The five things you need to know on Friday March 4, 2016…
1) BEWARE THE IDS OF MARCH
No10 aren’t over-pleased that Iain Duncan Smith’s attack on the PM over Europe is the lead story on the BBC this morning. But once more it proves that broadcasting rules on impartiality mean that the EU referendum has to greet every claim with an equal and opposite counter-claim.
So just as the PM got his Project Fear, sorry Project Fact, dossier loads of airtime earlier in the week, so too has IDS’s counterblast (via the Daily Mail) got lots of airplay today. In his Mail piece, the Work and Pensions Secretary slams the ‘acrimonious’ Remain camp’s "spin, smears and threats" in an attempt to "bully" Britons into voting to stay in the EU.
For his part, the PM couldn’t resist another jibe yesterday at Brexiters who had wondered why he’d got backing from Hollande and Macron for his Calais migrants scare. It was another “David-Icke-style conspiracy” from his critics, Dave said. (Terror watchdog David Anderson has given the Inners some valuable backing on the terror risks of Brexit, though).
But on the Jungle-in-Dover scare, ITV News actually had an interview with Bernard Cazeneuve the French Interior Minister. And his quote is a gift to the Out camp: “Mister Macron is not involved in immigration policy in France. He's involved in economical problems. That is a tremendous job for him.” Ooh-la-la.
The Sun reports that Dave himself now worries about the long-term risk of not healing all these Tory wounds. He even kinda regrets going for Boris last week. A senior No10 figure said: “David felt it quite strongly when people who he had counted on went over to the other side, especially Boris. Everyone is human. But he has risen above that now, and realised the personal attacks only ended up being counter-productive”.
2) LONG, HARD LABOUR
There’s something afoot in the corridors and bars of the Commons, and it’s the increasing unease among Labour MPs about this May’s elections - and how to react to what could be a set of very difficult results.
As I reported this week, the PLP’s real worry is that Labour could go backwards in the local elections in key marginal areas. Losing Southampton, Dudley, Crawley in England (as well as losing ground in Wales and Scotland) would ring alarm bells. The big fear is that the party is not just miles away from winning back seats from the Tories in 2020, but could actually lose more of those seats it holds already. Liz Kendall’s warning that a median of 434 council seats was won by every Opposition is certainly a bar that the party looks like it won’t cross on May 5.
The man many think could be The One, Dan Jarvis, yesterday wrote a piece in the Yorkshire Post that caused my ears to prick up. “Many no longer trust the Labour Party because we stopped talking about the things that matter to them,” he wrote. ‘Fundamental reform’ was needed, he added, to have a hope of victory in 2020. Next week, Jarvis has a speech on the economy that is bound to be packed.
Those who know the ex-Para well know that it was only a matter of time before his office’s new financial support from donors was made public on the register. And today’s Times reports that he received £16,800 last month from Martin Taylor, the hedge fund guru who gave £600,000 to the party under Ed Miliband. Peter Hearn, the owner of an executive recruitment company, gave Mr Jarvis £12,500 in January too.
As for the row over the party’s NEC youth rep and various student allegations, I’ve posted a new report HERE on how the row erupted at the ruling body this week. Claims and counterclaims are swirling - not least claims from James Elliott that his rival Jasmin Beckett should be stripped of her post pending an inquiry - and Jan Royall will have to investigate them all. It ain’t pretty.
As for Question Time last night, at least John McDonnell got support from ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas for restoring the 50p tax rate. But what may interest CCHQ more is when McDonnell was asked if he’d put it up to 60p: he gave a wink.
3) TRICKY, DICKY TRUMP
Donald Trump has had it pretty easy so far in the Presidential race but finally the attacks are coming. It may be too little, too late, but at the Fox News debate last night Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz went for the jugular.
Rubio called Trump a conman, citing his ripping off of punters using his Trump University. But Cruz had the most damaging lines, pointing out the Donald had actually written donation cheques to Hillary Clinton 10 times - and four of them were in 2008 when she was running for President.
George Clooney in the Guardian today describes Trump as a ‘fascist’, but that charge isn’t as wounding to him as the ‘liar’ charge. As with his record on employing illegal immigrants, the whole attack is that Trump is a flip-flopping, self-serving snake oil salesman. It’s a useful baptism of fire if he gets the nomination as the Democrats will pour even more of this manure on him not least the ‘Tricky Dicky’ Nixon reputation.
But on one thing Trump was clear last night: he’s proud of his own manhood. Watch THIS CLIP from the debate where he actually - I’m not making this up - boasts that he has a big one.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this storekeeper in Georgia give a gun-toting robber more than he bargained for. Lovin’ the hammer.
4) CLASH OF CLANS
He’s got a media-savvy Scottish party leader and even some polling that shows his party could overtake Labour. Heck, he’s even got a Scottish surname (OK, with a mixed clan history). So it’s no wonder that David Cameron is today chancing his arm and venturing north of the border for his Scottish party conference ahead of the Holyrood elections.
The PM’s main message in the overnight brief is a warning that only the Tories can stop the SNP turning Scotland into a ‘one-party state’. He’ll also have a punchy dig at Nicola Sturgeon for abolishing the Right to Buy her parents benefited from.
Speaking of overweening states, in The House mag, Alex Salmond claims he is helping to broker a deal which could see Iran give up the death penalty.
Meanwhile David Mundell told ITV Borders yesterday that after being the first Tory Cabinet minster to come out as gay he felt like he’d “gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson”. But my fave bit was when the Scottish Secretary revealed David Cameron had "stopped eating his apple" when he told him his news after a Cabinet meeting.
5) GREY AREA
George Osborne loves a radical tax and pensions policy, but has he bitten off more than he can chew with his clever wheeze to grab tax sooner rather than later? Word is that the Chancellor wants to use his Budget to introduce a kind of Pension ISA, ending the end of tax relief on pensions contributions but allowing savers to withdraw their income tax-free after retirement.
Cue a pre-emptive strike in the FT from pensions minister Ros Altmann (relations between the DWP and the Treasury, never good under any Government, really are their poorest for years). Altmann tells the pink paper: “The freedom and choice reforms have put us in a place where people's pensions can work well for them. However, tax [of pension income currently] is a natural brake on them spending their pension fund too soon.”
The Mail says that Osbo has dumped other plans to end pension tax relief for higher earners amid warnings of a Tory voter backlash, not least in the middle of an EU referendum campaign. But other papers think the idea is very much still alive, and a key part of the wider reform.
Our latest Commons People podcast is a p-p-p-proper chinwag about the political week: pensions, prostitution, Project Fear and the PLP all get an airing. We also have our usual Quiz of the Week, a TheSmiths-themed look at which countries have a lower or higher retirement age than the UK. Yes, it’s that exciting.
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