The five things you need to know on Friday September 17, 2015...
1) MCDONNELL’S DRIVE-THRU
John McDonnell knew that last night’s Question Time appearance was a chance for him to issue a double apology on his remarks on the IRA and on ‘asassinating’ Margaret Thatcher. He duly did so, with carefully selected words of regret for offence caused, adding 'I apologise from the bottom of my heart'.
On his wider reasons, he said: “Using words like the ‘occupation’, I had to use the language that Republicans understood so that we could secure the path to peace. There were risks, but it was worth taking because now people are not dying on the streets of Northern Ireland".
McDonnell's calm manner divided Twitter reaction. Some praised his approach as yet more proof of principled politics, but plenty of others felt he wrongly tried to portray himself as crucial to the peace process. How big the Republican wobble was in 2003, five years after the Good Friday Agreement, and whether 'honouring' the IRA made a blind bit of difference, is a moot point.
Colin Parry, whose son Tim was killed aged 12 by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, queried McDonnell's sincerity. He told the Today programme: "On the face of it his apology is welcome, but how much it's based on the fact that his political profile has changed I don't know. But it certainly was offensive at the time and it is offensive now."
Many in the PLP (and unions) think McDonnell's appointment was a mistake because of his unforgiving, uncompromising factionalism. He's seen as very much the 'bad cop' to Corbyn's 'good cop'. One telling line was this last night: "Jeremy is teaching me how to be a nicer person. Yes I do get angry.."
The Labour reshuffle remains to be fully announced, perhaps partly because McDonnell was distracted by Question Time prep and he himself was central to it, ringing some appointees personally (on behalf of the Leader, another indication of his new power). Moderniser Jonathan Reynolds is among the Kendallites who have agreed to stay: he blogs for us on how Corbyn asked him to reconsider his resignation.
The new leader's staff are being installed too, however. Anneliese Midgley, ex Unite political officer (and co author of the controversial 'women-only trains' policy paper), becomes Jez's deputy chief of staff. And young gun Andrew Fisher - his book The Failed Experiment influenced McDonnell and Corbyn - is now his 'political adviser'.
As for that media row over why Jeremy Corbyn had not sung the national anthem at the Battle of Britain ceremony, McDonnell said: "The national anthem isn't just for those who are monarchists, it's for everybody. I asked him ‘do you normally sing it?’ He said 'yes I generally do'. 'Would you again?' 'Yes I will'. The media then just seized upon it and it was very much a personal attack." Imagine the grief he could have avoided if he'd told the media all that soon after the ceremony?
Alex Salmond, the former SNP leader who was also on the programme, said: "I love John, but I find that explanation a wee bit difficult. I thought it was a silly thing for Jeremy Corbyn not to do".
But there’s no question that Corbyn is determined to usher in a new style of leadership. He will effectively troll the Tory conference by breaking with convention to lead a postal workers’ rally in Manchester the same day as George Osborne’s speech.
Those of us who’ve reported on Labour conferences for longer than we’d care to mention know that the Conference Arrangements Committee is where the serious business of haggling over motions takes place behind closed doors. And the Indy points out today that the little-noticed election of moderates Gloria de Piero and Michael Cashman to the CAC will act as a bulwark this year against wilder left-wing motions for conference, not least for mandatory reselection. But it’s the election next year where the real action could take place if the Corbynistas rally their troops.
2) BULLSH*T DEFECTORS?
The defection guessing game has begun. Most Labour MPs take with a truckload of salt any rumours put about by rival parties of colleagues set to cross the floor. Only when the rumours come from their own side do they really worry. But that hasn’t deterred either Tim Farron or Osborne supporters from putting it out there that Corbyn-loathers are looking for a new home.
Yesterday, the Standard led the way as Farron told the paper: “I’ve had various unsolicited texts, some of them over the weekend, where I felt like I was being an agony aunt rather than anything else...people in the Labour Party need to understand they can have conversations with me, which may or may not be conclusive, which will remain totally between me and them.”
The full Farron Standard interview is out later today, but the Sun has a report that three Labour MPs have had informal conversations with the Tories. One has ruled out defection, but two others are pondering offers. “I haven’t left my party, my party has left me,” one said.
3) THE BORROWERS
One year on from the independence referendum and it’s like groundhog day north of the border. Nicola Sturgeon is to use a speech to say David Cameron is ‘living on borrowed time’. Downing Street will change the law to end Westminster’s ability to abolish Holyrood.
Cameron said overnight: "We all agreed - as do the Scottish public - that the independence referendum should be a 'once-in-a-generation' or a 'once-in-a-lifetime' event. So, now it is time to move on."
But will he hold his nerve, and refuse a second referendum even if the SNP wins a stonking majority at Holyrood next year on a mandate for a fresh poll? Some of his friends know how scared he was of having let the Union go last year and think he won’t want to go down in history as the last PM of the full United Kingdom. After all, the logic goes, Labour won’t win back Scots seats in the near future so why worry about its role in winning a Tory majority?
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR....
A wedding dance with a difference. Watch this bride levitate her groom. It’s magical.
4) EVERY LIDL HELPS
As Labour looks at its navel, George Osborne is perfectly happy to get on with governing. And the latest news overnight that Lidl is to pay all its staff the living wage - the first supermarket to do so (to some, perhaps a shocking statistic in itself) - is another boost for the Chancellor’s ‘One Nation’ pitch that the Tories’ approach is the best way to help working people.
From October, Lidl UK employees will earn a minimum of £8.20 an hour across England, Scotland and Wales, and £9.35 an hour in London, the supermarket said.
5) GET THE MEEJA
Alex Salmond in the Indy blames the referendum defeat squarely on the BBC. He tells the paper saying his “biggest regret” of the campaign was not foreseeing the extent of the BBC’s “institutional bias”. My biggest regret of the campaign is I didn’t anticipate that the BBC would be as biased as they were.” Now that Nick Robinson is heading to Today, any future interviews with him could be must-hear radion. And I wonder if nationalists are prepping placards with Laura Kuennssberg’s face on them? She’s a proud Scot, so surely not?
And as with his Question Time attack last night, Salmond also launched an broadside against the wider Scottish media, describing the country’s right wing press as “prejudicial, short sighted lunatics” who “infect” social media with purposefully slanted articles.
The Telegraph meanwhile splashes its front page and devotes much newsprint inside to attacking Parliament’s own attack on the media. The Commons Standards Committee yesterday didn’t only clear Rifkind and Straw of breaches of the rules, it went further to heavily criticise newspaper and TV ‘stings’ on people in public life and urged Ofcom to acct. There are lay people on the committee now, but that hasn’t stopped papers claiming Parliament is simply protecting its own.
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