The five things you need to know on Monday June 8, 2015...
BACK SACK CRACKS?
David Cameron’s defiant refusal to let ministers campaign for a ‘No’ vote in an EU referendum has certainly sparked a backlash. It’s worth noting his exact words: “If you want to be part of the government you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation to have a referendum and that will lead to a successful outcome.”
Lots of papers interpret that as a ‘Back Me or I’ll sack You’ message (the Mail) or at least a ‘Vote for Europe or resign (the Telegraph).
The risk of an historic split or crack in the Tory party has been obvious ever since the PM made his famous Bloomberg speech pledging an In-Out referendum. Many Eurosceps still point out that he would never have made such a pledge without 81 of them rebelling in the Commons.
Still, it’s clear that the PM feels emboldened by his election victory to take on what No.10 calls the ‘irreconcilables’ on the Tory benches. Barack Obama yesterday emerged from his meeting with Cameron sounding like a man who had been reassured that a Yes vote was gonna happen, saying he was ‘looking forward’ to the UK remaining part of the EU.
The new Conservatives for Britain group (note their title is ‘for’ something, not ‘against’ anything, part of the optimistic tone needed for change) has 50 Tories on board and could easily get the 100 Steve Baker expects.
David Davis has been on the Today prog and fired a salvo at the PM, declaring he’s not sure it would be ‘constitutional’ to ban ministers from campaigning for No. He added that Cameron’s position suggests he doesn’t have confidence in the result. "If the only people who will not have the freedom to vote and speak on it are ministers in the government, that is extraordinary and will likely lead to some people resigning from the government." That sounded like we could expect those resignations sooner rather than later.
But the PM is making a calculation that the Cabinet won’t risk their own career prospects by veering off collective responsibility. The Telegraph lists six senior figures it thinks could campaign for Brexit: IDS, Hammond, Javid, Gove, Fallon and Boris. Of that six, I personally reckon only IDS would really walk. Hammond himself was pretty loyal on Marr yesterday, don’t forget.
Boris is the only one with the Tory leadership in his sights. Some of his allies think he would be the perfect leader of a ‘No’ campaign and his words in his maiden last week suggested we could have a ‘glorious’ future outside the EU. Yet people like Douglas Carswell suspect that was all a cunning plan to make any watered down deal look like a great triumph as Boris praises it and gets rewarded with a Cabinet post. In his Tel column today, Bojo was as loyal as ever, saying the PM is making all the running on the EU.
It was left to James Wharton, the EU referendum bill sponsor last term and now a CLG minister (expect cries of ‘traitor’ from some colleagues) to make the Government’s case today. Wharton said ‘I think anything is possible. He’s ruled nothing out.’ But he was firmly loyal on the big question, saying it was ‘reasonable to expect’ ministers to quit if they disagreed with collective responsibility: ‘On big issues like this, we saw this with the Scottish referendum, the government takes a position. If you don’t want to take that position, you then leave.”
The Times splashes on claims that the PM is to lift the campaign limits in a referendum by 40%, from £5m to £7m, fuelling fears that he wants to rig the odds in favour of a (better funded) Yes vote. Still, it’s not clear that the No camp will be outspent.
Harriet Harman’s interview with the Independent proves the merits of having an acting leader freed of the cares of permanent office. The most eye-catching quote of all is her claim that even Labour supporters ‘feel relieved that we are not in government’.
This is a welcome ice-cold plunge pool for all those deluded by the 40,000 new extra Labour members signed up since the election, who believe that the nation is striving to get rid of the wicked Cameron administration. Harman’s words are backed up by focus groups from Deborah Mattinson, in which some Labour voters confessed to being ‘ a little bit disappointed and a little bit relieved that Miliband was not in power. Expect Cameron to feast on all this in PMQs this week.
I wonder if Harriet is a secret Liz Kendall supporter? She tells the Indy that she is urging the party to choose the leader who will best connect with voters in 2020, rather than make Labour members “feel glowing about our principles and values.”
Kendall yesterday on Marr was forced onto the defensive about just how much her own prospectus sounds like that of the Conservatives. She refused to condemn outright Osborne’s cuts programme, saying ‘let’s see what the details are’. Asked to answer Yvette Cooper’s charge that she was ‘swallowing’ the Tory manifesto, Kendall said defiantly: “The only thing I have swallowed is the sheer scale of the defeat that we faced at the election and the huge changes we need to win again.”
The gloves are coming off in this race. On Radio 4‘s Week In Westminster on Saturday, the discussion got pretty lively as Kendall backer Simon Danczuk told his party to ‘get real’ and claimed Cooper hadn’t laid a glove on Theresa May. Jess Philips and Louise Haigh made clear they weren’t in politics to ape the Tories.
Cooper at the weekend warned against choosing the ‘new but untested and naive option’‘. Kendall ally John Woodcock, who yesterday said the EdStone should be smashed up, saw that as another attack on his candidate. He tweeted: “Disappointed Yvette attacking @LizforLeader as ‘untested. Seen others over two decades, that’s why I’m backing Liz..Might be put on someone’s blacklist for that, but you know what? We need to turn the page on Labour machine politics and ‘doing people in’.”
SPECIALLY FOR YOU
The ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK was put under strain in Cam’s hour long chat with Obama last night. The President said he hoped Britain would stick to its 2% defence spending target, a warning that the Sun describes as a ‘dressing down’. A No.10 source admits: “President Obama said he thinks the 2% target is important and hoped the UK will continue to meet it”.
The PM was forced to respond by setting out all of the UK’s obligations worldwide - a line he uses a lot whenever this topic comes up - and how it continued to meet them. Cameron insisted the Prez, like everyone else, would have to wait for the comprehensive spending review in the autumn. Watch out for Defence Questions at 2.30pm today. Will ‘Big Vern’ Vernon Coaker hint he backs Kendall’s 2% call?
Meanwhile, the PM is trying to again be creative about overseas aid spending, telling the G7 it could be used to target countries that were the source of migrants heading for the Med.
The Sun has an exclusive that the G7 has quietly dropped its annual progress report on nations htting the 0.7% GDP target. Remember Blair’s Gleneagles summit and all those signatures committing to the target? Well, only Britain hit the figure this year. No wonder some Tory MPs now say the UK is ‘the world’s mug’ on the issue.
Yvette Cooper is today calling for refugee policy to be separated from immigration policy, declaring it’s ‘morally wrong’ to lump them both in the same migration target. That could help her with Labour members.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Check out a surprising item on the G7 agenda, courtesy of Patrick Wintour’s Tweet.
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
The looming Budget will offer a first glimpse of the comprehensive spending review battles ahead and the £12bn welfare cuts will be the focus for many. With the PM keen not to touch disability benefit and with child benefit having been ruled out categorically, all the chat in Whitehall is about tax credits and housing benefit being the main items on the cuts list. The Sunday Times yesterday said that axeing housing benefit for under-25s and restricting child tax credits to just two children were top of the DWP’s list.
But what’s top of the Treasury’s list? The Indy suggests ministers think cutting tax credits and Universal Credit would be more palatable politically because they are less visible.
A new report from the Resolution Foundation says IDS’s Universal Credit should now go ahead, but with key modifications to further help women’s earnings by increasing work incentives for second earners and lone parents.
The EU referendum bill has its second reading tomorrow and after Labour signalled it wouldn’t oppose the legislation the main stumbling block is the growing row over the voting age.
Senior Lib Dem peer Jim Wallace (aka Lord Wallace of Tankerness and a former Advocate General, dontcha know) has told the Times that many in his party hoped 16 and 17-year-olds would be given the franchise in the referendum. “It’s a matter for the Conservative party to say: really, is it worth getting our heels dug in for this? The clock is ticking.”
Does that mean the clock will tick on the Parliament Act? I’m not so sure it will go that nuclear. The Lib Dems and Labour (Baroness Smith, Labour’s new Shadow Leader of the Lords) made clear yesterday this issue was a big one for her too. But will they really want to dig in, to use Wallace’s own word?
To get round the Salisbury Convention, will both Labour and the Libs use the excuse that the Tory manifesto didn’t explicitly state the voting age? With the SNP determined to help teenagers, Dave will need all his MPs not to wobble in the Commons, but the Lords are the ones who could really delay things.
COMING UP LATER
The Scotland Bill has its second reading. George Osborne is due to meet the SNP's John Swinney today too.
Sol Campbell has chucked his hat in the ring for the Tory mayoral race (he’ll be speaking at the Conservative Way Forward hustings on July 4). The real question is: will Zac Goldsmith go for it or not?
The Telegraph has a story about Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner suggesting lorry drivers could stage ‘sit in’ barbeques on motorways to protest at austerity cuts. Expect Labour leader and deputy leader contenders to be asked about that one.
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