The five things you need to know on Wednesday December 9, 2015…
1) KEEPING ‘EM OUT
It’s George Osborne taking PMQs today because David Cameron is in Romania and Poland on the latest stage of his charm offensive to get a better deal for Britain in Europe. Of course, some in the EU see more ‘offensive’ than ‘charm’ in the PM’s plans and his four-year ban on EU migrants is still proving a stumbling block - not least for Eastern European nations.
IDS again yesterday insisted the PM had to stick to his guns on what is after all a manifesto pledge, if need be like Mrs T did all those years ago. But the FT has on its front page a story that Brussels is looking at a ‘Plan B’ to get Cameron out of this hole: an ‘emergency brake’ (though it won’t be called that) to suspend freedom of movement on grounds of ‘public security, public policy or public health’. Angela Merkel previously vetoed the idea: has she shifted since they Syrian refugee crisis?
The FT has a telling quote however. “The reason Cameron hasn’t gone for this must be that the problem that he has in Britain is mainly one of perception, not of real economic impact,” said one EU diplomat. “It would be almost never used.” Not great, given the OBR yesterday said his 4-year plan would anyway have ‘little impact’ on immigration.
As for Donald Trump’s own immigration curb plan, No.10 took the unprecedented step yesterday of directly criticising his remarks about Muslims. Usually the PM will steer clear of interfering in either party’s Presidential nomination race, but Cameron felt he had to intervene to send a strong signal domestically on the importance of unity in the fight against the ISIL threat. The SNP’s Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh told HuffPost Trump was a ‘hate preacher’ who should be banned from the UK. In the Sun, Sadiq Khan (who would be barred from the US under Trump’s plan) claims Cameron is failing to do enough to tackle radicalisation at home.
2) THE POLITICS OF ENVER
Jeremy Corbyn was absent at the PLP on Monday and thanks to the PM’s trip he won’t be in the hot seat at PMQs today either. Instead, the task falls for the first time to Angela Eagle (part of a deal, brokered by Tom Watson, to boost her role following accusations of a lack of women in top Shad Cab jobs).
As Shadow Commons leader, Eagle proved during her own weekly mini-PMQs of Business Questions how effective she can be at the cut and thrust of debate. But Osborne will find it difficult not to refer to Corbyn’s latest foray into references to communist dictators. In what we could call Mao II, the Labour leader’s words at a staff party last night joking about Albania’s Enver Hoxha are a gift for the Chancellor. The New Statesman had the scoop that Corbyn had praised Hoxha.
I’m so old I remember when Margaret Hodge was known as ‘Enver Hodge-a’ when she ran Islington Council. But Corbyn’s critics may feel that as with McDonnell’s Mao line, it proves he sees Communist regimes as a matter of levity not an era of repression and fear. There's such an embarrassment of riches available for Osborne to use as ammo today (not least Eagle pointing at her sister Maria recently to defend her against Ken Livingstone), that his real risk will be one of underestimating Eagle. Will she tell him to 'calm down dear'? This is his stab at being Prime Ministerial, after all.
You can bet someone will raise Stop the War today too, with Corbyn’s Christmas fundraiser on the menu. Guido Fawkes’ scoop yesterday about Green MP Caroline Lucas quitting the group over recent controversial posts on its website only adds to the pressure on Corbyn. But will Eagle join in, as tempted as she must be…?
I’d be amazed if Osborne fails to mention ‘revenge reshuffles’ too. Or Tony Blair's new Spectator article on why Blairism still matters. He could even mention the People's Front of Judea/Judean People's Front style clashes between Momentum and the Socialist Party, with the latter accusing the former of caving in to 'The Right' by banning its members. Will Osborne say of Corbyn..he's not the Messiah, he's just a naughty boy?
3) FELDMAN PRESSURE
The Mark Clarke affair has taken yet another twist with fresh Newsnight claims from a former insider Patrick Sullivan that a 20-page dossier - including Clarke’ s name - was sent to Lord Feldman and Baroness Warsi five years ago.
Lord Feldman has issued a strong denial overnight that he had been aware of any allegations. But on the Today programme, the father of Elliott Johnson was scathing about Feldman. Saying he should ‘resign his position’, he said the Tory chairman’s only contact since his son’s suicide had been commiserations in a ‘very bland letter’.
Ray Johnson told Today he and his family felt ‘left adrift…it’s almost as if they closed the doors, shut the window and hunkered down for the storm’. He added “they don’t understand right from wrong and they are intent on just covering up past behaviour”.
Meanwhile, another former Tory chairman, Eric Pickles has a different role in tackling cover-ups. The PM’s anti-corruption champion writes for HuffPost about International Anti-Corruption Day. Yes, that’s today.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Labour’s Vicky Foxcroft warn the Commons that 16 and 17 year olds may ‘rise up’ in revolution over ‘taxation without representation’.
4) JUST WILLIAMS
William Hague has given us an interview ahead of today’s meeting in London of his transport taskforce on the illegal wildlife trade. The former Foreign Secretary, now an envoy of the Duke of Cambridge’s United For Wildlife campaign, has convened an impressive collection of foreign government officials, charities and airline and ports companies.
From one William to another, Hague pays generous tribute to the Duke - pointing out that the Chinese have sent a delegation for the first time today, a key factor in cutting the demand for illegal ivory and rhino horn trading. He adds that it is Prince William’s use of his global profile and power of influence that has made a ‘significant’ difference. Just as with his partnership with Angelina Jolie on combatting violence against women in warzones, Hague has a canny knack at helping the famous to fully exploit their fame for good causes. Read my interview in full HERE.
5) LAG TIME BLUES
The Times has an excellent splash on Michael Gove’s latest bid to underline both his radicalism and his liberal tendencies. As part of a series of interviews with justice and prison reformers, it reveals that the Justice Secretary is to slash jail time for thousands of prisoners in a bid to cut the prison population.
Foreign inmates would be released at least nine months early on the condition that they leave the country. But The Sun has a strong counter blast from Tory MP Philip Davies. "If this is true, he has taken leave of his senses. Bring back Ken Clarke all is forgiven,” he says.
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