The five things you need to know on Wednesday June 17, 2015...
David Cameron survived his first Tory Eurosceptic rebellion of the Parliament yesterday, but only thanks to Labour abstentions. The 25 Tory rebels figure (as well as 2 tellers) was viewed by the whips with some satisfaction precisely because they feared Labour’s decision to opt out had given Conservatives more licence to defy the Government. There were no 2015 intakers (although rebelling seven weeks after being first elected would be quite a thing) but more importantly many 2010-ers stayed away from the Sir Bill Cash amendment.
That’s not to say that damage wasn’t done. Liam Fox’s decision to vote against his party on a whipped vote, the first time in 23 years he’s done so, does not augur well for No.10 (which may be regretting it didn’t offer him a bigger job than that floated two reshuffles ago). Fox told me ‘I had no choice’. The way in which Downing Street has chopped and changed on the referendum date (the PM last week in PMQs actually refused to rule out next May) and other issues will fuel the backbench trope that Cameron is hamstrung by poor advice - and, worse, poor judgement.
As it happens, David Lidington did a good job yesterday of trying to explain the whole need to suspend the purdah restrictions, focusing on the impact on Government business with Brussels. It’s claimed that he couldn’t even stand in front of a PM lectern in Brussels under the old rules. But the dirty little secret in Whitehall over all this is that ministers and civil servants may have breached PPERA 2000 during the Scottish referendum. And the FCO wanted to make damned sure no such illegality was repeated in 2017.
Eurosceps have already pounced on No.10 refusing to rule out sending out mass mailshots before the final four weeks of the campaign. The Lidington compromise this autumn had better be good, or the rebellion could be much bigger - and Labour - under a tougher leader - may pounce. And that’s even without the Lords.
As for matters European, the PM’s main focus today is a trip to the Milan Expo where he will meet Italian PM Matteo Renzi as part of his EU renegotiation tour ahead of this month’s summit.
THE OSBORNE IDENTITY
George Osborne takes his first ever PMQs today and it’s a big moment. Since masterminding his party’s stunning election victory, the idea of him becoming Tory leader - laughed off only a few months ago as impossible - is back in play. He has the personnel in place, scattered across every Government department thanks to reshuffles he has guided over the years, and a record to fight on. This morning’s employment stats, plus the chaos in Greece, will be classic Osborne fodder for the noon showdown with Hilary Benn (expect questions on Brexit).
In a fascinating piece yesterday, the FT’s Janan Ganesh suggested that the new model Osborne is actually more ideological than the dessicated political calculating machine of yesteryear. The lock on tax rises and on the deficit are not political gimmicks to trap the Opposition, Gordon Brown-style, but because Osborne actually believes in what he’s doing, Ganesh said. It all reminds me of those who woke up to Tony Blair in his second term over private sector provision and foreign policy: he wasn’t doing it to triangulate or please Bush. As one MP put it at the time: ‘It’s worse, he actually believes this stuff’.
Yet standing in at PMQs - as First Secretary of State now that William Hague has gone - could still be the closest he gets to the top job. Boris Johnson will be the man to watch today, if he turns up. In fact, wouldn’t it be typically Boris for him to try to intervene in a question..and wouldn’t the Speaker be keen to choose him? Theresa May too, will be worth watching for her reaction.
Osborne still has plenty of cuts to deliver. The Times reports how he will meet generals today to hammer out a deal on defence spending. But will Labour tackle him on claims that IDS now has to find £15bn in welfare cuts?
Without a deputy right now, Labour’s choice was ad hoc. Hilary Benn was chosen simply because Harriet Harman looked around the Shadow Cabinet table and wondered who the most ‘senior’ figure was. Yvette Cooper had been an MP for longer but was not an option, her husband Ed was gone (now that would have been a PMQs), so Benn was viewed as the man. His Shadow Foreign Secretary role is one of the most senior too.
LOW DEFINITION TV
Tonight’s BBC Newsnight at 7pm is the first live televised hustings for the Labour leadership candidates. After the spat over the last few days over the ‘Tony Taliban’, will any of them want to engage with the idea that Blairism equals being a Tory? Yvette Cooper’s camp told HuffPost last night that no negative unattributed briefings will come from them. But being comradely doesn’t mean not attacking your rivals on the record over their different vision for the party. Will any of the contenders do what’s needed in a debate - and intervene - and interrupt- each other to land a blow on their opponents? Or, whisper it quietly, actually come up with a new policy?
Newsnight will be screened in HDTV but each contender will strive for that magic quality, political ‘definition’, beyond the folksy anecdotes that could rapidly curdle with repetition in this race. The bigger picture is whether any of the candidates can get the momentum needed from this first debate (and there will be lots of others) to carry them into the rest of the summer.
As for the Tories For Corbyn movement, highlighted by Toby Young and Ruth Davidson, party insiders tell me there’s little they can do to stop Tories signing up for £3 as long as they are on the electoral roll. But they could look again at whether those signing up are meeting their pledge to ‘support’ the party.
Nominations for Deputy leader close at noon today. Tom Watson has the support of 59 and Caroline Flint has the backing of 41, putting both of them safely over the required 35. As of this morning, Stella Creasy has 28 - will she get the extra 7 MPs nominations in a last-minute rush like Jeremy Corbyn the other day? Rushanara Ali had just 24, Angela Eagle and Ben Bradshaw 25 each.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Donald Trump launch his bid for the US Presidency. No, he didn’t say ‘It’s great to be in Trumpton..’, he said ‘It’s great to be in Trump Tower’. It’s like a Veep/ThickOfIt mash-up.
50 SHEDS OF GREY
I wonder if any of the Labour contenders will have an answer to the party’s failure to connect with older voters? The Indy reports on new polling - I know that word brings out hives among many at Westminster but the analysis is by Prof John Curtice, of exit poll fame - showing Labour’s ‘spectacular’ drop in support among pensioners.
The IpsosMORI survey shows the party managed just 23% of over-65s in 2015, down 8 points from 2010. That’s shedloads of grey votes drifting away, both to UKIP and the Tories. Milifandom meant a rise of 12% (to 43%) of the under 24 vote, but youngsters just don’t turn out in great numbers, and there are fewer of them.
Yesterday, Liam Byrne wrote a scathing piece on LabourList to point out: “While the Tories promised early access to pension pots, the triple lock, a council tax freeze and protection of winter fuel allowance for all, we had frankly very little to say. But here’s the timebomb. At the next election, they will be 1.6 million more voters over the age of 65 and 40% of voters will be over 50. If we don’t put a place a brilliant offer for older voters, we are, quite simply, not going to get re-elected.”
Meanwhile, Age UK says that the social care crisis means that 19% more pensioners were forced to stay in hospital (which costs £2,000 per bed per week) last year rather than go into community care (which costs £560 a week).
Philip Hammond may get into hot water with LGBT campaigners after deciding that the rainbow flag will not be flown to mark gay pride events in foreign embassies this summer. The flag was flown by embassies including Tel Aviv, Paris and Oslo last year, prior to the Foreign Secretary taking up his post.
But the Mail, and Indy and others, have picked up on quotes from an FCO spokesman that the Union flag is now the only option: “It is the FCO’s long-standing policy to fly the Union flag, national flags and the flags of Overseas Territories. UK Diplomatic Missions around the world will mark Pride Week in a number of ways."
Stonewall ain’t happy and many are already pointing out that Hammond was one of four government ministers in the new cabinet to vote against marriage for same-sex couples.
As it happens, Jeb Bush, in a Fox News interview to be aired tonight, says: ““I believe in traditional marriage. I hope the Supreme Court rules that way.”
COMING UP LATER
Before Osborne-Benn PMQs, it’s Welsh Questions. Away from Scotland, don’t forget that Stephen Crabb has a wide-ranging Wales Bill to get through.
From 10am to 5pm, MPs will be voting for the select committee chairmanships.
Those job stats at 9.30am will be pored over for the detail.
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