The five things you need to know on Tuesday July 12, 2016…
1) THE SHOE-IN
Today’s the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. Fitting perhaps, as it was the last battle that saw off the lingering threat to King William’s ascendancy to the throne. Mrs May’s own Glorious Revolution has seen some backstabbing and a few political corpses, but nothing compared to the open warfare that can accompany historic transfers of power. Triggered by a PM who shot himself in the foot over Europe (and who hummed to himself afterwards), her own coronation has been in many ways, a very British coup.
May doesn’t need time to compose herself (self-control and poise is after all her greatest asset) But after a dizzying few hours and days, she will need every minute of today’s day off the news cycle to draft her first short speech as PM - and her first Cabinet. She showed plenty of cool class yesterday, as Owen Bennett reports.
As May looked like a shoo-in for leader, so too Philip Hammond seems to many of her team nailed on as the new Chancellor (given his long years as Shadow Chief Secretary and subsequent years a beancounter-in-chief at Transport and Defence). Will Osborne get a job swap to Foreign Secretary or will a Brexiter have to get that, someone like Liam Fox (a long-time dinner partner of both)? Boris is ‘expecting little’, the Times says. While relations with Gove were so poisonous in Government that it’s difficult to see how he would be trusted by May’s top team in any department with real clout.
Chris Grayling may end up with the Home Office or the Secretary of State for Brexit. Priti Patel is mooted as Commons Leader, Anna Soubry is expected to get a Cabinet post, as Leavers and Remainers are balanced out. Amber Rudd is tipped for a big job - could it be BIS...or (curveball but it's out there) our first female Chancellor? David Davis may not accept anything less than a senior role (don’t forget he’s still taking the Home Office to court…and is no fan of the Investigatory Powers Bill).
Meanwhile, that bloke David Cameron holds his final Cabinet meeting. No six-week legacy tour, no final G20 summit in September, just one outing on the new CamForceOne, his exit proves how brutal politics really is. I wonder if he will do a Gordon Brown tomorrow, and walk out with his children alongside him?
And it may have been family wot won it, in the end. Andrea Leadsom's decision to pull out of the race came despite the urging of her Parliamentary team. Sources say it had more to do with her desire to protect herself and her sons and daughter from weeks of intense pressure after her remarks about May's lack of children. It was not a coincidence that the person standing behind her on the steps in Cowley St yesterday was her husband Ben. It seems that "as a mother", she decided to call it a day. Let's see what job she now gets in Government.
2) SNAPPING AT HER HEELS
Citing the need for ‘stability’, Theresa May kinda ruled out a snap election at her leadership launch all those 13 long days ago. But some Tory MPs think she would still be wise to seize her moment, and get her own mandate, by going to the polls by next Spring. This depends on Corbyn still being Labour leader, but the Tories think they can take up to 60 seats from the Opposition.
May doesn’t even have the fig-leaf of endorsement of her own party members, some of whom feel robbed. Grassroots veteran John Strafford told Radio 4’s The World Tonight her election as leader was ‘the biggest stitch-up since the Bayeaux Tapestry’ - or at least since Michael Howard avoided a membership vote.
And with a working majority of around 17, the danger for May is that her premiership could limp from crisis to crisis with Brexiters feeling bruised and looking for any hint at backsliding. Even Gordon “bottler” Brown had the backing of his party members, if not the public. May won’t have that, but she will have a raft of fellow ministers and backbenchers who make John Major’s “bastards” look mild.
The Fixed Term Parliament Act has its hurdle of a two thirds majority needed for an election, but what Labour MP could credibly reject the offer of going to the polls if May wanted it? And if May doesn’t call an election, she could hear echoes of Margaret Thatcher, but not is a good way. It was Mrs T who yelled “Frit!” at Denis Healey back in 1983, claiming he was frightened of an election.
Major got away with being unelected from 1990 to 1992 because he only had two years before a general election. Brown barely got away with three years ‘squatting’ in No.10. Surely four years without a mandate would be too long even for the ultra-cautious Mrs May?
3) NEVER MIND THE BALLOTS
High noon for Jeremy Corbyn comes a little late, at 2pm. That’s when Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee meets to discuss the leadership challenge and the all-important question of whether a sitting leader automatically goes on the ballot paper, or whether he needs the nomination of 51 MPs and MEPs. For his supporters and critics alike, it’s perhaps a reckoning that’s long overdue.
Traditionally, the Tories’ secret weapon has been a hunger for power, even if that meant short-term disunity and disloyalty. Equally traditionally, Labour has put loyalty to the leader above everything else. Today, tradition is reversed, as May benefits from an unexpected outbreak of party unity, while Corbyn faces an historic threat to his leadership.
Various legal opinions are flying around on the need for Corbyn to get 20% of MPs/MEPs. General Secretary Iain McNicol is understood to favour advice he’s received that nominations are indeed needed by all candidates. But that’s contradicted by advice to the party’s lawyer from Doughty St chambers (seen as ‘progressive’ by the leadership) and by Michael Mansfield for Unite. Will McNicol simply lay out all the advice and let the NEC decide?
Just as importantly, I’m told Corbyn critics plan to hold a secret ballot on the legal advice. That would protect them from online and other abuse from allies of the leader. If the secret ballot goes ahead, maybe that will be the first signal Corbyn is losing.
There are new legal threats too, with the BBC reporting a solicitor’s letter from Jim Kennedy (a trade union member of the NEC who announced JC’s victory last September) warns of a High Court injunction if Corbyn is kept off the ballot.
With the 33-strong NEC finely balanced, there’s also the question of whether all its members can physically get to the meeting as it was called with short notice. The Guardian has an email from a Unite delegate saying for some “it will be extremely difficult for them to get there.”
Union leaders are coming under pressure from members, however. A YouGov poll for Election Data found that a majority of members of Unite, Unison, the GMB, Usdaw, and CWU think Jez should step down, and an even greater proportion think he is unlikely to win an election if he stays.
Corbyn was planning to make a speech to Unite’s policy conference in Brighton this afternoon, but maybe that could be brought forward as it clashes with the NEC - and he will want to be there.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this fantastic video of an inconsolable French football fan getting some surprise consolation..
4) OWEN ANGELA A DEBT
After all the ‘will-she-or-wont-she?’ speculation about Angela Eagle (her mind was made up more than a week ago), it’s now Owen Smith’s turn to face the charge of prevarication. Except that, like Eagle, he may well not be prevaricating at all, but just waiting for the right time. I’m told he has even more support than her.
Eagle’s launch will be remembered for its tumbleweed moment, where she called for journalists’ questions, only to be greeted by silence and the realisation that they had flown off to witness the Andrea Leadsom announcement. But overall it went well, as she had clearly rehearsed her speech and its well crafted messages. Eagle’s quick wit is never a problem in the Q&A or Commons Question times, yet she has struggled at speechmaking in the past. Despite her nerves, she looked very much up for what could be a very bruising fight.
There was however a jarring moment. When asked why she thought she could beat Theresa May, she replied “Because she’s a Tory!” That won lots of laughs from the gathered MPs, but it was the kind of tribalism that may not go down that well in marginal seats. Saying the Tories are wicked is something Corbyn has made his speciality, after all.
Still, it was an impressive array of Parliamentary support for Eagle, with 32 MPs ranging from Dan Jarvis to Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn. Margaret Hodge, once a stalking horse contender, was delighted by the launch. Not all her 51 backers who yesterday submitted letters were there. Her camp are not releasing a full list. There’s talk of the PLP having to agree a ‘unity’ candidate, possibly through a hustings with Smith, but as Eagle has had the guts to formally trigger a leadership challenge it’s hard to see her now giving way. For many of those present, there was a sense of relief that finally Corbyn was being taken on. Win or lose, several MPs think they and the party owe her a debt of gratitude.
On the Today prog, Eagle was asked whether she was up to confronting Putin because she shed a tear over her agonising leadership decision. "There is nothing wrong with being in touch with your emotions," she replied. She also dismissed questions about her voting for the Iraq war as a “Corbynista meme”.
5) MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE
I shouldn’t keep writing this but, on any normal day this would be a huge, huge story dominating the news. A new US Congressional report suggests that officials refused to prosecute HSBC and Standard Chartered for money laundering - because of concerns that it would cause a "global financial disaster.
The US Justice Department decided not to act in 2012. But this story gets better, or worse, depending on your viewpoint. The report - which has a wonderful title Too Big To Jail - claims the UK “hampered” the investigation and “influenced” the decision not to prosecute. And George Osborne personally intervened, saying that British banks were being “unfairly targeted” and “adding to the pressure” by warning of market turmoil if HSBC was charged.
HSBC agreed to pay a record $1.92 billion in fines to US authorities in December 2012 for allowing itself to be used to launder drug money flowing out of Mexico and other banking lapses. As part of the settlement, the bank agreed to a five-year deferred prosecution agreement and promised to clean up its anti-money laundering systems. That settlement came a day after Standard Chartered, agreed to a $327 million settlement with US law enforcement agencies for sanctions violations. Who says bankers get away with things….?
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