The five things you need to know on Tuesday, September 6, 2016…
1) VAZELINE INTENSIVE CARE
Will today mark the beginning of the end for Nigel Keith Anthony Standish Vaz? The man long dubbed ‘Vazeline’ by some colleagues - for the slippery way in which he changes his stance on various issues, and glides in and out of controversy - has a private showdown with colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee at 2pm. His political career is not yet dead, but it is in intensive care, thanks to unease among fellow MPs on the committee. The very latest is that it seems he's decided to step aside, at least temporarily.
The committee is scheduled to take evidence in public from Robert Goodwill, the Immigration Minister, at 3.30pm, and exactly who will take the chair for that session will ensure a packed audience outside the Grimond Room. Under a deal between the parties, this is a ‘Labour’ chairmanship and Chuka Umunna is seen by many as the man to step up.
Six of the committee are Tories and Theresa May’s public skewering of Vaz (often a thorn in her side) in China - ‘what is important for people is that they feel they are able to have confidence in their politicians’ - gives them the cover to tell him to go. It’s trickier for the Labour MPs who are acutely aware of claims that Vaz should not be ousted over ‘private’ matters. But note that David Winnick told Newsnight that Vaz had in the past shown “too much desire for publicility….[that had] to some extent it undermined the credibility of the committee”.
It’s not as if there’s a shortage of home affairs stories around today - from revenge porn to calls for the child abuse inquiry to be narrowed - and yet there is no HAC chairman on the airwaves. That in itself speaks volumes. Chuka’s own line yesterday was that Vaz had himself said he didn’t want to “disrupt” the committee’s work. He also, pointedly, said before every session “you make declarations of interests and obviously those need to be out there and in the open”.
The Mirror says ‘The Vaz tapes’ prove he was not the victim of a press sting, but with a high profile lawyer on his side, some still feel it will take new revelations to actually force Vaz to step aside from anything other than the prostitution inquiry.
Vaz turned up to the Commons to ask two questions yesterday (one in Home Office Qs, one in the Yemen statement) and looked set to force his critics - especially Chuka (who would be gifted a major platform to rebuild his own career) to show their hands today. If he had refused to go voluntarily, he was set to be given 24 hours to reflect. But committee members were unsure if they could pass a vote of no confidence, and whether it can be done in a secret ballot rather than a show of hands. Now, the issue is just how long Vaz will step aside, and if there's any way back at all.
2) BREXIT MEANS BREXIT MEANS BREXIT
Theresa May and her entourage landed back in Blighty in the early hours and she’s determined to bounce into this morning’s Cabinet to prove she’s always in charge. Out in China, the PM had put the taut into tautology, declaring “The reason I've been saying Brexit means Brexit is precisely because it does”.
Her much-anticipated bilateral meeting with President Xi was smoothed over when a No.10 official revealed that Hinkley was kinda parked as an issue. “[Mr Xi] said that he recognised the new Government would need to take some time for reaching decisions on some agreements pushed by the last Government. President Xi said that they had the patience to wait for a resolution on those issues.”
Back home, DD was urging similar patience among Eurosceptics as he used his Commons Brexit statement to stress the Government would “take the time to get it right” (though word is that he and the other Brexiteers want Article 50 triggered in the first half of the year at the latest).
‘Brexit means Brexit’ means two things so far: definitely quitting the EU, and definitely getting new control over migration. DD came up with a neat soundbite to back up May’s own rejection of Vote Leave’s points-based system, declaring he preferred “a results-based system”. Farage claimed this was ‘backsliding’ but in fact Tory Eurosceps want a plan that will shoot Farage’s fox by being even tougher. Note that MigrationWatch and others back DD’s line, and the Mail splashes that May’s No10 staff are ‘pressing her to bring in a full work permit system’.
On the single market, DD was in similarly Hard Brexit mood. Asked about the single market, his key quote was: “This Government is looking at every option. But the simple truth is that if a requirement of membership is giving up control of our borders, I think that makes it very improbable…About forty countries have free trade agreements with Europe without any deals on migration, without any deals on money,"
3) UB NAUGHTY
Labour’s leadership travails continue. Just after 5pm today we will learn the results of the PLP ballot on Clive Betts’ plan to restore Shadow Cabinet elections. I’m guessing the result will be a North Korea-style landslide for the proposal. But actually it’s all kinda academic as the NEC will next have to decide if it wants the plan - and Corbyn allies tell me they will only go for it if it’s not a threat to his authority (and if it is then the wider membership may be invited to vote, a rival plan that one source told me would kill the whole thing stone dead).
Jeremy Corbyn is this morning appearing alongside 1980s reggae-pop combo UB40. Already Labour MPs are joking that ‘I am The One In Ten’ (a song about unemployment) is a neat reference to the number of Corbyn-supporting MPs in the PLP. Or that’s how much of the national vote Labour will be reduced to in 2020. Ah, gallows humour, eh?
But what’s just as fun is that UB40 has a splits story of its own that makes the Milibands look like the Waltons. The version of the band that will back JC today is led by guitarist and vocalist Robin Campbell, and others in the original lineup. But a rival UB40 is led by Ali Campbell – not the Blair spin chief, but Robin’s younger brother and the original lead vocalist – and features two other founding members.
Another brother Duncan was brought in to take on the vocals in Robin’s band. In 2014, Ali uttered this lovely line: “If you went to see the Rolling Stones and Derek Jagger turned up instead of Mick, you’d feel a bit peeved. I haven’t spoken to Duncan or Robin for six years now. It has torn the family apart.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Corbyn said JK Rowling was “a wonderful writer” though “she seems to have some differences with me at the moment”. “I’m disappointed about that but I’ve never met her”.
Meanwhile, some Labour MPs are just getting on with real life: Caroline Flint’s amendment on tax transparency was accepted by the Government late last night (the House adjourned just before midnight).
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Dominic Grieve’s reaction in the Commons as Owen Paterson says all EU law could be subsumed into British law. Priceless.
4) IT’S ASHLEY VERY SIMPLE
Sports Direct chief Mike Ashley has finally bowed to huge pressure, with his firm announcing it will axe zero hours contracts and replace them with guaranteed hours for all those who want them. It also admits it should pay staff more and vows a review of all its employment practices. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Sports Direct has admitted "serious shortcomings" in working practices at its Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire. In a report commissioned by the firm, the retailer apologised for conditions at the warehouse, which have been likened to those of a Victorian workhouse. It’s real triumph for Commons Select Committees and trade union campaigns which have been pushing Ashley, but also a victory for journalism- the Guardian investigations into its practices have been vindicated.
Ian Wright, chairman of the BIS Select Committee, told Today "it goes a long way, but not far enough". He spotted buried in today's report that there was no formal contract in place for the agency workers used by the firm.
5) YOU ARE THE PASSENGERS
Lord Fowler, the new Lords Speaker, is making clear he won’t be a mere bystander in the debate over the future of the Upper House. In an interview with The House magazine, he says the Lords has to cut its numbers to around 600- to match the new size of the Commons due in the next few years. As Cameron pushed the Lords to above 800 members, that’s a big cut.
“We should certainly not have more peers than there are Members of Parliament. I think that's a principle that would probably find agreement amongst most of the House," the former Cabinet minister says.
"There are – how should I put it? – a few passengers. I don’t disagree with that. But the characteristic of the Lords is that it's hardworking and conscientious. At the moment the size of the House hangs over it like a cloud so anything you do it always comes back to 'aren’t you too big?' etc. If you get rid of the 'too big' argument, perhaps the public and politicians can concentrate on what we actually do, which I think is fundamentally important.
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