1. BLOOMING CABINET
Having limped over the line with her first Queen’s Speech, Theresa May will be hoping this week things will settle down. Today’s Order Paper is a clue to how little MPs will have to do between now and the summer recess, with the ‘Air Travel Organisers Licensing Bill’ Second Reading the main business.
Yet the devil finds work for idle hands. And it’s a case of new month, new problems for the PM as she is forced to let a thousand flowers bloom among her Cabinet’s views on austerity. The common line among ministers is that the 1% public sector pay cap should be abandoned, with Boris the latest (or rather sources close to him) to say he “supports the idea of public sector workers getting a better pay deal”.
The real issue is how Philip Hammond is going to pay for what could be a £6bn bill. Boris sources hint he doesn’t want tax rises (he thinks they can be done “without causing fiscal pressures”). Michael Gove too hints he opposes tax hikes, telling Andrew Marr he “suppresses” his views to agree a collective line. Former nurse-turned-Tory MP Maria Caulfield told Today: “It’s a difficult, stressful, responsible job and if people aren’t paid enough so they can make ends meet they will go and do something else.”
With the teachers’ pay review body due this month and expected to call for a rise greater than 1%, will Hammond really try to find deeper spending cuts? Or will he use the other magic money tree of greater ‘efficiency savings’? Or use the headroom he already gave himself with the surplus date put back to 2025? Don’t forget he still has to find £2bn from somewhere to pay for social care/health from his last Budget (having abandoned the NI rise), let alone billions more for winter fuel. The Chancellor gives a speech to the CBI at 9pm, let’s see if he gives more clues then.
2. MOMENTUM BUILDING
Labour’s election campaign has certainly changed the dynamic within the party. ‘Centrist’ MPs are having to take on the chin the jibes from the left that their forecasts of doom and gloom about a Corbyn leadership were disproved. Last week there was even the spectacle of the entire PLP posing for a pic with the leader in Westminster Hall and some of them singing ‘Ohh, Jeremy Corbyn’.
As Tom Watson pointed out yesterday, Corbyn’s position as leader is “completely secure” for years (despite Owen Smith saying he could have lead Labour to victory). Yet behind the scenes, there’s a battle royal going on to “entrench” Corbynism. I reported on Friday how Momentum has been quietly taking control of local parties to get the crucial delegate numbers for annual conference (both for this year and next year, this is a long game folks).
And our HuffPost UK interview (read in full HERE) with new party chair Ian Lavery showed how the Left are ready to use their new dominance. Lavery had two key lines that will have made fellow MPs pay attention. First this: “Some might argue, and I would be one of them, that we might be too broad a church.” Second, a signal he was reviewing how trigger ballots for reselection could be changed. “We need to look at different ways and means. Listen, if you get deselected in a constituency there must be a reason for it…Being an MP, I haven’t got the divine right to be an MP for Wansbeck.” In times gone by, that would have sparked a big row at the PLP. Will it be raised tonight?
One battle at conference will be over plans to lower the threshold for MP nominations for a leadership bid, from 15% at present to 5% in a ‘McDonnell amendment’. I’m told the GMB and CWU are heading towards a 10% compromise figure, and they have the balance of power to swing it. Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith last night told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour conference should decide “whether five per cent is enough or whether it should be a bit more, whether it should be a compromise with the current figure of fifteen per cent”. Meanwhile, centrist think tank Policy Network warns Labour has a lot more to do to win a Commons majority, a point underlined by our TUC poll last week. Still, Corbyn supporters can point to the party increasing its lead over the Tories yesterday to six points.
3. SHUT EUR CAKEHOLE
Is Philip Hammond trying to ‘take back control’ of the Treasury’s role in the Brexit process? The Guardian splashes an exclusive that British officials have quietly abandoned hope of securing the government’s promised “cake and eat it” Brexit deal. Insiders in Whitehall report “a dramatic change of mood” at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) since the general election, with growing Treasury influence helping force ministers to choose between prioritising economic interests or sovereignty.
“There are only two viable options,” one official says. “One is a high-access, low-control arrangement which looks a bit like the EEA [European Economic Area]. The other is a low-access, high-control arrangement where you eventually end up looking like Ceta [Canada’s trade deal]– a more classic free trade agreement, if you are lucky.” The Brexit Department denies any such shift (natch), yet Hammond’s jibe last week at Boris’s “cake and eat it” approach certainly stung. Brussels has been saying from the get-go that there is no such thing as an EU free lunch: you either keep trade and ‘lose control’ over rules governing it, or you get reduced access to the world’s biggest open market and be free to do what you like. Hammond’s CBI speech is expected to offer more reassurance tonight.
Will Hammond get his way in putting jobs before immigration curbs? One of the most telling titbits in the Week in Westminster interview with James Chapman (DD’s ex chief of staff) was on this. He said Davis was “actually pretty liberal on issues like immigration” and would like to “recalibrate” policy, but May was resistant. Michael Gove repeated the “take back control” Vote Leave mantra when talking about fishing rights yesterday on Marr, but as with immigration it’s not clear at all that ‘control’ means ‘cut’. If EU fishermen’s access is not reduced, and immigration is not reduced, after Brexit, will millions feel betrayed?
The FT reports meanwhile that the Government will set out its new EU migrant visa regime within weeks. Ministers will try to mend fences with business with talks at Chevening (the Kent country house flatshare for Boris, DD and Liam Fox). And the FT has an ominous report that investment in the UK car industry has plummeted in the first half of 2017, as firms put decisions on hold amid Brexit uncertainty. Vince Cable even told Sky that Wimbledon could face a strawberry shortage because of a lack of EU fruit pickers. Really?
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this kid lose himself in a spinning go-kart. It’s since become meme-tastic.
4. STAFF OF LIFE
The public sector pay crisis is also a public sector staffing crisis. New figures show that more nurses and midwives are leaving the profession in the UK than joining it, for the first time in nearly a decade. The number registered in the UK fell by 1,783 to 690,773, in the year to March.
Although many EU hospital staff are leaving, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) said the downward trend had been most pronounced among British workers. In April and May this year, there was a dramatic fall in those leaving nursing and midwifery, with a further 3,264 workers going.
Among the main reasons given for leaving were staffing levels and workload, and not just pay. The Department of Health trots out the robotic line about there being 13,000 more nurses on wards since 2010, but many in the profession point out those numbers nowhere near kept up with demand. Labour’s manifesto said it would legislate for ‘safe staffing levels’, but it was unclear just how many extra staff it would fund. Numbers of workers, not just pay, could become the next front in the public sector. And it’s just as expensive.
5. DAVE, HOME OF GRITTY BANTER
It’s a measure of just how weakened Theresa May now is that she’s resorted to asking David Cameron for help. After she and her team spent most of the past year, and the election campaign, trashing the Cameron legacy, the Times reveals that the PM had to seek her predecessor’s support over the DUP deal.
May, who hadn’t spoken to Cameron in months, phoned him last Sunday and a day later he dutifully tweeted his backing for the DUP agreement saying “All Cons should support”. The Times has a killer quote from a pal of Dave: “Of course David was polite and grown up and delighted to help. But doesn’t Theresa realise what this looks like? She trashed him in the campaign, has barely spoken to him since becoming prime minister and now has to go cap in hand for his support. It’s shameless.”
Meanwhile, the brand problem continues. It turns out that after the Commons deal was agreed, the Tory party shelled out up to £20,000 to fly DUP leader Arlene Foster swiftly back to Belfast in an RAF plane to try to sort devolution talks. Given that the speed didn’t actually result in a power-sharing deal at Stormont, some Tories may wonder why Foster wasn’t told to get a no-frills budget flight herself. There’s another Agent Orange flight alert that could worry some MPs: the Times says Whitehall is on 24-hour standby for a Donald Trump visit when he flies to France for Bastille Day (for a flying trip to his Scots golf course, not a full state visit).
SUNDAY SHOWS ROUND-UP