1. REALITY BITES
Way back in 2010, David Cameron made the Liberal Democrats “a big, open and comprehensive offer” to join him in Government. Tomorrow, Theresa May will make what looks to Labour like a small, closed and limited offer to prop herself up in power.
May’s relaunch speech has been well trailed overnight and includes a line that she will accept “the new reality” of her loss of a Parliamentary majority. But given her lifelong instinct of trusting only a tight-knit team around her, can May reach out to her own party, let alone Labour and others? May rightly wants to build consensus on areas like social care, but just ask Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham how open to cross-party working she has been in the past. On the Today programme, even the impeccably moderate Damian Green underlined the difficulties of any cross-party working, ridiculing Angela Rayner over the cost of wiping out all student debt. No wonder Labour’s Andrew Gwynne dismissed May’s olive branch, saying “they’re having to beg for policy proposals from Labour”.
If the UK were Germany, we might have seen some sort of ‘grand coalition’ in the wake of the snap election, driven by a sense of national mission to deliver a consensual Brexit (I remember Gisela Stuart floating the Tory-Labour coalition idea if the 2015 election had seen a hung Parliament). But we are not Germany and it takes world wars, rather than impending trade wars, to make our opposing parties work together on that level.
Of course, Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far has been built on vigorously opposing the Tories, not working with them. And everyone in Parliament remembers just how badly burned the Lib Dems were by the Tories in coalition, never given credit for the good stuff, blamed for the bad stuff. May will say tomorrow that through cross-party working, “ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found”. But in fact she’s admitting the reality that just 7 Tory MPs is all it takes to defeat the Government. And critics will say the only true way to get her to make concessions is to threaten rebellion after rebellion.
One person who could more credibly make a genuinely big, bold offer to Labour is David Davis, precisely because he would be trusted by his own side not to sell out on the big principles, while being pragmatic enough on how to deliver them. I’ve said before that DD is the Martin McGuinness of the Brexit movement, capable of compromise without abandoning his supporters’ main strategic goal. And despite missteps from key allies like Andrew Mitchell, he looks increasingly like the favourite in any Tory leadership race. Green this morning reiterated David Lidington’s line about “the warm Prosecco problem” of Tory MPs gossiping about the leadership. But Mitchell’s parties feature only the finest Champagne, and DD himself likes a pint of bitter. That’s the kind of cross-class, party consensus that May will need to worry about most.
2. REPEAL DEAL
It’s yet another light day of Commons business, with the exciting Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill getting its Second Reading. What is definitely not getting its second reading this week is the (not-so-Great) Repeal Bill. This crucial piece of legislation will instead merely get its first reading, which means it will be published without a full vote by the Commons.
Brexit Secretary David Davis told Cabinet last week the Repeal Bill would be presented this week, but it was striking that it did not feature in Andrea Leadsom’s business statement (which lists things like Second Readings). I’m told that the Repeal Bill’s second reading is currently unlikely even to start in the September sitting and looks set to be held back until after party conference season. Why? Because some whips fear Tory soft Brexiteers (and even hardline Eurosceps) could try to tag major amendments onto the bill. That’s an odd fear, given it’s almost unprecedented for a second reading to be amended (though the Lords saw just such an attempt in the last session). But it speaks of the nervousness that MPs will treat this as a ‘Christmas tree’ bill, on which they can hang lots of issues. Chuka Umunna (who launches a new all-party anti-Hard Brexit group with Anna Soubry today) tells me delaying the second reading is ‘extraordinary’, yet it underlines the new power of Parliament.
It’s true that some Tory rebels could ally with Labour to insist on a four-year transition period, and other key moves such as limiting Henry VIII clauses and allowing the European Court of Justice an initial remit in certain areas. Damian Green had a hint of the ECJ keeping a remit in a transition period on the Today prog.
Business is stepping up its demands. And the CBI’s President Paul Dreschler poured cold water on May’s warm words from Trump over a US-UK trade deal: “The USA has one of the best negotiating teams in the world in terms of trade deals, we don’t want to walk into a bear hug and I would be wary of trying to be too fast on a trade deal…A trade deal is a dog eat dog activity, it’s not a diplomatic activity.”
And Brexit may well be one filter which determines who gets which select committee chairs this Wednesday. The plum post is Treasury Select and with Andrew Tyrie gone many Labour MPs are keen on another Tory ‘Remainer’ holding ministers to rigorous account. Though these things aren’t whipped, Nicky Morgan (an ex Treasury minister too) is firm favourite among Labour backbenchers, while Jacob Rees-Mogg is seen as a joke candidate. Dark horses like Stephen Hammond, Richard Bacon and John Penrose hope to garner cross-party backing however.
3. LABOUR OF LOVE
At the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party tonight, it will be shadow health minister Barbara Keeley who addresses the troops on social care. This time last year, amid a febrile atmosphere in the PLP, there would have been an angry backlash at talk among some in the leadership of deselection of MPs. Calls to change the rules have been stepped up since the election, but the PLP has so far held its tongue, with few on either side wanting to descend into another cycle of verbal violence. Even Wes Streeting sang ‘Ohh, Jeremy Corbyn’ alongside an avid Corbyn supporter at Pride on Saturday, joking ‘I’m alive and safe and they’re treating me well’.
But what makes some MPs’ blood boil are the online assaults they’ve received since June 8, and what they see as conflicting signals from the leadership on whether selection rules will be changed. Our Rachel Wearmouth was at the Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday, where Ken Loach called for the deselection of MPs who launched any more ‘disgusting attacks’ on Corbyn. Len McCluskey added: “No more self-indulgent jaunts from Chuka Umunna and his merry band”. MPs insist they are not ‘delegates’ of their local parties, and that they represent both Labour and the wider public. But few are willing to make the row worse publicly.
The secretary of Luciana Berger’s local party issued a statement condemning a newly-elected exec member who said she now had to ‘get on board quickly’. The online vitriol felt by some women MPs was the rallying cry of Yvette Cooper in her speech on Saturday, defending both the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and fellow MPs from the regular Twitter and Facebook misogyny. The trolls proved her point with their reaction to her speech.
As for those reselection rules, as I’ve written before, it will be next year’s Labour conference, not this year’s, where the real debate will happen. And even then, it looks like the trade unions just won’t allow much change. Given how much their money they donate, they won’t want to give up their own invaluable say in the process of selecting MPs (and more widely on policy) by handing members much greater control.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
In case you missed it, watch Angela Merkel’s epic eye-roll as Vladimir Putin tries to mansplain to her.
4. DELIVEROO SWITCHEROO?
The peg for May’s relaunch tomorrow is the publication of Matthew Taylor’s review of the workers’ rights in the ‘gig economy’. From food delivery to couriers, big firms have been accused of exploiting staff by calling them self employed, and the ex-Blair adviser appears to have come up with a classic triangulation solution to the problem.
The BBC says his review will suggest a new category of worker titled ‘dependent contractor’, with rights to sick leave and holiday pay. The Sun has an interview with Taylor in which he reveals some of his 50 or so proposals, including asking the Low Pay Commission to look at asking firms to pay workers a higher minimum wage when they refuse to give them guaranteed hours – known as a ‘zero hours surcharge’.
But the gig economy is a classic area where in fact it’s very difficult to triangulate. Jeremy Corbyn is never going to back off his call for outright abolition of zero hours contracts. And he’ll have strong backing from the TUC, which wants workers to have a right to a guaranteed hours contract, rather than a ‘right to request’ regular work. As the TUC says: “A right to request would mean working people – a bit like Oliver Twist – are left to ask ‘Please sir may I have some more?’” There was a hint of bold action from Damian Green on Today, saying ‘wait and see for our reaction’ to it.
Another area where May is on the back foot is on women on company boards. Despite her trumpeting her record, a new report today shows gender diversity stalling at best and ‘going backwards’ in some cases, with women making up just 16% of company execs. The number of firms with no woman at the top has gone up too.
5. SHE WENT TO JARED
In the US, there’s a famous ad about a guy going to a jeweller’s to buy a wedding ring, ‘He went to Jared’. And that’s exactly what the Kremlin seemed to do last summer as one of its intermediaries met Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, his son Donald Jnr and his campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The New York Times has a fantastic scoop that Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya met the trio in Trump Tower in June 2016, soon after Trump won the Republican nomination.
The very latest story is that the NYT has found out that the lawyer offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton. And it has prompted this extraordinary admission from Trump Jnr: “The woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton”. And a former British tabloid journalist Rob Goldstone was the intermediary to the intermediary.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is already looking into links between the Russians and Trump’s campaign. And Republicans were already reeling from Trump announcing plans for a joint cyber security working group with Putin after their G20 meeting. Marco Rubio tweeted it was “akin to partnering with Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit.” Theresa May looked rather surprised to see Trump’s daughter Ivanka step in for him during on G20 round-table. And therein lies a big problem: both Ivanka and Kushner are seen by British officials and ministers as the brains of the Trump White House, yet even they may not escape the core weaknesses of his administration.