The five things you need to know on Friday, January 27…
1) AMERICAN IDOLS
Theresa May’s speech to a Republican convention in Philadelphia yesterday dominates this morning’s news, with headlines which must be very confusing for supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. The Prime Minister yesterday vowed to end the “failed policies of the past” as she talked about foreign affairs – a line interpreted as “no more Iraqs” by many newspaper front pages. It is the kind of message which Corbynites have been hoping a UK Prime Minister would send to the US for years.
There was of course plenty in the speech designed to appeal purely to the right of not just the Conservatives but her Republican audience as well. May name checked Margaret Thatcher twice and Ronald Reagan five times as she endeavored to speak in a language which Trump could understand. She urged Trump to follow the lead of The Gipper when it comes to dealing with Russia, who “used to abide by the adage ‘trust but verify’. With President Putin, my advice is to ‘engage but beware’.”
It wasn’t just Russia which May flagged up as an international power that Trump needed to show strength to. In a marked shift from the era of David Cameron and George Osborne, the PM defined China as a country “with little tradition of democracy, liberty and human rights.” While describing the rise of Asian economies as “hugely welcome”, she warned there was a danger that the US and UK could give up their leadership role.
Strangely, despite the implication of “no more Iraqs”, this was an extremely hawkish speech from the PM. It is clear she feels that one way to get Trump’s attention – which is half the battle with the erratic businessman – is by seeming to agree with some of his analysis of world affairs and then gently nudge him along – hence the warnings over Russian influence in Europe. May may have told reporters yesterday that “Opposites Attract”, but this speech was more “Forever Your Girl” (I’d like to thank Wikipedia for helping me with that joke based on Paula Abdul songs).
2) I SAY THERESA, YOU SAY TERESA
With the speech delivered, Theresa May will get a sit down with Trump himself in the White House today. The pair are expected to discuss a future trade deal between the UK and US once Brexit is done and dusted. Let’s hope Trump is better prepared for the meeting than whoever put together the White House Daily Guidance for journalists, as Trump is scheduled for two meetings with a ‘Teresa May’ – whoever that is. What will no doubt be the highlight of the day is a joint press conference scheduled for 6pm UK time. UK hacks on the trip – including our very own Paul Waugh – could have great fun by asking questions about the PM’s view of torture, abortion rights, immigration, misogyny, nepotism, and giant walls along borders with neighbouring countries. Whatever happens, it is certain to be box office material. (I’m sure you already are, but make sure you follow @paulwaugh for updates from the trip.)
3) LA LA-BOUR LAND
There is a view that Donald Trump is rewriting the rules of leadership as President of the United States, and in his own way, so is Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday it was confirmed the Labour leader would be installing a three-line whip in support of the Bill which gives the PM the power to trigger Article 50. This measure infuriated many MPs, particularly those who represent Remain-backing constituencies. There were rumours of mass resignations from the frontbench over the issue, but in the end it was just Shadow Early Years Minister Tulip Siddiq who quit. “I have always been clear – I do not represent Westminster in Hampstead and Kilburn, I represent Hampstead and Kilburn in Westminster,” she said in her resignation letter. Shadow Transport Minister Daniel Zeichner has also vowed to vote against the Bill – but has not resigned – and, strangely, one of the whips is going to…err…defy the whip. On the Today programme this morning, Diane Abbott was asked if Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith would have to quit as a junior Whip, but the Shadow Foreign Secretary said that was a decision for chief whip Nick Brown. Abbott defended forcing MPs to back the Article 50 Bill, but acknowledged there is “a lot of sympathy for people with heavily remain constituencies.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Kelly Anne Conway - her of "alternative facts" fame - try her hand as a stand-up comedian in the late 1990s. It's less alternative comedy, more an alternative to comedy.
4) WELL, THAT BACKFIRED...
Motherhood, apple pie, and making people pay their taxes. These are the staples of any political campaign. But today a report from the Public Accounts Committee makes it clear the Government is failing on at least one of those things. A specialist unit established by the taxman in 2009 to collect money from those worth more than £20million seems to be doing more harm than good. “The tax take for this group of people has fallen by £1 billion since HMRC set up its dedicated unit. At the same time, income tax paid by everyone else has risen by £23 billion,” says PAC chair Meg Hillier. One of the areas which needs to be investigated is the money generated by sports and entertainment stars through image rights, the committee suggests. The investigations into motherhood and apple pie are ongoing.
5) MIND THE GAP
The Daily Telegraph has got a nice little scoop today about how, despite the Brexit vote, the government is actively trying to encourage more migration from Europe. The paper is reporting that the Government is spending £300,000 on trying to recruit teachers from the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland in order to plug a skills gap before September. Maths and Physics teachers are in particular demand, but, according to the bid specification document seen by the paper, “there may be flexibility to increase the scope to cover other subjects that are challenging to recruit to.” John Howson, chair of the teacher recruitment site TeachVac and a visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University told the Telegraph: “In terms of the wider political debate it is a very odd approach to be trawling round a bunch of countries which we are trying to cut off association with.” One of the refrains I frequently heard at Ukip rallies over the years was that the Labour Government in early 2000s sent out “search parties” across Europe looking for migrants to come to the UK. In truth, it was no different to this scheme, where migrants were being sought out to plug the skills and labour gaps in the economy – gaps which won’t magically disappear when the UK finally clears its desk in Brussels in two years.
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