The five things you need to know on Tuesday, October 4, 2016…
1) SOFT PEDDLING, HARD GOING
“[If it's] too soft, then it’s going to be a bit claggy…” When Theresa May appeared on ITV’s GMB this morning it looked like she really was a hard Brexiter. Sadly, she was talking about how soft or hard your butter should be when making the perfect scones, not how rigid or fudgey our exit from the EU should be.
One thing that was clear from Philip Hammond’s speech yesterday is that he is still pushing for a soft landing for businesses the other side of B-day. Yes, the Chancellor’s delivery had all the charm of the speaking clock (with as many good gags), but companies felt it was a fascinating example of nuanced politics.
His line about the ‘turbulence’ ahead was a sharp reminder that this is one minister who is not blasé about the next few years. Turbulence is one thing, but some in No.10 raised eyebrows at Hammond going further on Today by talking of a “rollercoaster” ride. The PM herself preferred to talk about ‘bumps in the road’ on the Today programme.
At least two Brexiteers in the Cabinet have told me that they were irritated by Hammond’s line that people didn’t vote on June 23 ‘to become poorer’, with its Remainer implication that that’s what hard Brexit necessarily entails. They were also curious that Hammond’s speech also had a hint of compensation (‘ready to provide support’) for firms like Nissan to keep them here, a line Hammond’s spokeswoman said afterwards business would find ‘reassuring’.
One minister also talks privately about ‘the paradox of uncertainty’ caused by Brexit, namely that it forces businesses to seek certainty with Plan Bs. They want to make Brexit work because they have to. And many are telling ministers that while they understand the complexity, they want as simple a plan as possible. Bloomberg reports that three senior figures in May’s government have told it there will be no favours for the City of London and no interim deal that banks have sought to ease the transition.
Yet while some can cope with individual policy changes (like ‘passporting’), big City firms really still worry that the wider economy will really suffer with upto 8 years of uncertainty. David Gauke on Newsnight last night couldn’t deny the Treasury’s own forecast this year was a permanent loss of 4% of GDP after Brexit – even if we had a Norway-style EEA deal.
2) JEREMY BEGINS AT HOME
In theory, doing Brexit at the beginning of this party conference was meant to ‘get it out of the way’ so the PM and her Cabinet could then focus on domestic social policy reform. In practice, Brexit is so dominant that nearly every policy is shot through with its implications. From troops being protected from European courts to the deportation of EU crims, all the talk is of life post-Europe.
And so even though today is meant to be domestic policy day on health and education, we can’t escape things like migration. Jeremy Hunt’s big announcement is that he will train 1,500 more doctors a year to get to a stage by 2025 where we are ‘self-sufficient’ in ‘home-grown’ medics. And those overseas doctors can basically go back home.
Though there is lots of sense in cutting huge agency bills by having more permanent staff coming through the ranks, the way it has been pitched sounds a bit like “British docs for British workers”.
The BMA, Diane Abbott and others are already outraged at the idea of telling foreign staff in the NHS they are no longer welcome. And there’s the bigger issue of Hunt undermining his own claim for years that all his new doctor numbers were enough.
However, Theresa May seemed to go even further this morning on BBC Breakfast. Asked what would happen to those overseas-trained staff currently in the NHS, she said foreign doctors will be allowed to stay ‘until further numbers [of home-grown doctors] are trained’. That sounded very much like they wouldn’t be allowed to stay after 2025. Will we really be deporting medics? Or just not letting them in? There was a bit of a Twitter avalanche after I tweeted her remarks this morning.
3) GRAMMAR TEST
On the Today programme (it was a dizzying whirl trying to keep up with the PM’s breakfast media round), May also sounded a lot less gung-ho about new grammars, as if they are now just a very small part of education reform rather than some totemic big bang.
Nicky Morgan was still fighting the fight yesterday, and it’s notable that many conference activists kinda seem to agree with her that this is a distraction. Morgan was feisty enough to call out the two whips sent to spy on her fringe speech. She even pre-leaked Justine Greening’s announcement today that she would set up ‘social mobility areas’ to tackle the worst performing schools. It seems the six areas will be in Blackpool, Derby, Norwich, Oldham, Scarborough and West Somerset.
At our Commons People ‘Pubcast’ last night, Heidi Allen (always a good weathervane for the backbenches) warned that the new grammars plan was ‘toxic’ and had ‘dented’ May’s honeymoon in No10. Ruth Davidson told the Scottish lobby yesterday she would never allow new grammars in Scotland. It’s no wonder the plan is dropping down the priority list.
May is markedly more relaxed on the media these days. I also get the feeling that she really likes her voluntary party in a way that Cameron never did (and in a way that Corbyn does his party).
As for that 'A country that works for everyone' slogan in the hall, No.10 staffers have finally clocked the real downside. From certain camera angles you can replace a politician's head in the 'o', cut off 'country' at 'count' and...well that's what happened with this cheeky shot of Liam Fox yesterday. Only Robert Peston was brave enough to tweet a censored version.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR..
Watch Andrea Leadsom win this year’s Liz Truss cheese award, courtesy of this vine from my eagle-eyed colleague Ned Simons.
4) HEEL, BORIS!
On ITV’s GMB, Theresa May was tackled on the vexed issue of her shoes. Susannah Reid wondered if it was sexist to always ask about her footwear. May replied: “It is interesting that people focus on my shoes. I don’t think they focus on Philip Hammond’s or Boris Johnson’s in quite the same way.”
But she added that at least it gave her an excuse to buy more shoes. There then followed a bit of a spat between Reid and Piers Morgan over why May wore such striking designs – and whether women dressed for themselves or for men. By that point, May had gone.
As Foreign Secretary, Boris has responsibility overall for MI6. And he may be pleased at the Sun story today that the UK could use our intelligence expertise as a bargaining chip in Brexit. “The deal the PM wants will be all encompassing, so that means everything we do with the EU should be on the table – what they need, and what we need," a Government source says. “Why shouldn’t we include intelligence in that, explicitly or implicitly? It is one of our strongest suits.”
The Sun also reveals Boris and David Cameron had a bit of a rapprochement in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, after Shimon Peres's funeral. "It’s not fair at all to say Dave was a bad leader of the party because of how it all ended," Boris told pals. Last night I was told Boris still hasn't given up hope of the top job one day. 'Maybe in five years' time...?' one MP said.
Meanwhile, Labour’s anti-semitism row rumbles on. The left-wing pressure group Momentum has voted to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair of its most senior committee after complaints against her.
The Labour activist was unseated from her position on Momentum’s Steering Committee by a vote of seven to three. It pointed to comments she made on film at a Labour conference fringe event obtained by The Huffington Post UK.
But it’s not quite the tough action many wanted. She remains a member of the committee itself and Momentum. And Labour of course.
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