The five things you need to know on Thursday February 4, 2016…
1) BEST OF A BAD JOBBIE?
After Steve Baker’s poo jibe, Bernard Jenkin yesterday talked of the whiff of ‘bovine excrement’ around David Cameron’s draft EU deal. And there’s no question that Eurosceptics, and much of the press, are superb bullshit detectors.
From the state of the emergency brake to the difficulty of getting a ‘red card’ to stop Brussels, from dissembling about Tory manifesto pledges on migrant benefits and child benefit, many have sniffed the spin from No.10.
And yet, Cameron is determined to suck up the backlash in the belief that he will win the EU referendum. After his two-hour statement yesterday in which backbench criticism was hardly scathing, he looked like the one who was asking ‘Is that it?’
Cameron belatedly decided to change his tone and language yesterday, admitting ‘I’m not saying this is perfect’. His stock answer to Eurosceps like Liam Fox was ‘I have great respect’ for their views, with the implication that no matter how amazing his deal was, they’d be for Brexit.
But Cameron also has a habit of lapsing into cockiness just when things are going his way. And his answer to David Winnick, warning his MPs not to back Brexit “because of what your constituency association might say” has prompted a backlash - and a Telegraph splash.
As for spin, Vote Leave aren’t immune however. The removal of Dom Cummings and Matthew Elliott from their board, while retaining their operational roles, seemed not to make much difference at all to their actual function. The PM has lined up the Euro Parliament, Juncker, even the German papers were praising him yesterday.
2) OUTING THE REAL OUTERS
A bobble-hatted Boris yesterday said the PM was ‘making the best of a bad job’. Some saw it as more mischief, others as more bullshit.
And there’s one bit of stage management the Eurosceps have long predicted: they say Boris looks like he’s going to come on board after the PM yesterday offered that pledge to do more on UK Parliamentary sovereignty. Again, critics smell a rat, not least given the UK doesn’t have a constitution to match Germany’s constitutional court.
And No.10 admitted to us at Lobby that the 1972 European Act - which make EU law supreme over UK law - remains in place. Add in the fact that this 'new law' will be unveiled only at the time of the EU summit, even though it could be unveiled now, and you see why there's fresh irritation among some Tory MPs that they're being taken for fools.
Michael Gove, who’s tasked with delivering the beefed up sovereignty plan, is ‘torn between personal loyalty to the prime minister and his conscience’, The Times says.
IDS, who yesterday looked like he was sucking on a Toxic Waste supersour sweet, is of course a proper Outer. And he could break ranks rather than opine about his loyalty issues. Robert Peston said on ITV last night IDS could speak out before the summit, not after it.
Meanwhile, the Mail has a cry of pain over the whole issue with its splash today, asking ‘Who Will Speak For England?’. Twitter instantly extracted the urine. The SNP’s Pete Wishart Tweeted this morning ‘Must get this into Business Qs today’. But as it happens, Tristram Hunt is trying to speak for England. He has a speech today calling for a referendum on an English parliament and other ideas.
My colleague Owen Bennett has an interview with David Davis, who’s helping the Grassroots Out campaign tomorrow. DD urges MPs to vote not with their hearts but their heads: a not too subtle reference to Cameron's advice to his MPs to “do what’s in your heart”.
3) JULIAN CALENDAR
Julian Assange has kindly given us all his latest diary movements, announcing he will turn himself into the cops tomorrow - if a UN panel rules he has not been ‘unlawfully detained’ in the Ecuadorian embassy. Given that he voluntarily walked into (indeed fled into) the diplomatic immunity of the embassy back in 2012, it’s kind of daft to even suggest he’s been detained illegally or otherwise but hey ho.
The news was broken this morning, on Twitter naturally, by Wikileaks. Last year, Swedish prosecutors dropped two sex assault claims against Assange - but he still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
Just imagine if the UN Panel had sent out an embargoed version of its ruling and word of that had reached Assange? And just imagine if it ruled in his favour? He'd have the perfect excuse for his latest PR offensive.
The UN panel has no real legal force. Maybe justice will finally catch up with the quixotic Aussie, and he will be one day extradited to face his accuser. And maybe then the scales will fall from the eyes of some of his more naive supporters. (Hell, even his pals at the Guardian worked out that his dodgy sexual history was tarnishing their brand). Wilder conspiracy theorists will probably stand by him. But I wonder how Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters, will react?
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Forget Sad Nick Clegg. Watch one of the saddest ever political moments: Jeb Bush urging a bored audience to ‘please clap’.
4) OUTR-AGE UK
The Sun has scored a direct hit on both Age UK and E.on after exposing the charity was paid £6m by the energy giant for a deal to sign up pensioners to its fixed rate tariff. Some claim it’s standard practice for price comparison websites to get a commission for passing on business, yet when a charity is involved then it looks quite different.
The main allegation is that thousands of pensioners were not informed properly that they could switch to newer deals that would save them £245 a year. The paper reports Energy Secretary Amber Rudd saying "I take very seriously this allegation that Britain's pensioners are being misled” and she’s ordered Ofgem to look at it. Sajid Javid has piled in too.
The Sun is open that its investigation is a joint effort with The Big Deal, which is itself a private firm that runs a price negotiation website. It unveils a scheme today to get big energy firms to offer its readers their lowest prices. The Sun says it will make no money from the plan because any cash it gets will go to a charity that helps old people (presumably not Age Uk). The Big Deal will make a small profit too.
5) LABOUR PAIN
Labour general secretary Iain McNicol will today tell Parliament that his party is set to lose £2m more from the Trade Union bill than previously thought. One estimate had put the cost at £6m, but in evidence to the specially created Lords committee charged with assessing the party funding element of the bill, McNicol will say the real figure is more likely to be £8m, the Times reveals.
The main reason for the 90% drop in income is the speed with which the changes are planned, moving from an ‘opt out’ system to an ‘opt in’ system for the political levy trade unionists pay. Yet the Government’s own risk assessment, unusually produced during the passage of the bill not beforehand, suggests it was fixing a problem that didn’t exist.
And the cross-party worries over the plans are growing. Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth told me that he’d looked at the opt-in plan in the 1990s and concluded it wasn’t needed. “I concluded it wasn’t necessary to make a change because there was no evidence that anyone was being intimidated to remove themselves from the political levy, and no evidence of a problem”.
Forsyth is among those who warn it’s dangerous to unilaterally tackle another party’s funding: “I’ve no desire to help the Labour party but I do want to see fairness across the system and I don’t want us to get into an arms race in who can damage each other’s party most in terms of funding and support.”
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