The five things you need to know on Thursday July 2, 2015...
1) ILLOGICAL, CAPTAIN
The big news today is Michael Fallon’s ominous signal that the UK could start bombing ISIL in Syria, not just Iraq. The Defence Secretary will speak in a scheduled Commons debate on ‘Britain and International Security’ (around 1.30pm). I understand he will echo remarks he made yesterday on Radio 4’s World at One.
And those words were striking indeed: “It is a new Parliament and I think Members of Parliament will want to think very carefully about how we best deal with ISIL and the illogicality of ISIL not respecting the borderlines, they don’t differentiate between Syria and Iraq.”
At the Lobby briefing later, the PM’s spokeswoman said didn’t steer us away from a big development, stressing David Cameron had been “clear on the need for us to be crushing Isil in both Iraq and Syria” in his Tunisia response on Monday. The “full-spectrum response” included “looking at a whole range of areas”.
Fallon won’t today give any specific timing on a new vote, but few expect anything before the new Labour leader is elected in September. No10 is determined not to get caught out again by Labour with a Miliband-style last-minute volte face as happened over WMD in the last Parliament.
Few realise that Hilary Benn was very influential back then in persuading Miliband to oppose Cameron. But even Miliband relented to allow Iraq bombings last year. And now as Shadow Foreign Secretary Benn himself has changed the mood music to hint action in Syria could be possible. Fallon seems to think international law covers the Iraqis requesting action over the border as well as in their own country. If Labour is on board, even doubtful Tories would lack numbers to oppose a vote.
Still, the new Foreign Affairs Select chairman Crispin Blunt told Today that “there’s no military necessity to this..we are getting ourselves into a slightly more legal grey area...It becomes more questionable when not operating under a UN resolution.” With all that Hutton/Butler/Chilcot history freighting the decision, you can bet the FCO will be voicing similar concerns.
The Tunisian government has just announced it has arrested 12 suspects tied to the beach attack last week. Another grim cargo arrives in RAF Brize Norton later.
2) ESA DOES IT
The BBC Today programme has a scoop that ministers are reviving a secret Coalition plan to cut sickness benefits. It has a leaked Whitehall paper describing the Employment and Support Allowance as a "passive" benefit which does not "incentivise" people to find a job, and proposes abolishing the work-related activity group (WRAG) category. If scrapped, weekly payments would drop nearly £30, bringing it in line with Jobseeker's Allowance.
Charlie Pickles of the think tank Reform says change to ESA is overdue. ‘We are just not seeing people come off the benefit....we are seeing very high numbers just staying on the benefit’.
IDS was on robust form yesterday as he unveiled changes to child poverty, denying Stephen Timm’s charge that he’d read the obituary for ‘compassionate Conservativism’. Alan Milburn and Frank Field provided helpful cover. IDS had a trickier time over PA’s exclusive that he was among MPs to have their expenses cards suspended.
3) GREEK KIDOLOGY
It was another rollercoaster day in the Greece saga yesterday. Tsipras’s apparent caving in on key demands didn’t cut much ice with eurozone chiefs, not least the Germans. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis then accused the creditors of blackmail. The IMF’s Christine Lagarde was scathing on CNN last night, using her ‘kidulthood’ jibe once more: “Given the level of uncertainty, confusion and constant movement, I think a bit more adulthood would still be needed".
In the business section of the Today programme, Deputy Bank of England Governor Jon Cunliffe came close to telling us about the UK’s own contingency plans for Grexit. Cunliffe, a wise old bird who rose at the Treasury under Gordon Brown and then advised Cameron on Europe, talked of ‘peripheral’ economies in the eurozone facing a real challenge if Greece quit the euro. Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain will all be in the firing line. Cunliffe said new financial ‘defences’ were in place to prevent contagion but they would ‘be tested’.
Meanwhile, the released Hillary Clinton emails are dripping out and there are a few Brit references. In one, she ridiculed Cameron’s letter to Vaclav Klaus to scupper the Lisbon Treaty, saying it ‘seriously damaged’ his relations with Angela Merkel. But Clinton was more interested in Tony Blair winning the Euro Presidency, saying Cameron’s move was “wacky – but it perhaps leaves a very small opening for Tony.”
HuffPost has an interview with Alan Johnson, the new head of Labour’s ‘Yes’ campaign for the EU referendum, out later today.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Check out this video of a clever Rottweiler showing it’s ‘mean face’ on demand. Makes Michael Fallon look like a pussycat.
4) LOCAL LABOUR
They’re going local, but it’s not quite Acapulco. The Local Government Association conference is in Harrogate, not Mexico. But it hosts hustings for the Labour leadership contenders and both Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper have lined up announcements. HuffPost can reveal that Kendall has got 100 Labour councillors backing her campaign, all of them declaring she’s the best choice to deliver devolved public services.
Meanwhile, Yvette Cooper has announced she would deliver more devolution to councils on education, energy and skills. In a riposte Free School centralisation, she wants more combined authorities working with schools.
One party source tells me that the Kendall camp believe they are in first place on their own voter ID returns, though with a large number of don’t knows and a heavy health warning that members don’t always tell each campaign exactly what they’re planning. Former veteran MP Frank Roy is masterminding the Kendall field operation, I’m told.
But the Sun reports that ‘internal soundings’ suggest Jeremy Corbyn is now third in the race with Kendall in fourth place. It also has a party source claiming Andy Burnham’s recent attack on the ‘right wing’ media, plus a private schools crackdown, are signs of panic over the Corbyn rise. “Andy is swinging Left to get Corbyn’s second preferences because they reckon most of Liz’s will go to Yvette Cooper.”
Meanwhile, Labour pains over the Ed Stone were exploited at the Tory Party’s fundraiser at the Hurlingham this week. A life-size replica of the stone tablet was bought by an unknown bidder for £130k (was it Lord Ashcroft?) and the Times has a pic of Lord Feldman talking through the six promises. Tories love the Stone. The Sun say another replica will appear on the country estate of Tory donor David Ross.
5) EVEL PLAYING FIELD
Today’s the day that many in the SNP suspect Chris Grayling will fire the starting gun on English Votes For English Laws (indeed the Order Paper confirms he’ll make a statement this morning). To the fury of the nationalists, the Commons leader is expected to confirm that standing orders, rather than new legislation, will be used. The Telegraph reports that the plan will be put to a vote on the floor of the Commons later this month. Let’s see how much debate time Grayling grants.
The PM was firm yesterday, declaring “What this is going to introduce is a system to make sure the wishes of English MPs cannot be overruled."
One area where there is now a slightly more level playing field is in the Commons dress codes. As highlighted in the WaughZone yesterday, male reporters are expected to wear jackets and ties in the Press Gallery unless the Speaker deems it’s too hot. After pleas for relief from the heatwave, he gave us a reprieve, thankfully, until recess. But with Westminster Hall now allowing MPs to go jacketless (step forward pioneer Mark Pritchard), will the Speaker extend the privilege to the main chamber for male Members too? Judging by his tweets to me last night, it sounds like 2015 intaker Wes Streeting would be keen.
ONES TO WATCH
A damning report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has found a third of police investigations into child sex abuse allegations are ‘inadequate’.
Greg Clark will tell the LGA conference that many young people are being "exiled" from the neighbourhoods they grew up in because of a lack of affordable housing. Harriet Harman will attend too, to warn of the drop in home ownership.
The Guardian reveals a new nugget on IDS’s child poverty target changes unveiled yesterday (which Labour claimed was buried under the bad news of Heathrow). The paper says the changes had in fact been green lighted by David Laws, but they were shelved when George Osborne feared a political backlash.
The Sun has a scoop that five Commons laptops in public meeting rooms were used to access porn. House officials also revealed office computers used by staff, MPs and Lords have tried to load banned pages thousands of times, including revenge porn, incest, indecent videos of teenage girls and shocking torture porn sites.
The DEFRA report on fracking, released after a year-long campaign by Greenpeace, warns house prices could fall by 7%, while bringing pollution and traffic.
And finally, to mark the death of Sir Nicolas Winton, watch this extraordinary That’s Life clip of him meeting the people he’d saved from the Nazi death camps.
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