1. PAY DAY MAY DAY
Another day, another rudderless shipwreck on the high seas of public opinion and policy. Yes, the Government mess over its public sector pay messaging yesterday summed up the continuing failure of Theresa May to give any clarity over what she’s going to do about ‘austerity’.
In the morning, Cabinet ministers hinted the 1% pay cap would be lifted. At lunchtime, the PM’s political spokesman said “we have heard the message of the election”. By 4pm, No.10 insisted “the policy hasn’t changed”. At 7.20pm, Tory and DUP MPs voted down Labour’s Queen’s Speech amendment (by 323 votes to 309) to lift the cap.
Now of course, technically, the Tories didn’t vote against increase in public sector pay. They voted against an amendment regretting it wasn’t in the Queen’s Speech. Yet when ‘optics’ are so important, that looked like a distinction without a difference. Who on earth encouraged Tory MPs to cheer at the vote, when it looked like they were cheering another slap in the face of firefighters, police, nurses etc?
What was telling was not the online “cyber anger” unleashed against Tory MPs like Johnny Mercer, but his own hint that there would indeed be change. “PM gets it; if she didn’t I’d be banging on her door tomorrow,” he tweeted. “Must be done properly in a Budget…change from within”. Despite claims that the Treasury was unhappy about the hints of a U-turn, Philip Hammond himself has said “we’re not deaf” to public opinion on austerity. The real question is where he will find the billions to fund the pay rise.
The real time for Tory backbenchers to cheer will be about 5.45pm tonight, when the final vote on the Queen’s Speech will be held (will Ken Clarke abstain?). At 9.15am we find out which amendments the Speaker has selected. It looks like he will choose Corbyn’s ‘alternative Queen’s Speech’ amendment, the SNP one, plus the Lib Dem one on a softer Brexit. Sadly, he may not pick Stella Creasy’s amendment given Northern Ireland women free abortion access in England. That looks like it has more than enough Tory rebels to defeat the Government and DUP. Will Bercow surprise us all?
Meanwhile, we report this morning on a new study of food bank users, which found that 78% of them had skipped meals and gone without eating – sometimes for days at a time. Which is unfortunate timing as the Telegraph reports Samantha Cameron revealed yesterday that she had launched her own fashion label because she “didn’t have disposable income, with childcare and mortgage etc, to buy designer clothes”. It’s toff at the top, what?
2. FATAL MINUTES
Back in 1960, a recently elected Tory backbench MP called Margaret Thatcher made history by getting a private members bill turned into law. It gave the press and public the right for the first time to attend council meetings. Tonight, 57 years later, Conservative-run Kensington and Chelsea council will hold its first (yes first) meeting on the Grenfell Tower disaster – and the public and press will be excluded. “The public minutes of this meeting will be published, in due course, on the council website,” it states.
We report that the ostensible reason is “security” and fears of violence, following the mass protests outside Kensington town hall in the days after the fire. That sounds like a very lame excuse indeed when many residents have complained that they have been shut out of local democracy for years. Will there be a live webstream? Will residents’ representatives be invited? Who decides who gets in and who doesn’t? Will Sajid Javid step in to press home how Grenfell is as much about transparency and accountability as fire safety?
Just as worrying was the warning yesterday that the final Grenfell Tower death toll may not be known until the end of the year. The Met revealed the current figure now stands at 80 dead, and it had been unable to trace anyone from 23 of the 129 flats in the building.
The Times has the scoop that the judge being picked to chair the public inquiry is Sir Martin Moore-Bick. The delay in the announcement was in part due to concerns over his suitability for the role, not least because of his role in a previous case involving housing and refugees. But his wide respect among the judiciary was what swayed No.10.
3. TICK TOCK
As soon as a weakened PM gets past one deadline, they find lots of others spring up quickly in its place. For Theresa May the hope will be that she just at least sees out Brexit to April 2019, leaving behind some kind of place in history. But several MPs think the damage to the Tory brand from the drift and dither of recent days can only get worse.
Nicky Morgan broke cover last night on Newsnight to suggest that the cut-off point for May’s premiership should be October 2018, when the UK is likely to present its final Brexit plans to the EU 27. “Once that shape of Brexit is concluded, once those deals are very much on the table, the Conservative party must not miss the opportunity at that stage to think about who we want to be our future leader,” she said.
Pinned down by Nick Watt as to whether that meant the autumn of next year, on the grounds that the EU has set October 2018 as the target date for a deal, Morgan replied: “That is probably right - certainly one timetable.” As it happens, the former Education Secretary is on this week’s Commons People podcast, out later. Tune in folks.
Morgan is of course associated with the Cameroon-Osborne regime. And the Times reveals that Dave’s official portrait has finally been installed at the top of the No.10 staircase. Though his allies deny any conspiracy, the timing looks like the ex-PM is trolling his successor, his visage now a constant reminder to May of the mortality of the job. Osborne used his leader column in the Standard last night to pick a fresh fight with Boris Johnson, attacking his “last-minute” decision to back Brexit, and urging him to end his “silence” on whether immigration should take priority over jobs as we quit the EU.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this kid bust some wicked dance moves to celebrate Eid.
4. DUBS’ STEP
In the House of Lords today, Alf Dubs will formally ask the Government to think again about closing the child refugee scheme that was set up in his name.
Ministers plan to end the Dubs scheme on the grounds there are not enough local authority foster places available. But the former Battersea MP, who was himself a child refugee, has done his homework and found quite a few councils and the Scottish government have said they have more places. Town halls in the south west, Midlands and Scotland are offering help too and Dubs says more effort needs to be made in reuniting children who have a relative in the UK with their families.
Canny as ever, he is also suggesting Northern Ireland may be in a position to take more refugees after its £1bn ‘bonus’ in the wake of the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives. Let’s see how the Government responds.
5. DD DATA DOCK
Back in the mists of time (in April), Jean-Claude Juncker leaked details of his private No.10 dinner with May and David Davis. Aside from Brexit stuff, he revealed that DD had joked about his and Tom Watson’s legal case against the UK government’s data retention laws.
Well, it looks like the Home Office isn’t seeing the funny side. Today’s Sun reveals that spooks and ministers are braced for a Court of Appeal ruling next month that is expected to uphold a European Court of Justice verdict that the mass storage of bulk data is unjustified “within a democratic society”. New emergency spying laws are being written to replace powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, the paper says.
Now DD will probably argue that this all shows that a British court (the Court of Appeal) has made the final call, not a European one. But his enemies within Government are using it to question his security credentials. One minister told The Sun: “The ECJ ruling has caused us a huge headache and without doubt put British lives at risk. That’s a very bad look for someone like DD who wants to run the country.” With the PM as weak as she is, I suspect Davis won’t be too bothered, though he will have to sign up to collective responsibility on the next steps.