1. RUDD FIGHT
The BBC’s 7-way TV debate was notable for absence rather than presence. Theresa May’s decision to stay in for the night in No.10, knitting her latest red-white-and-blue Brexit scarf, was the inevitable theme. But none of the seven contenders had the presence to own the event in her stead, failing to really shift the dial either way amid the knockabout.
Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas said ‘the first rule of leadership is to show up’. But the damage had been done in the afternoon, when May endured a series of journalists’ questions as to why she was running scared from actually debating her opponents. “Jeremy Corbyn seems to be paying far more attention to how many appearances on television he’s doing. He ought to be paying a little more attention to thinking about Brexit negotiations.” Yes, she said this on live TV, in an election campaign that she had called and that has meant 7 weeks away from, erm, Brexit negotiations.
The ridicule suffered by the PM on the stump in Bath recalled the torrid press conference of her announcement of a U-turn on social care. And after being laughed at openly by the public in the Sky/Channel 4 TV show on Monday, there was more contempt displayed by the BBC audience last night as Maybot stand-in Amber Rudd did her best to contain the damage. When she said ‘judge us on our record’ [on the deficit], the guffaws from the audience were damning. As were the subtitles for the hard-of-hearing.
Rather bizarrely, a tweet from the New Statesman’s George Eaton - that the BBC event ‘feels like the most leftwing audience in any election debate’ - transmogrified into the Daily Mail’s frontpage splash. Yet despite the jeers, and despite Corbyn, Farron and Angus Robertson landing some blows, it was Rudd who was in many ways the most quietly effective.
The Home Secretary’s candour in media appearances has in the past landed her in hot water. But last night she got across the main ‘magic money tree’ attack on Corbyn, as well as his record on anti-terror legislation. And given (as the Sun revealed), her father died earlier this week, it was a remarkably cool performance. Now wonder several are saying she’s a PM-in-waiting, and the FT floats speculation she could be the first female Chancellor.
2. POLL TOLL
After it’s ‘shock’ forecast yesterday, YouGov is going all-in with its suggestion of a hung Parliament. Today’s Times poll shrinks to the Tory lead to just three points (Con 42%, Lab 39%). The Lib Dems have been squeezed further to just 7%. The main reason appears to be modelling a higher than usual turnout for younger voters, which is a risk the polling firm clearly thinks is worth taking with its reputation. Other pollsters like ICM and ComRes are still pointing to a large Tory majority.
In a curious role reversal with Corbyn supporters, it’s now senior Tories who simply don’t believe the polls (or rather YouGov’s - one Tory MP told me yesterday it was “unadulterated shite”). Yet the backlash to May’s disastrous campaign (copyright G.Osborne) has spread to Tory candidates. In a fascinating read, our Owen Bennett reports one ex-MP saying the PM had ‘totally fucked it up’, and another saying ‘we deserve to lose’.
The PM must know something YouGov doesn’t. Today, she is heading to Labour’s heartlands in the North East and West Yorkshire. The message will be all about Brexit, even though, as the FT points out, this entire campaign has yielded no new details of what Tory policy on quitting the EU will look like.
Corbyn is pushing his rail fares policy. On ‘which party has the best policies for you and your family’, YouGov puts Labour on 35% to the Tories’ 29%. But Labour’s core working class Brexit-supporting voters could still swing this election despite the headline polls. And they may note the Sun’s story that Corbyn’s election campaign chief Andrew Murray has apologised for joking that Prince Harry should be handed over to the Taliban.
3. TASTES COALITIOUS
Sticking firmly to the Lynton Crosby script, Rudd rammed home the point that last night’s debate just showed the kind of ‘chaos’ that would ensue if Corbyn was PM propped up by minority parties in a hung Parliament.
And although Tim Farron has ruled out his merry band forming any formal Government coalition, few expect his party would not back Corbyn to keep the Tories out. The SNP too have suggested they would keep open the option of working with Labour in some way. Corbyn himself ruled out formal coaltions or pacts and yet he knows that a minority Labour government would rely on others to get its business through. Is that why he and his team have recently refused to get involved in talking about what happens after June 8?
In (yet another) interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, Corbyn ducked the question of what he’d do after the election. “We’re doing no deals, no coalitions, we’re fighting to win this election.” Pesto pressed him: “But you don’t have to do a deal now, it’s what you might do after the election..” To which Jezza gave the intriguing reply: “Then you’d better ask me on June 9th.” That was enough for Tory HQ to say a ‘coalition of chaos’ was back on as a possibility.
And on Newsnight last night, Emily Thornberry was also suspiciously coy about the issue. Asked by Evan Davis whether she would clarify that Labour would not enter a coalition with the SNP she replied: “I’m not dealing with hypotheticals with you, I’m sorry. We’re 9 days out of from an election. Because we’re fighting this to win.” Of course she had to say that in some ways, but it won’t stop the Tories pushing a strategy that worked so well in 2015: Jezza in Nicola’s top pocket.
Because You’ve Read This Far...
Watch the official House of Cards Twitter account burn Theresa May’s no-show last night.
4. LEAK INQUIRY
The drip-drip-drip of stories about how bad things are in the NHS continues with a new King’s Fund report. The study shows that patients in almost half the country face longer waits for surgery and mental health is a ‘prime target’ for cuts, as NHS bosses try to save money.
This follows a green light from NHS chief Simon Stevens in March that New Labour’s waiting targets were being relaxed. A survey by the King’s Fund think tank carried out less than a month later found that 40 per cent of the local health groups that fund care had either decided to pay for fewer operations this year or were reviewing how many they could afford.
And the drip-drips are getting real as hospital buildings with leaky roofs are once again a thing. It got buried yesterday but Labour released a dossier of ten incidents where a backlog on maintenance was causing serious problems.
One Coventry trust reported a leak onto an operating table. At South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the temperature of one ward was so cold that staff were working in their jackets and patients were sleeping in their jackets, along with two blankets. Patients at the specialist Walton Neurological Centre in Liverpool had to be moved after blocked drains caused sewage to seep into a clinical area. The disruption lasted for two days and a deep clinical clean had to be arranged.
5. DIM DIESEL
Climate change finally got a mention in the BBC’s general election debate last night and air pollution too is rising up the agenda. The Evening Standard, which with the Guardian has led the way on reporting on the growing problem of toxic air across the UK, yesterday revealed that the Goverment faces a third court action over its failure to tackle the issue.
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth launched a brand new legal case to remove “major flaws” from DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s plans to tackle the UK’s illegal levels of air pollution. The group, which forced ministers to act this year, says a new strategy does not promote measures which the Government’s own technical data shows are more effective at dealing with toxic air, such as clean air zones with charges for polluting vehicles.
Meanwhile, an exclusive poll showed an overwhelming margin of voters say the Government is being too weak on the dirty air crisis. Opinium Research found 50 per cent of adults believe the Government has not done enough to cut air pollution, while only 14 per cent think it has.
Campaigners also warned the death toll from tiny particulate pollution in London so far this year will go above 1,000 today. A stat to watch for later.