The five things you need to know on Friday July 3, 2015...
1) REMEMBRANCE DAY
The minute’s silence at noon today will allow us all to honour those murdered a week ago on the beach in Tunisia. The Queen in Scotland and David Cameron in Witney will take part in the moment of remembrance. Wimbledon will start later to allow spectators and players to observe the minute’s silence.
The faces of the killed Britons stare out of many paper front pages. But the wider politics of tackling ISIL are pressing, not least after Labour’s strong signal that it would back bombing in Syria.
Michael Fallon’s line yesterday that ‘we will not bring a motion to this House unless there is some consensus’ was met by Vernon Coaker’s open offer of support. Coaker stressed that he did not have access to the intelligence or military advice seen by the PM, but he hinted that if there’s evidence that ISIL plotted the Tunisian massacre from its Syrian HQ, then the RAF could do its duty.
Although there was some opposition from Tories such as John Redwood and Julian Lewis, Labour’s backing would make a vote on military action overwhelming. The Mail says the RAF could start bombing raids in September soon after Labour’s leadership result and a Commons return.
But are our armed forces equipped for fresh conflict and if not will our role be symbolic? At the superb Independence Day party at his residence in Regent’s Park last night (Philip Hammond, Chris Grayling, Greg Clark, Boris and others bopped to Duran Duran), US ambassador Matthew Barzun praised the special relationship. But Barzun yesterday told the Standard that the UK needs to meet its 2% defence spending commitment.
And in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson points out that it’s difficult for Cameron to push for more action in Syria unless he commits the wider cash. ‘If the US Air Force hasn’t been able to disable ISIL after the release of 15,000 bombs, why should a couple more RAF aircraft make much difference?’ Fraser writes. Fallon yesterday increased the amount spent fighting ISIL by £30 million - but that’s what the Pentagon spends fighting Isil every five days.
In his interview with HuffPostUK, Alan Johnson warns the Government that cutting neighbourhood policing is weakening our ability to have eyes and ears spotting terrorism and radicalisation on the streets. Johnson admits Tony Blair ‘overreacted’ to 7/7 but says a data comms bill is now essential. He also has some interesting thoughts on the Labour leadership race and why Nigel Farage is the perfect man to lead the EU ‘No’ campaign. Read it in full HERE.
2) THE WELFARE FATE
Next week’s Budget is hoving more into view and you can expect more stories in the weekend papers. But today the Independent splashes on details of those vexed £12bn welfare cuts. It says people on housing benefit could be forced to contribute part of their rent for the first time. With child benefit seemingly untouchable and the disabled and pensioners protected, the Chancellor has few options but housing benefit is a big target. It costs £26bn a year, with an average payment of £93 a week. A 10 per cent compulsory payment by tenants would save about £2.5bn a year.
The Mail also reports that George Osborne may lower the cap on benefits for one household in a year from £26,000 to £20,000 outside London and the South East, where rents are higher. The Chancellor originally planned to reduce the ceiling to £23,000 a year. The BBC yesterday also reported on plans to cut £30 a week from Employment Support Allowance.
The Guardian says cuts to in-work tax credits are on the table, and the idea of helping employers pay the living way is a live issue again.
3) CONTINUITY ERROR
Liz Kendall has stirred things up in the Labour leadership race with an interview in The Sun in which she utters the phrase that causes such bad blood among her rivals. “I think I’m the only person in this race that isn’t ‘Continuity Miliband’. The other candidates haven’t spelled out how they would be different from Ed Miliband. If we stick with what we have been saying for the last five or eight years, we will have the same result”.
Note the timeline there. Five or eight years suggests that she has in her sights not just Continuity Miliband but Incapability Brown. It also signals she thinks that Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham suffer as much from Brownite analyses of the world as Red Ed solutions. And in start contrast to Burnham, who this week attacked the ‘right wing’ media, Kendall said: “I am determined to change the party so that Sun readers look at us again and believe they can trust us with their money, trust us with their taxes, that we are on their side.”
Kendall keeps upping the ante in the rhetoric stakes. Yesterday she told the LGA hustings Labour would be out of power not just for 10 years but ‘for decades’ unless it tackled welfare reform.
She insists she’s not offering ‘Tory’ solutions, yet her critics saw fresh hints of that yesterday when she said: “We are going to have to face head-on the issues of welfare reform. I don't want to see £30 billion of taxpayers money spent on tax credits subsidising low pay employers. We've got to have a living wage society. I don't want to see £27 billion going on housing benefit. I want to see that money going on investment in building new homes. We are going to have to re-think what we do." Just what she means be ‘welfare reform’ is unclear.
The danger with the lack of detail is that while she wins a Blairite headline for the rhetoric, she risks sounding like she agrees with Cameron’s ‘high pay, lower welfare’ mantra.
Today is the Unison hustings in Manchester and afterwards Cooper will visit the Graphene centre. She will have a big speech pledging the UK should commit to public and private investment in science and R&D of 3% of GDP. She would also invite non-Labour supporting business people to join a team advising the Leader on science and digital policy.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch how this BBC Northern Ireland reporter had to deal with a urinating sheep. Yes, you read that right. Never work with children or animals...
4) CHARGE ON THE LATE BRIGADE
Jeremy Hunt is one of this Government’s ministers whose mild-mannered exterior belies a passion for radical reform. Last night he tackled the once-untouchable totem of charging patients for missing GPs’ appointments. The Health Secretary told the BBC’s Question Time that he does not ‘in principle’ object to charging and that “when people do miss an appointment they will be told how much that will cost the NHS as a first step."
Although Hunt made clear there were still ‘practical problems’ with charging, Tory chair of the Health Select Committee Sarah Wollaston was swift to Tweet that it risked ‘penalising’ those with severe depression or the bereaved. But when missed appointments are costing the NHS £1bn a year - and lateness causes delays that irritates the hell out of more punctual patients - Hunt could actually be tapping into something more popular than his critics believe.
5) CAMILLA BATMANANDROBIN
Camilla Batmanghelidjh has long been seen by politicians as the caped crusader of the charity world, battling for deprived kids with unorthodox solutions. But for just as long, some in the charitable sector have muttered about the unorthodox financial arrangements of her Kids’ Company and the way politicians were dazzled by celebrity backing. In March, Michael Gove’s former aide Dom Cummings said officials in the DfE had questioned the financial management of KC and didn’t think taxpayers’ cash should go into it. The PM himself personally objected to that approach at the time, but now Gove and Oliver Letwin have got their way it seems.
A joint Newsnight and BuzzFeed investigation has found that the Cabinet Office is withholding £3m from the charity unless Batmanghelidjh steps down.
And on the Today programme she’s announced she will do just that, while adding she was always planning to step aside in 2016. “As a founder I think it is very important to step down and hand an organisation over for other people to run it.”
ONES TO WATCH
Chris Grayling’s EVEL plans will make it much easier to campaign for Scots independence, Pete Wishart warned yesterday. Labour’s Gerald Kaufman even called EVEL ‘racist’. But what intrigues me is how the Speaker will decide which issue is subject to the new rules or not. And the idea of an iPad vote on Lords amendments is intriguing.
In a Times interview, Norman Lamb calls for the Lib Dems to cooperate with Labour. The Guardian reports him telling the IPPR that more than half of Tory ministers will have taken drugs.
The FT reports a new approach to promoting British trade could lead to job cuts at UKTI.
New papers from the National Archive show that civil servants used to have a sense of humour. The idea of a city state in Northern Ireland to house Hong Kong refugees was Sir Humphrey’s spoof.
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