The five things you need to know on Wednesday, October 26…
1) ZAXIT ON THE SPOT
Zaxit does indeed sound like a spot cream. But Zac Goldsmith’s exit from the Tory party, and the Commons, last night could cause a lot more trouble for Theresa May than the localised pimple of Heathrow expansion.
As I’ve written in detail HERE, the Lib Dems are determined to turn the Richmond Park by-election into a verdict on May’s stance on Brexit as much as on aircraft noise and pollution. The yellow hoardes will descend on the seat in even bigger numbers than Witney as they seek to retake the south west London seat lost in 2010.
The Libs want to give the Remainers of Richmond their very own second referendum on Brexit. And you can see why, given the June statistics. Richmond borough voted 69% and Kingston borough voted 62% to stay in the EU, but the party locally suggests ward-by-ward figures show the constituency itself (made up of upper-middle class bits of both boroughs) is even more Remainiac: with 72% voting against Brexit.
Zac’s own pro-Brexit views will be targeted as ruthlessly as his controversial London Mayoral campaign tactics, his Bollywood brain fade and unfamiliarity with using the Tube in central London. He’s very popular locally, so the Lib Dem hopes of getting a Witney swing (where they were not facing any incumbency factor) may be overdone. Zac’s wealth, like his former non-dom status, doesn’t much bother his constituents, even though he will need lots of his own lolly (£240k on one estimate) to defend the seat.
Yet the Lib Dems’ most powerful weapon of all is the message to voters that axeing Zac will slash May’s slender majority - and his replacement would use any Parliamentary vote to oppose ‘hard’ Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn may or may not relish the fact that defeat for Zac would give Theresa May real pause for thought about a snap election next year.
Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney will be delighted that she’s on the front page of the Times today, protesting against Heathrow alongside former Richmond Park MP Susan Kramer. Still, I’m not sure it was wise for the local party to tweet pix of Olney alongside Kramer’s predecessor Jenny Tonge (who no longer takes the Lib Dem whip after remarks about Israel).
Amid all the Zac focus, it’s easy to forget Boris’s muted response to the Heathrow news. On Brexit, he’s already facing the charge that he put personal ambition above the national interest. On airports, he is now being accused of putting his job of Foreign Secretary above the local interest of his constituents (and his own previous opposition). Will Corbyn risk a PMQs joke about Boris not needing to lie down in front of bulldozers because he's already been lying down the side of his £350m-for-the-NHS Brexit bus?
Chris Grayling confirmed on the Today prog that the third runway plan may include a "ramp" over the M25 for planes to take off from. Questions remain about whether flights will start at 5am or 6am. The Transport Secretary’s vague plan yesterday to combat pollution may be more of a problem. In a nutshell, he seems to think more electric cars in the next 10 years could get Heathrow off the air quality hook.
Meanwhile, David Cameron has unveiled a new book deal, promising to be “frank” about his time in No.10. Will he be frank on Frank Zacharias Robin Goldsmith? And on May and Gove? As he’s left the Commons, at least he won’t have to declare publicly his income from the autobiography.
2) MIGRANT PHILIP
All ministers are told to stop giving us a ‘running commentary’ on what Brexit may mean. But ’Big Phil’ Hammond couldn’t help himself yesterday. He told Treasury Questions that the Government will put the needs of the City “at the heart of our negotiation” with Brussels, as “we understand their needs for market access”.
But he wanted to send a signal about not just ‘passporting’, but passports too. And the Chancellor said he saw ‘no likelihood’ that highly skilled workers would be barred after Brexit. “The problem that people are concerned about is people taking entry-level jobs. I see no likelihood that we will use powers to control migration into the UK to prevent companies bringing highly skilled, highly paid workers here.”
Ahead of his Autumn Statement, Hammond faces the separate challenge of the Brexit impact on his coffers. The Resolution Foundation think tank warns that Osborne’s £10 billion budget surplus in 2020 is on course to be a £13 billion deficit. And by then, the UK would have borrowed £84 billion more than was predicted in March. Not good for the Tory attack on Labour deficit deniers.
Meanwhile, the bush telegraph is alive with more worries about firms pulling out or suspending investment decisions. The Times Business section leads with Vauxhall’s American chief warning that “I look at the situation in the UK as, you know, a speed bump on our path to where we want to take the business.” That will worry British car workers. GM has not yet decided where to build the new Vauxhall Astra, which is currently assembled at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, one of the UK’s big six car plants with 2,000 employees.
No.10 is not surprisingly scathing about the Guardian story on May's remarks to Goldman Sachs in the referendum, pointing out she really said much the same thing publicly about the risk of firms wanting to quit the UK.
3) STAB IN THE DARK
Michael Gove has been widely ridiculed within his own party and without it, after telling Radio 4’s World At One that he hadn’t knifed Boris Johnson. “I wouldn’t say I stabbed him in the back.. It is not treachery…I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal”. I think a shrink would say he’s in denial. He even told Wato that he realised Boris was not PM material “in the immediate aftermath of the referendum campaign” - it took him seven days to communicate that ‘immediate’ thought.
Surely the quicker Gove admits he betrayed Bozza and apologises, the sooner his career can rehabilitate? Gove said he’d ‘happily’ serve in a May government, but anyone who knows the new No.10 knows there’s currently as much chance of Jake Berry’s ‘pit of hell’ freezing over as there is of the PM giving him a ministerial job.
Still, the former Justice Secretary has a Times column, a new role on a juvenile crime body and…the chance of getting elected to the Brexit Select Committee. Yes today sees the election of the 10 Tory MPs (and 10 from other parties) to the 21-strong body. Gove, along with fellow Brexiteers Dom Raab, Peter Lilley and John Whittingdale have all put their names forward.
But so too have Tory Remainers Anna Soubry and Alistair Burt. Many Labour MPs like Soubers, but she may not get too many Euroscep votes. One Tory last night sent me her emailed plea that “It is time to put aside our differences and come together as Conservatives..” For some strange reason they thought that was very funny indeed.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Donald Trump declare at a rally: “There’s going to be a lot of Brexit happening in two weeks [ie on US Presidential election day]”.
4) COMPASSION WAGON
The Calais refugee camp’s slow dismantlement continues, but the controversy is unlikely to diminish. And on ITV’s The Agenda last night, UKIP leadership contender Suzanne Evans got it in the neck for her insistence that incomers from the camp should face stricter age checks. Jeremy Paxman boomed at her “Do you have no compassion?”
Evans said Parliament did not back the Dubs amendment on minors in order to bring in youngsters who “buy razors and shave”. She’s the moderate candidate in the UKIP race, by the way. I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn will raise David Davies’ dental checks in PMQs, and defend Diane Abbott in the process?
5) THE APPRENTICE
The deafening political noise of the Heathrow row gave the perfect cover for the Government to quietly slip out a U-turn on cuts to apprenticeships. A written ministerial statement from the Department for Education announced that the cuts, which were themselves announced on a Friday afternoon during Parliament’s summer recess (without a statement or press release) would not go ahead. Full marks to David Lammy, who led the campaign to help 16 to 18-year-olds and those from poorer backgrounds.
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