The five things you need to know on Monday July 18, 2016…
1) EAGLE, ALBATROSS, BOGEY
Today’s the day Labour MPs try to work out just who they want as their ‘anyone but Corbyn’ candidate. And the good news for us hacks is that there is an early tee-off time. Up in Committee Room 14, General secretary Iain McNicol has a briefing at 12.30pm and the hustings between Angela Eagle and Owen Smith start at 1pm. No opening statement, but questions from floor, then closing statement of 2 mins. An hour is set aside but it could last a fair bit longer.
The pair of them invading each other’s personal space on the Marr sofa was pretty awks yesterday. But will either invade Jeremy Corbyn’s personal space among the party membership?
Although Eagle got the 51 MPs/MEPs nominations required to trigger a contest, it’s not clear such names will be made public. And if not, that will further give cover to those MPs tempted to peel off now to back Smith. There’s no such thing as gratitude in politics, so Eagle’s bravery in jumping first may not be rewarded if colleagues now see Smith as the better option.
Eagle has a clear pitch: her personal story as a working class gay woman (that ‘Daughter of a Seamstress’ line could become the new ‘My dad was a bus driver’), her trade union official background and her long experience as a minister and shadow minister. One of Eagle’s best lines privately has been “I knew what aspiration was before I knew what the word was”.
Smith has an equally clear pitch: as a ‘clean skin’, ‘new generation’ candidate who has loyally said he will back Corbyn if he loses. His launch in Pontypridd had him open-shirted, looking fresh and relaxed. He has new policy ideas, a new Clause 4 on inequality and is said to have double the number of backers Eagle does. For several Labour MPs, backing Smith may end up being the safer, default option to reduce the backlash among their local parties. But they may not relish having two blokes fighting it out to oppose a female PM.
In some ways Eagle’s candidacy is a curious mix of Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. The May in her is the ‘get on with it, no nonsense’, oven-ready leader, with bags of experience. The Leadsom in her may be the candidate who can’t attract the backing of more than a small minority of her fellow MPs. That may be an albatross too heavy to bear in a long race. If the numbers look difficult, it may be Eagle who ends up pulling out to give the party a binary choice. 'JC or not JC', that could be the question. It would be a very tough call, but could also be her final act of self sacrifice in the leadership race.
2) TRIDENT TESTED
Theresa May has not been slow in unwrapping the parting gift left to her by David Cameron, in the shape of a Commons vote on Trident. The PM has issued some strong overnight words, warning “we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism”, and that “the nuclear threat has not gone away, if anything, it has increased”.
The vote itself will be at 10pm, but the debate will probably be cut short because it will start not at 3.30pm as planned, but 4.30pm or even later, as there will surely be at least one and possibly two Oral Statements on Turkey and Nice (will the PM do them both, with Boris away?).
The whole vote is of course symbolic rather than binding on any procurement decision. Which is why Shadow Foreign and Defence Secretaries Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis are abstaining. More than 100 Labour MPs may back the Government. Thornberry told Today “money is important” at a time of financial stress. “It is reckless for us to plough ahead with the most expensive options”. Fallon was at his smoothest on Today: "We use our nuclear weapons every day..[by just having them, not using them]".
Tom Watson’s clear lead will give them some cover against the inevitable backlash from Momentum and other local activists who see Trident as a ‘wedge’ issue in the leadership contest. Corbyn will vote against. A poll of members this year found only 18% backed renewal.
Meanwhile, there’s so much change around, it’s hard to keep up. Note that No.10 announced the rest of its new Government at junior minister ranks at around 7am yesterday morning, with typically little fuss. Lots of comebacks, plenty of rewards for May and Boris supporters, the promotion of George Bridges (one to watch) to the Brexit Dept. And today’s Order Paper already looks out of date. Pubs code regs are in the name of Sajid Javid, Andrew Percy’s adjournment debate may have to be abandoned (now he’s a minister).
3) PARK LIFE
The ICM/SunonSunday poll yesterday included party leader names in a routine question on who the public would back in a general election. The result was this: Theresa May and the Tories 43%, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour 28%. As pollster Matt Singh has pointed out, that is exactly the result of the 1983 general election. Spooky huh? Though of course no one trusts polls these days...
But as Jeremy Corbyn’s Finsbury Park interview with Sunday Politics showed, the man is as chilled as ever. (I was going to headline this section ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH CORBS’ but the interview was actually done on a Saturday, and you know what a stickler I am for accuracy).
As well as tackling Pokemon Go (with the legendary line ‘Seumas, you’re blocking the Pokemon’), he was greeted with a warmth among local constituents that underlines the personal appeal that Smith and Eagle may struggle against.
Yet the interview also had two strong news line. First Corbyn said the £25 registered supporter fee was “not reasonable” and “I expect and I hope our party officials and national executive will see sense on this” in coming days. Second, he that the NEC had been wrong to ban all local party meetings. “To cancel meetings because there’s a perception that intimidation might take place, I think is a big mistake”. There was even a hint he was defying the NEC locally: “I haven’t stopped party meetings taking place”.
Meanwhile, John McDonnell says he will announce a new ‘Bank of the North’, a regional development bank to unlock £500bn investment and lending for SMEs. It’s part of Labour’s ‘postBrexit offer’. Lab sources have also hit back at Nick Cohen’s excoriating piece yesterday on the state of the party’s policy, including criticism from ex economic adviser David Blanchflower. One says of the ex-MPC member: “It’s a shame his loyalties aren’t as predictable as his calls for looser monetary policy”.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
4) THERESA JOLLY GOOD FELLOW
Boris’s plane had to make an emergency landing at Luton Airport yesterday, so he made his way to Brussels by ’alternative means’. Nothing about Boris ever seems straightforward, but maybe his diplomacy will be straighter than many expect today as he attends his first ever EU foreign ministers meeting.
Carrying the full authority of Theresa May, and our referendum result, the new Foreign Secretary will probably resist the temptation to thumb his nose at long-standing EU foes and instead carry out the patient groundwork his boss wants for Brexit. His remarks about Hitler were shrugged aside by EU foreign chief Mogherini this morning.
And the botched Turkey coup’s impact on the EU migrant crisis looms large. It’s a serious business today, not one for Boris quips or gaffes. In fact, theres’a feeling at Westminster that Mrs May handed him the post in a challenge to prove he could effectively grow up overnight. Having been given this golden opportunity, any serious errors and he will be out, pronto. Yes, there may be a bit of ‘hail fellow, well met’, but the job in hand is the main focus.
Both Corbyn and Boris will probably be pleased by the overnight news that the EU-US TTIP deal now looks dead in the water, after the German SPD said they’d veto it. Good news for Liam Fox, who’s soon off to the US to explore fresh trade links. Hammond welcomed the £24bn Japanese takeover of ARM as proof the UK still had an ‘allure’ to overseas investors, post-Brexit vote. Not quite what he was saying before the vote, but shows he’s fully onboard now.
Still, ‘The Three Brexiteers’ this weekend proved they are a handful. The Mail on Sunday reported how Fox celebrated his return to Cabinet with bottles of Commons champagne at an event attended by Adam Werrity. Fox said: “My friends are my friends and I'm very loyal to them.” DD also signalled to the MoS (and Sky) that he wanted a phased process on EU migrants’ rights in the UK to avoid a ‘surge’ in arrivals.
5) RECLAIM THE INTERNET
The ‘Reclaim the Internet’ conference will be attended by leading figures from Facebook, the Crown Prosecution Service, and a cross-party group of MPs today. Yvette Cooper, blogging for HuffPostUK, writes that “he disturbing escalation of vitriol in public life in recent months means we cant keep politics separate, because it sets a climate for wider abuse too”
The former Shadow Home Secretary (an uncommonly common phrase for most journos but at least we no longer have to write it to describe David Davis) says it’s time for UKIP, the Tories and Vote Leave campaigners to tell their supporters to stamp out online xenophobia. She says the SNP have to do more to curb ‘cybernat’ abuse.
But it is Labour of course where Cooper has more topical relevance, urging party general secretary Iain McNicol to draft a new code of conduct and to “urgently wake up, given the level of online abuse within our party right now”. “As leader, Jeremy Corbyn should have done this himself instead of just warm words,” she says.
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