POLITICS

The Waugh Zone Tuesday 27 June, 2017

The five things you need to know about politics today.

27/06/2017 09:10

1. SOS BELFAST

When Theresa May chairs Cabinet this morning, she will sit just a little more securely in her seat thanks to the DUP-Tory deal. Her sense of relief will be confirmed once the Queen’s Speech is passed tomorrow, part of the short-term tactic of ‘getting over the line’ of the magic date of July 20 and the summer recess. Yet as the PM looks around what we old hacks love to call the ‘coffin-shaped’ Cabinet table, the smell of her own political death is unmistakable.

The very fact that May’s signature is not on the agreement with the DUP ensures that the deal will survive, even if she doesn’t. That photo of her standing behind her chief whip Gavin Williamson as he signed the deal, apart from spawning lots of gay marriage memes, underlined the sense that she is a mere bystander as bigger forces – the Tory leadership succession, Brexit – gather pace like a swirling weather system.

The Guardian calls the extra £1bn for Northern Ireland a ‘bonanza’, the Times a ‘bung’, the Mirror a ‘bribe’. And the DUP deal’s most toxic legacy may not be anything about 1950s social attitudes to homosexuality or abortion. It may instead be that it has trashed the Tory brand of ‘sound money’ and austerity. Facebook was awash with ridicule of May’s ‘magic money tree’ attack on Corbyn from the election. When Damian Green was asked yesterday where the extra £1 billion would come from, he actually said ‘a strong economy’. For Labour, it confirms Corbyn’s line that ‘austerity is a political choice, not a necessity’. Whenever the Tories wave Liam Byrne’s ‘there is no money left’ note, Corbyn can wave the DUP deal back.

It’s 50 years since the world’s first cashpoint opened in Enfield, and it’s as if to mark the anniversary No.10 have decided to turn themselves into the DUP’s very own ATM. The Sun has totted up the extra costs of scrapping the winter fuel cuts and other promises and come to a figure of £26bn. The FT goes even further, saying the final cost works out as more than £50bn if you scale up Northern Ireland spending to the rest of the UK. Lots of us have done comparisons of what else you could spend the £1bn on, from fitting sprinklers to 6,000 tower blocks to a 2% pay rise for NHS staff.

What really is impressive about the DUP’s bargaining nous is the way they’ve forced No.10 into saying the extra dosh is “not transactional”. So, even if the Stormont executive forms then collapses, the money still goes into Northern Ireland (overseen by what is being called ‘the Orange Quad’). Even if the DUP-Tory agreement fails, the money still goes into Northern Ireland. No wonder Sinn Fein are not too critical, though they want guarantees on other issues. And here’s another shrewd DUP wangle: they get to keep ‘Short Money’ because they technically remain an ‘Opposition’ party. Ian Paisley Jnr referred to May as his ‘honourable friend’ yesterday, but his party won’t sit on the Government benches. They’ll just keep the Tories there instead.

 

2. SHUTTING THE STABLE DOORS

Anger over the Grenfell disaster hasn’t subsided, even though there are other issues on the news agenda. David Lammy, the MP who lost a friend in the fire, is certainly not giving up and last night he told Newsnight that he suspected that the real reason the authorities were not giving an updated death toll was because they feared the true figure would spark riots.  “What people say is that if you put the numbers out early, there could be civil unrest. That’s what they say.” Asked if believes there is a cover-up going on, Lammy points to Hillsborough. “I’m sympathetic to it. I’m going to walk alongside those people.”

The size of the task after the Grenfell disaster seems to grow every day. In his Commons statement, Sajid Javid revealed that in Camden the council had found ‘hundreds’ of fire doors were missing from tower blocks that had been evacuated. The Communities Secretary also revealed that some 75 blocks had been found to have cladding that failed safety tests.

The FT points out that the US firm which made the cladding had withdrawn it from sale. The Sun points out that when asked if the cladding was even legal, a No.10 spokesman said that was “one of the issues we are urgently trying to get to the bottom of”.  One thing that some in Whitehall worry about is not a cover-up, but conspiracy theories being propagated online, with ‘fake news’ hard to kill even after it has been debunked. Which shows the need to be as transparent as possible, despite this complex area of law and regulation, is paramount.

 

3. LOOK LEFT, LOOK RIGHT

Jeremy Corbyn last night quietly arrived at the PLP, stayed until the tributes to the late Rhodri Morgan, and then quietly left again. There was no drama, no rows, no angry questions. At this rate, he may feel like turning up every week.

Yesterday, the Labour leader again looked comfortable in the Commons chamber as he attacked Theresa May, this time on the back of the EU summit and her EU citizens’ plans. Again, she looked like she didn’t really have the stomach for a fight (though lost her temper at Ben Bradshaw’s claim of ‘an extreme Brexit’).  In a range of areas, the PM is on the defensive, not least over school cuts. Tory MP Henry Smith makes the Mail splash with a complaint that a Sussex school tweeted in the election: “What about education, mental health services, the NHS, social care, still voting Conservative?”

Yet many in Labour, both those close to Corbyn and not so close, know that they can’t rely on a failing Government to effectively hand over power. Today, we have the second part of the TUC/GQR mega-poll taken just after the general election and it has lessons for Labour on how it could not just squeak a coalition or a majority of one, but a proper majority of its own.

To tempt Tory switchers and others, Corbyn must be more pro-business, more “patriotic” and tougher on welfare if he wants to become Prime Minister, the research suggests. Shadow minister Chi Onwurah tells us the party needs to show voters how it would make them richer. “We also need to show that Labour’s patriotism and long history of support for our communities, nations and regions as well as the armed forces which protect us is more real and more authentic than the Tories’ warm words.” Here’s one extra finding: even among young voters, the NHS was the top priority, much more than axeing tuition fees (which was undoubtedly popular, just not as much as more health cash).

 

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch Billy Bragg pick up on Boris Johnson’s pronunciation of ‘Glarstonbury’, back in this BBC documentary from 2000 (scroll to 57secs). Funnily enough, Boris hadn’t learned his lesson, as he showed in the Commons yesterday.

4. ID OR NOT ID? IS THAT THE QUESTION?

Theresa May’s proposals on EU citizens’ post-Brexit rights didn’t really enlighten us yesterday, and Michel Barnier was right to say they lacked detail as many issues are still ‘up for negotiation’. The one really new thing was that EU nationals will have to apply again to secure their status, as well as having to join a special ID register.

On one level it’s obvious that you need to keep track of the three million individuals, but on another it does raise the very ‘ID cards’ spectre that David Davis once fought passionately against for Brits. Downing Street won’t even use the word. During our briefing yesterday, the PM’s spokesman was asked about ‘ID cards’, and replied: “I don’t recognise the phrase ‘ID cards’ in the document.”

Just as striking is the sheer bureaucracy that Brexit will necessitate to deal with all these EU nationals. As our Owen Bennett writes, the Home Office was already struggling to process a surge in residency applications after the Brexit vote, but that is nothing compared to the 3.2million it will have to make its way through in the two year “blanket permission” period. Civil servants are going to have to process around 4,300 applications a day, every day, for two years - ten times the number they currently deal with. An Institute for Government report in May argued the Home Office would need to hire an additional 5,000 staff in order to cope with the volume of applications.

Meanwhile, a new Deloitte report is ‘glass half full/half empty’ according to your view of Brexit. Some 36% of highly skilled EU citizens are thinking of quitting the UK – but 90% of workers overseas would consider coming to the UK if Brexit works out.

 

5. FIRST AID, SECOND RATE?

When history comes to judge Theresa May, it may assess that she at least tried to build on Cameron’s legacy in raising the profile of mental health provision. But as with Cameron, raising the profile and achieving real change are very different things.

Today, Jeremy Hunt and the PM are hailing today’s launch of a scheme to train teachers to spot pupils with mental health issues and coordinate ‘first aid’ treatment. HuffPost UK has long championed this cause and the Health Secretary blogs for us on how he learned to look after his own mental health wellbeing when he did the first aid course himself earlier this year.

Yet the wider reality of poor provision is laid bare by a new BMA reportshowing a startling rise in the number of ‘out of area’ placements for treatment, with one patient from Somerset being sent 587 miles to a care facility in the Highlands. Its FoI requests also found Leicestershire, Derbyshire and parts of north London have been left with no NHS beds for female patients in need of intensive psychiatric care.

Meanwhile, Hunt is also under fire over a new National Audit Office report which found 1,700 people may have been harmed by an NHS contractor’s loss of almost 709,000 pieces of medical correspondence, including patient records and cancer test results. Hunt’s Commons statement earlier this year, after a Guardian scoop, is seen by Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth as vague at best, misleading at worst on the clinical and cost implications. The BMA at its conference passed a motion warning that NHS crises had been ‘consciously created’ by the government ‘in order to accelerate its transformation plans for private sector takeover’.

 
 
 
 
 

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