The five things you need to know on Friday July 8, 2016…
1) MAGGIE MAY?
And so, after a fortnight in which ‘bitching’ and ‘backbiting’ were shown to be male Tory traits, it is the no-nonsense women who end up on top. By September 9, we will have the second woman Prime Minister in the UK’s history, and it’s now up to a tiny electorate (150,000 people or fewer) to choose between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.
May winning the votes of 199 Tory MPs (to Leadsom’s 84) was an impressive show of Parliamentary support. There’s a lot of talk about Tory ‘frontrunners’ never winning the race, but actually when it comes to the ballot of MPs some forget that in 2005 David Cameron came on top (90 votes) ahead of David Davis (57 votes). May will be hoping history repeats itself.
Crucially, May has the heavyweight backing of Britain’s two biggest papers, the Mail and the Sun (which declares its support for the first time today). Even though May was a ‘Remainer’, The Sun has a list of 10 Reasons It Must Be Theresa. Among them are the fact that under her Home Secretary tenure there have been ‘no major terrorist incidents’ in the UK - and that she’s proud of being called ‘a bloody stubborn woman’ by Ken Clarke.
The Times also give their support and, although Andrea Leadsom seems to have more of the Maggie Thatcher appeal to some Tory MPs, May is pitched in the Mrs T mode too (‘Iron Mayden’ is the Sun header).
Though she doesn’t ‘do deals’, there’s a strong rumour that Chris Grayling could become Home Secretary under May. Grayling was the Shadow Home Secretary going into the 2010 general election, don’t forget. May was in fact Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. And it was only through Cameron’s decision to reshuffle his pack to accommodate IDS (as well as the Cameroons not liking Grayling’s remarks about gay guests at Bed & Breakfast hotels) that he ended up as Minister for Employment. Despite all the ups and downs, don’t rule out The Graylord getting a step up. As well as Liam Fox, David Davis and Priti Patel, having the backing of key Leavers like Grayling will matter.
Still, May is inscrutable to many. “She just sits there in cabinet looking exasperated in a poised way,” said one cabinet minister in the FT. But it’s done her no harm so far.
2) CV OR NOT CV, THAT ISN’T THE QUESTION
Leadsom supporters think that she can spark yet another upset, defying the Establishment in Whitehall, her fellow MPs and the media. The Sun has 10 Reasons Why It Can’t Be Andrea (she’s ‘a zealot’, has ‘no compassion’, ‘lacks conviction’ and ‘weak willed’). Still, when it comes to Tory party members rather than voters, maybe it’s the Leadsom-friendly Express that will have the edge over the Mail or Sun in this race.
Her round of media interviews showed how inexperienced Leadsom still is. When Gary Gibbon asked if she felt God spoke to her directly, instead of hesitating she would have been better to say how many millions of Britons are people of faith and how it was a private matter. She got there in th end, but it was not a good look. As for her views on gay marriage, they seem confused at best (Ruth Davidson on Newsnight said she was happy to invite to her wedding 'whoever becomes Prime Minister’, a dig at Leadsom).
Leadsom struggled with questions about her CV being ‘sexed up’. Robert Stephens, who worked at Invesco Perpetual during Leadsom’s time there, told Channel 4 he was “irritated” that the energy minister had suggested was a senior figure at the investment company “when actually she wasn’t” and that she was “not ideal” to be Prime Minister. “Somebody projecting themselves as being somebody in a senior investment management role in a major organisation, when actually she wasn’t.. She was a part-time assistant to the chief investment officer, working on special projects.”
But Leadsom is more than a CV, or a row over a CV. Thanks to tweets from a bloke on the Tube (this is modern Britain in action), we learned what looked like a Leadsom plan for Britain. It included more grammar schools, triggering Article 50 in September, a ‘war on political correctness’, making positive discrimination and sharia courts illegal. There was also ‘Boris to campaign around the country for her’.
Will Boris have the energy or inclination to go on the stump again? Would he bother if Gove backs her too, with the thought of them sharing a platform again too excruciating for words? Boris could still get a big job in a Leadsom Cabinet if he helps win the grassroots (though the danger is he would overshadow her). And don’t forget some Tory MPs say that if Leadsom wins, they (unlike Labour) have a ruthlessly efficient system for ousting unpopular leaders.
Meanwhile, in the Times, Philip Collins says it is “a democratic outrage that the next prime minister will be chosen by the 0.3% of the electorate who happen to be odd enough to be members of the Conservative party”. “Can any of them, I wonder, see the irony of their regular sermons about the lack of ‘democracy’ in the EU? Probably not. These are people who have taken hold of the wrong end of the stick in order to beat the country with it. The candidate of their looking-glass world is the wholly ill-prepared Mrs Leadsom…”
3) KEEP CORB AND CARRY ON
Tom Watson is to speak to more union leaders this weekend about a way out of the impasse between Jeremy Corbyn and his MPs. Few are optimistic. Owen Smith gave his first real hint yesterday that he was ready to take on Jezza, with a less than veiled line about being “ready to do anything I can to save and serve the party”.
That ‘save’ line had echoes of the #SavingLabour hashtag that is the online campaign to get the public to join Labour to kick out Corbyn. But the #KeepCorbyn campaign claims it is having more success.
The party confirmed yesterday HuffPost’s exclusive that 100,000 new members have joined Labour in just 10 days. Yes, 100,000 people. As the entire Tory party membership choosing our next PM is officially 150k (and some say in fact as low as 125k or even 80k), that’s a hell of a number.
Writing in the Guardian today, Corbyn digs in again: “MPs also need to respect the democracy of our party and the views of Labour’s membership, which has increased by more than 100,000 to over half a million in the past fortnight alone – by far the largest it has ever been in modern times.”
Michael Crick says he’s been told on good authority that the increase is actually 128k, while ex Ed M spinner Tom Baldwin says it’s 113k. They may both be right, given the rapid acceleration rate.
But what matters most is which of those members back Corbyn and which don’t. Last night, I was told by a Labour source that Corbyn supporters make up the ‘vast majority’, more than 80%, of those who have expressed a preference on the Labour membership form. (There is a blank box on the form asking why they joined.) There is an important caveat: only half of those 100,000 new members have filled in the joiner question box, and of those the overwhelming majority want to keep Corbyn. The SavingLabour camp will be hoping that all those who didn’t fill it in are on their side..
Meanwhile, again thanks to Twitter, some audio has emerged of Neil Kinnock’s rousing speech to Monday’s PLP. In one passage (PolHome has transcribed key bits), Kinnock says: “I go on the doorstep and I talk to people, and I spoke to one in Cardiff three weeks ago. When he complained abour Jeremy, I said 'his heart's in the right place, he wants to help people like you'.
“He was a working class guy - a fitter in what remains of the docks. And he said 'I know why he's saying it, because he thinks we're easy. We're not easy, we're not listening - especially since he's weird’. That is unfortunate, but everybody in this room knows ... that is what you're getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader."
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
4) CHILCOT AFTERSHOCKS
Overnight, so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for a triple suicide bomb attack on a Shi-ite mausoleum north of Baghdad, with 35 dead. Four days ago, 140 were killed by a bomb from IS in the city’s shopping district. While Tony Blair was desperately hoping Chilcot would sever the link between the past and the present, it’s difficult for anyone to claim these atrocities are not connected to the chaos left in the country after the 2003 war.
Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs that the US decision to dismantle the Iraqi army was still playing out. “It is clear a significant number of former Ba’athist officers have formed the professional core of Daesh [Isis] in Syria and Iraq, and have given that organisation the military capability it has shown in conducting its operations,” he said. For perhaps the first time in his life, Hammond sounded exactly like Jeremy Corbyn.
New documents continue to be spotted in the Chilcot mountain. A note from Blair’s private secretary on 2 May 2003 described the US-led ORHA as “not up the job. It has no effective management. There is no clear understanding of who is making policy.”
And the Times picks up on fresh evidence on MI6’s failure to alert Blair and others to just how shoddy its WMD ‘source’ was in Iraq. The agency quietly but formally withdrew its intelligence on July 29. Some of this is familiar to us Butler Report anoraks, ye there is a new memo in Chilcot. The very next day MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove sent Mr Blair a copy of its annual report with a covering letter stating: “I am confident that the intelligence picture to which we contributed pre-conflict will be proved correct”.
The “very striking” intelligence was withdrawn in a “low-key manner” compared with the flurry of high-level briefings when it was first uncovered. The report added: “Given the controversy about the failure to find WMD and questions about whether the intelligence had been presented accurately after the conflict, Sir Richard Dearlove should have ensured that ministers were aware of the position.”
5) RUSSIAN OUR DEFENCES
It’s the NATO Heads of State summit in Warsaw today (David Cameron’s last one) and it’s the first time Barack Obama and the PM have met since the Brexit vote. Cameron will reassure the US that the UK will keep up its defence spending obligations.
The Sun reports that nearly 4,000 British troops will be offered to Eastern European states worried about the rise of Putin. Some 500 infantry soldiers will be posted to Estonia to set up a new permanent base and extra 150 of our troops will also be stationed in Poland. A further 3,000 Army personnel in the UK and Germany will be put on very short readiness to fly to the Russian border region if an attack becomes imminent.
Much of the troop deployment was planned before our EU referendum. But is it a sign of things to come? When a nation reduces its ‘soft power’ - as we undoubtedly will after quitting the EU - it can compensate by increasing its ‘hard power’ of military deployments. Simply to get more global influence, will the UK military be more active around the globe in years to come…?
Listen to our latest Commons People podcast HERE. We chew the fat on Chilcot, as well as the Tory and Labour leadership latest. Plus an ace Quiz of the Week: Chilcot or ChilNOT - which was longer than the 7-year Chilcot inquiry?
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