1. YAH, WOBBLE
Less than a week to go now, folks. The general election caravan moves to York tonight for the BBC Question Time special featuring Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and David Dimbleby. It’s a Friday night and could get high ratings. Crucially, it has the potential (I put it no higher) to shift some floating and undecided voters, who tend to make up their minds in the last seven days. May is up first, so Jezza has been robbed of the comedy value of staging a ‘sit-in’ to challenge her to debate him face-to-face.
After the criticism that Wednesday’s Cambridge audience was ridiculously left-wing, the BBC has put out this telling statement: “The Question Time team is very experienced at bringing audiences together and we are confident it will be fair and balanced.”
Corbyn has the Big Mo, the momentum from narrowing polls and a narrative that the PM is a chicken-scared, flip-flopping, malfunctioning Maybot.
But May thinks that Brexit is still her strongest card with those key Labour Leave voters who just want last year’s historic vote turned into reality. Add those to the ex-UKIP vote and you get an increased Commons majority ranging from 60 to 100 (according to four, non-YouGov, polls yesterday). To hammer home doubts about patriotism, Boris Johnson told Emily Thornberry in the Sun Live debate last night: “you slag off chaps in white vans and you run up the white flag”. Labour’s Barry Gardiner told Question Time the UK “absolutely” would be poorer after Brexit, which will hardly reassure core voters the London elite has listened.
Yet even on the big Brexit issue of migrant numbers, the Tories are managing to send out another confused and chaotic message. The normally reliable junior minister Brandon Lewis told BBC Daily Politics the Tories wanted to hit their target of fewer than 100,000 migrants a year “over the course of the next parliament.” Theresa May said later that Lewis was right because “That’s what we’re working for.”
Then on Question Time last night, David Davis said: “That wasn’t actually in the manifesto, it was ‘we will bring it down’, we didn’t say, we didn’t put a date … [It’s] the aim, yes, but we can’t promise within five years, that’s the point.” The Tories even uncorked the Gauke, with Treasury Chief Secretary David Gauke telling Newsnight: “We want to achieve it as soon as we practically can”.
Now amid all the chaos of the social care U-turn, it was easy to miss the Tories’ watering down of their net migration target in the manifesto. DD is right, no time frame is put on it and it is a mere ‘aim’. But looking weak and wobbly on this central issue of concern to target voters is further proof that this Tory campaign is not a Rolls Royce machine. Andrew Neil, on BBC’s This Week, last night asked Michael Gove: ”Has there been a worse Tory campaign in living memory?” Gove replied: ”Yes, my one for the leadership”.
Francis Elliott in the Times has some fascinating Whitehall chatter about a reshuffle, with Davis lined up for the Foreign Office and Ben Gummer (despite claims that he was to blame for the manifesto chaos) lined up for Brexit Secretary. Boris is said to be relaxed about leaving the FCO, but where could May put him? Would DD really see getting Boris’s job as a promotion? And would Tory MPs accept a Remainer like Gummer in what they see as the most important job in Government? (let alone all the hard yards DD has put in prepping for his Barnier talks).
2. SURGE GAINS BORROW
“I don’t believe any of these polls,” John McDonnell said on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today. Then, when asked to give an estimate out of 10 of Labour’s chances in the election, he replied: “I’m 10 on 10, we are going to win”.
YouGov (them again) gave the Evening Standard a first edition (it was changed later) splash that the Corbyn surge has really taken off in London. Labour were on 50% to the Tories’ 33%. For the first time, the capital’s voters rated Corbyn (37%) over May (34%) as the best candidate for Prime Minister.
As I said above, most other pollsters have not narrowed the Tory lead as dramatically as YouGov. The YouGov surge seems to stem from the way its model borrows the idea from Corbyn-backers Momentum (JC’s own Big Mo) that the youth vote really will turn out this time.
There are some serious caveats here, as data analyst Ian Warren has been pointing out. Of the 75 seats where the number of 18-24s is larger than the number of over-65s, 57 are already Labour, many with massive majorities. Even if they materialise, all those extra youth votes could be piling up in place where they fail to shift the dial.
But the other intriguing factor is that, as UEA’s Chris Hanretty has pointed out, the YouGov surge could stem from people of all ages who didn’t vote in 2015. TNS BMRB pollsters estimate that up to 15% of 2017 voters will have stayed at home two years ago, a group that is ‘undersampled and naturally volatile’. Will they be so inspired by Labour’s message that they will actually bother to walk five minutes down the road to a school hall and put an X in a box? Well, lots of people who hadn’t voted for years did turn out for the Brexit vote. The problem for Corbyn is that many of them happened to vote Leave.
3. HE’S THE PITTS (BURGH)
The New York Daily News has kinda nailed it, with its splash headline this morning: “Trump To World: Drop Dead”. Yes, Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord could be a decision that makes our own election look like very small fry indeed.
A defiant President declared: ”I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. The Mayor of Pittsburgh said he and others at local and state level were not abandoning the environmental deal. Big US firms like IBM, General Electric, Google, Apple have all condemned the move and Tesla’s Elon Musk has pulled out of a White House advisory panel.
The leaders of France, Germany and Italy quickly issued a joint statement rejecting a renegotiation of the agreement. Emmanuel Macron made a three-minute address to the American people, a strange echo of those messages by previous American presidents speaking to captive nations behind the Iron Curtain (see below).
Today, the EU will issue a new accord with China on climate change. That’s the real danger for America: losing not just its technological leadership but its moral leadership role on the global stage (especially when it has three times as many jobs is renewable energy than coal).
The Trump White House says that the negative reaction of some EU states is a “secondary benefit” of withdrawal from the deal. Theresa May’s own response was much more muted than Macron’s, telling the President she was ‘disappointed’. No.10 even gave a glimmer of hope that this was not the end of the matter, revealing Trump said “The President made clear that the door remains open to future US involvement in the Agreement.” May was accused of failing to show the ‘leadership’ she boasts of, but she is sticking firmly to her belief that engaging with Trump is the only way forward.
What really caught my eye was that Trump’s climate change scepticism appears to stem from his outrage at no longer being allowed to use aerosol hairspray for his barnet. I am not making this up, people. Here’s our 11 Batshit Crazy Things Trump Said In His Paris Announcement.
4. MINORITY REPORT
A key part of the Sir Lynton Crosby playbook is to scare English voters that the dreaded SNP could hold the balance of power at Wesminster. Ed Miliband’s big mistake in 2015 was his failure to rule out categorically and quickly enough any suggestion he would enter a coalition with the Scot Nats. Right at the beginning of this election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn decided not to repeat that error and did indeed firmly rule out deals or coalitions.
But the ‘coalition of chaos’ narrative has picked up again, partly because of the YouGov hung Parliament scenario but also because Corbyn has been less than clear about his intentions (he told Robert Peston ‘wait for June 9’). Yesterday on the stump in Essex he got back to the script, only for Emily Thornberry to engage in the hypothetical that Labour has studiously avoided until now: what will you do if you end up as the biggest party?
“If we end up in a position where we are in a minority, then we will go ahead and put forward a Queen’s speech and a Budget and, if people want to vote for it, then good, but if people don’t want to vote for it, then they are going to have to go back and speak to their constituents and explain to them why we have a Tory government instead. Those are the conversations we have had. No deals.” She then turned to Corbyn and added: “That’s the conversations we’ve had, isn’t it? That’s it. No deals.”
One presumes she meant ‘conversations’ within the Shadow Cabinet rather than ‘conversations’ with the SNP (that really would be a gift to the Tories). And in many ways Thornberry is just being candid about daring the SNP to vote down a minority Labour government. But usual convention is to say ‘we expect to win a majority’ and leave all the speculation to others.
5. SPEAK YOUR WAIT MACHINE
Perhaps stung by the ‘Maybot’/‘glumbucket’ charge of late, there was a marked attempt by the PM yesterday to offer a more optimistic vision of Britain ‘Beyond Brexit’ (she’s clearly been looking at the new section we launched at the beginning of this election campaign).
And a key part of that was her lavish praise for the NHS: “The NHS is the essence of solidarity in our UK: the institution that binds us all together; a symbol of our commitment to each other; between young and old, those who have and have not, the healthy and the sick”.
But the harsh reality is that the NHS is in real trouble and today a new report by the Royal College of Surgeons says the number of patients waiting six months or more for surgery has tripled over the past four years in England. In March, nearly 130,000 people had been waiting for operations after being referred by a consultant, compared with 45,000 in March 2013.
And it’s not just hospitals, it’s schools that are really feeling the effect of cuts. One cash-strapped primary school in London has asked pupils to vacuum classrooms at the end of the day because they can’t afford to replace a cleaner. We have a special story on education funding later today.
Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. Click HERE to listen to us chinwag about the past week on the campaign trail, TV ‘debates’, polls and more. The usual ace quiz is on politicians’ Desert Island Discs.
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