POLITICS

The Waugh Zone Monday October 30, 2017

The five things you need to know about politics today.

30/10/2017 09:48 GMT | Updated 30/10/2017 09:53 GMT

1. BROUGHT TO BOOK?

As fresh allegations of sexual harassment and assault continue to swirl around Westminster, it looks like Parliament will finally start to do something to set its own Houses in order. At 3.30pm, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom is expected to have to answer an Urgent Question on the issue from Tory backbencher Anna Soubry.

In her own letter to Speaker Bercow last night, Theresa May called for current voluntary grievance procedures for Westminster staff to be made compulsory, and suggested a new independent mediation service for any staff with complaints. Both the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and the Commons itself are under pressure to act. Former sleaze watchdog Sir Alastair Graham told Westminster Hour that tougher disciplinary rules, not mediation, was needed.

But what about the parties themselves? The Times and GuidoFawkes have lists circulating of at least 36 Tory MPs known to be “inappropriate” with women, and men. All of the stories, and more, are likely to be in the Whips’ ‘black book’ (also known as the ‘dirt book’), a list of secrets that can be used to get MPs to vote the right way.  No10 denied last night that the PM was given regular updates on the sexual antics of her MPs, but no one denies the whips’ black book exists.

Former whip and now health minister Philip Dunne yesterday put his finger on the attitudes that still exist, letting slip to SkyNews’s Niall Paterson: “When I was in the Whip’s office, it was very clear that anything in the Whip’s office stays in the Whip’s office”. Sensing the jokey tone had misfired, Dunne hastily contradicted himself, adding that of course any ‘illegal’ behaviour was acted upon, but the lingering impression was of a self-regulating boys’ club relying on nudges and winks and a private code of conduct. Ex-No10 comms chief Katie Perrior told BBC Breakfast that the black book content was used to tell MPs “you will vote in a certain way - or we will tell your wife exactly what we’ve been up to.” That’s a reminder that House of Cards was originally a British drama long before it was a glitzy American Netflix series (speaking of which, Kevin Spacey has sparked a separate backlash on his own sexual advances).

Soubry was on the Today programme suggesting that May was exactly the right PM to finally get a grip on this. “There is a problem and we are all responsible for sorting it out. Theresa May, because she is a woman leader of a party, absolutely will – I’m confident of that.” Labour’s Lucy Powell pointed out that like the film industry, the Commons is “an environment where you have many, many, many people desperate to work in a place” who rely on others for work. “That’s what it is, it’s about a power inequality.” The question is whether there is enough evidence to force the sacking of ministers or resignation of MPs. Will anyone want to go public and name more names?

On Thursday, the Commons will debate a backbench motion on sexual harassment and violence in schools, tabled by the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller and Labour’s Jess Phillips. Westminster is often depicted as one big public school. Today, and this week, it has a chance to prove that it really isn’t.

 

2. IFS AND BUTS

In the run-up to Philip Hammond’s first Budget since the snap election, everyone has their own bit of advice. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has a new report warning the Chancellor may have to again delay the date of balancing the country’s books if he wants to spend more now on public services. Hammond shifted Osborne’s timetable for eliminating the budget deficit from 2020 to 2025 and is naturally reluctant to let it slip further.  But the IFS says productivity downgrades mean he is facing a £20bn black hole even before an extra penny is spent.

The Times reports Hammond wants some ‘cost-free’ radicalism to boost productivity: removing some Green Belt designations to free up land for more housing. But the PM is said to be against the idea, and given her tight majority the last thing she needs is radicalism that upsets a big chunk of her backbenches in the shires. Will Hammond be more open to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid’s call for more borrowing to invest in housing?

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who don’t forget was the first Cabinet minister to suggest a pay rise for nurses) told Marr yesterday that Hammond has said “he is willing to have a discussion with me about how extra resources can be found” for the NHS. Hammond is also facing pressure to cough up some cash to ease pressure on Universal Credit, with fresh speculation the waiting time will be cut from six to four weeks.  But given he is already short of billions lost due to the NI U-turn in the spring, just where will the Chancellor get the cash for public sector pay rises and other demands? Will he let ‘fiscal drag’ do some of the work for him? Will he be more radical and delay/cancel those expensive corporation tax cuts?

 

3. NO DEALERS’ CHOICE

It’s not just Remainers who threaten trouble over Brexit in Parliament. One reason some in Government are nervous about a ‘meaningful vote’ on any final Brexit deal is that some hardline Tory Leavers may use it to push for a ‘no deal’ outcome if the deal is too weak. And the chatter about what would happen if May was defeated in such a vote has intensified this weekend.

Former Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull told Radio 4 that a general election would have to occur if May lost the vote. Former Cabinet minister John Whittingdale agreed, stating it would effectively be ‘a vote of confidence’ in the Government. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey used his big speech to the union’s Scottish conference to step into the no deal prediction game too. He said that an election in 2019, off the back of May’s collapsed Brexit plans, would see Jeremy Corbyn swept to power.

Our Chris York has written a piece on ’24 Hours In No Deal Brexit Britain’. Meanwhile, Labour MP Barry Sheerman has infuriated some Leavers with his claim on BBC Look North yesterday that Remain voters were ‘better educated’ than Leave voters.

 

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch Donald Trump hand out sweets to kids for Halloween with the Trumpish line ‘you have no weight problems, that’s the good news, right?’ He also asked them how the press treated them.

 

4. THE VISION THING

Len McCluskey’s speech also included a warning to Corbyn’s Labour critics: “Move forward with us, or move over. Get out of the way.” That was seen by some as resurrecting the idea of deselection of Labour MPs, and there was no doubting just how much McCluskey prefers the current Labour leader to his predecessors. Len said the political establishment was “scared stiff” of a Corbyn government. “If this was Tony Blair or Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband, they would be more relaxed”.

Gordon Brown, who had a few run-ins with McCluskey while in office, is back in the news with pre-released extracts of his autobiography. In one particularly poignant section, Brown – who was blind in one eye since his teens - reveals how he woke up on day in 2009 in No10 and his “vision was very foggy”. After a trip to a new academy in Hackney, he was sent straight to Moorfields eye hospital, which found his retina was torn in two places. Luckily, his sight slowly recovered.

Brown admits that he found it difficult to talk in such personal terms and that it hampered him in our ‘touchy feely era’. “I wasn’t an ideal fit for an age when the personal side of politics had come to the fore,” he says. His allies now point out that May’s disastrous snap election proved how right he was at least to avoid a similar fate in 2007. Maybe we will get more on that decision when the book is published next week.

 

5. HAYTER PROTECTION BILL

The House of Lords is set to signal tonight just how uncomfortable it can make life for the Government over Brexit. Theresa May has a fragile working majority in the Commons but as David Cameron found out repeatedly, the Tories are nowhere near a majority in the Lords and Labour, Lib Dem and crossbenchers are expected to inflict a defeat enshrining some EU rights into UK law even after Brexit.

The bill in question is not a Brexit bill but rather the Data Protection Bill. Labour peer Dianne Hayter has teamed up with colleague Wilf Stevenson to push a key amendment that would incorporate part of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, to continue the free flow of data between the UK and EU after we quit the bloc. Digital minister Matt Hancock claimed in the Sunday Times that the unintended consequence of the amendment would be to put at risk data exemptions that protect journalists’ sources. Labour claims this is ‘scaremongering’ and seems to be backed by lobby group TechUK. It’s unusual to have a vote at Committee stage, so the size of the defeat tonight will be worth watching.

SUNDAY SHOWS ROUND-UP

Had a lie-in? Got a life? Catch up with our Sunday politics shows round-up, including short clips, HERE.

 
 
 

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