The five things you need to know on Thursday, April 20…
1) RULES OUT FOR SUMMER
Jeremy Corbyn has his first setpiece speech of the election this morning and the overnight trail shows his team have decided to ‘Let Corbyn be Corbyn’. The Labour leader will seek to exploit his underdog status, attacking the ‘Establishment’ consensus that the result of June 8 is already ‘a foregone conclusion’.
What caught the eye most was Corbyn’s vow that “I won’t play by the rules” of either the media, the political mainstream or corporate Britain. He could have added that he won’t dance to the pollsters’ tune either, but with a new YouGov/Times poll putting the Tories a massive 24 points ahead (Con 48%, Lab 24%, LDs 12%, UKIP 7%) that’s probably his only option.
I wonder if Corbyn is aware that every leader of recent times, from Blair to Brown and Miliband to Cameron, have all said they want to be on the side of ‘people who play by the rules’? I wonder too if today’s message really is the dual attack on not just the Tories but New Labour, as that’s how parts of his speech read. One key line - “How dare they crash the economy with their recklessness and greed, and then punish those who had nothing to do with it” - could apply to Blair/Brown in 2007/8 as much as to his claims that the Tories have overseen a cuts-led decline in living standards.
At least Corbyn hasn’t repeated one bit of the Miliband legacy, the famous delay in ruling out a coalition with the SNP. That won’t stop May from deploying the Scots weapon in English seats (and Sturgeon skilfully both kept alive the coalition spectre while saying Corbyn was so unpopular it was academic). Note that wise old bird, former Treasury perm sec Nick Macpherson tweeted this morning: “The SNP need the Tories just as the Tories need the SNP. How long can this marriage of convenience last?”
Corbyn will refuse to 'doff' his cap to wealthy corporate figures like Sports Direct's Mike Ashley. But who will he blame for this morning's news that Debenhams (in which Ashley has a stake) is closing stores and a warehouse, with the loss of lots of jobs?
Meanwhile, Labour MPs’ cheers for Yvette Cooper’s surgical strike at PMQs shows that she’s done what she didn’t in 2015 - got a leadership campaign ready to go, with supporters cheering her in person and online. The Indy reports JC plans to stay in post even if he loses, so he can get to the September Labour conference to change the rules to make a leftwing successor easier. Neil Kinnock told 5Live a Labour government in his lifetime was now unlikelier than ever.
Corbyn is trying to ensure his campaign is as unspun and raw as his leadership campaigns. His impromptu street-stump trip to Croydon was a contrast to Theresa May’s autocue-precise event in Bolton. The PM leaving in a helicopter from a golf course gave off all the wrong images, with echoes more of Trump than an English vicar’s daughter. Neither Corbyn nor May allowed questions at their events yesterday.
There’s one further headache for Corbyn today. Trump’s son Barron was spotted wearing an Arsenal football strip at the White House. Proof that Jez’s favourite team is also Piers Morgan’s? Corbyn’s speech today suggests this will be the reddest Labour campagn since the 1980s. Let’s see if the manifesto is too.
2) BREXIT MEANS
Theresa May’s determination to make this a Brexit election is underlined by the Daily Mail splash which says the Tory manifesto will include ‘cast-iron’ pledges to end EU free movement and pull out of the single market and European Court of Justice. The Mail calls this a ‘triple lock’ to defeat the Remainers in the Commons and Lords, though the voters may get confused about multiple locks if the state pensions one is unpicked, as well as the VAT/NI/incometax version.
The real question is whether May will seek flexibility on each of those Brexit issues of migration levesl, trade and the courts, either in transitional deals or permanent ones. The Times has news of one wriggle on immigration, with the PM ready to change the way new student numbers are calculated as part of migration figures. The bigger issue is whether May will repeat her infamous pledge to get migration down below 100,000. As I mentioned yesterday, energy price caps and other moves suggest May will try to steal Miliband-style polices while sticking to her pitch to Leave voters.
The FT reports that Brussels is starting to systematically shut the UK firms out of billions of pounds worth of contracts. And Nigel Farage, whose UKIP looks in many ways in retreat (that 7% polling in YouGov will ring alarm bells) continued to play footsie with the voters this morning, telling Today he will decide in the next few days whether he will stand as an MP again. There was better news for May from US House speaker Paul Ryan at his Policy Exchange event last night, when he said he hoped a US-UK trade deal would happen ‘as soon as possible’ after Brexit. Liam Fox looked on with approval.
3) GATED DEVELOPMENT
I wonder if Bill Gates, whose made his fortune from a certain global corporation called Microsoft, passes Corbyn’s new ‘wealth extractor/wealth creator’ test? One of the world’s richest men also happens to be one of its most generous philanthropists and yesterday warned Theresa May that ditching the UK’s overseas aid commitments would cost lives.
In a speech in London (read in full HERE), the billionaire had a carefully timed intervention to protect the pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on development. He also told the Spectator that UK aid “is under 2% of the budget... and applied in places where the interventions are at least a hundred times more effective than anything you'd do domestically.”
The problem is that May in PMQs (and in her Sun interview) refused to recommit to a target that was Tony Blair’s and Cameron’s pride and joy. There is talk in Whitehall of rolling it into a joint defence/aid target so it is finessed rather than dumped. On Newsnight, Ruth Davidson planted a flag in the sand, pointing to the ‘moral courage’ of sticking to 0.7%.
But ex-No10 policy chief Camilla Cavendish said ‘many people do think it’s too much’ and liked the idea of the military delivering aid. Let’s see just how the Tory manifesto lands on this one. With focus groups and polls putting Brexit voters complaints about ‘foreign aid’ and ‘charity should begin at home’, Mayism may prove to be more pragmatic than idealistic. The danger is the move would win votes in Leave areas but enrage the centrist voters the PM says she wants.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch theseUS tennis players shout ‘It can’t be that good!’ as loud sex disrupts their match. No, really.
4) TELLY WELLY
Theresa May is not going to take part in a live TV debate with other party leaders in this election, no siree. And she’s not bluffing. The Mirror splashes on her ‘Fowl Play’ decision, having sent its reporter dressed in a chicken suit to chase the PM.
ITV was first out of the blocks to say that it was still planning TV debates, with or without May, prompting the thought of an empty chair with a pair of leopardskin heels in place of the Prime Minister. The BBC too said it was looking at going ahead, though it was at pains to say no ‘empty chair’ tactic would occur.
May’s refusal to debate live does indeed suggest she’s not as ‘strong’ a leader as she thinks, and Labour will push hard on this one as much as the broadcasters. And yet I wonder if it all risks looking like a process story that bores voters: yesterday Tory MPs were asked more about the telly optics than wider policies. And No.10 knows that region and national newspapers are not overly keen on the debates and more interested in getting time with the PM for themselves on the stump.
There may be one way she squares the circle, though. The Telegraph’s Chris Hope reports that May is “likely” to take part in a TV programme where she takes questions in front of an audience, rather than a head-to-head debate. Let’s see.
5) WIN, DIESEL
With the election now set for June 8, the dissolution of Parliament will take place at one minute past midnight on Wednesday May 3, and the Commons is likely to shut up shop a couple of days earlier. There are a few bills for MPs to finally sort out before then, but one immoveable policy deadline is on air quality on Monday.
That’s when the courts have decided the Government has to come up with a plan to tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution in areas where levels are illegally high. DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom is expected to make a statement then (No.10 would only say it was ‘in due course’), but will she also say what will happen on the key isse of diesel cars?
Transport minister John Hayes suggested in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday that the idea of a £2,000 scrappage compensation scheme was a runner, but with key caveats. He said that the Government would ‘not penalise the worst off’ who had bought a diesel when Labour said they were better for the planet, and suggested a means testing scheme. But Hayes also hinted that only drivers with cars registered before 2005 would get compensation, leaving six million left out of pocket.
Theresa May knows the Treasury wants the cost of any scheme kept to a minimum and that postcodes could be used to restrict entitlement. But she is aware that an election period is not the time to irritate the motoring lobby and millions of drivers. Either route she takes could still result in further legal action.
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