1. THERE’S A SHAPPS FOR THAT
So, the word is finally out. Yes, the ringleader of the plot against Theresa May is former Tory chairman Grant Shapps. As I reported yesterday, No.10 was told a while back about the rebels’ intentions, but both sides kept it under wraps to avoid destabilising the PM ahead of conference. Yet given the fevered atmosphere yesterday, it was inevitable his name would leak (and the Times splashed it today). “I’m slightly surprised that the whips briefed the newspapers about it,” Shapps complained on the Today programme, but that’s all academic now. It was time for May to “take responsibility” for the botched snap election, he said.
It was a sign of just how seriously No.10 took this plot that they marshalled a strong rearguard action yesterday, with Cabinet ministers, senior backbenchers and longtime friends of May going on the airwaves to pledge loyal support. Yet despite that, I was told that a backbencher last night sent Chief Whip Gavin Williamson a text message that the PM “needs to go and go now”.
What’s striking is that despite an uptick in their numbers since That Speech, the rebels were yesterday digging in for “months” of persuading their colleagues to join them in going over the top. That timetable is seen by May loyalists as an obvious admission of the sheer lack of support. Still, I’m told that the rebels have taken soundings from MPs who had successfully overthrown Iain Duncan Smith in 2003, who counselled that this was no quick business. I recall Crispin Blunt quitting IDS’s frontbench in May that year, and although he was ridiculed at the time, six months later the Tory leader was gone (after another disastrous conference speech).
In his morning media round, Shapps conceded that the figure of 30 MPs demanding May’s resignation was “probably right”. He said the next few months offered a plausible window for her to go, as the German government was still forming a coalition and Brexit talks were in a ‘stable’ place. The rebels insist the conference speech merely confirms the bigger picture that May’s loss a majority is the real reason she should quit. Staying in the bunker “never worked out for Brown or Major and I don’t think it will for her,” Shapps added.
Shapps also revealed to Today that he had not yet sent a formal letter to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady demanding a vote of confidence and he and five other former Cabinet ministers wanted to meet May privately in person to tell her to go. He told Sky News “one or two Cabinet members privately agree”. The Guardian has a nice quote from one rebel, getting all Shakespearean. “Opinion in the party is moving from, ‘Oh god we better hang on til after Brexit,’ to ‘If it were done when tis done, then twere well it were done quickly’.”
But the backlash has been swift. I was texted by a loyal minister this morning: “This list contains 5 former Cabinet ministers still smarting at being sacked. Diddums. They shd pull their zips back up and stop making fools of themselves.” (As a result, I was going to headline this item ‘Dicks Dastardly’ but obviously refrained). One backbencher told me “dispossessed Cameroons” were at the heart of the plot, while one minister blamed George Osborne. 1922 vice chairman Charles Walker said No10 “must be delighted to learn” it was Shapps leading the revolt. Others mentioned Shapps’ pseudonym, Michael Green, and muttered about his “chequered” record as a minister and party chairman.
Michael Gove had done his best Comical Ali impression on Wednesday, declaring “I witnessed a great speech from a Prime Minister at the top of her game” (I’m not making this up). This morning, despite his own backstabbing prowess, Gove was the Cabinet front man defending her once more. He told Today that leadership speculation was “one of the most boring stories in politics”. Someone tell him that the falls of Thatcher and IDS were not fake news, let alone dull news.
I’m told that the mantra among some rebels is they want ‘ABH’ – “Anyone But Her”. The undertone of political violence may not do them any favours, but this is a brutal old game folks. So, what next? Well, the PM took a rare day off yesterday, spending it at home in her Maidenhead constituency with husband Philip, and without any aides at all. She is expected to return to “light constituency duties” today and won’t be back in Downing Street until Monday. Will she give a TV clip today shrugging off the plot?
Some of the rebels are speculating that Mr May could persuade his wife to quit in the next few days. “I think Philip might in these circumstances say ‘darling, let’s not do this anymore’. But on balance that’s unlikely - and she will need a further shove,” one told me last night. Let’s see.
2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD
The Financial Times reports Chancellor Philip Hammond is facing a “bloodbath” in the public finances in next month’s Budget, because official growth forecasts have been too optimistic. The Office for Budget Responsibility is said to have overestimated productivity for the past seven years - meaning much of the £26bn set aside to help the economy through Brexit could be “wiped out”.
To many this will be evidence of yet another forecasting blunder (the OBR was in Gove’s sights when he attacked ‘experts’ in the EU referendum), but the more immediate problem is a real political headache for Hammond. As well as a bit of leeway for Budget goodies to ease the squeeze, he was hoping to have a ‘Brexit cushion’ in case things turned for the worse in coming years. Will we now get those tax rises Hammond hinted at this week?
On the Brexit front, there’s some worrying news for the Treasury about relocation plans by City bankers. Bloomberg revealed yesterday that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is leasing a new building in Frankfurt for 1,000 staff. It will “provide us with the space to execute on our Brexit contingency plan as needed,” a leaked Goldman Sachs email states.
3. NEVER MIND THE PILLOCKS
“Come on without/Come on within/You’ve not seen nothing like the Mighty Quinn”. The 1960s Manfred Mann tune seems apt this morning after the Times revealed that the guy who dealt with the prankster in May’s conference speech was party researcher Daragh Quinn.
While the Cabinet looked on amazed at the lack of police or security staff response, it was Quinn (a Parliamentary aide to MP Sarah Wollaston) who stepped forward to drag Simon Brodkin away. “I grabbed him and pulled him out.”
But the anger over the incident is still raw and party chairman Patrick McLoughlin is facing mounting calls to take responsibility for the security breach. Backbencher and former Army captain Johnny Mercer says: “If I had anything to do with the security operation I’d be blowing a gasket.” Damian Green told Question Time last night that Brodkin was “an unfunny pillock”. Ah, there’s nothing more quintessentially British than the word pillock.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this driver act after he found his driveway blocked by a parked car. Is it a metaphor for the rebels who want to get rid of May?
4. ALL BLUES
One of the PM’s most important announcements in her overshadowed speech was the commissioning of an independent review into the Mental Health Act, to tackle racial discrimination many feel exists in the system against black Britons. Today, the man she’s asked to lead that review, Sir Simon Wessely, has blogged for HuffPost UK on the task ahead.
Mental health is often seen as an issue affecting mainly young people. But a new Age UK/YouGov poll has found that there is a ‘grey blues’ problem too, as over half of those aged over 55 have suffered depression. GPs have been given guidance on spotting the problem and Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia at NHS England, said: “Older people mustn’t miss out on help because of a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to dealing with problems, or because they aren’t offered or don’t know where to go for help.”
Right on cue, the Daily Mail has splashed on Justice Minister (and GP) Philip Lee telling a conference fringe meeting that many Brits “outsource” care of their parents, while he rarely meets a Muslim, Hindu or Jew in a nursing home. Lee angrily tweeted that the story was ‘completely fabricated’ and a misrepresentation of his views.
5. IVORY POWERS
As well as a defender of May’s leadership, Michael Gove also happens to be the Environment Secretary. And after his plan to recycle plastic bottles, he’s now burnishing his green credentials once more with new moves to ban the sale and export of almost all ivory items in the UK. Previous attempts at a ban would have excluded antique ivory produced before 1947. The government says there will be some exemptions, for musical instruments and items of cultural importance.
A bit like foxhunting, this is an issue that unites both young and older voters appalled by the needless killing of elephants. As Politico’s Jack Blanchard points out, the Tories were hammered in the election by a Facebook campaign for failing to repeat a pledge to ban the ivory trade in their manifesto, with the Independent leading the way on the story.
The ivory ban is something William Hague has been pushing since he left office, and Prince William is understood to be very keen for politicians to show more of a lead. The original Royal Greenie, Prince Charles, yesterday warned that the avalanche of plastic in our oceans was making fish-eating a hazard. “We are very close to reaching the point when whatever wild-caught fish you eat will contain plastic.”