The five things you need to know on Tuesday, May 2…
1) BRUSSELS SHOUTS
The fallout from the leaks of the PM’s and David Davis’s Downing Street dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker continues. In what could become a pattern over the next two years, the tit-for-tat cycle of verbal violence now sees some push back from the British side. The Telegraph claim for example that Brussels has been plotting for weeks to stop May from sorting EU nationals as an issue by June.
The BBC confirms that high level EU sources say there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the Brexit talks would be conducted and of the EU27’s red lines. The Times has diplomats accusing May of trying ‘megaphone diplomacy’ behind closed doors. Politico had the first reports of May and DD being seen as “in a different galaxy”. On the Brexit divorce bill, one EU diplomat said: “I’m not going to tell you their number, because you are going to laugh.”
Politico has a new line today that some EU sources see Davis as so ‘flimsy’ on detail that it’s ‘pointless’ negotiating with him. Sources tell it there’s even one plan to replace Michel Barnier with his deputy Sabine Weyand to allow May to save face and replace DD in some talks. Not surprisingly, word from her allies is that kind of talk will only reaffirm May’s belief that she needs to be tougher with the EU, and to tell British voters that she won’t be pushed around.
Still, May dismissing the reports of the dinner as mere ‘gossip’ (and No.10 saying it ‘doesn’t recognise’ the accounts) is not the same as saying they are untrue. Amber Rudd also seems not to have been briefed either. Asked if the reports were true, she told Today ‘I don’t know’. The Home Secretary also didn’t deny her previous line that some ‘compromises’ could be made with Brussels, saying “we would expect people to make deals”, though adding the PM could ‘take’ more as well as ‘give’.
Meanwhile, Michael Roth Germany’s Europe minister tweeted in German: “The British government must finally say goodbye to the fairy tale that after Brexit everything will go better for all Britons,” (his English tweet changed ‘fairy tale’ to ‘myth’). Finance minister Wolfgang Schauble added: ”Britain should not have advantages after the exit that other countries don't have.” And here’s the real problem. David Cameron thought he could get Angela Merkel to show some flexibility to help him persuade Brits to stay in a reformed EU. But she refused. With Merkel what you see really is what you get. And she looks like she agrees with Roth and Schauble. Is this the answer to what Brexit really means…what Angela deems it to mean?
2) MAY AS YOU EARN
Theresa May is touring the South West today and in the Plymouth-based Western Morning News she writes “I am determined to earn every vote I can because that will strengthen my hand in the Brexit negotiations..” Yep, no change there in her main messaging of this election of the words strong/stable/Brexit. In fact I wonder if she’ll take the lead of our focus group (see below) who coined a new phrase, saying they wanted not a hard Brexit but a ‘strong Brexit’?
As to how many non-Tory voters the PM will encounter remains to be seen. One of the best bits in the weekend papers was Tim Shipman’s report in the Sunday Times in which he reported May had told comms chief Fiona Hill she wanted more doorstep encounters. On cue, the PM went leafleting in Scotland yesterday and was politely but bluntly told “no thank you” as she approached a voter’s garden gate. “No? Ok we won’t trouble you then..” replied the PM.
Of course, few parties want encounters with ‘real people’ in the campaign (we all recall Sharon Storer from 2001 haranguing Blair over the NHS in Birmingham Edgbaston) and security concerns make it harder to do these days. Yet taking questions from real workers in workplaces is a start (in fact May took a couple early on but they got little attention). Will any real voters today raise the fact that new stats show the Bank of Mum and Dad is the 9th biggest lender, with 62% of under-35s relying on friends and family to live anywhere? Also, our Owen Bennett has dug out nine damning Commons reports buried by the election.
As May tries to pitch her big tent over the political scene, we report that the Jo Cox-inspired ‘More United’ campaign is looking at giving hard cash for 12 candidates ranging from Stephen Kinnock to Tess Munt. There are no Tories on the list yet but the centrist-backing campaign has £370k to play with, making it one of the biggest third party donors in the campaign.
3) COP THAT
Labour’s big policy announcement today is it would create 10,000 more community police jobs, funding them by reversing cuts to capital gains tax. Now, although lots of Labour policies to date are simply copies of the 2015 manifesto (doubling paternity pay is one), this underlines the difference with the Miliband era. Back then, Yvette Cooper pledged to ‘safeguard’ 10,000 police jobs from cuts, not add 10,000 more.
On the Today programme, Diane Abbott was unhappy at John Humphrys quoting the Tory attack line that the capital gains tax reversal had already been suggested by Labour as a funding source for other areas like arts funding in schools. “John I think you’re reading from a Conservative party press release” she said, claiming that “what was said…we were just explaining the types of tax cuts [where funding could come from].” Abbott added: “This is the kind of flippant Tory response…” To which Humphrys replied that it was ”not flippant to say ‘how are you going to fund it?’”
It’s true that Theresa May thinks she hammered Cooper at the last election by defusing law and order as an issue, pointing to stats showing overall crime was down while savings showed you could ‘get more for less’. But Labour is right to point to worrying rises in knife and gun crime, not least in London.
Still, while Corbyn has purloined Blair’s ‘for the many, not the few’ mantra, Abbott has yet to nick his ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ soundbite. In fact she went further today in saying how much better JC was than TB. On SkyNews, Abbott said ‘Jeremy Corbyn has rather more experience in Parliament than Tony Blair had before he became leader of the party’. The Tories have also pounced on her LBC interview in which she was repeatedly asked how the funding for more cops would work.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Emmanuel Macron flip an Evian bottle (what else?) like a real cool dude.
4) FOP-A-DODDLE DO
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson will try to turn the tables on Boris Johnson’s ‘mugwump’ attack on Jeremy Corbyn today by using his own colourful language. He will use a speech to shopworkers union Usdaw to call the Foreign Secretary a "caggie-handed cheese-headed fopdoodle”. Fortunately, the Guardian defines ‘fopdoddle’ as a fool or simpleton.
Watson was quick yesterday to retweet a Corbyn tweet that it was “20 years since Labour’s 1997 election victory where we ended years of Tory cuts and invested for the many, not the few”. The Jezza tweet (which followed internal debate as to whether to mark the anniversary at all) didn’t name Blair and its Downing St victory photo failed to include the former leader. Watson, in a separate tweet, posted a photo of himself shaking Blair’s hand.
As for Mr Tony himself, his curious line to the Mirror yesterday has again set tongues wagging, after he said he wanted to get his ‘hands dirty’ in British politics again, though he wouldn’t return as an MP. Yet one area where Blair did get his hands dirty, as did Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, was in the selection of candidates for seats. Simon Danczuk is weighing up whether to run as an independent after being blocked by the NEC yesterday, but will Corbyn’s political secretary Katy Clark try to parachute in? Mo Azam is the name some are touting now.
So far, Corbyn-backed candidates haven’t done so well on vacant seats. Sam Tarry didn’t get Hull West and attempts to get Clark selected in Leigh on Friday failed in party because of a basic lack of organisation by the leader’s office, I’m told. Contrast that with Gordon Brown in 2010 spending six hours in an NEC officers’ meeting to ensure Chris Leslie got Nottingham East.
5) SHARP FOCUS
As part of our mission to get to the guts of this election, HuffPost UK has teamed up with Edelman to stage a string of focus groups with key voters across the country. Part of our new ‘Beyond Brexit’ series, the aim is to look at the voters’ priorities beyond the hubub of the campaign trail and what they want beyond March 29, 2019, not just June 8, 2017.
Our first one last week was in Slough (Labour maj 7k, UKIP vote 6k) and it didn’t bring good news for Jeremy Corbyn. This batch of working class voters, many of them traditional Labour voters, said they liked some of the party’s policies but that Corbyn was the main obstacle to it getting their backing. The Labour leader was described as “scary”, “silly”, “a joke” and “a wet blanket”. The best thing about focus groups is that they remind you of apparently random things voters pick up. Dan, a plumber, was particularly aggrieved by Corbyn’s front garden. “His garden, have you seen the state of it?” (Labour MP Frank Field also today tells the 'i' newspaper: "The problem we have to face is that quite a bit of the programme would actually see us home but once people know it's Jeremy's programme, they don't want to vote for it.")
In one particularly striking remark, Ricky, an HGV driver told the focus group: “I’m a Labour supporter, always have been. But I’ll vote Conservative to get Jeremy Corbyn out.” That may be wishful thinking given there’s little sign so far JC will quit after any election defeat. In fact it’s possible Labour could slightly increase its 30% vote share from 2015 (31% which isn’t far from its latest current poll rating) yet still lose lots of seats as the Tories hoover up the UKIP vote. Mark my words, Corbyn backers may see vote share, not seat numbers, as their true test.
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