The five things you need to know on Tuesday September 1, 2015...
1) PURDAH SQUAD
Government sources tell me there is ‘likely’ to be a new amendment to the EU referendum bill published today and it will indeed reinstate a 28-day ‘purdah’ period. There will however be exemptions for some ministerial actions and statements and it’s the precise nature of those that will be the real focus for Tory Eurosceptics.
Some in the FCO mutter that you can feed the backbench beast and it will always ask for more, but No.10 knows that Labour’s amendment this summer offered it a way through without junking all rights to ministerial flexibility. It’s worth noting that Harriet Harman got her way on this amendment, and some Labour MPs felt Hilary Benn was too ready to go along with Cameron and Hammond rather than exert a ‘Maastricht-style’ pressure of an alliance with Tory rebels. It’s that threat of a Maastricht alliance that appears to have forced the Government’s hand.
Europe minister David Lidington (pictured above), one of the great survivors in this Government (especially since he lost his main protector William Hague) knows more about Brussels and this terrain than most and his compromise plan may hold (despite a smaller Tory rebellion) if it satisfies Labour. The devil will be in the detail of the amendment.
Yesterday’s retreat by No.10 on the issue of a ‘Yes/No’ question being replaced by a ‘Remain/Leave’ question was welcomed by Eurosceps, but many Outers felt it was a sideshow compared to the possible impact of purdah suspension. We will now have ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns rather than Yes/No campaigns. I’m told the In camp will launch formally in October, but it is waiting for all party leaders conference speeches (not least Corbyn’s) before making moves on who will lead it.
Boris was swift yesterday to say how ‘disappointed’ he was at Cameron’s apparent watering down of plans to get a full opt-out of employment rights. We could get even more Eurosceptic Bojo noises, not least given the latest ConHome survey (the Indy gives it big licks today) puts him in 5th place in the future leader stakes (down 5% to just 12%), way behind George Osborne on 33%.
2) BACK/SACK CRACKS
Chuka Umunna has been on the Today programme following up his speech last night urging Labour to back whoever wins the leadership, including Jeremy Corbyn. With many shadow ministers now convinced Corbyn will win, their thoughts are turning to whether they will back him or plot to sack him before 2020. Some tell me they will stick with it, as the guarantors of the ‘mainstream’ on policy, and will battle hard in any policy reviews at conference. Others just despair and think the party has made its bed and has to lie in it for a couple of years until the polls become so bad that a new mood for change emerges.
Umunna appears to take the former approach. Asked if he’d serve in a Corbyn Shad Cab this morning, he pointed to a long list of Corbyn stances he had ‘great concerns’ about, from wooliness on EU and Nato membership, nationalisation plan and ‘QE for the people’. “I would find it difficult” to serve if those became party positions, Umunna said. But that’s the point: they may not become party positions. “It completely depends on the programme you’ve been asked to sign up to. It isn’t just about the leader”, he added, and said that ‘consensus’ was needed.
And on things like Trident, as I’ve pointed out before, its unlikely the trade unions (given their members jobs) would back scrapping the nuclear renewal. Ditto the EU and Nato. But if the new members stick around and join up properly, who knows? Umunna was keen to point out how much he welcomed the ‘wonderful’ new influx, though added ‘we can’t have a flashmob democracy’.
However, I note that Chuka also said that “ultimately we are all keen to contribute” but also “you don’t only contribute by serving in a shadow cabinet”. If he were to decide he couldn’t continue, others may well follow suit.
3) HUNGARY FOR CHANGE
The sight of Syrian refugees in Budapest’s eastern train station last night chanting ‘Germany, Germany’ was quite something (though I’m not sure why they didn’t chant ‘Deutschland, Deutschland’). Newsnight last night pointed out that many of those heading to Germany in the recent influx were however Kosovans and Albanians, so the problem of sorting out nationality is going to prove a real headache for them and the overstretched ‘front line’ states like Hungary.
But Angela Merkel’s bold offer of 800,000 refugee places has clearly won her fans not just in Syria but among progressive parties and voters in Europe. Our HuffPost Germany editor has blogged on just how Merkel has responded to the new mood to counter the recent minority who have staged demonstrations against migrants in his country. (Some football stadiums this weekend actually had ‘Refugees Welcome’ banners on display - imagine that in the UK).
Yvette Cooper is the first UK politician to actually put a concrete number on how many Syrian refugees we should take and has won praise in several papers for her 10,000 offer (she even gets the splash in the Metro), with ten in every borough. But even that 10,000 pales compared to that 800,000 figure from Merkel and underscores her point that the rest of the EU just isn’t doing enough (Germany registered 3,500 in just one day recently).
The Times splashes on warnings from an ally of Merkel that Cameron’s reluctance to join a common effort could jeopardise his wider EU renegotiation. Stephan Mayer, home affairs spokesman for Merkel’s MPs told the paper: “If the British government is continuing to hold this position that Great Britain is out of the club in this big task in sharing the [migrant] burden, certainly this could do some harm to the bilateral British-German relationship, and certainly also to David Cameron’s ambitions to be successful in the renegotiation [of Britain’s EU relationship].”
And the Telegraph reports Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann is warning he wants more ‘solidarity’ from the UK or else our renegotiation could be in trouble. The biggest surprise was that Guy Verhofstadt stopped short on Today of going that far in linking the two issues.
I should point out that The European Commission is proposing more than mere 'quotas'. It is clear that while there is a right to asylum under the Geneva Convention, "people who do not have a right to stay in Europe, need to be sent back". Its plan in May included moves to increase the rate of deportations of 'irregular migrants'. That's one to watch.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Jeremy Corbyn smile a feline smile directly to the camera at the end of the Channel 4 debate, as Yvette Cooper attacks his record of voting 500 times against his party. A priceless study of the self-confidence of a front-runner.
4) FREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
For lots of parents, today is the day their kids go to Big School for the first time. And David Cameron and Nicky Morgan are determined to offer Free Schools as the answer to a severe shortage of places/choice at secondary level. The PM has vowed he ‘will not waver’ in his pledge to open 500 new Free Schools by 2020, with 18 extra bids confirmed today. A further 52 come on stream in the next few days.
The Guardian prefers to focus on the fact that Toby Young’s free school failed to get the green light for a new one in Oxford and a rival Swan School. What’s noticeable about the latest tranche is now many are being backed or helped by their local authority (including the Labour-run council in Oxford). A case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’? Still, there are some teething problems. One new Free School in Kingston is having to open as a series of portakabins - dubbed a ‘learning village’ by the local council - because its main building hasn’t been adapted in time for the start of school term.
5) VEST IS BEST
Some around Jeremy Corbyn are realising that his age could actually be a vote-winner, not least given the number of pensioners Labour lost at the last election. Literally a ‘greybeard’, complete with a vest and above pensionable age (he’s 66 folks), Corbyn has today written a piece for the Telegraph (noting its more elderly demographic perhaps), in which he says Britain needs a “flexible pension age” to allow people in physically demanding jobs to be able to retire and claim their pensions earlier.
This is a point made by many trade unions when Labour first came up with its retirement age consensus under Adair Turner - many in manual labour jobs simply can’t go on until 67 or 68 like others in office or retail posts.
Both Cooper and Burnham yesterday had a deliberate strategy to step up their attacks on Corbyn in the Channel 4 debate (Cooper on his QE policy, Burnham on making ‘excuses’ for Putin). The Tel reports claims - strongly denied by the chief whip’s aides - that she urged Burnham to tell his supporters not to give second preferences to Corbyn. The Sun has dug up a 1991 column by Corbyn in which he praised the 'courage' of Iraq war 'deserter' Vic Williams.
Meanwhile, last night Jezza released his new arts policy, with lots of luvvy endorsements. He also had a foreword from Frank Cotterell Boyce comparing the arts to the Premiership football clubs sucking the life out of the grass roots. If Corbyn were to repeat that himself, there’d be a story or two...
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