The five things you need to know on Monday April 25, 2016…
1) MAY DAY
After the hammering they got on the economy last week, it’s no wonder the Leave camp are focusing this week on their stronger card: immigration. The Home Secretary’s admission on Marr yesterday that ‘free movement makes it harder to control migration’ was a statement of the obvious but still a gift to the Outers.
Theresa May has her own speech on the EU, her first big intervention in the campaign. We’re told neither the Remain camp nor No.10 (and they are effectively the same thing most days) were given advance vetting and you can see why: it has some lines that are pitched clearly with a future Tory leadership bid in mind.
May will hint the UK should block Turkey’s application (which is certainly not the No.10 line), or at least create some new kind of membership without freedom of movement (though some Brexiteers may say that’s exactly the kind of ‘associate membership’ they want for the UK).
May will say: “We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?… Do we really think now is the time to contemplate a land border between the EU and countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria?”
Of course, this is kinda academic as no one seriously thinks Germany will ever allow Turkey full membership. And all EU states have a veto on accession, including the UK. But it’s more about telling Tory voters she’s on their side. Just as significant will be May’s shot across Michael Gove’s bows, saying it is Strasbourg not the ECJ in Luxembourg that poses the bigger threat to the UK.
In the Times, Gove ramps up his rhetoric on migration warning of the ‘unquantifiable strain’ on the NHS, while Boris uses his Tel column to say the Inners are ‘crowing too soon’ about the Obama Effect. Yet the row over Boris’s own ‘part-Kenyan’ jibe (his worst misstep of the entire referendum campaign) continues to rumble on. When even Nigel Farage is distancing himself from such remarks, you know something’s up.
Still, on the Today programme, IDS offered a feisty defence of his fellow Vote Leaver as he attacked No.10’s ‘cosy little conversation’ with the US President over our place in the trade queue.
IDS said there was “nothing worse” that those who “hurl a name like racism” at opponents, and “I find that absurd”. Specifically on the part-Kenyan line, the former Work and Pensions Secretary said Boris may have been ‘clumsy’ but ’he simply referred to one of the reasons why he [Obama] may have a lack of regard for the UK”.
2) SMELLING BLOOD
The first all-out junior doctors’ strike looms tomorrow and things are getting more fractious by the hour. On Good Morning Britain, a junior doctor quit live on air. Jeremy Hunt is playing hardball, rejecting the compromise offer of a pilot scheme proposed by Labour and the Royal Colleges. What’s the real difference between Hunt’s ‘phased rollout’ and a ‘pilot schemes’? Political control over the process.
Although Heidi Alexander’s offer was praised by many of her colleagues as the kind of ‘constructive opposition’ Labour needs to engage in more frequently, Hunt’s response will only fuel the determination of those on the Left who think there can be no compromise with this Government. The Health Secretary seemed to smell blood, sensing the first change in Labour’s position amid fears that backing the strike could do the party real harm.
Tories were struck by Alexander’s line on Murnaghan yesterday when it appeared that she was accepting the principle of Hunt’s new contract. Even some junior doctors didn’t like her line when she agreed with Hunt that ‘if you go into hospital on a Sunday morning in an emergency, you should get the same quality of care as if you go in on a Tuesday afternoon’.
Labour has a political messaging problem if the strike does go ahead: it needs a straight answer to the question ‘do you support this strike?”. Last night on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, Diane Abbott had no hesitation: “they have my support” she said. Jeremy Corbyn will be tempted to say the same, but his Shadow Cabinet are determined not to get boxed in.
As I’ve said before, consultants have had a long time to prep for covering their colleagues today. The real issue will be if the BMA will ever call another all-out strike.
3) GRINDING NIMO
Will Nicky Morgan use today’s Education Questions (and Wednesday’s Education Select Committee hearing) to finally offer some reassurance to worried Tory backbenchers? As noted here, the Telegraph’s James Kirkup last week reported one possible concession, to allow the best performing councils to run their own multi-academy trust (MAT) chains. Today, the Times repeats that but also says Morgan is looking at plans to allow councils to continue to force academies to take pupils with special needs and to expand to meet demand for new places.
Labour is unimpressed, pointing out NiMo (Morgan’s nickname among spads) had privately offered the MATs plan to Tory MPs in the last fortnight - and many had been singularly unmoved. Lucy Powell thinks the concession is not sufficient and the key test will be if the Queen’s Speech bill has powers over good and outstanding schools.
Speaking of councils, Labour’s battle of managing expectations for May 5 continues. John McDonnell told 5Live’s Pienaar last night that the party will try to "hold onto what we possibly can”, which didn’t sound like a forecast of a great night. The Telegraph has a new John Curtice analysis saying Labour is set to lose 170 councillors and a string of town halls.
In another education nightmare, nurseries are warning that parents will need to give up work to look after their children - if the government doesn’t axe the requirement for nursery staff to have at least a C in GCSE English and maths.
June O’Sullivan chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation had a startling statistic on the Today prog: apprentice numbers have dropped by 96% since the new rules in September. Of course many privately run nurseries are already struggling with the bottom line over the Government’s free childcare expansion.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch the Channel 4 News clip that’s tickling the Remainiacs camp right now. But will the Be-Leavers have the last laugh?
4) DUBS STEP
So, just how many Tory rebels will abstain or vote with the Opposition today on child refugees? The Alf Dubs amendment to take in refugees from Europe, not just from the camps in and near Syria, will be voted on as the Immigration Bill returns to the Commons this afternoon.
Labour peer Dubs, who was himself rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport scheme, has sent a new letter to MPs: “The Government has tried to muddy the water with a concession that will not help a single child who is alone and vulnerable in Europe. I am making a plea to MPs from all parties to stand up on Monday, ignore their party whips and find a voice.”
The Indy claims unto 10 Tories could rebel, but I’m told the whips expect abstentions rather than votes against. Heidi Allen is one of the most outspoken Tory MPs on this topic (read her HuffPost interview HERE). She’s one of several who could be swayed if the Home Office changes its stance. But right now, Theresa May is digging in.
The real problem will come tomorrow when Labour and Lib Dem peers are ready to ping-pong the bill back. No.10 doesn’t want even the smallest crack in its no-refugees-from-the-EU stance, believing that would create the pull factor that has led to Merkel’s problems. Let’s see.
5) BHS SOS
The Mirror has a scoop on its front page with a letter from BHS bosses suggesting the biggest high street collapse since Woolworths (in 2008) could happen as early as today. There are 11,000 jobs at stake but ministers are hardly likely to offer some steel-industry style intervention given many analysts say the retailer just hasn’t kept upto date with online shopping.
So, why are ministers watching with a wary eye? Well, the state-backed pension protection fund could be called on to help with the £500m pensions black hole that makes BHS so unattractive to buyers. Sir Philip Green, a bogeyman for many tax campaigners, has offered £80m for the pension fund. He sold the firm for £1 to a consortium led by a man who had twice been declared bankrupt. There’s a certain irony that Sports Direct (under fire over its own workers’ rights) is the firm many want to rescue BHS.
Meanwhile, the FT reports that restaurant chain Zizzi has cut perks like tips and free food in order to cope with the rising minimum wage. ‘Retail politics’ became a dirty word in recent years, but politics about retail seems to be back.
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