The five things you need to know on Thursday July 21, 2016…
1) JEZITATION, REPETITION, DEVIATION
The House of Commons rises for its summer recess today as MPs head off to their constituencies. The Tories are the most chilled I’ve ever seen them, but grim-faced Labour members look like they are marching into gunfire. (This is the last WaughZone until the House returns too, see below).
The main action today is outside Parliament, which is exactly where Jeremy Corbyn is happiest. His leadership campaign launch has been pre-briefed overnight (in almost all its detail, which is novel) and has more policy than in a long time.
Echoing Beveridge (who was a Liberal don't forget) Corbyn even has his own 5 new ‘social ills’: ‘Inequality’, ‘neglect’, ‘insecurity’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination’. His most striking policy promise is to insist all employers with more than 21 staff publish an ‘equality pay audit’ that details pay, grade and hours of every job.
The Labour leader will emphasise his past as a trade union rep chasing up equal pay for women, at a stroke addressing two key voter groups he’s targeting in this election. And trade union votes, as well as full members and registered supporters, are important. Some 70,000 took part last year, with most favouring Corbyn. Owen Smith may get the backing of the GMB leadership, but Len McCluskey is in fighting mood on behalf of Jez. So much so that he laid into his former flatmate Tom Watson yesterday in a HuffPost blog.
But overall for Corbyn this campaign gives him a chance to ram home his image as a politician who doesn’t play by the normal media or Westminster rules. Expect his key anti-austerity messages to be repeated. And expect some new policies along the way. Owen Smith yesterday told TV viewers that he didn’t take Viagra because he “doesn’t need it”, adding he was like a 'Duracell bunny'. Yet Corbyn too is a relentless politician, with bags of energy that belie his 67 years and his Zen-like demeanour.
Smith has a mountain to climb among the membership, but will be hoping that it is that what swings this race is a moment's hesitation among members about Corbyn's credibility as a PM-in-waiting. He is even suggesting walking into the lion's den by attending some Momentum rallies.
Our man Ned Simons was at a Momentum/LabourAgainstAusterity rally last night and it was quite a thing. Former MP Chris Williamson suggested Labour MPs who opposed Corbyn were 'sleepers' put into Labour by Lynton Crosby 30 years ago. And NEC member Christine Shawcross, said the smashed window in Angela Eagle's constituency office was an act of vandalism not political opposition (as it happens, Wallasey CLP was suspended by Labour HQ yesterday).
2) 48 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE
The 183,541 people who have applied to join Labour as registered supporters - in just two days - nearly outnumber the entire Tory membership and Lib Dem membership combined.
Of course, if you're going to open your party to clicktivism, you reap what you sow. Many long-standing full members claim that there's still little evidence that all the new members who joined post-Jez have done any real work door-knocking or leafleting. But that complaint is all but irrelevant when it comes to electing a leader.
It's far from clear just whether the #SavingLabour (backed by jK Rowling) or #KeepCorbyn campaigns have got most of the 181K applications (the online form does allow you to say why you're joining, so we could get a readout on that at some point). But Corbyn's team have been much, much cannier on online activism, and his enormous number of Facebook likes could be what ends up determining the outcome. I'm told that Momentum's latest stats on the number of people who clicked through its site to the Labour sign-up page show that they have huge numbers on their side.
One area where clicktivism has been active of late was among 'the 48%' who signed in their millions a petition for a second EU referendum. And this is the most fertile ground for Owen Smith, and that's why his team want him to push hard on his own pledge to have a fresh mandate for any Brexit deal. I note that Corbyn's key aide yesterday played down his call for Article 50 to be triggered, and said JC too wanted some 'democratic accountability' for the negotiated deal.
The Guardian has done a straw poll of officers of 100 local Labour parties and found enthusiasm for Corbyn waning, though no real urgency to back his rival. One typical respondent was David Sedgewick, secretary of the CLP in Denton and Reddish: “There are members who have been here for 10, 15, 20 years who think he has to go. Those who have joined in the last year think he walks on water. There’s an almost religious-like following and if you criticise him you’re a blasphemer.”
Here's another straw in the wind, though. Richmond Park and Kingston North CLP last night became the first to nominate Owen Smith (nomination meetings are the only local party meetings still allowed). Pro-Corbyn speeches came not from Momentum stereotypes but from older members such as Walter Wolfgang (remember him?). But the meeting swung after an intervention by former newsreader Anna Ford (yes, it really was her). She said she'd voted for Jez last year but now feels he lacks the skills to operate in a Parliamentary system. Others agreed and a majority backed Smith, citing his voting record and potential as a PM. Ms Ford stressed that she would abstain from voting for either candidate. All of which is interesting, not least because Richmond Park CLP is traditionally leftwing - and is Seumas Milne's own local party.
3) MRS SLOW-COMBE PUSHES
Slowly does it. No rush. Less haste more speed. That’s Theresa May’s approach to triggering Article 50 (the formal mechanism starting Brexit) so far, and Angela Merkel yesterday showed her own inner caution by agreeing to give the PM more time. Other EU leaders want to end the uncertainty, but Merkel clearly wants to allow May the space to sort out her priorities first.
May is known in Whitehall as someone who likes to ‘get on with the job’, but only after due deliberation. And there’s a lot of deliberating going on right now, some of it tactical, some ore strategic. Her line on the Tory migration pledge was significantly altered in PMQs with her remark that it “may take some time” to achieve. Universal Credit was quietly delayed yet again, to 2022. The child obesity strategy has been put back to the autumn.
Still, given Brexit is the big picture being pushed by their leader, Tory MPs are not unhappy at some of the deliberation. One Cabinet minister told me yesterday that Tuesday’s Cabinet was a breath of fresh air after years of Cameron’s reign. An hour long discussion of the economy took place, with many ministers taking part and Philip Hammond responding in detail to each contribution. ‘Under George, we had a patronising five minutes from him and that was it,’ they said.
Meanwhile new Armed Forces Minister Mike Penning tells me that he is the first ever soldier from the ranks (as opposed to officer class) to hold the post. More proof of May’s management skills and her canny determination to be seen opposing the ‘wealthy elite’. The Sun reports May is also creating a Parliamentary Policy Board, to give backbenchers real influence after the years of being shut out by the Cam-Osborne ‘chumocracy’.
Many Tory MPs were delighted by May’s PMQs debut, not least for the Thatcher-like steel in taking on Corbyn and his ideas. But re-play that ‘Remind him of anybody?’ line and it sounds both more nervous and more jarring than in the chamber live. Panto-villainy is not her style, and may undercut her kinder, gentler pitch to Labour and floating voters.
And some things don’t change. I count 30 Written Ministerial Statements on the Order Paper this morning.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Ted Cruz get booed after he refuses to endorse Donald Trump..
4) BREAST BEST TEST
The Telegraph reports that a Parliamentary equalities review by a Professor of Gender has concluded that MPs should be allowed to breastfeed in the Commons. Former Speaker Betty Boothroyd famously refused to allow nursing in the chamber on the grounds that eating and drinking on the green benches was banned for MPs and should be for babies. But John Bercow welcomed the report to showcase the Commons as a "role-model parent friendly institution”.
But there’s stacks of non-breast recommendations in the review too, from office hours instead of late nights, to ending the requirement of male MPs to wear jackets and ties, to transgender toilets and more paintings of women MPs. There’s even a suggestion that Prime Minister's Questions should be heard in “silence" because it is too “rowdy”.
It’s more a wish-list than a set of concrete proposals, but Bercow will chair a committee to look at which merit implementation. The Speaker said at the report’s publication that “We do tend to preserve by laziness, rather antiquated practices and prejudice. We won't achieve everything in this paper overnight but by bringing people together we will achieve worthwhile things."
5) VLADIMIR TRUMPIN
Speaking of breasts, Donald Trump really risked making a tit of himself with his latest pronouncements on world affairs. The theory is that once Trump got the nomination he would tack to the centre and show his grown-up side. But in an interview with the New York Times, he’s shown instead just how quixotic and authoritarian he could prove as President.
Trump said he would not put pressure on Turkey or other regimes which cracked down on civil liberties. “I don’t think we have a right to lecture…Look at what is happening in our country,” he said. “How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?”
Just as worrying, Trump suggested he would tear up Nato’s charter that says members automatically come to the aid of a fellow state under attack. Asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States, he said that if Moscow attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.” “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.” No wonder Vladimir Putin is licking his lips at the prospect of The Donald winning in November.
The WaughZone is taking a much-needed summer break and will be back in a few week’s time. It’s a gruelling business, this pre-dawn email lark, but it’s very rewarding to get your feedback through texts, emails, DMs and phone calls. I can only apologise for some of the puns, but some of you clearly like them. Thank you all for reading and have a great summer.
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