POLITICS

The Waugh Zone Thursday September 28, 2017

The Five Things You Need To Know About Politics Today.

28/09/2017 09:11 | Updated 28 September 2017

1. DAFT KAPITAL?

Theresa May has a speech defending free markets today, and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters will argue it proves he is the one driving the debate about the future of capitalism. The PM’s speech will certainly feel like a counterblast to the Labour leader’s Brighton conference speech, though No.10 stress is timed to mark the 20th anniversary of the independence of the Bank of England.

It’s worth recalling that the Tories actually opposed this New Labour move at the time (John Redwood said it was impossible in a truly democratic society), though Michael Portillo later accepted it as Shadow Chancellor (one of seven seen off by Gordon Brown). The Conservatives’ initially opposed the minimum wage only to later strongly back it, another example of just how far Blair and Brown forced a big shift in UK policy.

Ed Balls, who pushed Brown into accepting the independence idea, has overnight published his original letter to Bank Governor Eddie George. He points out he wanted regulation of bankers’ “conduct” given to a separate institution, but a messy compromise ensued and, well, the rest is history through the 2008 crash and beyond.

Balls told me last year that the big task for progressives across the world was to show the benefits of globalisation while dealing with its downsides. Tony Blair’s new institute was founded to do just that, and centrists and conservatives alike have struggled to cope with the popular anger against a system that started squeezing wages even before the crash. Corbyn offers a statist solution that hints at protectionism, yet even Balls now hints that more curbs are needed.

The pitfalls of free markets are in the news today with Ryanair trashing its own brand yet again and Uber challenging claims that it should treat drivers as employees. May’s critics can point out that thanks to Brexit, sterling has already crashed and Moody’s credit rating downgraded all under her watch. Poundland Britain has a whole new meaning. And as the Times reports, her wooing of Donald Trump has done little to avoid the US slapping protectionist tariffs on Bombardier, with the threatened loss of jobs at Northern Ireland’s biggest employer.

 

2. HIGH CORB DIET

In case you missed it, my WaughZone special yesterday on Corbyn’s speech - and on the Labour conference week as a whole – can be read HERE.  In a nutshell, it’s still far from clear whether the nation has reached ‘Peak Corbyn’, but his party certainly hasn’t.

The Left, thanks to the new blood of Momentum (and also the old organisational ability of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), is bedding itself in for the long-term. Centrists often complain that Tony Blair’s big mistake was that he was so focused on reforming the country that he forgot to reform his party. When he dipped his toe into direct democracy, as with the London Mayoralty, he failed to anticipate that left populists like Ken Livingstone could win.

Moderates in Brighton were split. Some think Corbynism is cyclical and will burn itself out as Momentum members split or get bored. They see the feelgood stuff of yesterday as a long toke of political cannabis, an addictive habit that will be kicked once Labour loses the next election. Others are more pessimistic and think the Left has changed the party rules so much that Corbynism is here to stay for many years.

But if the Left is to continue the more measured, reasonable tone set by Corbyn yesterday it will need to look long and hard at its online advocates. The New Statesman’s Helen Lewis and BuzzFeed’s Jim Waterson are withering about the Canary website’s new report on Laura Kuenssberg (“The Canary is running a sexist hate campaign against Laura Kuenssberg for clicks” sums it up well). Nick Robinson tells the Guardian that attacks on the media are “part of a guerrilla war” where fake news is the rocket launcher.

With the Today programme now regularly including news websites in its paper review, there has been real progress in crediting the best of online journalism so it’s depressing that the focus will now be on the worst of it. They lapped up his attack on the Mail, but will Corbyn’s more hardline supporters listen to his warning that “there can never be any excuse for any abuse of anybody”?

 

3. RENT ASUNDER

Jeremy Corbyn suggested the Grenfell Tower disaster should jolt everyone into rethinking regeneration schemes, as well as how we deliver affordable housing. And it was his pledge that “we will control rents” that caught the ear of many, as it hinted at fleshing out the summer manifesto pledge.

The Tories were delighted when housing charity Shelter warned that crude controls would push landlords into selling their properties, and thereby “could end up harming the very people on low incomes they’re meant to help”. The Adam Smith Institute said Corbyn’s policy would lead to “smaller properties, shoddier upkeep, and long waiting lists to get a flat”.

But as Corbyn pointed out, rent controls exist in many cities across the world. They were introduced in Paris without any major drop in properties, and Berlin’s strict controls are balanced by liberal planning rules designed to maximise supply. In San Francisco, the rent caps have however had a mixed impact, protecting some but also prompting landlords to leave leave properties empty.

Labour sources say Shelter are right to say that crude controls with levels fixed by inevitably complex calculations are not the answer. But they say they want a more workable version of the policy (and point out they had barely a month to come up with their headline plan due to the snap election) and controls are only a part of a set of new consumer rights such as three-year rents, legal minimum standards and local landlord licensing.

Newsnight had a powerful half-hour film on Grenfell last night. And last night Kensington and Chelsea council voted to terminate its contract with the body responsible for managing Grenfell Tower, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

 

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this little girl baffled by a GameBoy - because it lacks a touchscreen.

 

4. TOMMY GUNNED

At lunchtime, David Davis and Michel Barnier give us an update on their latest week of Brexit talks. Politico has a scoop that Davis’s former perm sec Olly Robbins is setting up his own 20-strong Brexit unit. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson did his best to keep rumours running about his own future yesterday, using a free trade think tank launch to warn Philip Hammond that he didn’t want “too long a transition period”.

But Labour’s own tightrope-walking on Brexit continues. After Corbyn’s Lexiteer tone yesterday (a ‘progressive Brexit’ rather than no Brexit), deputy leader Tom Watson has given an interview with the Birmingham Mail (shrewdly spotted by the Indy) in which he says the party may back a further Brexit referendum: “We’re not ruling it out.”

Watson insisted the UK would quit the EU in 2019 and stressed another referendum was “highly unlikely” but keeping the option open looks significant. Sadiq Khan made clear to the Standard this week he wants a new referendum on the deal. And when election coordinator Andrew Gwynne was asked directly about the idea this week, he told the BBC: “Who knows where we will be at the end of this process?”

Watson had just one subtle dig at his left-wing critics in his speech this week, pointing out lots of people wanted his job. Today the Daily Express has quotes from a “leadership source” backing Caroline Flint as a second deputy leader. “If she has Jeremy’s support then she would probably win…We also want to have a more gender balanced leadership and Caroline has also taken a strong line on Brexit so she ticks lots of boxes.” Proving old wounds have yet to heal (and may never), the source tells the paper: “Tom insisted on having a photocall of the whole shadow cabinet at the end of his speech basically so the members wouldn’t boo him.”

 

5. THE THIRD RAIL

We have a HuffPost UK/BMG poll out today revealing that one in three 18-24 year-olds have experienced a mental health issue in the last year. A third is a hell of a statistic. And the figure is 23% across all age ranges. Our research follows a study from the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Liverpool last week, which found a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.

Some 45% of those who say that they are struggling with their personal finances say they’ve experienced a mental health episode in the past 12 months, compared with just 13% of those who say they are comfortable or well off.

Our reporter Rachel Moss has talked to those who have experience mental health issues and they reveal how it is caught up with policy areas from housing to the NHS and worries about a lack of specialist health service provision. Kate Elliott tells us: “I have had four different CPNs [community psychiatric nurses] over the last five years, including one who left without me being told,” she said. “There has been no real continuity of care or consistent support.”

The HuffPostUK/BMG poll also found that voters’ biggest concern about the NHS was understaffing. This was as high as 21% for Labour voters.

 
 
 

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