1. 22 WAYS TO LEAVE A LOVER
When Theresa May attends the Tory backbench 1922 committee this afternoon, there will not be the usual banging of desks in approval, MPs say. Senior committee member Nigel Evans tells the Telegraph that it will be more like “a banging of heads” after the disastrous Tory general election campaign and manifesto. May’s decision to hold a snap election has now left her party without a Commons majority and herself without any Prime Ministerial authority.
The Brexit vote last year was all about Britons wanting to ‘take back control’, yet May has now lost control – of her Cabinet, of her backbenches, of Parliament and of her Queen’s Speech policies. The 1922 Committee has hauled May before it a day earlier than expected, ostensibly to reflect the urgency of agreeing a deal with the DUP but in fact. But the fact is the ‘22 has a choke-chain around the PM’s neck, and is ready to yank it whenever she makes a false move. It’s as if the pupils are giving the headmistress a detention today. MPs will back her this afternoon (while venting spleen over the campaign) but that’s mainly because they fear a new general election would hand power to Jeremy Corbyn.
The dementia tax can be dumped, as can full-blown ‘new grammar’ plans, the ‘double lock’ for pensioners and winter fuel curbs. But it’s worth reflecting that a key driver behind the Corbyn “surge” was ex-UKIP and non-voters saying they’d had enough of austerity and actually liked taxes slapped on the rich. Will the Tories ditch the cuts that have riled so many voters, or at least further delay the date for wiping the deficit? Just as the Conservatives are looking increasingly split over Europe, will they now split over the economy too? New chief of staff Gavin Barwell has his work cut out on both those.
David Davis, a serious contender for the Tory leadership, was chosen as the safe pair of hands on the airwaves this morning. Asked about the Tory leadership, and his own ambitions, he had a classic non-denial denial. “I view the stuff in the papers this weekend as the absolute height of self-indulgence,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
The PM was in full ‘Maybot’ mode again yesterday with a TV clip failing to answer any questions about her reshuffle, her feelings or her policies. Many of her MPs give her just a few months. ‘Theresa May’s Team’ (those posters are now as damning as the EdStone) no longer love her. Hell hath no fury like a majority turned. Tomorrow, in an eerie echo of Margaret Thatcher heading off to Paris in 1990 (when she learned MPs back home were losing confidence in her), May visits Emmanuel Macron. There’ll be no coup while the cat’s away, but the mice certainly will play.
2. HARD OR SOFT-BOILED BREXIT?
The return of Michael Gove to Cabinet neatly sums up May’s difficulties. Only last week she used a Standard interview to magisterially dismiss him (“I seem to remember Michael was secretary for state for education at one point”). Gove has said she was “absolutely right” to sack him last summer, but his return proves how weak she now is. Of course, DEFRA Secretary is not a hugely significant role but No.10 are spinning it into a big brief for Brexit. DD said Gove was “formidable” in the campaign.
And the bigger picture is just where all this leaves the balance in Cabinet on a hard or soft Brexit. Of course ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ was always a negotiating ploy rather than policy. But it looks like it may be ruled out as policy after the promotion of Damian Green to First Secretary of State and Philip Hammond’s warning to May that he wants a better deal for business.
However, the problem is that outspoken attacks by George Osborne, Michael Heseltine, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry have been countered by Dom Raab and Bernard Jenkin effectively telling the PM to hold her nerve and Boris warning against ‘backsliding’ on Brexit. Osborne wants a Norway-style EEA deal as a temporary fix, will Cabinet Eurosceps allow it? DD told Today there is “no doubt” that quitting the EU means quitting the single market. Brussels and the Eurosceps may be in agreement: there is no such thing as a ‘soft’ Brexit.
Boris’s rallying cry to back the PM is seen by few as anything other than a holding position. His Sun column today proved yet again how accident prone he can be. It originally included a line that “I am delighted to see that we Tories have just won Clwyd South - the seat where I was first defeated in the great Blair landslide of 1997.” All fine and very self-referential - except Labour held the seat on Thursday. The line has now disappeared from his piece, but we have a screengrab.
There’s a delicious titbit in the Observer yesterday that European Comission President Jean-Claude Juncker repeatedly urged May to go for a snap election. Now that’s what you call a cunning plan. Meanwhile, PoliticoEurope reports Tomas Prouza, until recently the Czech secretary of state for European affairs, saying: “any negotiation is almost pointless at the moment” because “nobody has any idea what [May] wants and nobody trusts her.”
3. JEZZA ASCENDANT
Jeremy Corbyn is proving once again today that he’s no ordinary leader. Instead of a big setpiece speech or event, he will be meeting constituents and doing casework in his Islington North seat (buoyed by his enormous 33,000 majority). As I wrote in my piece on Jezza’s Big Night, his biggest smile the day after the election came when a young boy shouted ‘Vote Labour!’ as he toured his local Andover council estate.
Corbyn will take his time on a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, I’m told. He told Andrew Marr yesterday “Yes, of course we are going to reach out”, but Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made clear on Peston that while the party would want to “draw upon all the talents”, those who had supported JC deserved to stay on: “I don’t want to break up that winning team.”
Party insiders expect the reshuffle later this week, not least because there are some key vacancies. As well as Shadow Home Secretary, there’s the Shadow Northern Ireland (a key brief particularly now) and Shadow Communities and Local Government to fill. Barry Gardiner would be perfect Shadow Northern Ireland (he was an ex NI minister under Blair) but Corbyn is unlikely to disrupt his Brexit team of Starmer, Thornberry and Gardiner (who the leadership think all had an excellent election campaign).
As for Shadow Home, Yvette Cooper has said she is willing to serve, as is Chuka Umunna. Ed Miliband’s name is back in the frame for a post. I wonder if Dan Jarvis mightn’t be the Shadow Home solution, given he worked with JC on child poverty and (unlike others) was not on leadership manoeuvres in recent months. One person who won’t expect the call is Chris Leslie, whose fresh attack on Corbyn sparked a backlash from Clive Lewis yesterday: Leslie was “a sad, lonely bitter man”. JC will want to cool things at the PLP tomorrow. Meanwhile, some in the party are a bit mystified about the source for Richard Burgon’s claim that 150,000 new members had joined Labour since the election. That really would be huge, if true.
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Watch academic Matthew Goodwin deliver on his bet that he would eat his own book if Corbyn got 38% of the vote. To be fair, Jezza got 40%, so he strictly didn’t need to do it. But it was still good telly.
4. DONALD DUCKS
The Guardian reported yesterday that Donald Trump has decided to put his UK trip on hold, and Patrick Wintour’s scoop looks bang on. The President had told Theresa May in a phone call, overheard by an aide, that he didn’t want to come to Blighty until he was sure he would not be embarrassed by mass demonstrations. Well, given that protestors plan to moon the president en masse, as part of a campaign called ‘Show your rump to Trump’, he can dream on. The Corbyn ‘surge’ makes protests more, not less, likely in coming months. Yet it’s interesting that the power of social embarrassment, in front of The Queen no less, is one of the few things to make Trump change course.
In what looks like yet more fake news, Trump’s White House said “that subject [the state visit] never came up” in his phone call with the PM. But No.10 didn’t deny the Guardian report, instead using the weak phraseology that it doesn’t comment on speculation. “The Queen extended an invitation to President Trump to visit the UK and there is no change to those plans,” it said.
Given no date has been set, that’s technically true but it looks very much not this year. And crucially, the Times reports the state visit will not be included in the Queen’s Speech – a reminder that the Speech usually gives formal notice of future state visits. My, how Her Majesty must be wondering why on earth May had left her with this diplomatic nightmare. At least one Cabinet minister close to Trump could be lobbying for a swift visit: the thumbs-up-friendly Michael Govfefe.
5. MACRON. AND ON.
Yesterday, a Catholic priest in Berlin asked his parishioners “to pray for the people of Britain at this difficult time” (according to a tweet by BBC correspondent Damien McGuinness). And over in Europe there’s lashings of Schadenfreude. The Economist’s Berlin chief Jeremy Cliffe added: “A year ago Tory commentators were grandly hailing Europe’s doom. Today Merkel and Macron are riding high, while Britain is a laughing stock.”
In Paris, Emmanuel Macron has shown Theresa May how to win a landslide. Defying all the experts who claimed he would be a ‘lame duck’ President because of the strength of his opponents in the French Parliament, his En Marche party is on course to go from zero to 430 seats in the 577-seat French national assembly. Unashamedly pro-globalisation, Macron is showing that if you’ve got a message of hope and change you can still sell a difficult message. France’s Socialist Party is facing wipeout.