1. HUMPTY-TRUMPTY SAT ON A WALL
Donald Trump finally gets to meet Vladimir Putin today at the G20 summit in Hamburg and all eyes will be on them both. The Russian former judo champion is up against an American who takes part in fake wrestling fights. The strength of their handshake could tell us a lot. Trump, under pressure from his Polish hosts yesterday, at least reaffirmed Nato’s Article 5, and warned Moscow over Ukraine. But more than 50 years after Kennedy’s Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech, Trump is no JFK. One President condemned a wall imprisoning freedom-loving Germans, the other wants to build one back home.
Trump’s bilateral meetings will also include a 30-minute session with Mexico’s President, where the vexed issue of his Great Wall looks like it may be parked. But what will consume our interest here of course is Theresa May’s one-on-one with the US President. Her four key objectives for the summit do not include climate change, though she may raise it in her bilateral with Trump.
In Germany, a new poll shows May is as unpopular as Putin. Back home, the real worry for many Tory MPs is their party is increasingly tarnished by the May brand, with a new YouGov/Times poll giving Labour an eight point lead (Lab 46%, Con 38%). And the Sun and Telegraph report a plot by middle-ranking ministers to oust the PM, quitting as a group to force a leadership race before the party conference. The critics say May is like ‘a horse with a broken leg’ and told The Sun they were considering resigning to spark a challenge before the party’s annual conference. A government source said they were fed up of seeing the “ragdoll” PM “pushed around” on issues like public sector pay by the “self-indulgent” Cabinet “clearly just positioning for a contest in two years’ time.”
The sense that Labour is just outside the gates of power was underlined yesterday at the Local Government Association conference as the Opposition said it would give councils proper funding and respect. Tory chair Gary Porter shook the hand of Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne and told the audience: “It’s nice to know the next person coming in is going to look after you”.
2. MEANING BUSINESS
Brexit means Brexit, but does Brexit mean business? Various umbrella groups meet David Davis at his shared country house of Chevening in Kent today to thrash out their concerns about how exactly they will trade once the UK has quit the EU. The CBI, IoD, EEF, FSB and any other acronymed business group will lobby DD, along with big name chief execs.
Last night, the CBI got its message out first, demanding the UK should stay in the single market and a customs union in a transition stage, after we leave in 2019 and until a final Brexit deal is sorted. “The prospect of multiple cliff edges – in tariffs, red tape and regulation - is already casting a long shadow over business decisions.” That came as the EU’s Michel Barnier warned that “frictionless” trade outside the customs union was “impossible”.
Eurosceptics are very suspicious of such transitional deals, fearing the ‘Hotel California’ approach (you can check out any time you like but you can’t really leave the EU). No wonder some of them are depressed as Philip Hammond appears to get the upper hand. Note that when Nick Watt reported some Leavers now fear Brexit may never actually happen, the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn revealed he’d had a text from a Brexiteer stating “We’ve (they’ve) blown it”.
Liam Fox is still fighting the fight however, as his attack on the BBC yesterday proved. But ex-Dave spinner Craig Oliver told Question Time last night he had spoken to Cabinet ministers who said Fox is “struggling to find any way to balance out” losses in UK-EU trade through new trade deals post-Brexit. The BBC also hit back at Fox, saying it “takes impartiality incredibly seriously”. BBC sources add the Corporation can teach Fox a thing or too about exports, with Doctor Who and Planet Earth sold to hundreds of countries.
And some in the BBC point out new No.10 comms director Robbie Gibb was hardly anti-Brexit, though he’s erased from his LinkedIn page his time working at Tory central office. The Guardian reports ex-UKIP donor Arron Banks once describing the “put-upon bald-headed BBC executive... [who] once amused guests at a Westminster party by getting physical with a cardboard cutout of Margaret Thatcher”.
3. BORED OF SELECTORS
That impressive Labour opinion poll lead today may or may not have the effect of unifying the party’s MPs. But what has caused concern among some in the PLP is the ‘hit list’ put out by South Tyneside Momentum, which named 49 Labour MPs and said “these ‘usual suspects’ should join the Liberals”.
The Times splashes its front page on both the poll and the Momentum list. Momentum HQ has dismissed the story as “laughable”, saying that the post was published “by a local Momentum Facebook page with 136 likes, and in no way represents Momentum’s national policy”. The Times says Labour MPs complained to the whips and Momentum urged its local group to take down the post.
The list didn’t call for the deselection of the 49, though Corbyn ally Chris Williamson yesterday went in harder with calls for changes to the rules, saying “critics of mandatory reselection are mistaken” to see it as a revival of 1980s Militant entryism. Party chair Ian Lavery, who kicked this all off with his HuffPost interview last week, has told the Mirror that he disagrees with Williamson on compulsory reselection contests. He says “the existing trigger ballot system is the way forward” and “I don’t see any need to drastically change the rules” (how undrastically they could be changed is unclear). Having said Labour was too broad a church, he now says he wants Progress and Momentum youngsters to unite.
What struck me about the South Tyneside list however was the names on it. It was posted on June 29 just after the Chuka Umunna amendment to the Queen’s Speech, and nearly all the MPs listed backed that amendment calling for the UK to stay in the EU Single Market. Nearly, all but for one curio. The Momentum list replaced Rushanara Ali (who backed the amendment) with Heidi Alexander (who didn’t). Strange indeed.
Last night, John McDonnell joked at a rally alongside Corbyn that it was nearly a year to the day since he warned Labour MPs plotting the second leadership challenge were “fucking useless”. “Last time I was on this stage I cracked a few jokes, wound up in the Daily Mail and was almost lynched by the Parliamentary Labour Party,” he said.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch David Dimbleby’s phone go off to tell him it’s ‘bedtime’. As Question Time is pre-recorded, that means he heads for the land of nod about 9pm.
4. SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES
Ian Paisley Jnr certainly made waves with his speech on Wednesday night in which he hit out at the “near universal hatred” directed to the DUP after its deal with the Tories. The speech, captured on audio exclusively by PoliticsHome, also saw him say that if Muslims had been subjected to similar abuse “you wouldn’t have got away with it”.
Well, many Muslims do think that Islamophobia is often belittled and we carry a report that the chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque says many attacks on his community should be classed as “terror related” and not just “hate crime”.
Speaking at the LGA conference yesterday (our reporter Rachel Wearmouth was there), Mohammed Kozbar said there was a feeling that whenever a non-Muslim attacks Muslims “we always find excuse, we say ‘lone attacker’ or ‘mental health problems’ or whatever, ‘he’s bankrupt’, ‘he’s got issues with his family’…With the other attacks, it is terrorism and nobody argues with that. It is terrorism.”
But Kozbar also revealed that after the Finsbury Park attack last month, there was resistance to stage the one minute silence. “The Government didn’t want to do it and we had to put a lot of pressure on when the minister Sarah Newton came to the mosque. We asked why there wasn’t a one-minute silence nationally for the attack as had happened with Manchester and Southwark and elsewhere. So, after that they agreed to do it.”
5. STATUE OF LIMITATIONS
The Sun yesterday had the scoop that plans for a 10-ft tall bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher in Parliament Square had been put on hold amid fears of vandalism.
The statue depicts Britain’s first female Prime Minister in “a resolute posture looking towards the Parliament with a stern gaze”. But a formal objection was lodged to Westminster City Council by the Royal Parks Agency - part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – which owns the small strip of land where its site is proposed.
The parks agency says the real reason is the project has not received permission from Thatcher’s daughter Carol and son Sir Mark. But what brings the story to life is a line from the local Thorney Island residents association saying the statue was “controversial enough to risk vandalism”. The Sun says the Thatcher family shares that view.
The parks agency has been in discussion with the DCMS, but not all Tories are happy. Boris Johnson once backed the plan when he was Mayor. And the Mail carries a classic Jacob Rees-Mogg quote: “Blocking it for fear of thugs and vandals is the lily-livered approach that Lady Thatcher most disdained.”