The five things you need to know on Tuesday February 2, 2016…
1) TSK, TUSK
Today’s the day we get to see just what David Cameron has cajoled from his fellow EU leaders, as he bids to reset the UK’s relations with Brussels. Many Eurosceptics have long predicted that this is how the beginning of the endgame will play out: not with a bang but a whimper from No.10.
The choreography is set, with David Cameron hosting his Cabinet early, and EU council chief Donald Tusk setting out his final draft at 11am UK time. The PM then has his Big Speech responding to the text, out in a nice location aimed at pitching to key voters. Only tomorrow do we get the PM making a Commons statement (a delay the Speaker may not be happy about - will he drag the PM before the House later?)
Overnight, No10 showed a bit more leg with claims that a ‘red card’ for national parliaments had been agreed, though Eurosceps were instantly critical that it looked more like a lily pink card as 55% of countries would be needed within a tight 12 week deadline. Big issues remain the state of the ‘emergency brake’ and benefits.
If the PM does get what he thinks he wants, then get set for June 23 for the EU referendum. Just how the newspapers play this will be fascinating: will they really urge their readers to back the Leave camp (some in No.10 think they won’t, despite the bluster)? But the Daily Mail’s not impressed today, with a splash of: “Is that it then, Mr Cameron?”. The Times points to Theresa May raising fresh issues on immigration, but it seems not on welfare.
Ultimately, however, this is a referendum that could well come down to David Cameron’s own ability to carve out narrow but crucial victories. The Eurosceptics all think his renegotiation deal is irrelevant or trivial, but polling for YouGov shows that Tory voters will back what Cameron backs, and that could swing this entire vote. If he gets a decent curb on migrant welfare, he could claim to have called Europe's bluff, off the back of his mandate in last year's election.
Cameron squeaked a ‘win’ in 2010 (by surprising many with a bold Coalition deal which benefited him and ruined his partners), and in 2015’s general election. He squeaked a win in the Scottish indy referendum, can he do so again on Europe? A win is a win after all, and once this is over his supporters hope he can focus on his ‘compassionate Conservatism’ legacy.
Nigel Farage, in contrast, is a ‘loser’ and much more divisive a figure than Cameron. He claimed last night that the Vote Leave camp was ‘soft’ on Brexit as some in its camp back a second referendum. Bernard Jenkin insists he’s kissed and made up with other Vote Leavers. But divisions in the Brexit camp can only help Dave.
2) CRUZ CONTROL
So, the hot news Stateside is that Ted Cruz has won the Iowa caucus with a healthy lead and that Trump only narrowly managed to push Marco Rubio into third. My US colleague Howard Fineman writes: “In the end it was a surprise that it wasn’t a surprise: Iowa Republicans, most of whom are evangelical Christians, chose an evangelical Christian as their man.” Note that Cruz’s positions on a string of issues (Iran nuke deal, climate change) are no less scary than Trump’s to many Brits in Westminster and Whitehall.
For Trump, his sheen has undoubtedly taken a knock. He always likes to start his rallies by quoting the polls and here a real, live poll has delivered the one label he hates: a loser. But what’s perhaps worth noting is that he even had a chance here anyway, particularly given his views on moral and religious matters are opaque at best. Rubio’s strong third will give hope to many Tories over here that the moderate mainstream Republicans still have a chance.
As for Bernie Sanders, his catchphrase ‘Feel the Bern’ was quoted this morning by the JeremyCorbyn4PM Twitterfeed as an echo of their own ‘Jez We Can’ (which in turn was nicked from Obama, who nicked it from Latino farm workers, hey politics is often about who’s the best magpie). Hillary is claiming a narrow win but Sanders’ ‘virtual tie’ underlines that grassroots organisation - which Cruz had in spades and Corbyn too - can, ahem, trump your richer opponents.
3) THREE-PRONGED TRIDENT?
Emily Thornberry updates the Shadow Cabinet today on the progress of her defence review and is expected to reveal some preliminary findings. I’m told the option floated by Jeremy Corbyn on Marr of ‘nuclear subs with no nukes’ (“they don’t have to have nuclear warheads on them”, as he put it) has been deemed too impractical and expensive.
But while some in the party believe this proves the decision really is a ‘binary’ one, I’m also told Thornberry is keeping alive some ‘third way’ alternatives. The Telegraph reports that one option would be to retain ‘stealth subs’ to transport armed forces around the world, though it is far from clear why Successors (the main cost of Trident renewal) would be needed for that rather than cheaper Astute class subs we have at present.
Splits over defence are just one element of the divisions in the party and last night Tom Watson warned the PLP that the clear message from MSPs in Scotland and council chiefs in England was that ‘infighting’ at Westminster was hurting the party on the doorstep ahead of May’s elections. Will Kezia Dugdale’s 1p on the basic rate of tax today help fend off the SNP I wonder?
Meanwhile, the Socialist Worker reports (yes, you read that right) Corbyn’s key supporter Jon Lansman has revealed to a meeting of Haringey Momentum: “I’m in no doubt that after May we could face a leadership challenge.” He added: “You hear about Momentum bullying. What happens in the Parliamentary Labour Party every Monday is bullying by a small section of the PLP. What it is designed to do is grind Jeremy down."
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Crazy weather alert: watch this video that proves it’s been snowing in Saudi Arabia. It’s real, not a fake.
4) ROAD FROM DAMASCUS
Tory MP Heidi Allen, bete noir of the Treasury over tax credits, has again stepped into tricky waters, this time on Syrian refugees. Working with Save The Children, the backbencher visited Lesbos to see first hand the plight of children and families, and has posted some powerful photos on her Twitter feed.
She told Newsnight last night that Greece was just overwhelmed. "I feel that every European country - [and] America - should contribute and have some real organisation there and they could really transform the situation.” Governments should ask themselves ‘'what can you manage? what can you take?”.
As it happens King Abdullah of Jordan has told the BBC that his country is at ‘boiling point’ with nearly 20% of his population now Syrian refugees, and he’s refusing to take more unless major cash help is given.
The Sun’s Craig Woodhouse travelled with Philip Hammond on his own trip to a refugee camp in Jordan, and reports the Foreign Secretary saying ‘less than half’ of arrivals to Europe are actually fleeing the Syrian conflict. “The influx from this region has opened up a flood which includes many people coming from other parts of the world, often via this region but not originating from Syria”. There’s that f-word again, but many Tory MPs will agree with him.
5) WASPI-SH STINGS
Just a couple of weeks after Westminster Hall staged a dull and pointless debate on Donald Trump, the Commons ‘second chamber’ yesterday say a much more passionate and important debate on another e-petition: on women’s pension rights.
The public gallery was packed and noisy as MPs from all parties laid into the way women in their 50s were not properly informed that the 1995 Pensions Act would hike the female pension age to 65 by 2020. The Coalition’s move to accelerate the process to 2018 has further infuriated those who say poorest women will lose the most.
The minister Shailesh Vara further incensed the debate by suggesting those who lose out will be able to claim benefits. The SNP’s Mhairi Black has been hitting the headlines on this topic but yesterday it was Labour’s Helen Jones who had the zinger of the day.
When Tory Richard Graham urged colleagues to look at the ‘facts’ as much as ‘the understandable emotion of women born in the 1950s’, Jones rose with this magisterial smackdown: “The hon. Gentleman said earlier that the women protesting about the change were being emotional. That is quite often a label attached to women who exhibit behaviour different from that of a doormat.”
I wonder what Nicky Morgan (dark horse leadership contender) thinks of it all? In a pointed reference to Dave’s weekend remarks on diversity in uni places, she told the Birmingham Mail it would be ‘a great mistake’ if ‘the two people that the party offers up as potential candidates are white men’.
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