The five things you need to know on Tuesday July 19, 2016…
1) SMITHEAGLE, EAGLESMITH
By this evening, or even well before it, the anti-Corbyn forces in the PLP may finally have one candidate. As I reported last night, Labour sources were claiming that Angela Eagle and Owen Smith had come to an agreement (though some prefer the phrase ‘a common understanding’, as “it’s not written in blood or anything”).
And the common understanding is that they both “recognise and respect the strong preference of the PLP to have a single candidate”. Talks between the two camps were amicable but a lot of face-saving will have to take place, with not even a whiff of triumphalism for the one who emerges as the main candidate.
Team Eagle are still not giving up, however, not least after her impressive performance in the PLP hustings. Yvette Cooper’s plan for an ‘indicative ballot’ got nowhere in the end. But an informal tally by ‘tellers’ outside the PLP office last night, between 7pm and 8pm (when it closed) found Eagle and Smith were pretty close in the number of MPs who handed in nominations. Neither had the magic 51, but were on their way to it. That process resumes again from 9am.
Smith supporters claim they have twice as many MPs as Eagle, and could show that as the day goes on. By early evening, the party is set to formally give its first update on how many nominations each contender has so far, ahead of the closure of nominations of Wednesday.
In one indication of how split the party is, it seems even the Kinnock household is divided. Stephen Kinnock is a big Eagle fan, but dad Neil sounded after the hustings like he was moving towards Smith. Hilary Benn, asked if Eagle (his preferred choice) should step down, told Today: “There is a strong view in the Parliamentary Labour Party that there should only be one challenger”.
But SmithEagle, or EagleSmith, it seems the vast majority of the PLP agree with Benn that they just want one candidate. And with a narrow window of two days to sign up ‘moderate’ registered supporters at £25 a pop, they hope a single opponent to Corbyn can fuel the online fightback.
2) ANTI-JEZ, UNCLE JEZ
His avuncular image is one of the reasons Corbyn won such a landslide last year in the leadership election. That cardigan charisma, the willingness not to dance to the usual tunes of the media or Westminster norms, plus the high regard many had for him as a nice bloke whose time had come, will all feature again in this summer’s campaign. Add in a simple anti-cuts message and Bob’s your uncle. Or rather Jez was. Corbyn had what Alastair Campbell used to call ‘definition’ - and in spades.
Except that that this time, Corbyn could build even bigger support because all those bits of his image are much better known than last year (when a frankly sad band of us anoraks toured the country from hustings to hustings hearing the same speeches over and over). The Times/YouGov shows that the Labour leader would beat either Smith or Eagle by a margin of 20 points or more, among party members. The proportion who think he is doing well is up to 55%, up four points in just two weeks.
And yet, and yet. Corbyn’s critics think that what’s different this year is that the downsides of his leadership - or lack of it - have been finally exposed. Lillian Greenwood’s speech on the dysfunctionality of Corbyn’s team - the lack of communication, the undermining of campaigns on transport, the incompetence - may be an eye-opener for Labour members swept up by the JezWeCan movement. Loveable amateurishness was trumped by a basic failure to act like a functioning Opposition, let alone a Government-in-waiting, Greenwood suggests.
Ditto former shadow minister Thangam Debbonaire’s own account of Corbyn dysfunction. And Ditto ‘Corbynomics’ founder Richard Murphy’s account of why even leftwing economists felt the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership had no clue on detailed economic policy. Just saying you’re ‘anti-austerity’ may still be enough for lots of members. But for some it may not.
3) GOING NUCLEAR
Aptly enough, the Trident vote had three prongs to it as far as Labour MPs’ were concerned. 140 for, 47 against, 41 ‘absent’ or abstained. That three way split - read the full list of who voted which way HERE - laid bare deep divisions within the party over the nuclear deterrent.
And Corbyn is clearly putting Trident among the many touchstone issues (along with Iraq) he feels will win him an even bigger majority among the party members. Theresa May’s Thatcher-like clarity to the SNP question as to whether she’d be prepared to kill 100,000 ‘innocent civilians’ - “Yes”- was the perfect contrast to JC’s own answer.
"I would not take a decision that kills millions of innocent people. I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about international relations,” he said. And if your own leader won’t use nukes, the any pro-nuke policy is irrelevant.
Jamie Reed dripped with contempt. “For the first time I think ever we’ve witnessed the leader of the Labour party stand up at the despatch box of this House and argue against the policy of the party he leads. This is unprecedented, moreover this reckless, juvenile, narcissistic irresponsibility makes me fearful for the future of the party that I love.” Angela Smith also rammed home the point that JC was defying policy approved overwhelmingly by his own party conference. Corbyn replied: “Party policy is also to have reviews of policy that’s why we have reviews.”
David Cameron, sitting on the backbenches for the first time, looked absent-mindedly at his iPhone, before leaving the debate.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
When No means Yes. Watch the chair of the Republican Convention turn down calls for a roll call vote challenging Trump.
4) EVEN STEVENS
Even NHS chief Simon Stevens is now adopting the line that Brexit can be an opportunity rather than a curse. Writing for the Telegraph, he says that the EU referendum vote gives the PM the chance to oversee “radical change” in the health service.
Urging the Government to focus resources on GPs rather than hospitals he says that “headlines about hospital deficits obscure the fact that over the past decade their share of funding has grown rapidly at the expense of primary care”. But will some of that touted £100m extra a week for the NHS come down the track?
But Stevens also has a warning to Mrs May that foreign NHS workers must be given “reassurance” by the Government that they are still “welcome in this country”. In the referendum, he’d issued dire warnings about the dangers to patient safety of losing so many EU staff.
And Stevens also says that May must “urgently” set out a child obesity strategy. Which is exactly what Jamie Oliver told me when he guest edited HuffPostUK last Friday. Here’s the TV chef’s plea (via my smartphone) “Theresa, come on, we need you please. I know you’ve got my cookbooks”.
5) CABINET SAUVIGNON
Theresa May’s first ever Cabinet meeting as PM is today. And it shows a top team of slightly older vintage, and largely shaped in her own image (hardworking, state-educated, unshowy deliverers. Boris provides the extra zest and colour, along with the others in the Three Brexiteers (who will now share Chevening - a revelation that provoked the biggest laugh of Lobby yesterday).
Bojo wooed a few doubters at his first EU foreign ministers meeting yesterday, his French skills coming in very useful (unlike Nigel Farage’s ‘I’m very good with a wine list’ French). But not everything is plain sailing for the new team. May is facing claims of her first U-turn over the Japanese takeover of ARM Holdings (I asked No.10 what our ‘Industrial Strategy’ was on tech yesterday and got some bromides in return).
DD is apparently being told he can’t poach Boris’s best FCO staff. Fox has been told by the Canadians not to boast about any swift trade deal. The FT is worried that May has downgraded the pensions minister role from Minister of State to mere Parliamentary Under Secretary, post-Altmann.
And the Times reveals that a minister has quit over the appointment of Liz Truss as lord chancellor. Lord Faulks QC, - brother of novelist Sebastian - says Truss’s lack of legal background risks damaging the justice system because she lacks the experience to stand up to the prime minister.
Lord Pannick, QC, a crossbench peer, and others stand up for Truss.
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