The five things you need to know on Monday, September 19, 2016…
1) SHADOW BOXING
Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to his local boxing gym yesterday was a gift for photographers. The Times’ boxing correspondent Ron Lewis writes the Labour leader “looked good on the attack, showing a classic left jab that the Marquess of Queensbury would have been proud of…However, the basics of defence were missing. His hands were low and the way he held his head high would have invited any opponent to take a swing."
With nearly everyone assuming Jezza will be confirmed as the winner of the leadership election on Saturday, the focus in the PLP has switched markedly in recent days to ‘what next?’ As I reported on Friday, Dan Jarvis is one of the surprise names in the frame for a Shadow Cabinet job (the release of his name allowed a host of others to break cover over the weekend) as local parties urge their MPs to get on and unite.
For many MPs a frontbench job is only worth it if the NEC tomorrow approves (and full conference ought then to be a formality) plans for the return of an element of election for Shadow Cabinet posts. Team Jez have proposed an amendment, with third elected by MPs, a third by the leadership and a third by members.
It’s the last bit that is seen by some in the PLP as a deliberate attempt to wreck the plan. Tom Watson has publicly said it may prove impractical (code for ‘I know what you’re upto’). And I’m told unions on the NEC just won’t back the amendment as it would be a threat to their own power (unions are not keen at all on a plan for one-member-one-vote for the youth reps, for example).
Corbyn told the Today prog that “there is a thirst for greater democracy” and seemed open to various options. If the Shad Cab elections plan gets delayed or bogged down, it would seriously weaken his ‘olive branch’ approach. But there are still some MPs who think it’s their duty to hold the party together by getting stuck in to help Watson and others, rather than boycotting the leadership.
The Labour leader told Today that he would 'reach out' to fellow MPs. Allies say Corbyn is in the mood for compromise and knows he has to unite the party and improve his communication if he wants to capitalise on the Tories' own splits in coming years.
Ahead of Labour’s conference in Liverpool, the Tories are just sitting back and loving the spectacle as their opponents focus on the whiffy fluff in their navels. But for Labour MPs the boundary review has sparked deeper fears of deselection at the hands of Momentum-inspired activists.
Momentum has repeatedly denied it wants to oust sitting MPs but tonight’s Dispatches on Channel 4 shows suspended Brighton party chairman Mark Sandell talking about getting rid of local MP Peter Kyle and handing out ‘redundancy notices’ to others (a deliberate echo of Kinnock’s 1985 Militant speech). Sandell was caught on undercover camera, but he’s been pretty open in his calls to oust Kyle.
Corbyn on Peston didn’t deny he’d discussed the fate of Tom Watson and general secretary Iain McNicol at a Unite awayday last month. On Panorama tonight, Len McCluskey says MPs critical of the leadership should be “held to account”, while Clive Lewis told Marr his colleagues should face the “democratic process” of local party accountablity. Kyle told Sunday Politics: “Jeremy is the first person I’ve come across who uses an olive branch as a weapon to beat people with.”
And at the final Smith/Corbyn hustings last night (thank God they’re over), Jez said it wasn’t the leader’s job to intervene in local selections. Smith said “I think that is hanging out to dry decent Labour MPs."
One Momentum source told me this weekend: “It is ironic that some of those who tried to deselect Jeremy as leader, without a vote and without following agreed procedures, have decided that Labour members and affiliates having the right to select their candidates in accordance with party rules is somehow abusive.” But that kind of talk further infuriates Labour MPs, who point out they represent nine million real voters, not 500,000 party members.
Corbyn himself seems convinced the crowds at his rallies represent more than The Usual Suspects. In his first interview with the Today programme since the leadership election began (albeit a pre-record grabbed at a Birmingham event), Corbyn said “they are a pretty diverse crowd”. He added “that becomes a strong base” in “towns and cities across the UK and “I think you’ll begin to see that play out particularly in local elections next year”. That’s quite a prediction, given Labour usually does badly in the shire county elections.
3) AN ENGLISHWOMAN IN NEW YORK
September is always UN General Assembly time and New York’s usual security lockdown is all the more marked this year after the ‘pressure cooker’ explosions at the weekend.
Theresa May, again using her Home Secretary experience at a global summit, will try to play to her strengths on security. But it is on migration that she’s playing hardball, warning the UN that mass migration flows cut funding and popular support for refugees.
On her record on helping Syrian refugees, May is coming under fire from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (“too slow, too low and too narrow”) and IRC chief David Miliband and Yvette Cooper. But the PM’s message is that ‘uncontrolled’ mass migration helps no one and the Sun and Telegraph point out she will tell world leaders that Brexit Britain has a right to control its own borders.
Angela Merkel, to whom May is often compared, obviously took a radically different approach last year and yesterday’s Berlin elections - with her party’s lowest ever result - suggest she’s still taking a hit politically. Her CDU got 18%, just 4% more than the AfD. But cautious voices in Germany point out the refugee numbers have slowed dramatically and many have been absorbed. Just as with reunification, if Merkel’s Syrian refugee plan works out it will be yet another remarkable feat.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
First interview, first gaffe. Watch UKIP’s Diane James walk into Andrew Neil’s elephant trap on admiring Vladimir Putin
4) MARRED BREXIT
At the Lib Dem conference today Nick Clegg will make his first speech as the party’s EU spokesman to warn of ‘chaos’ if the UK opts for ‘hard Brexit’ and quits the single market.
But as Tim Farron stepped up his calls for a second referendum on a Brexit deal, as within Labour there’s the first mutterings of a party split. Vince Cable has told the Press Association that holding a second vote second vote "raises a lot of fundamental problems”. "What happens if you win? Is that binding? Do you have to do a third?” It’s that rock, paper, scissors question again folks.
Nicky Morgan on Peston yesterday rightly warned May that “if you leave a vacuum other people will fill it”. And that’s just what the EU is doing post-Bratislava. The FT has a story that Slovakia’s PM Robert Fico says the EU will make Brexit ‘very painful’ and that the UK will not be allowed to treat its workers as second class citizens
In an interview with the Guardian, Bundesbank boss Jens Weidmann warns that if the UK quits the European Economic Area, we would automatically lose the ‘passporting’ rights that allows the City of London to work so lucratively across Europe.
And Chancellor Philip Hammond shares that concern. The FT reports he is ‘open minded’ on whether to leave the single market. “The ‘Three Brexiteers’ want a much bolder strategy, but Philip Hammond is warning of the dangers of going too far,” one senior official says.
5) LITTLE MO, BIG REACTION
The launch of Momentum’s latest offshoot - ‘Momentum Kids’ - has sparked quite a kerfuffle online. The group will use the movement’s 150 local groups to give parents childcare for younger kids, as well as provide campaign skills and ‘political engagement’ for older children.
Many of its backers say it’s a sensible solution to the problem of mothers being left out of political activism and that the educational bit is no different from Sunday School or Young Labour.
But you can’t even say the word Momentum without triggering a chain reaction and the group’s many critics within Labour didn’t hesitate to either take the Michael or worry that it was something more sinister. Comparisons ranged from the Woodcraft Folk to the Lenin-inspired Komosol, and worse. The reactions just showed once again how bitterly divided the party is right now.
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