The five things you need to know on Friday, November 25…
1) EVERYTIME WE SAY GOODBYE
How strange the change from Major to minor. Sir John Major said goodbye to No10 nearly 20 years ago, but he can still make headlines. Oh, yes.
The ex-PM has told guests at a private dinner that Britain’s departure from the European Union must not be dictated by the “tyranny of the majority”. In his first published remarks on the EU referendum result, he added that there was a “perfectly credible case” for a second referendum and that Parliament - not Government - must make the final decision on any new deal with Brussels.
David Cameron used Major strategically and tactially, wheeling him out at times when his premiership needed a filip. Theresa May’s relations with the former PM are not as cordial, not least as they disagree on fundamental issues such as immigration. In his speech on Wednesday, Major urged all politicians to agree that “most immigration is a boost to our national wellbeing and not a drain on it”.
Of course, many Eurosceps will dismiss Major’s musings as the ramblings of an embittered Remoaner. And he isn’t the only former PM back in the limelight, after Tony Blair told the New Statesman Brexit ‘can be stopped’.
“When I say, ‘Let’s just keep our options open’ it’s condemned as treason…It [Brexit] can be stopped if the British people decide that, having seen what it means, the pain-gain cost-benefit analysis doesn’t stack up.” Blair has met Nick Clegg, George Osborne and others, and his new ‘movement’ sounds half way between a new political party and a think tank. One to watch.
Meanwhile, Malta’s PM Joseph Muscat has told the BBC that EU leaders are not "bluffing" when they say the UK will be left without access to the single market when it leaves the bloc if there is no free movement of people. “This is really and truly our position and I don't see it changing".
2) THE WAGES OF THIN
The day after a Budget/Autumn Statement is traditionally IFS Day, when Labour and Tory governments get a kicking for the small print/stealth taxes the Chancellor failed to mention to cheering MPs. These days, the IFS don’t have it all their own way and the Resolution Foundation beat them to it (its wonks were up to 3am, Treasury style, poring through the Green Book) with a 10.30am verdict that JAMs would be squeezed even more from now to 2021.
The IFS analysis came at out at 1pm but it still won the arms race of the think tanks with even more dire warnings about low earnings creating the worst decade of living standards pressure since 1920.
No10 didn’t like it one bit, and tried to put out a rebuttal that the only real measure of living standards should be ‘real household disposable income’, which was going up by 2.8%, the highest ‘ever’ rise. Many pointed out this was like telling a man under water that he’s rising a bit to the surface, but he’s still under water.
Still, we live in an age when ‘experts’ are trashed as quickly as ‘experts’ trash ministers. The backlash against the IFS from Tory MPs was swift and the Mail splashes on their attacks on the ‘doom-mongering’ economists.
The FT meanwhile points out that business has its own backlash, against plans to crack down on ‘fatcat’ or ‘excess’ pay in the boardroom. But the Bank of England’s Andy Haldane has also joined people like GSK chief Sir Andrew Witty in warning of the dangers of the idea. That may further underline tensions between No.10 and Threadneedle Street.
A British government grappling with a grim economic legacy, balancing austerity and economic growth, facing rows over budget payments to Europe - and the election of a US president with a background in show business. Sounds familiar eh? Geoffrey Howe, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor, certainly had a lot on his plate in 1981.
New national archive papers released today show that Howe was rebuffed by Maggie over a plea for a new No.11 kitchen. But the FT has picked up on the best bit: Howe was told in a Tory party briefing that leaving Europe would have a “devastating effect on our economy”.
“There could be no conceivable advantage for us to place in jeopardy our access to the community, which accounts for 43 per cent of our total trade,” says the report, which focused on the vexed issue of how much cash London should stump up in return for such trade advantages.
Thatcher famously went on to win her rebate. It remains a mystery why that rebate was ignored by Thatcherites in the Vote Leave campaign this year, preferring instead a ‘gross’ figure of £350m a week being ‘sent’ to Brussels every week. Speaking of which, the Sun reports that the Change Britain (which includes Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart) repeating their referendum pledge that the NHS should benefit. The new OBR figure this week suggest the net figure (Thatcher rebate incuded now) would be £200m a week.
Meanwhile, in today’s Times column, Gove slams the civil service, saying many good staff have left “in exasperation at the complacency, blame-shifting and bottom-covering among too many of their superiors who duck responsibility when crisis after crisis occurs”. He says those who cock up major Whitehall projects should be named, shamed and ‘removed’ (fired?).
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch ‘The 2016 Song’, which lays into this most extraordinary of years. (Warning, it’s a bit sweary). Poor old 2016, will someone make a vid defending its honour..?
4) OSBORNE IDENTITY
George Osborne may not be Chancellor but he’s not out of the news, or short of dosh. The register of interests revealed he trousered a cool £320k on the international speaking circuit. The ex-Chancellor found time to tweet an exclusive pic of Chief Whip Gavin Williamson’s famous pet spider, Cronus, yesterday (just what was he doing in the Whips’ office?).
The Sun has a fun story that Osborne lost a bitter battle to Ken Clarke for the plum seat in the Commons for the Autumn Statement. Major’s former Chancellor won the tussle for the prized aisle seat two rows back from the frontbench. Osborne reserved it early on Wednesday morning by placing his prayer card on the spot but Clarke ignored it and sat there anyway. Osborne returned furious, and the impasse was only solved when a third Tory MP next to Clarke was persuaded to move for Osborne instead.
Having lost his empire, Osborne (a bit like Blair) has still not yet found a role. He is slowly trying to forge his post-Government identity, but some MPs say he’s not given up a Clarke-style return to the frontbench. His ambition to be PM is undimmed, say some backbenchers.
The Tory whips meanwhile will have noticed that Douglas Carswell yesterday gave The House magazine his first hint that he could return to the Conservative fold. Asked if he would consider re-joining his old party, Carswell said: "I suspect the next general election will be in 2020, who knows what the world will look like then?”
5) CON AIR
Government plans to expand Heathrow Airport are set to breach the government’s climate change laws, its own statutory advisors have warned. Lord Deben (John Gummer as he was known, -and yet another Major government minister popping up today) and his Committee on Climate Change say the business plan for Heathrow projects a 15% increase in aviation emissions by 2050.
The BBC’s veteran environment corr Roger Harrabin reports that if that increase is allowed, ministers will have to squeeze even deeper emissions cuts from other sectors of the economy. In a nutshell, the Committee says there have been some dodgy maths in Whitehall to try to get approval for Heathrow last month to square with the Government’s carbon obligations.
The air quality and emissions story got buried during the Heathrow approval, and there were some ambitious projections about lots of us switching to electric cars over the next 20 years. Add in Client Earth’s High Court victory on air quality and fans of The Crown (which depicts the Smog of 1955 and the Government’s swift response) will feel a sense of deja vu.
Heathrow is of course why Zac Goldsmith triggered his by-election in Richmond Park. Polling day is next Thursday and the Lib Dems say they always get a surge in the final week. One local online paper cites Lib Dem doorstep data putting Goldsmith on 50% and his rival Sarah Olney on 42%. One source told me that canvass returns showed the parties ‘neck and neck’ in a key Tory ward and that all they need is activists to pile into the seat this weekend to mobilise the vote. That may all just be the usual by-election spin and blather, but some senior Lib Dems are whispering ‘Romsey’. Nick Clegg is in the seat tonight.
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