The five things you need to know on Thursday July 7, 2016…
1) WHATEVER AND EVER, AMEN
What a day that was. Chilcot’s excoriating statement, Blair’s two-hour live TV defence, lame duck Cameron’s Commons reaction, Corbyn’s defiant speech. It was yet again a case of ‘stop the news, I want to get off’.
Those of us in the ‘lock-in’ to get an embargoed read of the Chilcot Report (believe me, it’s nowhere near as much fun as being in a pub downing illicit Guinness) quickly realised this was going to be no ‘whitewash’. Whitehall’s very own Godot had stopped the waiting and everyone was struck by just how forthright he was. Grounded in evidence, carefully written and utterly rigorous, the Iraq Inquiry report is everything that the Blair government’s WMD dossier was not.
Chilcot certainly didn’t bury his intro. In fact he got his rhetorical highlighter pen out to underline in his statement perhaps the one Blair-Bush memo that will forever now act as a shorthand for their relationship on Iraq: Blair would be with the US President ‘whatever’. For all Blair’s emphasis on his ‘conditions’ included in that memo (and he obviously did get Bush to go down the UN route), Jonathan Powell and David Manning, and Chris Meyer, all thought it was a big mistake to offer what looked like a blank cheque for military action. Our list of the best Blair-Bush memos is HERE.
Given the length of the report there will be more news nuggets to come out in coming days and weeks. Those who said we would see nothing new were wrong. We had details of the MI6 ‘source’ who watched Sean Connery’s Hollywood movie The Rock to wrongly claim nerve agents were being kept in glass vials. We had the letters showing that Blair himself effectively wrote his own legal advice by declaring - with no documentation - that Saddam was in ‘material breach’ of UN weapons curbs.
Today, the blame game has shifted to the United States and the Bush administration’s unshakeable determination to go to war. And like Chilcot, the suggestion is that UN weapons inspectors should have been given six more months. Sir Jeremy Greenstock says Blair did his best to get the Americans to go down the UN route but ultimately they just wanted to go ahead. “I felt that at the time, the British felt it at the time, I think the prime minister felt it at the time, that the Americans pushed us into going into military action too early," he told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight.
More will emerge. From his tears and his anger at being called a liar, few can say that this was a ‘Whatevs’ former Prime Minister, when it comes to Iraq. But that one word, ‘Whatever’, will haunt him for the rest of his days.
2) WHAT A BOLES UP
The final two in the Tory leadership contest will be announced after today’s second ballot around 4.30pm. Theresa May is guaranteed to go through of course and the only issue is whether Michael Gove could possibly get any votes to overtake Andrea Leadsom.
Leadsom campaign chief Tim Loughton warned darkly on Newsnight on Tuesday against any “shenanigans” of MPs from the May camp ‘lending’ their votes to avoid a potentially risk run-off with his candidate among the party members.
And sure as day follows Newsnight, Gove’s own campaign manager Nick Boles has popped up to gift his opponents more evidence of the student politicking charge that has dogged the Justice Secretary ever since he knifed Boris Johnson.
In a text sent to about a dozen May supporters, Boles also laid bare the Portillista roots of the Govian Policy Exchangers and their metropolitan contempt for the traditional views of the party’s grass roots. “I am seriously frightened about the risk of allowing Andrea Leadsom onto the membership ballot. What if Theresa stumbles? Are we really confident that the membership won't vote for a fresh face who shares their attitudes about much of modern life, like they did with IDS?”
Boles has long been ridiculed by colleagues as the epitome of a wonk-gone-wrong, an MP whose ambition for the next ministerial promotion is legend in the Tea Room. The word hapless doesn’t do him justice. Few remember his disastrous first contact with real-world politics, when he was made Boris’s early chief of staff in City Hall in 2008 and had to quit after a series of deputy mayoral resignations and blunders. Only the late Sir Simon Milton rescued the Boris mayoralty. Boles was a big Boris backer, until last week, don’t forget.
Boles apologised last night, trying to distance Gove from his text, but the damage was done. Still, the attacks on Leadsom continue, not least claims that she has embellished her CV like an Apprentice wannabe and offered to show her tax return only to MPs who wanted to see it.
And last night Grant Shapps emailed Labour as well as Tory MPs to ask for backing for a fast-tracked leadership race. He said he’d written to party chairman Lord Feldman.
3) ELEMENTARY, WATSON
Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies have been saying it for nearly a fortnight, but some Labour MPs just didn’t believe them: the Labour leader is not going to quit. I’ve been amazed that MPs have been amazed at Corbyn’s stubborn refusal to go.
After the mass resignation from his front bench and the vote of no confidence, many thought ‘he just has to go, doesn’t he?’ But he’s still there and only a leadership challenge - or the NEC saying he needs nominations to get on a ballot - can get rid of him. Here's one clue to the zen-like calm Corbyn appears to have: as the political fallout swirled around this weekend, he attended the annual general meeting of his East Finchley Allotment association. And he's getting lots and lots of support from activists, not least for his Chilcot speech last night.
Tom Watson is due to have more private conversations today but it was always elementary that Corbyn would refuse any requests to quit from union chiefs as much as he would his MPs. The trade unions, where those with hardline views have long out-organised and outvoted opponents by appealing to a soft-left membership, have for years offered a glimpse of what Labour would look like under a Corbyn-like leader.
Talk of party splits is played down by MPs for one good reason: the unions really do make up the backbone of the party. Still, those unions know they too have to find a way for the MPs to somehow resolve the impasse.
That ‘chicken coup’ charge of the Corbynistas was always going to stick unless someone came out with their 51 nominations. Will Angela Eagle or Owen Smith finally strike? Or will we replace Chilcot with a new tragicomic Westminster play about the thing that never arrives, Waiting for Corbgo?
The Telegraph quotes one senior Labour MP: "It's finished. He will win easily in a second contest if he is on the ballot, it's everything we wanted to avoid.” The MP added: "He is losing support of the membership by the day, there is no doubt about that, but they just sign up new members to replace them. He is Teflon in that sense.” Other potters think they still have time on their side, but do they?
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Normally I put up a light video to cheer you up. Today, there’s no getting away from this extraordinary footage of Alton Sterling shot by two white cops in Louisiana
4) HOUSE RULES
The Remainers often talked about the economic ‘shock’ that Brexit would produce. They may have been better advised to talk about the slow burn, long term effect of quitting the EU. The FTSE 100 bounced back, even sterling recovered a little, and Mark Carney made clear he would do everything to ensure financial stability.
But now two weeks after the vote we are seeing evidence of what could be irreversible movement. The FTSE is slowly dipping, sterling continues to fall, and company after company is making plans for an alternative future. The risk of Project Fear turning into Project Fact looms large.
Another three commercial property funds have been forced to suspend trading as post-Brexit fears for the sector among retail investors continue to snowball. Columbia Threadneedle, Henderson Global Investors and Canada Life said they will not allow customers to cash in shares in their property funds, citing liquidity pressures. This follows similar suspensions of withdrawals from the flagship commercial property funds of Standard Life, Aviva and M&G earlier this week. Together the six funds are worth more than £14billion.
5) EYE-TO-EYE, CONTRACT
Jeremy Hunt was in the middle of Health Questions when the BMA vote came through on Tuesday. But not a single MP was sharp enough to raise in topical Qs the junior doctors’ momentous decision to reject the contract on weekend working. Was this because the Shadow Health team is inexperienced? Or because all eyes were kinda elsewhere on the Tory leadership race?
Yesterday, Hunt decided he had no choice but to impose the contract from October. Inevitably, he was accused of burying bad news under the media snowstorm of Chilcot. Yet just as our two main political parties are split over their futures, so too are junior doctors, with a fair chunk clearly read to accept the deal as they best they are likely to get.
And like our main parties, there’s a split between those who prefer radical options to those who just want a pragmatic approach. More strikes look likely, which may mean Hunt gets his wish and stays at Health until 2020. That would be a very Theresa May-like thing to do.
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