The five things you need to know on Wednesday January 13, 2016…
1) DOCTORING THE MEDICS
It’s PMQs day again and as David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn square up, there’s a plethora of topics either could choose. The PM may not be able to resist a jibe at the Labour reshuffle and Dave Watts’ ‘croissant’ Corbynista attack (and maybe even the House of Cards pic-opp).
For his part, Corbyn could seize on the PM’s admission of ‘hardline militants’ in his 70k Syrian moderates figure, yesterday’s terrible manufacturing and household debt figures, Sure Start cuts or water and energy company rip-offs.
But for both, it would be strange if the subject of the junior doctors’ strike didn’t crop up. The industrial action, which ended at 8am but is due to return in ratcheted form in a few weeks, has certainly had lots of politics.
What irritates medics more than anything is what they call the ‘spin’ that lies behind the 7-day plan, pointing out many already work seven days in acute services and suggesting few non-emergency patients have an appetite for weekend treatments. No10 and Jeremy Hunt faced ‘spin’ criticism again yesterday over fresh claims higher stroke and newborn baby mortality at weekends was linked to junior doc staffing (there’s no causal link, they say).
On Labour’s stance on the strikes, the Tories scent an opportunity. Yesterday, junior shadow health minister Justin Madders said doctors had ‘no choice’ but to strike. This was welcomed by many Corbyn allies as the first time in decades Labour had backed industrial action. But Heidi Alexander was notably more cautious in her pooled clip, stating merely that Labour ‘understands’ why doctors ‘felt’ they had ‘no choice’.
Amid the acrimony, it’s currently difficult to see how the yawning gap between both sides can be bridged: neither Cameron nor Hunt sounds in any mood to back down on a manifesto pledge (believing the BMA won’t want to risk patient deaths in next month’s A&E strike) and the docs are digging in too. Yet the Guardian’s splash quotes senior sources expressing ‘cautious optimism’ a deal can be done, not least as Hunt has a new chief negotiator Sir David Dalton, ex Salford Royal chief exec.
2) CORBYN MISSILE CRISIS
Of course, if David Cameron wanted to do anything as down-and-dirty as playing politics with Trident (surely not?), he could raise Labour’s own tensions over the issue. Cameron hinted last year there was no longer any rush for a maingate Trident renewal decision this year, but could he hold a non-binding Commons vote to exploit Labour splits between its leader (and members) and the PLP and Shadow Cabinet?
As I reported this week, Unite looks like it will actually ride to the rescue of the ‘moderates’ in the PLP, with too many jobs at risk from unilateralism. Labour’s defence review rumbles on, and the Telegraph reports that Corbyn has stepped down as the Parliamentary chairman of CND, and that Hilary Benn last night told Channel 4 News that the ‘primary responsibility’ of the Opposition was to “make sure that the country is defended and that people are kept safe - and that's what I want to see come out of the review."
The Times rightly points to more trouble looming, with moves to oust Steve Rotheram (Corbyn’s PPS) from the NEC for occupying a slot normally reserved for backbenchers. Jess Philips and John Woodcock are in the frame to replace him and Monday’s PLP meeting will see a motion discussed to move Rotheram.
However, I’m told that the Parliamentary Committee of the PLP may simply not have the power to make the change, and that the make-up of the NEC is ultimately decided only by the party rulebook and conference. The election of the PLP section of the NEC in June may be the next chance this changes (and even then will only take effect at the end of conference). Similarly, moves by Corbyn allies to change NEC ‘terms of reference’ - a real threat to the power of Iain McNicol - can only take effect with conference’s blessing. As ever, Unite will be crucial.
3) BOJO THE HERO?
The Express’s David Maddox is already making an impact since his move from the Scotsman. Today, he has a scoop on Boris Johnson’s latest intentions on the big question of the next few months: will Bojo come out for Brexit once Cameron’s renegotiation is over?
The Express says Boris held talks with a senior Eurosceptic before Christmas about the possibility of him leading the Leave campaign and is alleged to have confided: “The trouble is, I am not an ‘outer’.”
But it sounds like he’s still not ruled out the notion. The paper quotes a senior figure in the Leave campaign saying: “Boris is still flirting with the idea, even if he is not a believer. The problem is that if he does not believe we should leave it will be very difficult for him.” One source adds: “Whether we win or lose [the referendum], the next leader of the Conservative Party will be a Eurosceptic.”
Yesterday’s Political Cabinet agreed that all sides should treat each other ‘with respect’ in the EU referendum campaign. But Boris did not say a word, I’m told, preferring to keep his powder dry for now. He didn’t know the detail of the new PM advice to ministers - because he’s not yet a minister. Will Boris be admitted to Cabinet before or after the referendum, I wonder?
Boris has had his very own shop window with his regular Call Boris show on LBC. Today from 4pm Alex Salmond’s own show starts. I wonder if he’ll be pushed on the yet further dramatic falls in the oil price (and loss of BP jobs), or even part-state owned RBS’s warning to ‘sell everything’ ahead of a stock market crash (something that could concern the Treasury just as much).
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Star Wars’ BB8 meet some chicks and a fellow real life droid
4) T-U, JIMMY
The Lords is gearing up for another serious clash with the Government, this time on the Trade Union Bill. Labour and the Lib Dems are both furious at the way the bill tears up cross-party consensus on party funding and have dreamed up a cunning plan to ensure the issue gets prominence.
A new motion was laid by Labour last night (which will be considered in a standalone debate next Wednesday afternoon) which will say it is 'desirable' to create a new select committee to consider the clauses of the Trade Union Bill which relate to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s report, “Political Party Finance: ending the big donor culture” - and the need for urgent new legislation to balance those provisions with the other recommendations made in the Committee’s Report. The new Committee would report by 29 February.
Why does this matter? Well this motion would create a committee that would run parallel to the TU Bill and feed back into later stages. It’s aim is to consider the long-term implications for the democratic process of the change in party funding outlined in two key clauses in the bill (in effect giving the special scrutiny. If the committee suggests a ‘delete clause’ amendment, the whole party funding element of the bill would face a serious challenge.
Crucially, the Committee could argue that as the plans were not made explicit in the Tory manifesto, any amendments it makes will not be subject to the Parliament Act or other complaints.
Assuming the Government won’t accept the motion, Labour will press it to a vote. A further motion would be needed to appoint the committee’s make-up and later its powers. The aim is to get the new Committee to report back in good time for latter stages of the Bill.
Perfect timing as peers discuss the Strathclyde plan today to curb their powers. But this mechanism is classic Upper House detail, with Labour and the Libs careful to not overstep their powers but use every means available to make life difficult for the executive and allow more scrutiny. The Lords: they ain’t going away you know.
5) IP OR NOT IP, THAT IS THE QUESTION
Theresa May is before the final evidence session of the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill Committee today (at 4.15pm in the Lords). Last week, the committee published 120 submissions to it from a raft of groups, from internet firms expressing concerns about the ‘very dangerous’ impact of the reforms to those backing the plans.
Craig Woodhouse in the Sun today digs out another submission that has been overlooked. Lee Rigby’s uncle Ray McClure warned the internet would “become a safe haven for evil” unless spooks are given abilities to crack encrypted messaging systems loved by terrorists and paedophiles.
The veteran IT professional also launched a broadside against web giants like Facebook – which failed to pass on information that could have prevented the killing – as he argued for sweeping new surveillance powers. You can bet Mrs May will cite that kind of support. But this battle is a long one and the draft bill is set for months of scrutiny.
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