1. QUEEN WITHOUT A CROWN
It’s the longest day of the year and politically it may feel like a hard slog indeed for Theresa May as she unveils her minority government’s policy programme from now until Brexit in 2019.
The ‘Queen’s Speech’ is a polite fiction of the British constitution, given that the words Her Majesty utters are always written for her by the serving Prime Minister. But what’s different about today is that the PM looks as powerless as the Monarch, a leader in title only, her words scripted by others, her agenda and her future out of her hands.
Thanks to the loss of her party’s majority in the general election and her heavily criticised response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, May is a Prime Minister shorn of authority. One veteran Tory MP confided last night: “We are all in charge now”. He added that she had until November, once the conference was out of the way, before leadership contenders showed their hand. Effective deputy PM Damian Green had to this morning dismiss Michael Howard’s claim that May will be gone in two years.
The Queen’s Speech is naturally dominated by Brexit, plus anti-terror measures. Yet it’s expected to be hastily gutted to take out the Tory manifesto’s planned new grammar revolution, social care controversy, and much more. The overnight brief was that the PM would show “humility and resolve”, but everyone - from her plotting ministers to the DUP to Jeremy Corbyn - can smell her weakness. Cabinet ministers are flexing their own muscles, from the Chancellor pushing his transitional Brexit plan to Liam Fox pushing his WTO-friendly agenda in the US.
Continuing the humble pie theme, MPs will deliver “An Humble Address” in response to “The Gracious Speech”. The proposer this afternoon will be ex-minister Richard Benyon, the newbie seconder is Kwasi Kwarteng.
Thanks to the hasty arrangements of the snap election, the full pomp and ceremony will be lacking from this stripped-down State Opening of Parliament. For the first time since 1974, there’ll be no Royal carriages, no horses and the Queen will not be wearing her crown. And as Theresa May troops in with the first minority government for 40 years, her effective loss of the Tory crown will be all too obvious.
2. TOWER OF STRENGTH
As if to underline just how seriously she’s taking the Grenfell Tower disaster, the PM will today chair another meeting of its task force, between the Queen’s Speech itself and the debate on it at 3pm. Indeed, No10 were at pains this week to tell us just how busy May was, from chairing emergency meetings about the Finsbury Park attack to prepping for the Brussels summit and dealing with the DUP.
And yet somehow, she found time in her packed schedule yesterday to attend a Tory party fundraising lunch. As our new HuffPost recruit Rachel Wearmouth reveals in her exclusive report, the PM spent 50 minutes hobnobbing with donors and others at the Savoy. Allies of May say these events are a key part of being a party leader. But Labour chair Ian Lavery tells us it’s “yet another example of the appalling lack of judgement and tact she has shown over recent days”.
The sight of the PM schmoozing with one of the richest Conservative Associations in the land (Cities of London and Westminster) may well play into the hands of those planning a ‘Day of Rage’ about Tory cuts. The various demos due to congregate in central London are also channeling lingering anger of Grenfell Tower. John McDonnell suggested this morning the Government had “no right to govern” and had lost its democratic legitimacy, lines that may embolden the protestors.
But the Daily Mail splashes on warnings from church groups who say residents “don’t want their grief hijacked”. Tory MP Andrew Rosindell tells the paper it’s “despicable” the protestors are “pretending” their agenda is about the fire. Already the online backlash to that has started.
The FT points out that a dire shortage of affordable housing has been highlighted by the disaster. The Times has a report that Kensington Aldridge Academy, near the tower block, is not fitted with sprinklers. It reveals that 2007 Whitehall guidance recommended their installation in all new schools but the DfE appears to have dropped the requirement in a new document last year. The Fire Brigades Union and NUT say the change is worrying.
3. IRISH AYES AREN’T SMILING
It’s ten days since Theresa May first tried to get a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and no agreement is yet in place. The Ulster party are proving just as awkward as many in her party expected, and many feared.
On one level yesterday’s flare-up from Belfast was seen as the party playing to its home crowd, after having neglected expectations management, to say it wouldn’t be rolled over by the Tories. But shadow boxing or not, it bolsters the hard core on the Tory benches who think May should call the DUP’s bluff, in the knowledge that it won’t vote against her Queen’s Speech for fear of letting Corbyn into power. Backbencher Tom Tughendhat told Today that May didn’t “need” an agreement with the DUP and he and others felt Tory progress on equal marriage should not be tarnished by any deal.
The Mirror headline is ‘Now Even The Crackpots Can’t Work With May’. The Sun quotes DUP sources talking of the “lack of negotiating experience” on the Conservative side. Another slammed the chaos in No.10, saying young aides “probably couldn’t find Northern Ireland on the map”. And that’s the real risk of putting yourself at the mercy of the smaller party: it leaves May open to the charge that if she can’t negotiate with the DUP, she won’t have a hope with Brussels hardballers over Brexit.
The Sun reports that one Tory Minister admitted the chances of a full ‘confidence and supply’ agreement for the next five years were now only “fifty-fifty” given the scale of the DUP’s cash demands for Ulster. Here’s one interesting thought in the arithmetic too. Some Tories think the Lib Dems may abstain on both the Queen’s Speech and any Labour amendment that talks about nationalization and tuition fees (to prove their equidistance). If so, the Government could end up with not-so-shabby majority of 25. Let’s see about that.
4. FEELING THE PURGE
Jeremy Corbyn will get roars of approval from his backenchers as he takes on the PM today. After the traditional light banter (one newish MP and one veteran respond to the Gracious Speech), he will probably turn serious as he did last week and keep up the pressure on cuts.
Yet some of his allies are still suspicious of both the PLP and the party’s HQ and want to build on his election campaign momentum (no pun intended) to entrench his authority for the medium and long term. We report on plans to ‘restructure’ HQ, with a “purge” of key staff including general secretary Iain McNicol. An ‘organogram’ shifting power to the leader’s office has been revived and staff have been warned to expect change.
As part of a pincer movement, Corbyn allies also want to launch a fresh move to sideline Tom Watson by creating a new post of female deputy leader, to end the ‘male duopoly’ at the top of the party. The new post, together with more Corbyn-backing union reps elected this year, is aimed at tilting the balance on the NEC to allow wider changes to get the party to better reflect the membership, insiders say. Still, the GMB and Unison are big hurdles for any ‘counter-coup’ to overcome.
One senior figure told me last night that while the frustration with the party structures was palpable, the organogram and shake-up was “not Jeremy’s plan”. Others say staffers are consulting their unions about attempts to move them. It will all make for a very interesting party conference in Brighton in September. Watch this space.
5. CUTTING REMARKS
Philip Hammond hinted yesterday that all the talk of ‘an end to austerity’ is wishful thinking, stressing that while the voters were ‘weary’ of cuts the “unchanging economic facts of life” meant public services could be funded only from higher taxes, borrowing of growth (he signalled he only wanted the latter).
But spending cuts are very much a key issue today. Robert Peston has a scoop that May will scrap planned reforms to the police funding formula, in order to protect the budgets of bigger police forces, especially London’s Metropolitan Police. Is that why Sadiq Khan really went for it on police cuts warnings after the Finsbury Park attack? The BBC says Met assistant chief Mark Rowley has written to the Home Sec seeking assurances about resources.
Meanwhile, schools and hospitals cuts (part of the real Corbyn surge in the election) continue. The Guardian has a leak of an NHS document in London showing A&E and maternity units are facing closure and patients longer waiting times.
Headteachers across 17 councils have today written to parents urging them to pressure their MP over the continuing funding gap. The letter to more than 4,000 schools says many are going to have to cut staff and subject choices.
HuffPost UK revealed in the election campaign that one high performing school in the poorest part of London is already cutting the school day. Former Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier has overnight sent her own letter to Education Secretary Justine Greening warning that some schools in Hackney may drop geography or history after Year 9 to save money.