1. WHITHER THERESA?
The Cabinet meets this morning and the mood looks like being one of grim determination. Theresa May has a heck of a lot on her plate this week, from chairing the Grenfell meeting, sorting the response to the Finsbury Park attack, a Queen’s Speech, an unfinished DUP deal and a Brussels summit. And for now, it looks like none of her Cabinet colleagues want to take on that heavy workload.
When asked about her own future, May yesterday said “The Government is getting on with the job”. That’s one of her favourite catchphrases and has been her political credo for years, head down, digging in, doing not talking. Yet her disastrous election campaign and her response to Grenfell Tower have undoubtedly left her weaker than ever. May is not in a position to say, as Harold Wilson famously did when gossip swirled about his future “I’ll tell you what’s going on on, I’m going on!” Some MPs say they just want the PM to ‘get over the line’ of the Commons summer recess on July 20 - before the real business of plotting her replacement starts in the run up to party conference.
For now the Cabinet have rallied round, exploiting their new-found freedom of not being shackled and micro-managed by sacked aides Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy to actually present a common front. Chris Grayling told Today: “I don’t think a change of prime minister should be on our agenda.” Liam Fox in the US heaped praise on May yesterday, telling CNBC: “There is no one else that I can see who would provide anything like that level of leadership at the present time.” Boris phoned up the Today prog yesterday off the cuff, saying the last thing voters wanted was “more political shenanigans of one kind or another”. Michael Gove echoed that.
Yet shenanigans there are indeed in the Telegraph today with Boris allies trying to knife David Davis. “He’s…the man that pushed the Prime Minister into holding a snap election in the first place. Age is not a barrier but he is nearly 70. You have got to look at that as a factor.” An ally of DD’s tells me “he’s unflappable, resilient and super-focused”. They note the only leadership noise is coming from Boris’s camp. It’s also worth remembering DD’s trump card is loyalty, having told the PM privately on his appointment that his only mission was to help her deliver Brexit. And Brexit will dominate the two-year Queen’s Speech, though anti-terror measures, HS2, bits and pieces on space travel and electric cars are being trailed to make it look otherwise.
David Davis’s first day at the Brexit talks has prompted lots of headlines about retreat and defeat. With the EU negotiator Michel Barnier getting his way on sequencing of the talks, it looks like the UK is 3-0 down only five minutes into football match.
Despite all DD’s talk this would be ‘the row of the summer’, the UK caved on the EU demand that exit bills and citizens’ rights should be discussed first before the crucial issue of trade is tackled. Barnier stressed that only when “sufficient progress” had been made on those would he move on to trade. And the cold hard fact is that the ticking clock of the Brexit timetable – we are out on March 31, 2019, come what may – means any delay could help those in Brussels who think the UK will suffer more than the EU from ‘no deal’.
Yet DD is remarkably upbeat. His supporters say he didn’t in fact blink, and that the PM will sort the EU nationals rights issue swiftly with a ‘big, generous offer’ this week. They also say that while a divorce bill formula will have to be agreed early, the final bill won’t be paid until later – after trade talks start. Also, Barnier agreed that the UK quitting the single market and customs union were the only way forward. In another Brexiteer boost, the Sun reports Liam Fox has got his trade bill in the Queen’s speech. (In other brinkmanship news, the DUP sound like they’re holding out for a corporation tax cut before agreeing a Tory deal).
Still, Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Mansion House speech this morning (postponed from last week, when there were hints being seen in white tie in the City would have jarred with the anger over Grenfell Tower) and his plan to put business first in Brexit looks undimmed. He said the UK’s service sector (80% of our economy) had to get priority. Meanwhile, given the Chancellor is in the City, there’s other breaking news on a potentially big financial story: The Serious Fraud Office has charged Barclays and four individuals, including former chief executive John Varley, with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance relating to its emergency fundraising during the financial crisis.
3. HITTING THE BOUNDARY
The ‘Corbyn surge’ at the general election (particularly in London) has made the planned 2018 boundary review look very interesting indeed. HuffPost UK today reports a new analysis by electoral stats number-cruncher Martin Baxter has found that two very high profile Tories are set to lose their seats to Labour at the next election: Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith.
I’m told that both the Conservatives and Labour have done similar analyses and concur that Bojo and IDS are facing the axe in what were once solid Tory seats. There is a caveat in that Duncan Smith’s bacon looks like being saved by a local consensus about revised changes to his seat due this autumn. But Boris is still in trouble (as are Tim Farron and DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds). He could opt for a Chicken Run to a safer seat, if the whole review is not shelved again.
But the boundary review however does have better news overall for the Tories. Although they get nowhere near the big bump of 12 or more net seats that Cameron had originally hoped for, they will still get an advantage. Martin Baxter says they’d be within three seats of a majority (compared to eight short now), though the parties’ own estimates are that the Conservatives would indeed squeak the 301 seats out of the new 600 needed. Don’t forget May included the boundary pledge in her manifesto for a reason.
Meanwhile, IpsosMORI’s traditional post-election survey shows that the ‘youthquake’ that powered Labour extended to the under-45s not just the under-24s. But just as interesting to me was the class factor. Labour increased its middle class ABC1 support by 12 points – but the Tories increased their working class C2DE support by 12 points too. There’s another reason for the Tories to be cheerful: Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ stats programme found May needs just 97 more votes in four ‘micro-marginals’ (each with majorities of less than 30) to win a majority.
4. FINSBURY PARK
London united last night at a moving vigil at the Muslim Welfare Centre in Finsbury Park, with many non-Muslims bringing flowers to pay tribute to victims of the van driver attack on Sunday night. This video by James Bevan captured the moment hundreds turned up to pay their respects. And in the early hours, local worshippers kept calm and carried on, continuing their prayers during Ramadan.
The Express reports that Scotland Yard recorded a spike in Islamaphobic crime in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack. Three days after the atrocity, there were 20 complaints of anti-Muslim hate crime in the capital in 24 hours compared to a daily average of three. Other spikes happened after the Manchester and Westminster Bridge attacks. Mak Chishty, an ex-Metropolitan Police commander and the country’s most senior Muslim officer until his retirement, has described anti-Muslim sentiment online since the June 3 atrocity as “relentless”.
“We are massively in shock. It’s unbelievable,” say the family of Darren Osborne, who was arrested for what police described as a terror attack. The Sun, Daily Mirror and Guardian focus on the imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, credited with protecting the driver from the angry crowd. One of those who pinned the suspect to the ground saying that the only reason he is still alive is because of the imam’s intervention.
Meanwhile in terms of the politics, we saw a repeat of the cycle that followed recent attacks. Theresa May hinted strongly again yesterday that the Queen’s Speech would contain a crackdown on online hate videos, new powers for police and security services and a new commission to improve integration. But Sadiq Khan was pretty firm too in warning May not to go ahead with planned £400m cuts to policing in the capital.
5. GRENFELL GRIP
At last, the authorities seem to be getting some kind of grip on the response to the Grenfell Tower disaster. The PM chaired the first taskforce meeting yesterday and last night had some stats that showed progress, with £200,000 being distributed yesterday from the £5m emergency fund.
The Grenfell Response Team – a pan-London, Whitehall, police and British Red Cross effort – said 78 families were on course to be rehomed locally by Monday night. And 126 hotel places have been found. DCLG expected all councils to tell it by last night how many tower blocks needed extra safety checks. Testing of samples of cladding begins today with all councils told to assess their building materials.
We should find out from the Lord Chief Justice in the next two days who will lead the public inquiry that will inevitably take their name. But there’s still trouble ahead politically. The Telegraph reports that Labour is teaming up with the Lib Dems and SNP to amend the Queen’s Speech with new legal rights for tenants to demand protection from the risk of fire (there could also be amendments on easier access to the single market, a Brexit commission, more NHS cash and an open Irish border after Brexit).
The Indy rightly picks up on a line from No.10 yesterday that the public inquiry will look into the fact that councils like Kensington and Chelsea built up reserves of £270m rather than spend it on tenants. “The issue of reserves and what money Kensington and Chelsea had to deal with housing and so on will all be part of the investigation,” the PM’s spokeswoman said. She also sidestepped the question of whether the PM had full confidence in the Tory council’s leader. Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that Sir Andy Murray is planning to donate to the Grenfell fund his entire £346,000 prize money if he wins the Queen’s tennis tournament.