The five things you need to know on Thursday, January 19…
1) THE ICE QUEEN
Theresa May will deliver her ‘open for business’ pitch to the global elite of snow-covered Davos today. She will be sorely tempted to also gently point out why ‘citizens of the world’ risk misunderstanding the political forces that led to Trumpism, Brexit and May-ism. She has a piece in the Sun pledging to smash ‘the barriers of privilege’ to build on ‘workers’ rights’. With China's President trying to pitch himself as a greater defender of free trade than Donald Trump, let's see how she squares that diplomatic circle.
The PM will be cheered by the cautious reaction to her Lancaster House speech by some leading EU figures. Guy Verhofstadt is not treated seriously by No.10 but officals were struck by Jean-Claude Juncker’s measured approach. And as Italian finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan put it yesterday in Davos: ”The problem with Europe, is Europe”, a reference to the EU’s institutional remoteness and apparent inflexibility.
As I pointed out on Wednesday night, one acid test for May is not the fluctuations of the pound but the number of jobs that shift away (and to) the UK during the rocky road of the Brexit process. The new Leave/Remain question is how corporations will vote with their feet.
Downing Street was pretty sanguine yesterday at HSBC and UBS talking about moving 1,000 jobs each out of London, telling us the plans were just contingencies not realities. Both No.10 and Jeremy Corbyn’s team seem to think bankers are as out of touch as Brussels these days, but JP Morgan’s criticism of May’s ‘very dangerous’ Brexit bluff struck a chord with many. Barclays’ chief exec has however told the BBC that London will remain a big part of its business.
And the FT reports that Toyota too is looking at its options. “We are now going to consider how our company can survive [in the UK],” its chairman says. Is that itself a corporate bluff to nudge May on a customs deal? Have they been given the same message as Nissan, but are not buying it? Business Secretary Greg Clark’s new ‘modern industrial strategy’ will be launched next week, and will face fresh questions about tariffs, guarantees and sectoral interests.
Today’s Times/YouGov poll shows the voters, not just the Government, are both pro-cake and pro-eating it. Some 47% have confidence in May’s negotiating skills but 56% think the EU won’t agree to her demands. Lord Kerr, who helped draft Article 50, said yesterday that it was “not about trade, it is about divorce”, with the UK facing a bill of about £60bn in contributions such as EU workers' pensions. We may have to pay for the cake too.
2) ESCAPE TO VICTORY
The MoD revealed yesterday that the British Army has sent a tank and various armoured vehicles through the Channel tunnel for the first time as part of an exercise to practise for a deployment to Europe. No wonder Boris Johnson was in fighting mood yesterday.
Bojo’s warning shot to Francois Hollande not to dish out ‘punishment beatings’ in the manner of a WW2 guard certainly reminded us of his gift of the gaffe. Sources confided that Boris had Steve McQueen’s Great Escape in mind, but as any kid knows, his character was put in the ‘cooler’ rather than beaten up.
No10 told us Boris was categorically not calling Hollande a ‘Nazi’. Given that the PM herself had been the one to raise the idea of ‘punitive’ reactions by the EU, it could hardly have kicked the Foreign Secretary. The PM’s spokeswoman said: “He was making a theatrical comparison to some of those evocative World War Two movies that people have seen.” But there was a surreal moment when one source said this was because some of the guards in the Great Escape were from the Germany army, rather than the SS. Textual analysis of old war films: proof that 2017 could be just as crazy as 2016.
To add to the craziness, Michael Gove popped up on Twitter to defend Bojo from the fake outrage of ‘snowflake’ critics. As Labour’s Wes Streeting pointed out, that may not be enough to get him back on Boris’s Christmas card list, but it shows the Vote Leavers have their tails up. The irrepressible Liam Fox tells the Telegraph of his plans for new trade deals with 12 countries.
And David Davis is at least in profit personally. He confided to LBC radio that on EU referendum day he’d defied the pollsters and put a bet on Leave. “I put some money on, and it's still paying my office's drinks bills. I made a grand.”
3) STOKE-ING UP TROUBLE
After one of Jeremy Corbyn’s less successful PMQs yesterday, it certainly looked like his party wanted to get Brexit over and done with as quickly as possible. The Telegraph’s sketchwriter Michael Deacon puts it beautifully: Labour MPs gazed helplessly up at the Commons clock, “willing it to turn to 2019”.
The Times/YouGov poll underlines just how much of a mountain Labour faces in the polls, with the Tories back on a 17-point lead (they are up three to 42%, Labour down three to 25%). And with UKIP leader Paul Nuttall looking set to take the gamble of standing in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, Labour’s Brexit nightmare looms at the ballot box. To misquote T Blair’s favourite song, things can only get worse (though MPs hope the NHS and Nuttall’s backing for privatisation will be the big issue).
In his final Commons speech, Tristram Hunt pointed to “the division of opinion between the official Labour party position and many of our heartland voters”. Chris Grayling used a ConHome article to claim that Corbyn could actually “limp to power” at the next election, fuelled by Momentum activists, new membership cash and a coalition with Lib Dem and SNP MPs. Several Labour MPs saw that as pure trolling.
Speaking of Momentum, Ken Livingstone’s ex-aide Lee Jasper (who stood against Labour in the Croydon North byelection) is standing in its latest elections. And tonight the grassroots movement is hoping for victory in the Copeland by-election selection. Rachel Holliday, who joined the party to vote for Corbyn, is up against a former NHS doctor and local councillor, Gill Troughton. It looks like a race between the ‘new’ Labour party and the ‘old’ one.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch the best bits of Barack Obama’s final press conference. ‘No-drama Obama’ says America will be ‘OK’.
4) FOOD FOR THOUGHT
No one can say that Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner hasn’t experienced ‘real life’. In an interview with HuffPost today, she speaks candidly about her life as a teenage mother, growing up on a council estate.
Seen by Jeremy Corbyn as one of his rising stars, she points out that Labour has to end its factionalism and unite to take on the Conservatives. And she also has praise for Tony Blair for having the vision to create the SureStart children’s centres which turned her life around.
”Ideology never put food on my table. I talk about Tony Blair’s tenure, because it changed my life, it gave my children a life that I could never have dreamt of having and I want us to get back to that. There was a council house waiting for me when I had Ryan, there was a welfare state. I never put into the system before I took out, I was on income support before I’d even paid a penny of tax.
“Thank you to the taxpayers of the UK because instead of taking my child off me like they used to in the ‘50s and ‘60s to single parents at that age, you let me be a mum to my son and my son is at college, he’s working, he’s a great young person, you’d be proud of him, I’m proud of him and I pay taxes now, and you continue to pay taxes now because of what you did for me. It was a tremendous thing and that’s what Labour stands for, that’s what you do when you’re in power.”
See the full interview with Owen Bennett HERE.
5) DUMPING DAVE
Brexit has dominated this month, and will pop up again next Tuesday when the Supreme Court finally gives its verdict on Article 50 and Parliament’s rights. With the ‘modern industrial strategy’ coming next week too, one consequence for the No10 ‘grid’ is that the long-awaited White Paper on Housing has been put back to the end of this month.
Housing, or the lack of it, is still very much a big deal for those strivers to whom May pitches her message (she even mentioned it in her Big Brexit Speech). But today thanks to the National Audit Office, and a sharp-eyed Labour housing team, we find that one of the Government’s flagship targets has been dumped.
Yes, David Cameron’s pledge to build “a million homes during this Parliament”, made as recently as last February, has been quietly shelved. The NAO found that the Department for Communities and Local Goverment’s time frame has been shifted from May 2020 to the end of 2020. “The Department does not set out that its timescale for adding one million homes is to be achieved over five years and nine months,” it says. Which is as close to a burn as the impartial NAO can get.
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