The five things you need to know on Tuesday, October 25…
1) USING THE B-DAY
It’s airport expansion D-Day. The Cabinet sub-committee meets at 8.30, the Cabinet at 9.30 and Chris Grayling has a Commons statement at 12.30. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be Heathrow.
But thanks to the PM’s decision to give her ministers leeway in opposing the decision, it’s also Boris Day. Yes, the Foreign Secretary will be allowed to stick to his position that the third runway is a very bad idea, with more noise and pollution than other alternatives.
Gatwick’s expansion plan looks like it’s being flushed down the toilet but Theresa May is keen to reduce the political mess for Bojo. Still, thanks to May’s strictures, Boris won’t be given free reign, however. Neither he nor Justine Greening will be allowed to “campaign actively” against the Heathrow recommendation and cannot use the Commons to speak out against it. He has promised not to 'tour the TV studios' and will do just one interview. But lying down in front of bulldozers is out of the question.
The other main fall-guy is of course Zac Goldsmith. There has been some talk of him bottling it on his pledge (just as Boris has bottled it on his own threats) to spark an immediate by-election once the Government backs a third runway. But the Sun reports a source close to Zac saying “he will hand the Chancellor his resignation from the Commons on Tuesday afternoon if he has to….Zac is deadly serious about this, if the government sign up to expanding Heathrow he will put the issue on the ballot paper in a by-election starting this week.” That sounds like he won’t wait for the final Parliamentary vote in 2017/18…or will ministers give him a form of words that lets him postpone his resignation?
With No10 keen to just end the dithering of the Cameron (and Brown and Blair) eras, and with the added impetus of Brexit requiring an outward looking trading nation, Goldsmith is a mere minor irritant for May. Even if the Lib Dems make Zac’s pro-Brexit views the focus of the by-election, he’s so popular locally he will probably still win. Without a big hitter like Vince Cable as candidate (the Lib Dems have already selected the unknown Sarah Olney), the odds of an upset look unlikely.
More tricky is how weak May would look in not putting up even a paper Tory candidate to an independent Zac candidacy - and in not sanctioning those who support him. If she allows a free vote in Parliament next year, that too would look weak (though enough Labour MPs back the plan to get it through).
If you’re in any doubt that Downing Street wants to underline the difference with the Cameroon regime, look at Sir Howard Davies’ Telegraph piece yesterday, in which he included the lines “David Cameron (remember him?)” and “Cameron remained an immovable object”. I’m told No.10 signed off the Davies piece, including the pops at the former PM.
2) THE SHAME GAME
The Calais camp faces another day of slow clearance, but the political row is still burning hot. Diane Abbott has accused the Daily Mail of a ‘smear’ after it highlighted a speech she made to a rally this weekend. In the speech (and in a blog for HuffPost last night), the Shadow Home Secretary said that the idea of dental-age checks on refugees made her “ashamed to be British”.
Abbott had told the anti-austerity rally on Saturday: “I have to say that I’m ashamed of being a British person when you have British members of parliament suggesting you should treat refugees like cattle, and test their teeth, what has this country come to?” She added that this was “one of the most racist governments that I have experienced” as an MP for 30 years, singling out Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt’s Tory conference plans for migrant doctors and workers.
Abbott turned the shame game around in a statement to HuffPost: “I am ashamed of the right-wing press and politicians who have called for child refugees to have their teeth inspected, as if they were livestock. Since becoming a MP almost thirty years ago I been a target of the right-wing press, the subject of illegal surveillance, and I have been subjected to vile sexist and racist sexist abuse. I have long campaigned against racism and xenophobia, even when it was dangerous and unpopular to do so, I will continue to do so as Home Secretary.”
On the substance of Amber Rudd’s statement yesterday, there are various angles. She revealed the UK interviewed 800 youngsters and claimed France blocked their exit. The Times says the French were irritated that the Brits had a case-by-case process that looked like an attempt to stall the influx. The Guardian says one in four councils can’t take refugees anyway.
As for relations between the press and Government, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has delighted many newspapers (particularly local ones) with her announcement that she will kill off a plan to force them to pay libel costs even if they win their case. Sources tell the Times that the ‘punitive elements’ of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act ‘will not go ahead’. All this as Max Moseley’s new Leveson-inspired press regulator Impress, is due to get approval - but few members.
3) SWIVEL-EYED WALLOONS
The Canada-EU trade deal still hangs in the balance thanks to the hardball opposition of the socialist leader of the Wallonia region of Belgium. Donald Tusk tweeted a breakthrough is still possible by Thursday, though the FT prefers to quote the Belgian PM “The clear answer, at this stage, is no.”
The row is a tricky one for both the Tories and Labour here. For the Tory Brexiteers, the criticism is that a Canada-style post-Brexit trade deal for the UK looks likely to be hostage to every sectional interest in every one of 27 EU states. Eurosceps may counter that it proves the EU is intrinsically incapable of decision making and underlines why we need to make our own one-on-one rather than 28-on-one deals. For Labour, the socialist Walloons sound very much like Jeremy Corbyn and his insistence that global corporations can’t ride roughshod over democracies.
In her Commons statement yesterday, Theresa May revealed there would be ‘general debates’, both before and after Christmas for MPs to debate Brexit ‘principles’. There will be no votes, however, No.10 sources guide us. And May was firm again yesterday in refusing to give more details, shrugging off Andrew Tyrie’s jibe that her “policy of saying as little as possible is going to be increasingly unsustainable” for business which will just vote with its feet and flee the instability. May told Andy Burnham “He talks of a hard Brexit this government is going to take the country into. There is no suggestion of that whatsoever.” Expect more of this and the line that trade/migration is not a ‘binary’ decision.
It’s Treasury Questions today at 11.30am and you can bet John McDonnell will raise the Times story about an internal ‘sensitive’ briefing for ministers and officials that was accidentally posted on the Treasury website. It reveals the UK faces a higher-than usual post-Brexit £700 million EU budget bill, to make up for a smaller bill in March.
McDonnell points to the briefing note line stating the Government is “unlikely to bring deficit reduction entirely back on track”, and that - even before Brexit - “continuing run of disappointing data” meant there was a “severe worsening in the public finances”.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
How many drones does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, plus lots of broken glass, if you watch this video.
4) TARRY, TARRY MIGHT
Sam Tarry, the campaign director for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership re-election, is one of his most trusted aides. In an interview with HuffPost UK today he underlines not just his loyalty but also the new confidence among the young generation of Momentum activists that the Corbyn revolution is here to stay.
Tarry tells us many Labour MPs have a “huge sense of entitlement.. but have no skills in terms of community organising. No skills in terms of building a movement. No strategy for winning a general election and are kind of quite intellectually bankrupt.” As if that wasn’t warning enough to the PLP, he also says Labour party HQ “needs a fundamental redesign”. “If you were to sit down and design something to win an election you wouldn’t come up with Labour Party. At the moment it just doesn’t seem to be match fit.”
Tarry (who reveals he has ordered an ‘internal review’ of Momentum) adds that he thinks “the next leader of the Labour Party is not even in Parliament yet”. That seems both a statement of how bullet-proof Corbyn is with party members and a signal that a new breed of politicians is on its way. “There is the potential to skip a generation at some point” he says. Could he be that future leader himself? Several people have asked him to run as an MP and he is certainly not ruling it out. “My goal is to change the country. Being an MP may or may not be part of that package to do that”.
5) BET SHRED
Karen Bradley and her department were busy yesterday, with not just the press regulation news but also a serious signal that the gambling industry has to get its house in order. The new consultation document includes plans to ban from daytime TV all those sports betting, lottery and bingo ads that dominate our screens at present. Crucially, it will also look at calls to slash the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (the crack cocaine of any bookies’ these days) from £100 to £2.
Bradley said yesterday her kids “can recite just about every gambling ad there is” because they watch so much TV sport. Which is what David Cameron used to complain about too (along with many parents). The difference is that unlike under Cameron, the May Government is actually doing something about it now.
Sports minister Tracey Crouch, now back from maternity leave (astonishingly the first ever for a Tory minister), made this review her number one priority on being appointed in 2015. She’s battled hard against some major big business interests to get it to where it is now. And instead of languishing in a Whitehall holding pattern, it has been finally pubilshed because the PM saw this another area where the state should intervene to help the ‘just coping working classes’. One to keep an eye on.
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