The five things you need to know on Tuesday January 26, 2016…
1) BOREDOM PATROL
Shot in the dark this, but I suspect most people are already bored of the EU referendum debate, even before it’s officially started. And of those who really are interested in it, many will be passionate Outers. One of the big worries among some MPs is that low turnout will make it very difficult to squeeze David Cameron’s Brexit genie back into the bottle.
More than all the acres of newsprint and hours of coverage of detailed policies, the issue of turnout could be crucial. Just how many Britons will actually bother to turn up to the polls? Imagine, it’s June - you’re ready for your hols, the Euro football is on the telly and you're asked to turn up to a polling station just weeks after the local/London/Scots/Welsh/PCC elections in your area. Or it’s September, you’re still in holiday mode and the Government wants to drag you to a local school to put a cross in a box yet again. Yep, those who feel most passionate could turn out in droves. And while there are many passionate Brexiters, just how many passionate Inners are there, really? Word in Whitehall is that any turnout below 60% could be very, very difficult for the PM.
The FT today reports that the In campaign’s ‘positive spin’ has come under attack from Jonathan Portes (now at the independent UK In A Changing Europe think tank). And with Vote Leave’s figures also under fire, the public are likely to be even more turned off if this all descends into a statistical slanging match.
On the Today prog, it was Vote Leave Jon Moynihan’s turn to prove (as with Stuart Rose) just why businessmen are not the best frontmen for what is essentially an issue of politics as much as economics (his stats were not exactly waterproof either). Moynihan suggested that ‘Canada is a very good example’ for life outside the EU and that the Norway model was ‘absurd’. He said: “The other side are trying to create FUD, fear uncertainty and doubt…” Which is a good example of why politicians don’t parrot their opponents’ best lines.
No10 says Cameron had a constructive chat with Angela Merkel on the phone last night (though the Times reports No10 is not happy with a German offer to define an EU 'worker' entitled to benefits as being those earning just under £7,000).
As for the issue that could really swing the referendum, migration, Theresa May was pretty blunt about her colleagues in Europe (though she didn't directly attack Merkel): “Unfortunately what we’ve had is more talk than action” [on border security].
Immigration, now there’s a topic that gets people motivated to vote….
2) LABOUR PAIN
Jeremy Corbyn was deeply affected by his own trip to the refugee camps over the Channel at the weekend. As he said on ITV’s This Morning, he wanted the UK to react on a more ‘human level’ to the Syrian refugee crisis. Yet some Labour MPs say this gets to the heart of the Corbyn leadership: he acts and sounds like the head of a charity rather than a potential Prime Minister.
Critics suggest that while no one doubts Corbyn’s integrity or good intentions, he has no policy framework or sense of detailed pragmatism to find a solution that balances voters views on the migration debate (a tricky balance too, as Merkel's domestic problems underline). Corbyn’s supporters counter that the public want someone who cuts through managerialism, and that leaders of the Opposition can make a connection on ‘moral’ issues in a way Prime Ministers can’t.
Some around Corbyn want him to be tougher with his critics and today’s NEC is taking its annual look at the ‘terms of reference’. Some proposals (any member can submit them) will be looked at to suggest the NEC has more power over appointments and policymaking. Conference still has the last word but the direction of travel could be interesting. Meanwhile, Kezia Dugdale is due to address the Shad Cab.
Sounds like Michael Fallon also wants to exploit Labour splits on Trident as the Sun reports a vote is now being pushed for late March. “Some big spending decisions must be made, so we have to press on with the vote before Easter,” one Cabinet source says. John Woodcock has the first of his weekly Labour deterrent policy information sessions today, with ex-CDS Lord Boyce taking questions from Labour MPs in Committee Room 19 at 5.30pm.
3) GOOGLEWHACKED, MOI?
The Times has a nice splash that Google is negotiating a tax settlement with France worth three times the amount it paid to Britain - even though it does more three times more business and employs thousands more people in the UK.
The paper has also learned that HMRC officials never challenged the company’s central and most controversial claim — that it has no “permanent establishment” in Britain — even after they were given whistleblower evidence challenging its account. The FT has a string of experts saying the deal is far too opaque.
Andrew Tyrie wasn’t remotely impressed yesterday and announced the Treasury Select Committee will conduct its own inquiry into the corporation tax system. Steve Baker and Boris were other Tories with real concerns.
Many Tories felt David Gauke was forced to bat on a sticky wicket yesterday when the team captain could have easily hot-tailed it back from Liverpool after his Bill Gates visit (by the way, if you don’t fancy Googling this whole row, trying Bing may not be the answer. Microsoft have their own tax critics). No.10’s refusal to endorse Osborne’s ‘major success’ quote was stark, as was Osborne’s own toning down of the line to mere ‘good news’.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this Facebook video of a young Jess Phillips as an audience member on BBC’s Question Time, way back in 2010. She’s back on the prog this week, as an MP.
4) HITTING THE TARGET
The House of Lords continues to be a second front for the Government. Yesterday proved that if you can get the right combo of crossbench and cross-party backing on a cannily worded amendment, defeats will happen. The Bishop of Durham’s move to get ministers to reconsider dumping targets on child poverty was backed by 290 to 192 votes.
It proves too the merits of Jeremy Corbyn’s light touch in letting his peers just get on with it. There’s more action today on the Housing and Planning Bill, when ex civil service chief Bob Kerslake will accuse minister of trying to wipe out social housing altogether in favour of a new generation of unaffordable “starter” homes.
And Steve Bassam will abandon the usual convention that shadow chief whips don’t take part in debates, delivering a speech on how he was brought up on a council estate in Essex.
5) MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
Freedom of Information requests continue to shed light on many areas of public policy. The Guardian has splashed on an FoI from Lib Dem Norman Lamb, revealing a sudden spike in the number of mental health patients dying unexpectedly in NHS care.
The New NHS figures show that the number of deaths annually among mental health patients in England has risen 21% over the last three years from 1,412 to 1,713. The Guardian also points out that the number of specialist mental health nurses has fallen more than 10% over the past five years.
Lamb told Today that "within the NHS there is a central discrimination” against those with mental, as opposed to physical, illness.
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