The five things you need to know on Thursday September 8, 2016…
1) THERE’S NO ONE QUITE LIKE GRAMMAR
Theresa May spent most of yesterday stressing she won’t be giving a ‘running commentary’ on Brexit. Wanting to talk about things only on her own terms was May’s modus operandi at the Home Office and she looks like she wants to run No.10 on a similar ‘need to know’ basis.
Grammar school policy is another glaring example where the PM would rather say nothing than give away her behind-the-scenes policy formation. But that’s not really how it works when you’ve got the top job and last night she finally coughed on plans for more state school selection.
Having dodged the question three times on Marr on Sunday, May told Tory MPs what her current stance was. She told the 1922 Committee that she was indeed keen on “an element of selection”. And while insisting she did not want to ‘turn the clock back’, she bared her political teeth to accuse her critics of hypocrisy: “We have already got selection, haven’t we? It’s called ‘selection by house price’!”
That delighted pro-grammar MPs, but it sparked a fresh round of claims that May had no mandate for such a radical move. The latest this morning is Government sources stressing free school meals pupils quotas, more links with feeder primaries, and other moves to ensure the poorest really did have access to new grammars. And Free Schools could be the vehicle. Note that The Sun today only backs the idea if it can be done without harming the worst off - a warning No.10 will have to heed.
All of which makes it more amazing Jeremy Corbyn didn’t raise this in PMQs. Especially as I’m told Labour did apply for an Urgent Question in the Commons (the Speaker turned it down as there was G20 to discuss), and had a PNQ approved in the Lords. Surely today, Parliament will have to learn more in public that the PM is talking about in private to her own side? Labour will be demanding a statement.
Michael Fallon (whose own Sevenoaks seat saw the first grammar 'extension' approval) has been defending the plan. Ed Balls said grammars were "archaic, unfair, and the evidence doesn't back them up. "The majority who don't make the cut can live with that for the rest of their lives".
2) ALL THE SINGLE MAYBES
When he was a backbench MP, Jeremy Corbyn often sounded as Eurosceptic as ‘the Bills and the Bernards’ (as No.10 called them). As Labour leader, he’s struggled to drum up much enthusiasm for the EU and his ‘reluctant Remainer’ stance of the EU referendum was seen by Owen Smith and other Labour MPs as part of the reason to remove him.
After the G20 statement, Labour sources expanded on Corbyn’s attack on ‘free trade dogma’ to say he wasn’t that keen on the EU single market itself. Asked directly if Jezza wanted the UK to remain a member of that market, the source said he wasn’t in favour of the bits of the single market that “require or put pressure on the deregulation of public services, state aid rules and a whole load of other things.”
John McDonnell had said in the referendum campaign that "the damage that would be done to our economy by pulling out of the single market could be substantial.” So JC’s stance kinda mattered. Anyway, cue backlash from Smith, Chuka Umunna, Kezia Dugdale, Mike Gapes and more, all saying Corbyn was undermining Labour policy.
Team Jez put out a statement confirming he did not want the UK to retain single market obligations on state aid and other things he believes force privatisation of public services. He did however say he wanted the UK to continue to have “full access to the European single market for goods and services”.
What’s striking is that Corbyn sounded almost exactly like No.10 when it reacted to David Davis’s single market remarks this week: ie the ‘single market’ and ‘access’ to it and ‘membership’ of it are all more complex than most think. His Labour critics smell more Brexit sympathies, but it hasn’t done him any harm in the leadership race polls.
May meets Donald Tusk for the first time since becoming PM today at a No.10 breakfast. No press conference will follow (more evidence of the ‘need to know’ media approach). But senior ministers are already confiding ‘caution’ will be needed on the ‘fragile’ state of the economy in coming months. And while there were ‘two million’ little things to sort out on Brexit, the Govt’s focus would be on about 5 or 6 big strategic issues in dealing with EU leaders. Sounds like we will hear more early next year.
3) FEEL THE PURGE
Pity the poor Labour NEC members who have spent weeks trawling through evidence of racist, sexist abuse, as they try to work out who has and hasn’t breached party rules and who should be barred from the leadership election.
Last night we published the very latest internal update on just how many people had been ‘purged’. A total of 3,107 individuals have been barred from voting for Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith in the contest, either because their conduct failed to comply with the ‘aims and values’ of Labour or they supported another party.
Some 40% of those ruled ineligible to vote were members who joined the party after January 2016, and 34% of them were ‘registered supporters’ who signed up in July. Just 25% of those rejected were members before January.
A further 1,616 people are under investigation and waiting to hear their fate, according to the latest ‘validation and verification’ statistics. And a huge 21,102 people who applied to become registered supporters were automatically excluded from the race because they could not be found on the electoral register. This is by far the most likely reason for someone not getting a ballot paper.
John McDonnell famously claimed a ‘rigged purge’ was going on. But a party spokesperson said: “The speculation that huge numbers of applicants have been denied a vote has been wildly exaggerated. Less than 0.5 per cent of the total electorate in this contest have been deemed ineligible to vote.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this idiot jump from a rather high cliff - and kinda fail.
4) READY TO CRUMBLE?
After months (nay years) of wrangling over just what is going to be done about the fact that the Houses of Parliament are falling apart, today we will get a set of concrete proposals to remedy it.
The Sun and Times simultaneously revealed at 10pm that both MPs and peers will move out for at least six years as part of a £4 billion restoration project (tho that excludes inflation and it could reach £10bn). The Joint Committee on Restoration and Renewal (known to wags as the ‘R&R committee’, but they’ve not had much rest and relaxation) has ended nearly 14 months of deliberation and recommend that both houses decamp en masse between 2022 and 2028.
Parliament is Unesco world heritage site, but the committee warns it could be irreversibly damaged by flood, fire or a energy failures. Last year’s BBC documentary laid bare the leaking roofs, notorious drainage system, ancient wiring and asbestos issues. Chris Grayling, the former Commons Leader, retained the remit to tackle the problems even though he moved to Transport Sec. MPs are heading to the Dept of Health's Richmond House for those six years.
The only dissenters at a private meeting of the committee on Monday were the SNP, who preferred abandoning the SW1 site for good and turning it into a museum (some MPs whisper that Jeremy Corbyn would love this radical option too).
5) FISHING IN YEMEN
The row over the UK’s arms sales to Saudi and its role in possible war crimes in Yemen continues. Newsnight has been leading the way and last night had some fascinating updates on the political battle over the issue on the Committee on Arms Export Controls.
A draft report had been due to slam the Government for oversight failures and recommended freezing our arms deals with the Saudis (we have sold £2.8bn worth of arms since the Yemen conflict started).
But the latest is that Tory Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Crispin Blunt and Labour former defence minister John Spellar have suggested important revisions to the draft - and water down some of the more radical suggestions and bold claims in the report. Assertions of evidence are reduced to ‘allegations’ and action recommended is much less confrontational.
The PM yesterday stressed to Corbyn during her statement on the G20 that her prime consideration was the counter-terror links the UK has with the Saudis, while adding we have the most stringent arms exports system in the world. One to watch, when the final report emerges.
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