he gets a chance to rebut May’s attack lines. He was due to be introduced by Amber Rudd (although Harry Cole got wind of it and published it in yesterday’s Sun, so maybe the surprise has gone). That would underline just how much of a broad coalition he has, given she was attacking him so personally in the EU TV debates.
As for that Times poll, Team Bozza text to accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives. May trails him in three key areas: on who would best know how to win an election (48/21), who is most in touch with ordinary voters’ concerns (26/18) and best media performer (62/13). They tie on the economy.
Grant Shapps, former party chairman, blogs for us today on the 4 Things that need to happen now to make Brexit work. Chief among them is slashing corporation tax. That’s the kind of bread and butter stuff Boris will need in coming weeks.
3) ANGELA’S SASHES
It’s perfectly possible that come this autumn, the UK’s two main political parties will be led by women, adding to the fact that all three parties in Scotland are also headed by female politicians. It’s taken more than a century, but those sash-wearing, Edwardian Suffragettes would be proud.
When Angela Eagle launches this afternoon, she knows she has a mountain to climb. But this Mrs Merkel thing is catching. One ally told me that she is “Our Angela, our Angela Merkel of the Left. A trained economist, a serious politician for serious times”.
The fact that she’s a woman may well help with the party’s grass roots, which has long wanted to follow up its all-women shortlists progress with its first ever female leader. But being a woman didn’t on its own help Yvette Cooper (who may still run) or Liz Kendall last year.
Still, after Tom Watson bottled it, just standing would show she has steel (“Where Eagles Dare” is the movie choice slogan of her supporters). Other possible contenders are ready to back her as the unity candidate, recognising that only someone from the soft left, and with union support, can possibly win with the selectorate.
Yet that selectorate remains a formidable obstacle to toppling Corbyn. Eagle came fourth in the deputy race, Team JC point out. She voted for the Iraq War. Her local party aren’t happy with her opposing the leader (as revealed by HuffPost on Tuesday). And with more than 13,000 new members joining in the past week, it could get harder still. Anecdotally some of those are joining to kill Corbyn some to keep Corbyn. Either way, it is a logistical nightmare to check if they are all legit.
Corbyn has a zen-like calm about all this. I’m told he’s not a hostage of Seumas Milne and John McDonnell and actually believes deeply that he has a duty not to let down those who elected him in huge numbers. His supporters see him as the Obi Wan Kenobi of the Labour Party, the Jezi mind trick master complete with beard and loyal followers. And fittingly enough young Obi Wan - aka Ewen MacGregor - backed him on Twitter yesterday.
McDonnell called for calm yesterday but couldn't help pouring oil on the flames. Last night he said the PLP meeting was "not a meeting to enjoy, it fact it was like a lynch mob without the rope”. Yes, a lynch mob. He was speaking at SOAS last night, where another hero's welcome for Corbyn that typified the support he has among many young Labour members.
But there are straws in the wind. After the rally, Momentum’s James Schneider went to the Holborn and St Pancras CLP meeting. It’s one of the biggest local Labour parties in the country, and voted to reject a motion of confidence in Corbyn, by 44-35.
And there could be another challenger too. Owen Smith is also of the soft left, but has no baggage on the Iraq War, and has got the numbers, I’m told (51 MPs/MEPs needed). His name was the talk of the Commons bars and terrace last night. Some think it’s too soon, though, and want him and Lisa Nandy to battle it out after Eagle’s caretaker stint may end in 2018.
Meanwhile, JC today has a speech planned at Shami Chakrabarti’s publication of her report into anti-semitism and racism in Labour ranks. Labour sources mutter that the former Liberty chief is a close friend of Seumas Milne. She may want to dispel any rumours that had any influence on her role.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this wonderful clip of a Government minister Lord Courtown saying ‘Order’ - after Labour’s Lord Foulkes heckles that an EU statement has been cut short - again and again and again. Hypnotic, trippy, mindblowing.
4) SINGAPORE SLIMS
Singapore’s United and Overseas Bank has suspended its loans programme for all London properties in the wake of uncertainties caused by Britain's vote to leave the European Union. It says it wanted to make sure it was ‘cautious’ about investments in the capital.
This is just an overreaction, Brexiteers will suggest. Yesterday, the FTSE100 recovered all the losses it had made since June 23, a fact that delighted Outers. Inners pointed out that the FTSE250 was a more accurate verdict and that was still tanking.
Indeed, one economist on the Today prog’s Biz Section predicted that UK GDP growth would be downgraded by 30% this year and up to 70% next year. The Economist Intelligence Unit says financial markets will continue to panic and that we ain’t seen nothing yet. “This process will commence with the triggering of article 50 of the EU treaties. We expect financial market volatility to persist as events unfold and uncertainty over the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU will feed into the real economy,” it said.
Mark Carney (remember him?) will today use a speech to try to calm fears that Britain’s financial system could experience a heart-attack. Tough call.
5) SEX CRIME
Away from the hubbub, the SNP often seem to be the only party with a leader who knows what she’s doing. And in Westminster, John Nicolson is proving that his party can still make a historic difference in other ways.
Nicolson, who in May topped the annual private members' bill ballot, and has now brought forward his proposed bill - to pardon people with historic convictions for being gay. If successful, his Sexual Offences (Pardons Etc) Bill will make provision for pardoning cautions and convictions for specified sexual offences that have now been abolished.
Alan Turing had a royal pardon, but this is about ensuring that you don’t have to be a codebreaking genius to get true justice. Note the signatories to the bill too: Labour’s Keir Starmer and Tory Nigel Huddleston as well as SNP MPs.
But we can’t get away from Brexit, really. The Daily Record reveals that Sturgeon will formally start proceedings for a second Scottish independence referendum as soon as Article 50 is triggered.
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