The five things you need to know on Tuesday, September 20, 2016…
1) ELEMENTARY WATSON
At 12 o’clock today, Labour’s ruling NEC meets for what some suspect will be high noon for the complex and changing relationship between Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson.
The meeting could last upto 8 hours and I’m told both men plan to stay for every gruelling minute (and matters arising, geddit?) Leaders and deputies used to attend merely for their own reports and then scarper, but the NEC is the crucible of the elemental power struggling going on right now between Labour MPs, the leadership and the wider membership.
The NEC has spent a year working on party reform plans but at the last minute they are being hijacked by two hot topics: elections to the Shadow Cabinet and a return to an electoral college for leadership elections.
On the former, it’s down to the unions (who have the balance of power on the NEC) today to decide if they want to encourage MPs to return and heal the summer rifts. Corbyn is set to argue not for party membership elections straight away, but a much cannier option of just delaying the whole process and coming back to it. Given the NEC has a lot on its plate working out conference arrangements, this may prove tempting- but it will dismay Watson and many MPs. Watson is offering Corbyn the freedom to fire elected Shad Cab members, as a further safeguard.
On his electoral college plan (which would kick in after the next election so it’s not a ‘sword of damacles’), Watson knows that again inertia may triumph, as few want to grapple such a big change, with party conference just days away. High noon may turn out to be the first of many 3-D chess matches, rather than a Wild West shoot-out.
The Deputy leader was on the Today programme in full Glasto-mode. “We’ve got to put the band back together” he said, adding the Shad Cab needed all the ‘talent’ it could muster, with the party set to be put on a general election footing for a snap Spring poll. Watson had a curious line about Owen Smith’s chances, saying Labour could often “defy the predictions of the media”. But when asked if JC could become Prime Minister, he replied with this pointed answer: “Whoever wins we’ve got to swing behind that leader and make sure they are the most electable leader we have.”
As for electability, Corbyn was very confident on the Today prog yesterday in suggesting all his new members in the South would translate into electoral progress in next year’s county council elections. It’s undoubtedly true he’s attracted people in areas previously untouched, but the Local Government Information Unit tells me Labour is ‘going nowhere’ in the shires in 2017 unless Corbyn can turn the polls around.
Jezza was the most Jezza-like you’ve ever seen on Mumsnet’s biscuit chat (he’s 'totally anti-sugar’ but would take a shortbread if offered, and still likes jam) yesterday. Tonight, he has another huge rally planned in East London.
2) SUFFER SKITTLE CHILDREN
The Americans are blaming the Russians for the appalling air strike on a UN aid convoy near Aleppo. Stephen O’Brien (ex Tory minister now UN aid chief) wants a full investigation and says if the strike was proved to be deliberate “it would constitute a war crime”. If Jo Cox were still alive, you can bet she'd be battling hard for justice too.
And amid all this Donald Trump Junior (the Donald's son) is seeking to muddy the waters between migrants, refugees and terrorists. He tweeted that ‘If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.’ Cue an avalanche of tweets showing the injured, and dead, children of Aleppo and elsewhere. Perhaps the best takedown, however, was from Skittles themselves: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people”.
Trump senior is however making hay with the arrest of the Afghan-born US citizen arrested for terror attacks yesterday after a dramatic shootout. He’s now suggesting the suspect should not be given private medical treatment. Hillary, in comparison looks ever more anaemic and wonkish.
Trump bragged that having called out the arrested guy first, he was now a better reporter than the reporters. But note that the legendary news anchor Dan Rather has gone an epic Facebook attack on Trump - and the US media for failing for call out his lies.
Theresa May was busy telling the UN yesterday that economic migrants should not be confused with refugees. All this after Angela Merkel’s expression of ‘regret’ yesterday over her own country’s lack of preparedness for the Syrian influx. Amazingly, some people are upset with Sadiq Khan for agreeing to allow that protest featuring refugees lifejackets in Parliament Square yesterday.
3) DOC HOLIDAY
Amid Brexit and party splits, the NHS may occasionally slip under the media radar but it never truly goes away as a political issue. Today, the Lib Dems use the freedom of opposition to say the unsayable: the health service needs more cash and taxes are the simplest way of getting it.
Tim Farron’s closing conference speech will unveil a panel of senior doctors and others to examine the case for “a dedicated NHS and care tax”. Of course, we already have something called National Insurance and I remember New Labour way back in 2002 actually putting it up by 1p to fund the NHS, but it was not ringfenced and less than half ended up on healthcare.
All the parties are privately looking at the NHS funding squeeze but finally someone’s talking publicly. With winter hospital pressures coming early this summer, and those huge deficits, it’s about time.
The Times has an excellent splash interview with the chairman of NHS England warning that every hospital will be required from April to publish details of their consultants’ outside earnings. About half of the 46,000 NHS consultants in England are thought to carry out private work, on top of average earnings of £112,000 a year.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Sadiq Khan pitch a baseball at the New York Mets game. Bit high but he landed it.
4) THE GULF OF WALL ST
Theresa May is to meet financiers in Wall St to spread the word about trade opportunities with a post-Brexit Britain, trying to bridge the gulf in understanding in the US about just what our new status will mean.
The ‘listening exercise’ - featuring Boris alongside her - will involve roundtable discussions with big investors in the UK including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, BlackRock, IBM, and Amazon. Then she will host a reception for about 60 US executives, as well as British businesses that invest in the US. Many big banks were Remainers, don’t forget. Just like Theresa.
Back home, in her very own constituency, the PM must be heartened by the news in the FT that US biotech firm Alnylam is setting up its European HQ in Maidenhead, creating 100 new jobs.
On arrival in New York yesterday, May gave the papers some nice quotes, hitting back (‘Maggie-style’, the Sun says) at Eastern European leaders for suggesting they would make life difficult for the UK on the way to the exit door. She snapped: “Look, the 27 will sign up to a deal with us.”
5) CRUEL BRITANNIA
Boris appeared to receive a regal slapdown yesterday from No10 over the idea of the Government recommissioning the Royal Yacht Britannia. A spokesman bluntly said that the plan was “not on the agenda”. Cue lots of gags about Theresa torpedo-ing the good ship Boris.
Of course the Foreign Secretary only gave his tentative support for the idea via The Sun, mainly it seems out of loyalty to his old mate Jake Berry (remember his ‘very deep pit reserved in hell’ quote about Gove’s knifing of Bojo?). Berry is the MP who has, ahem, pushed the boat out on the Britannia plan.
Still, with the Daily Telegraph turning this into a campaign, they showed admirable resourcefulness in interpreting a May quote when she was asked about the topic in New York. Asked if the idea of restoring the Royal Yacht to its former glory had ‘merit’, May replied: “I recognise the proud heritage that we have. Our heritage as a trading nation.”
But she added: “The important question is how do we get out there and promote Britain, promote Britain as being open for business, promote the interests of people investing in Britain and for our businesses actually exporting overseas. There's a whole variety of ways in which we're able to do that and are doing that.
The Tel’s headline is that she’s kept 'the door open' to the idea, though others saw her as gently closing it. Brexit may mean Brexit, but Britannia doesn’t mean Britannia.
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