The five things you need to know on Monday June 1 2015...
Parliament is back in earnest. And so too is The Waugh Room, the original morning briefing on what’s moving in Westminster and Whitehall (and now occasionally Washington).
Readers new and old are welcome aboard. Don’t forget my email is now email@example.com.
1) JUNKING CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
The absence of the British Bill of Rights from the Queen’s Speech last week caught everyone’s eye last week. The problem of electoral arithmetic (‘Runnymeade Tory’ civil liberties rebels in the Commons, a Government minority in the Lords) was one factor. Another, less glamorous but equally true, was the fact that Michael Gove is new to his brief and wants more time to get the policy right.
But the behind-the-scenes battle over the European Convention on Human Rights is where the real meat is. The Telegraph splashes that David Cameron has ruled out pulling out of the Convention despite objections from Gove and Theresa May.
Gove and May (like Chris Grayling in the last Parliament) think that withdrawal could be ‘the only solution’ to restoring the supremacy of British courts over Strasbourg judges.
But No.10, ever mindful of looking ‘extreme’ among moderate voters, disagrees. A senior Government source says: "Withdrawal is not going to happen. Michael Gove and Theresa May think it's the only solution but David Cameron's clear this is off the table.”
Last week, the Sun - which was furious at the Queen’s Speech delay - also pointed out that the real story was that Downing Street was against withdrawal from the Convention. Grayling’s own policy failed to make the Tory manifesto. No.10 sources say that folks should wait for the actual proposals and ‘not be too hasty’ to judge at this stage. A source tells me this morning: 'our manifesto pledge is absolutely clear and everyone in Government is signed up to it'.
Germany, which is being helpful on EU renegotiation, could offer a way out. Never forget the German constitutional court takes precedence over Strasbourg even though Berlin is a full signatory to the ECHR.
The stakes are high. If the PM can get a hard-hitting reform of the UK’s control over human rights, this could outweigh doubts that he’s failed to get bigger repatriation of powers from Brussels. And Tory focus groups show that more voters are more worried about our impotence over Abu Qatada than about interminable Brussels rows.
EU reform and human rights are separate issues, but ahead of a 2017 referendum, every little helps.
2) THE CARE ‘MARE BUNCH
Priti Patel has been on the airwaves pushing the Government’s fast-tracked childcare policy (the top line is it will be trialled in September 2016, not 2017 as planned). The PM himself, Whitehall’s very own Daddy DayCare, is staging a visit to meet some parents and pre-schoolers.
The accelerated timetable for the Childcare Bill is a key part of the sense of urgency and momentum No.10 wants to maintain since May 7. It’s also a key part of Cameron’s central theme of being in touch with bread-and-butter issues millions of voters care about, and the nightmare of juggling and funding childcare is all too real for many.
The politics are important too. George Osborne is determined to reach as many working mums as possible, extending the scheme beyond the poorest so those with joint incomes of upto £150k can get help. Just as Gordon Brown appealed to the squeezed middle with tax credits, so too this equally political of Chancellors wants to touch those not on the breadline.
As Gavin Kelly of the Resolution Foundation puts it today, this extension of the welfare state under a Tory government would have been ‘inconceivable even 10 years ago’.
The FT however has a story that will upset some parents: IDS has told officials to draft plans to axe child benefit for families with more than two kids. The other option is to cut first-child benefit to the level of other siblings too.
3) FIRST RULE OF LABOUR FIGHTCLUB
The first rule of Labour leadership infighting is that you don’t talk about Labour leadership infighting. That’s why you’ll have each of the contenders pretending that their barbs against each other are not really aimed at anyone in particular, that this is not about personalities but Tony Benn’s famous ‘ishoos’. Yvette Cooper tried that tack on Marr yesterday, but the digs at her opponents were not so much ‘thinly veiled’ (a mainstay of the Lobby Intro Jar) as crystal clear.
Cooper’s line that Labour shouldn’t be ‘stigmatising’ those on welfare was an obvious reference to Andy Burnham’s remark last week that the party shouldn’t given an ‘easy ride’ to the workshy. Similarly, her comment that Labour doesn’t have to ‘swallow the Tory manifesto’ (a point first made in her HuffPostUK blog last weekend) was an obvious attack on Liz Kendall’s backing for Free Schools and private sector knowhow.
On 5Live’s Pienaar show, Burnham took aim at Kendall’s call for 2% defence spending, pointing out it was “not wise” to make such a pledge without explaining how you were going to pay for it. I raised this point directly with Kendall last month and, given her insistence on fiscal rectitude, it was surprising that her answer was that it was upto the Government to find the money, not Labour to explain how to fund it.
Some Labour insiders also mutter that while Kendall may be the darling of the media, she is still virtually unknown ‘out there’ among Labour members. Will that be a blessing or a curse?
Burnham last night became the first to publish the 35 MPs names he needs to get on the ballot. Cooper’s camp doesn’t want to be bounced into immediately following suit and will probably get its list out later this week.
One problem with the 2010 leader race was that the Labour FightClub rules were adhered to so strictly. There were so few punch-ups between candidates that it was hard for members to see just how left-wing Ed Miliband would be (or how Blairite David would be). The 2015 race is already shaping up to be different.
The danger, of course, is that this could end up looking not like a boxing ring, but a circular firing squad.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Check out our pic of a youthful Tim Farron, complete with hat and white socks. So on trend...
4) OFFENCE THE BEST DEFENCE
Michael Fallon has been in Singapore, warning of the dangers of war in the South China Sea and how Britain can help deter it by spending enough on our military. On the sidelines of a meeting of defence ministers (the sidelines are always the best spot for a juicy quote), Fallon also fired a shot across the bows of the Treasury as much as Beijing. “Who said I’m going to be asked to cut? My job is to make sure that the armed forces have what they need to keep Britain safe. That’s what I’ll be negotiating with the Chancellor.”
The Times reported last week that the MoD had been asked to find £1bn in savings from its £36bn budget. The real battle, aka the next Comprehensive Spending Review, has already begun.
The Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech continues, with foreign affairs the topic today.
5) END OF THE INCREDIBLE BULK?
You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Rand Paul, the Republican libertarian and Presidential hopeful, last night claimed at temporary victory as the US Senate decided not to renew laws allowing the bulk collection of data from American citizens. “This is what we fought the Revolution over”, Paul said, somewhat improbably.
The delay in the Patriot Act is temporary but the dramatic and unusual late Sunday night sitting ensured Paul irritated more mainstream colleagues - and ensured he got the TV publicity he was seeking. Still, he looks like being the new pin-up boy for the Guardian’s campaign to overhaul NSA oversight post-Snowden. Uneasy bedfellows indeed.
COMING UP LATER
George Osborne will be in the Midlands, pushing another regional ‘Powerhouse’. I see the PM has a Written Ministerial Statement on ‘cities policy’. Expect too a ‘machinery of Government’ statement.
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