1. CABINET SAUVIGNON
As her MPs sipped wine on the Commons terrace last night, Theresa May was in stern mood. After the ‘warm prosecco’ talk of loosened tongues and Cabinet in-fighting in recent days, she had a stark message for the backbench 1922 Committee summer reception: “it’s me or Jeremy Corbyn...and nobody wants that”.
May told her MPs to go away for a “proper break” and “come back ready for serious business”. Her “no backbiting, no carping” edict will be underlined at the Cabinet meeting this morning, when the only drink on offer will be still or sparkling water.
She has a job on her hands as the papers are full of more bile and bitterness, briefing and counter-briefing. In the Times, one Cabinet minister blames “too much testosterone” from the “proverbial donkeys” who are “able to behave like indulgent safe-seat kids, not worrying about the impact of their behaviour”. Former Gove aide Dominic Cummings didn’t calm things yesterday when he tweeted that Brexit Secretary David Davis was “as thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad”.
Soft Brexiteers in Cabinet say what worries hardliners most is the growing closeness between Chancellor Philip Hammond and the pragmatic Davis. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are increasingly “dangerous and deranged” in their push for a hard Brexit, one Tory told me. Still, I guess Boris’ motto on Brexit (like millions of Leave voters) could be Dizzee Rascal’s: “some people think I’m bonkers, but I just think I’m free”. Bojo and Gove’s supporters strongly deny any attempt to undermine the Chancellor. Home Secretary Amber Rudd backed the PM this morning, telling SkyNews all her colleagues “should be honoured to have their roles”.
Although the PM can’t wait for recess, she has to agree with her Cabinet two things before October: a transition period for Brexit, and a workable solution to public sector pay. Hammond said ‘we’re not deaf’ on austerity, but fresh reports helping the lowest paid while keeping the 1% cap risks looking like yet another ‘tone deaf’ bit of spin. It could be a holding position until the Budget however.
Francis Elliott in the Times reports that it is Hammond’s social awkwardness that is as much of an issue as the PM’s (though ‘Hambot’ doesn’t have the same ring) “The problem with Hammond is that he has treated all the ministers that have come to him like dirt,” one source told him. Justine Greening, on paper a fellow traveller on a soft Brexit, was said to be appalled at his ‘joke’ that ‘even women’ drive trains now.
May still has a PMQs to get through before MPs flee the Palace of varieties this week. Yet some of her supporters are suggesting she could go beyond Brexit and 2019, and may nearly ‘go the distance’, handing over to a new Tory leader in 2021 ahead of a general election in 2022. The reason? No Tory will ever again trust opinion polls giving them a big lead. No one wants a snap election, meaning the five year Fixed Term Parliament Act may just do its work. If the DUP keep believing her line that ‘it’s me or Jeremy Corbyn’, even her tiny majority could survive. Her opponents can quaff all the alcohol they want, but for May ‘still, not sparkling’ could turn into her very own dogged political credo.
2. SUMMER LOVIN’
The contrast between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s separate addresses to their troops last night could not have been greater. While the PM was urging Tory MPs to take ‘a proper break’, just a few hundred yards away Corbyn was joking that he had “bad news” for his MPs: they will be joining his summer campaign to target Tory marginals across the country.
At the PLP (his third visit since the election), the Labour leader said he’d visit 40 seats before September (and 100 overall). It’s almost as if the last two leadership elections have merely whetted his appetite for summer tours. But Corbyn is also keen not to let up on the momentum, with a small and big ‘M’, he’s built up in recent months – he wants all those new members packing local party meetings to take part in a rolling campaign. In one further sign of a bigger tent, Liam Byrne was brought back into the fold as shadow digital minister last night.
Today the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) meets and as I reported last night, the wider drive for unity may be tested. An early draft of an internal report on the general election upset some Corbyn aides because it appeared to criticise the leader’s office in some areas. The report also failed to blame any party HQ staff over polling or seat targeting. More widely, the NEC is expected today to vote against rule changes to reduce the 15% nominations threshold needed for a leadership bid. But as I’ve been saying for a while, the Left may be defeated at this year’s conference, but it’s already gearing up for next year’s battle.
Labour was still doing the day job yesterday and its Parliamentary guerilla tactics look more like the 1970s Tory war of attrition against the minority Callaghan government. Anna Soubry complained Labour ‘filibustering’ talked out the Tory debate on abuse of MPs. A Labour call for 13 extra sitting days for Private Members Bills was narrowly defeated on a vote (for which David Davis rushed back from Brussels). And some Tory backbenchers are uneasy too at the way May just wants to give ministers a break this summer. The failure to sort select committee elections means some may not get properly working before October. And we report that public petitions have had to be halted as a result.
Shadow Brexit minister Dianne Hayter has blogged for us on the Repeal Bill, warning the Lords will give “both the Commons and the government the opportunity to think again” to get real consensus on Brexit.
3. MARMOT POLITICIANS
Sir Michael Marmot is not well known enough to be deemed a national treasure, but his distinguished record as a world class epidemiologist means Whitehall and ministers sit up and take notice when he speaks. And today, the academic has some very worrying things to say about Britain’s life expectancy rates. After nearly a century of rises, Marmot says longevity has stalled since 2010 – and suggested austerity could be to blame.
“Miserly rises” in NHS funding (compared to health demands) and cuts in social care spending may have hit life expectancy at birth as well as among the elderly. Marmot, who produced a major review of health inequalities for Gordon Brown, said ministers made a “political decision” in 2010 to reduce the amount of money it put into the public sector. The Department of Health played down the findings, trotting out its usual stats about extra spending, but some Tories will be feeling very uneasy.
It’s always politically risky to suggest that somehow politicians are literally killing people with their decision-making. But John McDonnell, who refined his Grenfell Tower remarks this weekend to say the 80 dead were victims of ‘social murder’, may be among those who seize on Marmot’s warnings. The UCL professor told the Today programme that the life expectancy difference between the richest and poorest in Kensington and Chelsea was a staggering 16 years. I know the Government may have ‘had enough of experts’, but when an independent academic of his standing is so worried, maybe we should all be too.
4. SCHOOL’S OUT
If you needed proof of just how effective some political campaigning can be, look no further than Justine Greening’s school budget announcement yesterday. Powered by a Tory backbench revolt over a new funding formula drafted by Nicky Morgan last year, the row had rocket boosters put under it as head teachers across the country complained actively at the extent of the cuts.
What really drove the public awareness came when an alliance of unions drafted the ‘schoolcuts.org.uk’ website that allowed parents to key in their postcode and see just how much money their local school was losing, and potentially how many staff. Even the panicked Tory manifesto pledge of an ‘extra’ £4bn for schools couldn’t stave off the Corbyn surge. Yesterday, as she announced the first tranche of that £4bn, (£1.3bn a year for the next two years), Greening complained bitterly that the schoolcuts.org.uk website had been ‘worrying parents’ and should not now ‘peddle out of date data’.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner proved again why she’s seen as a rising star in Labour ranks, seizing on the fact that the ‘extra’ money would come from within the DfE budget. £400m will come from planned capital budgets for sports facilities, and £200m from fewer Free Schools. On the day of the Tory manifesto launch, we asked where the £4bn would come from, and now we know: the magic money tree that is ‘efficiency savings’. David Cameron, who once ridiculed ‘efficiency drives’ in Opposition, may want to switch on the classic Yes Minister episode, The Economy Drive.
5. TOWER STRUGGLE
Lest we forget, the Grenfell Tower disaster is still very much in Theresa May’s inbox (she insists on it being so too). And another politician hoping to get ‘across the line’ of the summer is new Kensington council Tory leader Elizabeth Campbell. Tomorrow night is the first council meeting since the fire and there are fears it could be abandoned because of protests.
Our reporter Rachel Wearmouth reveals that the Justice 4 Grenfell group is demanding that the entire local Cabinet stands down and triggers a snap local election. But Labour group leader, Robert Atkinson, worries that the protest could derail the meeting completely and, with Parliament set to go into recess the next day, leave the authority “headless” for the summer.
He told HuffPost UK: “The worry is that the council meeting is disrupted and we aren’t able to get any business through. I know there are some who want the council to stop functioning. We could go into the summer headless and then what do we do? There is also the risk that this story falls off the radar and these people are forgotten about. That can’t happen.”