The five things you need to know on Wednesday March 16, 2016…
1) OS-BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS
The comparisons between George Osborne and Gordon Brown are by now well-worn, but the Chancellor still shows many of the traits of his predecessor. Today, he’s taking a big step beyond his Treasury brief, sounding (dare I say it) like an acting Prime Minister as he puts his firm stamp on education policy.
The big plan to turn every school into an academy is part of the overnight brief. Yes, it was trailed in the manifesto and the Tory conference. But it’s further evidence, if needed, that councils are seen as the enemy by this Government (though some educationalists say that ironically LEAs could actually keep control of admissions if all schools are academies). Councils may well feel yet more pain in new cuts later too.
The consumer angle however is the idea of ripping up the Victorian school day that ends at 3.30pm, and extending it by five hours a week. Some working parents will like this, but many others will loathe it as another step towards ‘warehousing’ their kids, disrupting their after-school clubs and so on. Either way, it’s a bold reform.
Among the eve-of-Budget news stories are the FT pointing out Osborne will break yet another of his own rules (how very Gordon), this time on debt. The Times suggests he’s looked at cutting capital gains on second homes to help unfreeze part of the housing market. The Guardian has his £100m homelessness fund. We’ve done up the ‘tampon tax’ - and how he could scrap it altogether.
2) BUDGET FEAR
Will Osborne dare make the Budget part of Project Fear? Not explicitly, but the overriding message will be one of global certainty and dangers, all part of the narrative that it’s no time to take a ‘leap in the dark’.
Disproving those who think he’s been muzzled by No.10-friendly proprietors, the Telegraph’s Philip Johnston today says the Chancellor will signal that the last thing it needs is a shock to the system, even though the fundamentals have changed little since his rose-tinted Autumn Statement. He quotes one Euroscep Tory minister: “I hadn’t expected No 10 to run the Remain campaign itself or for the PM to be so heavily involved and in your face.” Naive or what?
The Sun reveals former Cabinet minister David Jones has been tweeting anonymously under the ‘BrexitInJune’ name (though his name and photo are on the account, now at least). Among his tweets are calls for Cameron to quit should he lose. After the PM suggested it would take 10 years to sort a Brexit trade deal, he tweeted: “Clearly we need a new Tory leader to sort things out more quickly.” He also warned “I’m a lifelong Tory; always will be. But if Cameron asks me to choose between loyalty to him, it’s country every time.”
Ahead of the Budget, Michael Gove may finally be asked some straight questions on his Queen/EU conversations at the Justice Committee: he’s up at 10.15am in the Grimond Room.
3) EVERLASTING GOP-STOPPER
The hot news overnight from the US is that Marco Rubio has finally given up the ghost. The GOP’s ‘establishment’ candidate was hammered in Florida by Trump, 46 percent to 27 percent. If you can’t even win your home state - as Al Gore couldn’t in the 2000 general election (a victory that would have made him President despite hanging chads) - you frankly don’t deserve to be nominee, let alone get to the White House.
Rubio’s loss says a lot of things: the way some young candidates are pushed too early for the top job, the awesome raw popularity of Trump, the inflexibility of party bigwigs. Announcing he was ‘suspending’ his campaign (why don’t they just say they’re ‘ending’ their campaigns?), Rubio told his supporters ‘do not give into the fear…do not give into the frustration’. That sounded like he was urging them not to vote Trump in November. Hillary marches on, meanwhile.
The gag in January was that ‘The Republicans haven't got a single candidate who could survive a Willie Wonka factory tour’. Well, Trump is proving the everlasting GOP-stopper. Aided in part by the £2bn in free airtime he’s had from the US media.
With Ted Cruz still in second, Ohio-winner John Kasich desperately wants to be the Establishment candidate. Will we get that fabled ‘brokered convention’ in the summer, if Trump fails to win the remaining 60% of delegates?
An outsider harnessing anger with the status quo, establishment candidates who did too little to see the tsunami heading their way, moves behind closed doors to ‘stitch up’ the contest to oust the winner….now, which British political party does that remind you of?
Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are poles apart politically but maybe their teams can swap stories on how to defy expectations - and how to circle you wagons once you’ve won.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Trevor Kavanagh and Alastair Campbell fight over the role papers play in the EU referendum.
4) A PAINFUL LABOUR
Jeremy Corbyn faces a big test today with his first ever Budget response as leader of the Opposition (it’s the Shadow Chancellor’s job in the Autumn Statement). There will be no Little Red Book stunt from Corbyn, though you can expect Osborne to try to provoke him.
The Labour leader will probably not try to master the stats in the real Red Book, as Ed Balls used to, and will probably instead rattle off his main attack lines against the Tories. In the huddle-wars after the last Budget, then Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie was impressively quick to spot the tax credits cuts. Will John McDonnell have as good an operation today?
Yet Labour’s own internal troubles have been painful of late, not least over anti-semitism. The Vicki Kirby row has proved a huge embarrassment and exposed failures in the Compliance Unit. The Sun now reports that Surrey cops have stepped in (Kirby lives in Woking) after a complaint from Labour’s police and crime commissioner candidate in Northamptonshire Kevin McKeever. The force says it is is reviewing her tweets. The Indy reveals Kirby was not just vice-chair of Woking Labour Party, and partner of the chairman, Barry Faulkner - she was its trade union liaison officer and communications and campaigns co-ordinator too.
But it’s not just anti-semitism that worries some in Labour HQ, it’s the mess of Bradford West Labour Party, where the NEC had to step in earlier this year to take control of some candidate selections for the May council elections. Naz Shah, the local MP, has written powerfully for HuffPost on the campaign against her by some Muslim party members. It’s a shocking read. This is about a lot more than segregated meetings.
5) LOST IN POWERS
The Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill was passed by 281 votes to 15 after a five-hour debate in the Commons. The Lib Dems were furious that Labour and the SNP abstained (and furious that Andy Burnham said that calling it a ‘snooper’s charter’ was an insult to the cops and spooks).
But there were 49 Tory abstentions last night, including David Davis. And if they and Labour and the SNP team up on a common amendment on things like stronger legal frameworks, then the Government majority will be shot. Of course, not all the Tories who stayed away last night will rebel, and the Labour and SNP decision made it easier to sit on their hands. Yet the whips will be nervous. This one hasn’t gone away.
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