The five things you need to know on Monday July 13, 2015...
1) BLANKETY BLANK
It got slightly lost amid the noise and fury last week but Harriet Harman’s Budget response focused on the need for Labour not to offer ‘blanket’ rejection of George Osborne’s plans. The interim Labour leader warned against Opposition for opposition’s sake. That approach was signed off by the Shadow Cabinet as a holding pattern, but Harman has clearly taken it to heart, telling Andrew Neil yesterday ‘I think we won’t oppose the Welfare Bill’, and that she won’t oppose the household benefit cap and won’t oppose the two-child benefit restrictions.
Now, it’s worth noting that Harman did not say Labour didn’t have problems with the tax credit cuts. But that hasn’t stopped Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn all reacting swiftly to burnish their credentials with the party rank and file. So far, only Liz Kendall has not rushed to condemnation.
‘She’s an interim leader who ought to start behaving like an interim leader’ one campaign manager mutters darkly. The gap between Labour having to do its ‘day job’ of Opposition and its process of selecting a new leader has never been so stark. Yet I suspect that Harman is remembering how she last played this acting leader role in 2010 - and how Labour allowed the Coalition to paint it into a corner under Ed Miliband.
Harriet Harman and Chris Leslie will face the PLP tonight. Note that Leslie’s failure to oppose public sector pay freezes last week caused a few eyebrow raises among the leadership bid campaigns too (not least in the Cooper camp).
The Sun puts on its front page a story denouncing ‘hypocrite’ Burnham over his refusal to talk to the paper (an echo of Labour’s stance under Ed Miliband in the general election) on the grounds of its coverage of Hillsborough. It says he was happy to talk to the paper in 2010 but won’t now.
And it all got pretty nasty pretty quickly yesterday. Tristram Hunt, who said the party ‘needs as many friends as possible’, came under swift attack from one shadow minister who told me he was a ‘public school academic’. In turn, former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith Tweeted that the anonymous MP should ‘shut the f*ck up’. That gap between appealing to the wider voters and the party never looked so wide.
Labour in-fighting is a gift to the Tories, which is of course partly why Osborne lays his benefit traps. But it’s worth reminding everyone that this is a leadership race like none other and it’s genuinely very difficult to read the party membership’s mood. Constituency Labour Party nominations are great for us hacks (and Corbyn is second - hence the Labour First move, revealed by HuffPost, to stop him) as they give us something to measure things by. Yet CLP nominations are not a reliable guide at all to the thinking of those party members who don’t turn up to meetings. We had ‘shy Tories’ at the election, so it’s no wonder that Kendall hopes ‘shy Blairites’ could win the day for her. A few MPs are now wondering whether one ‘shy Blairite’ is Harriet Harman herself...
2) DC, DRONE HOME
Another area where Labour have recently taken a more ‘mature’ approach to Opposition under Harman is on defence and foreign affairs. After the debacle of the 2013 Syria vote, David Cameron never again wants to ask the Commons for backing for military action without being sure he has Labour’s support. And in recent weeks Harman, Hilary Benn and Vernon Coaker have toughened the language in suggesting extension of bombing of ISIL in Syria could get the go-ahead (though note it’s not a blank cheque).
Today, the PM wants to build on last week’s Budget announcement about the 2% defence spending that delighted so many of his party. He’s visiting RAF Waddington (home to our drone HQ) with a plea for more cash for both drones and special forces. Of course in the absence of ‘boots on the ground’, they are our two main weapons in any stepping up of our help for the Americans against ISIL. It’s slightly curious when a PM makes his own public bid for funds ahead of a defence review but the top brass will be pleased. It’s a moot point whether any UK action in Syria is more symbolic than of significant practical value to the much larger US action.
It’s Defence Questions in the Commons at 2.30pm. We then have the continuation of the Budget debate.
3) GREECE TIGHTENING
Eurozone leaders have gone through the night locked in talks and it looks like a deal has been done. The puff of white smoke is emerging and Greek capitulation looks a reality. Germany’s good cop-bad cop double act of Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble look like they worked over Alexis Tsipras and got what they wanted. But Schauble didn't get all his way and Merkel's belief in European unity weighted heavily in the calculations, not least on debt restructuring and basing the asset fund in Greece not Luxembourg.
France was keener on helping Greece, though there was a stand-out phrase in the Guardian from one Brussels official: that Merkel and Hollande had subjected Alexis Tsipras to ‘extensive mental waterboarding’ in talks yesterday. Tsipras is going to have to pay a high price for any bailout, with much worse austerity than he’d bargained for - and than his voters voted for only last week. He can claim partial victory on debt restructuring but will his voters approve it?
The can is being kicked down the road a little more, to Wednesday and Thursday (despite Donald Tusk’s warning that Sunday was the final, final, deadline). On the not unrelated matter of immigration, the Times reports Theresa May has given colleagues a new paper to curb non-EU numbers by cutting partners and dependants of postgrads.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this little kid playing basketball...it is indeed the best analogy so far of the Greek referendum
4) STRIKE A LIGHT, GOV
The PM and Sajid Javid are keen to press hard on the deep purple bruise that is Labour’s links to the trade unions. The Trade Union Bill is expected to get its first reading on Wednesday (my, that’s going to be a busy day), fast-tracked to show to public the Government intends to react to a summer of planned strikes with a higher requirement on ballot thresholds.
The Times highlights that Unite has changed its rule book to remove a caveat that all industrial action has to be lawful. Don’t forget the second reading of this bill will take place in September, just as Labour’s new leader is elected and ahead of the TUC and Labour conferences. And this is indeed all part of the Tories’ ‘blue wedge’ strategy to divide the public from Labour activists, pitting them as defending ‘producer interests’ rather than consumer interests.
Yesterday Tristram Hunt pointed out that the NUT had been wrong to strike on a mandate from 2012. He’s right that some unions want to update the law, but none wants the thresholds the Tories are forcing on them. As it happens, on this consumer-producer split, Liz Kendall’s idea last week of a public sector pay rise as a reward for 5% NHS efficiency gains shows that she is unafraid of trying to reshape that debate.
5) WHAT DID THE FOX SAY?
The foxhunting vote is on Wednesday and the PM hopes to vote in person for the reforms (though if he has to be in Brussels that may not be possible). The Mirror has an interview with a former huntsman Clifford Pellow who is leading the fight to block the changes. “I got sick of the cruelty” he tells the paper.
No.10 are more aware than most of the PR problem of being portrayed as ‘red-coated Tory toffs riding to hounds’ and how that jars with the new message of a ‘party of working people’ in urban and suburban seats. Hence the free vote, hence the moves short of full repeal, hence a swift vote early on this Parliament.
But with Labour whipping its troops (slightly ironic given that Parliamentary ‘whipping’ stems from ‘whipping in’, a foxhunting term to control the dogs), so the 40 or so anti-cruelty Tory MPs could be crucial.
With a majority of just 12, hunt reformers are hoping that they can win the day if the 56 SNP MPs stay out of it all. Yet it’s clear the Scot Nats are going to make them squirm, not least in retaliation for English Votes for English Laws (EVEL). Kirsty Blackman told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that the SNP ‘will examine the detail’ before deciding. There could be a focus on the ‘research’ element of the statutory instrument that the Scots say could have implications for hunting north of the border.
Note that the sequencing of the votes is very deliberate on Wednesday. Foxhunting comes before the EVEL general debate. If the SNP turn out on what’s meant to be an English-only matter, you can then expect the Tory backbenches to be in full hue and cry.
ONES TO WATCH
A sugar tax is again on the agenda as the Mail splashes on the BMA’s call for a 20% levy on sugary drinks.
The Public Accounts Committee at 4pm hears about the financial sustainability of our police forces. Evidence from Home Office and HMIC chiefs.
The Sun reports that Save the Children spent a third of its creative and ad budget with a firm run by its boss’s brother.
The Sun also splashes that Lewis Hamilton was turned away from the Royal Box at Wimbledon because he wasn’t wearing a jacket and tie.
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