The five things you need to know on Thursday September 3, 2015...
1) WAKE UP CALL
The tragic, heartbreaking photo of little three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on that beach in Turkey has prompted some real soul-searching across Europe about the Syrian refugee crisis. And it’s notable that that word ‘refugee’ is being used increasingly rather than ‘migrant’. Of course, border polices say it’s often difficult to distinguish between the two, but no one’s doubting that Aylan (who died with his brother and mother) was from Kobane in Syria and his family fleeing the awful conflict.
The pressure on David Cameron to take more Syrians is now growing. Tory backbenchers David Burrowes (in the Telegraph) and Johnny Mercer and Tom Tughenhadt (both ex-military) point out many of their constituents feel the same way. Yvette Cooper has written a letter to Cameron overnight to say: “You are very mistaken if you think that people across Britain do not want us to do more to meet our moral responsibilities.” Andy Burnham has called for an urgent Parliamentary debate next week.
So far, the PM is not budging. In fact there’s a major PR effort to point out just how much financial support the UK is giving (Andrew Mitchell notably helping out, stressing that the UK has given “more than whole of rest of EU in terms of financial support” for those in refugee camps.) Some in Whitehall were stung by the Washington Post’s claim that the 200 or so Syrians accepted by the UK could fit into a Tube traion. But the PM’s words yesterday - talk of keeping the situation ‘under review’ - allowed him enough wriggle room for a One Nation style gesture to show he’s listening. One option could be the council route. The Conservative leader of Kingston upon Thames council, Kevin Davis, has already written to 50 Tory-led councils asking them to become involved in a scheme run by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, to help find private housing for refugees for a year. Could that be the way for No10 to come out of this with its reputation enhanced, not damaged?
The Times quotes Sir Mick Davies, the head of Mr Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, saying that Britain had a “moral imperative” to help refugees seeking sanctuary and must not “shut itself off” from modern crises. Tim Farron in the Indy says it’s time to act.
As for the EU politics of all this, No.10 will be pleased Merkel has not directly linked the renegotiation with the crisis. But the FT reports on how tricky things are diplomatically. During the negotiations on relocating 40,000 refugees earlier this summer, one EU diplomat said British officials joked that they would take zero people “and double that if they were really pushed”. That’s a joke that has curdled with time. Don’t forget too that the French are softening on the issue. Manuel Valls. announced a plan to build a permanent camp in Calais, mirroring the similar centre in nearby Sangatte closed in 2002 by Sarkozy.
Sandro Gozi, Italy’s secretary of state for EU affairs, told Today that many countries including the UK could and should be doing more. Note his irritation in the FT, telling Theresa May not to lecture the EU over Schengen: “If you decide to stay out, opt out, you relinquish your ability to shape policy”.
2) JEZ HESITATION
Yvette Cooper’s strong line on Syria (she’s been talking about this since for years, don’t forget) has impressed many Labour members. But is it too late to affect her hopes of clinching the leadership? Well, party insiders tell me that less than half of those eligible to vote have yet done so and when you add in the 120k ballots that only went out last Friday, you can see why the Cooper camp are saying it ain’t over. Indeed, the Guardian reports one Cooper source criticising Chuka Umunna for talking prematurely about how to deal with a Corbyn leadership. “He is giving the impression it is all over and [that] anyway a Corbyn victory is not too much of a problem.”
Patrick Wintour also reports that party officials and PLP chair John Cryer have concluded that plans to ‘box in’ Corbyn by restoring Shadow Cabinet elections would require a special conference - and the unions won’t back the change unless Corbyn wants it (he has backed off the idea in recent weeks).
The Burnham camp are also confident they can snatch victory. Burnham is interviewed by Andy Grice in the Independent and his camp claims one in five Labour members and supporters previously committed to Mr Corbyn is now undecided. “The choice is stark now,” Mr Burnham said. “I think people attracted by what Jeremy has said have held back, worried by what it would mean and whether it would work.” Gricey also gets a great line from Burnham on the welfare bill vote: “If I had resigned, I might have won the contest there and then,” he said. “But it would not have been me. I would have won it under false pretences.”
The Telegraph has Corbyn allies saying what many cooler heads have assumed: the leftwinger would not push big issues like Trident or Nato. One source says: “It is bloody obvious. If he wants to avoid being smashed by the Parliamentary Labour Party, the government and the press he needs to avoid those issues. He should prioritise things that will unify the party – blocking welfare reforms, austerity cuts, protecting workers rights.
The Sun keeps up its pressure, getting Vernon Coaker to denounce quotes its dug up from Corbyn questioning why our military is so big. And in the FT, economists have written a letter denouncing Corbynomics. George Magnus and Kitty Ussher are among them - but many academics have opted out of signing.
The spectre of deselection of 'right' wing Labour MPs looms again too, in another 1980s throwback. Editor of LeftFutures Jon Lansman floated it on Newsnight and Channel 4 News's Michael Crick got an unnamed Unite figure to warn deselections of named MPs such as Simon Danczuk and Heidi Alexander were on the cards. Team Corbyn will want to stamp out such talk quickly I suspect.
3) REFERENDUM BLUES
The Government’s decision to wait until the very last minute to table its EU referendum bill amendments hasn’t gone down well with some Tory Eurosceptics. Although David Lidington has moved (and won headlines pointing out this is a second concession in two days) to restore ‘purdah’, the grumbling is still continuing. Steve Baker tells the Sun: “This is not much further forward than we were three months ago”, whereas Liam Fox is in the Times warning ministers not to “manipulate electoral systems to their advantage”. First of all, it’s wrong in itself,” he said. “Secondly, any such manipulation would only lead after a referendum to allegations that it was rigged and would prevent us having any closure.”
The FCO may conclude that it can never win with some backbenchers. But its redefinition of purdah has already got Labour and some Tories nervous, as it can still allow activity that is not ‘directly’ linked to the referendum question. Labour hasn’t ruled out voting against this Amendment 35 on Monday, so it’s far from resolved.
There is a fresh concession from the Government that got overlooked yesterday however. Ministers have now backed David Nuttall’s amendment ruling out May 4, 2017 as a date for the poll. Eurosceps worry that holding the referendum on the same day as local elections would allow Cameron to get Tory activists to deliver ‘In’ campaign messages as well as election ones.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this melodramatic cat react to its owner’s smelly feet.
4) WAGES OF THIN
The Chancellor’s National Living Wage was unveiled with a flourish in his summer Budget but since then there’s been little analysis of just how much a difference it will make to millions of people. Today, the Resolution Foundation - the leftish think tank which originally called for a NLW - has a report out predicting that the direct and indirect impacts will be on 6m people, a quarter of the workforce. The ‘Ripple Effect’ is substantial.
And women are the big winners. Women are expected to account for 3.7 million of those receiving a pay rise – representing 61 per cent of the total and nearly three in ten of all female employees – because of their higher concentration among the low paid.
But Conor D’Arcy, the Resolution Foundation’s analyst, has also blogged for HuffPost UK on another projection he’s unearthed: the NLW will only mitigate 15% of the cuts to in-work benefits planned by the Government (and unveiled in the same Budget) for those in the bottom half of the income scale.
5) DEADLINE DAY
No, not the football one again. Midnight tonight is the deadline for Whitehall departments to hand over their cuts plans to the Treasury. The FT reveals that tomorrow the Chancellor will review just how ministers have responded to his calls for model cuts of both 25% and an eye-watering 40% as he looks to find savings of £20bn.
The FT quotes one Whitehall figure: “The Treasury is very bullish at the moment. There is a possibility that they won’t do what any departments say. They are now basically running all domestic policy.”
Sajid Javid is a willing axeman at BIS, it seems, slashing ‘business support’. There’s even revived talk of scrapping the department altogether and merging it with an energy portfolio. Vince Cable (remember him?) even pops up to warn the Government is shirking its responsibilities. This spending review is gonna be a biggie, that’s for sure.
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