1. UNCONDITIONAL SHOVE
What a difference a few months and a botched election makes. In January, a super-confident Theresa May was warning darkly that Brussels had better give us a good Brexit deal or face the loss of UK cooperation on security and intelligence. Many saw it as an empty threat and today the PM confirms her retreat in a speech to Russia-facing British troops in Estonia, declaring our “unconditional” support for European defence, post-Brexit.
This morning, May also meets a newly-elected Angela Merkel in the margins of the informal EU summit in Tallinn, to press for Brexit trade talks to start soon. Merkel is unlikely to want to undermine the unity of the EU27. But will she be as hardline as Michel Barnier was yesterday? The EU’s Brexit negotiatior rebuffed David Davis to say it could take “months” to unlock the talks, warning there could be “no possible link” between the divorce bill and future trade links. An unconditional shove, indeed.
Government sources have told me they think Barnier’s stance is coloured by his own bid to be the next European Commission President. They may relish my HuffPost France colleagues’ verdict that Barnier is one of the least successful politicians in recent French history (he ‘lost’ their own EU referendum don’t forget) before sloping off to Brussels.
Meanwhile, a new Times/YouGov poll shows Boris’s recent eruption has paid off, as he’s again favourite among voters to succeed May as Tory leader. In a new no-sugar-Sherlock moment, May admits to The House magazine that the Tory party was not prepared for her snap election. Labour’s Ian Lavery, who is in charge of its own election plans, last night killed the revived talk in Brighton this week of a new EU referendum. “We will be leaving the EU. No problem,” he told Question Time. “No second referendum. No second referendum.” So good, he named it twice.
And as the PM meets the German Chancellor this morning, the words of another Question Time guest may set the tone for many. Former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika stared down an AfD [the German far right party] sympathiser in the audience: “In a world full of demented men like Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin - these crazy man-babies - I’m very glad that Angela Merkel is there. In terms of global leadership, she is a moral authority in a very scary world right now.”
2. SURGICAL STRIKE
Brexit poses “substantial threats” to NHS staff levels, funding and drug treatment, according to a new study in the respected health journal The Lancet. The research paper warns that “almost every part” of the health service, from organ transplants to curbs on tobacco, would be hit hard when the UK quits the EU.
Academics from Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used a WHO model to calculate the impact of “hard Brexit”, “soft Brexit”, and “failed Brexit” and found that each would be “profound”. Labour has pounced, with Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth telling us the study underlined the UK’s ‘chaotic’ approach to Brexit.
What’s most eye-catching of course is that this study is in the Lancet. The journal tells me the research was peer-reviewed but stressed it was a policy paper not a scientific study like its other more technical publications. It was also transparent about the fact one of the authors was a big Remainer in the ‘Healhier In’ group, and another an ex European Commission official. Tory Eurosceps are sure to claim this study is just a reheat of tenuous evidence and forecasts used in the referendum campaign.
To add to Jeremy Hunt’s misery in-tray today, the health think tank the King’s Fund reports that the number of NHS beds has fallen by half in 30 years, and plans for further cutbacks are “unrealistic” and should be stopped. Some bed cuts are due to a desire to treat more elderly in their own homes, but the King’s Fund says it’s become an “undesirable” cost-cutting move, when mounting pressures have left many hospitals “stretched to breaking point”.
3. LOAD OF BANKERS
Jeremy Corbyn correctly identified this week that since the 2008 crash, the ‘crisis of capitalism’ is no longer the preserve of Socialist Worker and Morning Star editorials. Every day seems to bring more stories of broken markets, and today’s FT has a timely piece on how the public mood has swung against Tory privatisations of natural monopolies. Tim Harford points out that “state-owned enterprises could be well-run when the political will existed”.
Theresa May’s attempt to defend capitalism yesterday was seen as too lame by those in her own party who were dismayed by her previous populist forays against business. And let’s not forget last year’s party conference speech, where May, high on the advice of her advisors, appeared to attack the Bank of England’s QE programme of cheap money. Within days, No.10 had to retreat under pressure from governor Mark Carney and insist the Bank was independent.
Yet even Ed Balls, the brains behind an independent bank in 1997, today renewed on the BBC his call for it to be made more accountable to politicians in the light of the past 10 years. He says the Chancellor should chair an oversight committee of the Bank. And last night Gordon Brown called for a greater role for the Treasury. In a rare return into the limelight, he also revealed publicly for the first time his irritation with then governor Mervyn King during the 07/08 crash. “The Bank was trying to tell the government what to do about fiscal policy,” Brown said, adding he didn’t go public for fear of undermining the Bank.
Carney was on the Today prog this morning saying “we have a responsibility to identify risks to the economy”, and “highlight where there are emerging vulnerabilities”. He added we should “take seriously” what Balls and Brown were saying. As the FT reports, Carney yesterday lectured the PM that Brexit would lead to cuts in growth and there was little that he and the Bank could do about it. But alarm bells rang when he told Today that ‘in the relatively near term interest rates would increase somewhat’. Buckle up, folks, autumn’s coming.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this truly inspiring speech by the US Air Force’s Lt General Jay Silveria, reacting to racists who posted messages on his cadets’ Facebook pages: “Get out”. Boy did he sound Presidential.
4. REBEL YELLS
For the first time in 20 years, Tory MPs head to their annual conference in the knowledge that just a few weeks later the Chancellor will deliver a Budget (Philip Hammond has reversed Gordon Brown’s switch from Autumn to Spring Budgets). And boy does it show today, with two sets of rebel backbenchers using the Manchester gathering as a pressure point to lobby Hammond on their pet topics.
Former minister John Penrose is leading 76 Tories to demand that Theresa May keep her election manifesto promise to cap energy prices for 17 million people. The PM has since passed the buck to regulator Ofgem, which watered the pledge down. This is a rebellion that has brewed all summer but with Penrose and co joining forces with Labour and the SNP, an amendment to the Budget could be tabled.
With a wafer-thin working majority, Tory whips are braced for such squalls and the Telegraph splashes its front page on another one. Serial rebel Heidi Allen is one of 12 Tories who have written to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke demanding a pause in the roll-out of the controversial Universal Credit benefit. The Gauke will be uncorked at our WaughZone Live at the party conference on Sunday lunchtime. He’ll certainly have a progress report to hand.
5. FOLLOWING FARAGE
Pity the poor journalists who have gone straight from Labour conference in Brighton, barely taking a breath to attend the UKIP conference in Torquay today, before embarking on a lengthy cross-country journey to the Tories in Manchester this weekend. The road trip from hell is paved with good hacks (including our Owen Bennett) ready to witness yet another chapter in the chequered history of Nigel Farage’s party.
And there’s serious business at the Kipper conference today as after teatime we will find out who has won their latest leadership election. Having achieved its main strategic aim of getting us out of the EU, UKIP seems bereft of votes, cash and political direction.
The main rivals for the top spot are ‘moderate’ (hey, it’s a relative term) Peter Whittle who wants to focus on Brexit delivery, and the altogether scarier Anne Marie Waters, who wants to focus on anti-Muslim sentiment. Thanks to a first past the post leadership voting system (despite the party opposing it for Westminster), Waters is favourite of the seven contenders. And guess what? She is a former Labour candidate. Farage is threatening to form a new party if she wins, the FT reports.
We have a fun-packed CommonsPeople podcast this week. Hear us chinwag about Corbyn’s big speech and the real takeaways from Labour’s week in Brighton. Gwynne v Boris, Skinner v Bennett, Jezza’s very slick hip-hop video intro, Momentum’s first-come-first-served triumphs and more. Listen on Android HERE and on iTunes HERE.