The five things you need to know on Tuesday September 8, 2015...
1) THE DRONES CLUB
America has long used drones for targeted assassinations, just as the Israelis have (with more conventional means) for years. Our troops have also used drone strikes against the Taliban for years. But for Britain, yesterday’s announcement by the PM was truly historic, confirming that we had for the first time targeted an RAF attack against one of our own citizens in a foreign country (note that the SAS shooting in Gib years back was on a British territory). ‘A new departure’ indeed, as the PM put it.
Michael Fallon on the Today programme just gave some more crucial details. The Defence Secretary made clear the PM had approved a list of other names of British terror suspects who could be killed in Syria in a similar way once they were located. Asked if the list was of more than two or three men, he replied “yes”.
The open secret in Whitehall is that the VE Day and Armed Forces Day events this summer saw foiled terror plots. Fallon said ‘there are other plots that may come to fruition in the next few months’. The Sun headline, by the way is ‘Wham! Bam! Thank You Cam’. Which I guess is a millennial version of ‘Gotcha!’
Fallon said ’if we have no other way of preventing an armed attack...then that’s what we will do...I don’t want to go into details in public but there a number of terrorists out there actively’ plotting specific attacks. Crucially, he added those plots were in the UK but also ‘in Australia, and the US’
As for the legality of all this, Reprieve are unhappy and Labour is unconvinced. Fallon said the PM had effectively published a ‘summary’ of the Attorney’s advice yesterday on how the strikes had to be proportionate and comply with UN self-defence definitions.
No.10 is reluctant to give the detailed information about what is ultimately highly classified intelligence. That’s understandable at one level but it once again has echoes of Iraq and WMD. Remember Lord Hutton’s chief conclusion: "more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear”. If we are to assassinate (and why not use that word?), it puts a huge burden on those gathering the intel on warped individuals like Reyaad Khan.
2) BIAS, MARK IT
Bernard Jenkin’s interview with Jim Naughtie on the Today prog (it was 6.45am folks, I’m here to do it for you) was a classic. The veteran Euroscep really went for the BBC’s ‘perceived bias’ on EU matters and the Today prog in particular for trying to portray the EU question through the lens of Cameron’s own party problems.
To be fair to Naughtie, Jenkin is actually a member of the Tory party and it’s a legitimate question when a Government has a majority of just 12 to ask how much a PM can rely on his own backbenchers. Jenkin claimed that more than half of Tory members would vote ‘Out’ in the referendum.
Yet Jenkin’s remarks underscore the nature of the beast that faced down Downing Street with that first defeat of the Parliament: for an important chunk of MPs this is a matter of principle that goes way beyond party. And his campaign on ‘purdah’ shows he won’t give up attacking ‘bias’ wherever he finds it.
Jenkin’s own announcement in the chamber that he was voting against the Government made him sound like he was leading his own party-within-a-party. As my colleague Owen Bennett tweeted, only a few months ago Nick Clegg held the balance of power, now it’s Jenkin - along with Alex Salmond. But don’t forget Hilary Benn’s canny role in this power play (I wonder if Corbyn will keep him on?) The Sun portrays him as Luke Skywalker, Salmond as Princess Leia and Jenkin as Han Solo in ‘The Rebel Alliance’. Betcha Cameron’s in a dark lord kinda mood over that.
3) LABOUR, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT
Labour people know how to give their own a good send-off. Last night’s PLP meeting gave a sustained ovation to Harriet Harman, but there is a growing mood among some MPs that feels more like a wake than a mere valedictory: thanks to Corbynmania, some shadow ministers feel the party they knew is now dead.
There was an almost funereal mood at Liz Kendall’s phone bank event yesterday, and it felt like intruding on private grief to witness caller after caller indicate they either weren’t voting or were backing someone else. Afterwards, Kendall told me that she was determined to keep on fighting for what she believed in, but admitted that she and her ‘moderate’ wing of the party had failed to inspire the members.
She revealed she and others had ‘failed to move ourselves on from where we were in Government’, and said she’d say more in a statement on Thursday morning (in what sounded like a post-mortem of her and others’ campaign).
Labour overnight reissued new ballots to members who haven’t got them yet, including David Blunkett. Yet I discovered that Tory minister Ros Altmann WAS given the vote. She was last night expelled from Labour, but it says a lot about both parties’ vetting processes I guess.
The Corbyn camp have shrugged off yet another story on his past words on foreign policy. BBC’s Panorama reported last night that he had attended a Cairo conference that called on Iraqis to engage in ‘military struggle’ against US/UK forces. Team Corbyn say that Stop The War Coalition’s publication of the clarion call did not mean their man had endorsed it.
An ORB poll (note few papers have regular relations with polls these days) for the Independent finds that two thirds of voters think Corbyn can’t win in 2020. Corbyn has a big rally planned in Nuneaton (yes the key marginal) tonight.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this beautiful new video of a squid captured half a mile under the sea. Very Finding Dory.
4) FEEDING THE 4,000
David Cameron decision to announce the drone strikes at the same time as his refugees plan ensured that at least a few papers and media outlets focused on the former rather than the latter. Cynical PR or just the earliest chance to do both?
Well, the game of managing expectations is a tricky one. Last week, after Yvette Cooper called for 10k, we were guided away by Govt sources from a figure of ‘4,000’ (was it 4k a year or 4k in total? some wondered). Then the Sunday Times floated a figure of 15,000. All of which made the eventual 20k look bigger than expected.
But the Archbishop of Canterbury was swift in the Lords last night to say this was a ‘very slim’ response, and charities have piled in to say much more is needed. And although Cameron revealed Angela Merkel was happy, more than a few papers have picked up on Francois Hollande’s remarks linking cooperation at Calais with the whole affair: “You cannot ask for solidarity when there is a problem and exonerate yourself from your duties when there are solutions.”
Cooper has secured a three-hour emergency Commons debate today on the refugee response. Watch out too for James Brokenshire and Calais’ mayor before the Home Affairs Select at 4pm this afternoon.
5) ANGELINA PAL ARENA
Angelina Jolie brings her dash of Hollywood high profile to the issue of sexual conflict in warzones yet again today as she makes her House of Lords debut giving evidence alongside William Hague.
The press release we got yesterday described her as Ms Jolie Pitt (in keeping with her self-description in some American media) but it will be what she says rather than her name that gets the attention. The Lords is a daunting arena for newbies but the actress will be aided by Parliamentary veteran Hague and his long-time adviser Arminka Helic, before the Sexual Violence in Conflict Committee at 3.45pm.
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