The five things you need to know on Friday, May 12…
1) ARMS AND THE MAN
Today Jeremy Corbyn uses a speech at Chatham House to declare “I am not a pacifist”. But he adds the key rider that military action should only take place “under international law and as a genuine last resort”.
And it’s those two qualifications, as well as his long record, that for many Labour working class voters turns this whole issue into a set of ‘when did you last beat your wife?’ questions. For them, the more he talks about diplomacy, the more he sounds like a reluctant patriot. Add in worries about his decisiveness and competence and you can see why pollsters and focus groups show even the party’s core vote worries it can’t trust Corbyn in a crisis.
Now, of course the Iraq war was not popular with many voters of all political leanings. And Corbyn’s team think his stance plays to his strengths, of being ‘on the right side of history’, and can cite Wilson standing up to the US over Vietnam, for example. Corbyn’s speech makes clear he would end the ‘special relationship’ with the States, preferring ‘an independent foreign policy made in London’, a big, big policy shift that risks getting overlooked. He may look more like Billy Bob Thornton than Hugh Grant, but this really is his ‘Love, Actually’ moment.
Not for nothing was Corbyn referred to as ‘the Foreign Secretary’ of the leftwing Campaign Group of Labour MPs in the 1980s and 1990s. This is his specialist subject and his passion. Yet his manifesto’s line on troop deployment - “We will never send them into harm’s way unless all other options have been exhausted” - could hamstring the armed forces in a rapidly-evolving situation. His own MPs point out that diplomacy is rarely ‘exhausted’ by regimes who want to string you along.
Overnight, Tory minister Mike Penning has been quick to wrap their view of Corbyn’s stance on ISIS with hints about his Sinn Fein links and his wider defence stance, saying: “you can’t take tea with terrorists who order attacks on innocent civilians on our streets”. (Corbyn's team point out it was Owen Smith, not the leader, who wanted talks with ISIS). But it will be Theresa May who really gets her political bayonet out today in a raid behind what used to be enemy lines in Labour’s North East heartland. “Proud and patriotic working class people in towns and cities across Britain have not deserted the Labour Party – Jeremy Corbyn has deserted them.” Jezza the deserter: that’s the real message from the PM.
2) JEZZA LIST MANIFESTO
Despite the ‘shambles’ headlines, Team Corbyn are quite happy this morning that their manifesto has been covered extensively across the media for two days running. And with a wish-list as long as this, it’s no wonder they want as much time as possible (there’s the formal launch next week don’t forget) to tell the voters how different a Labour government would be.
In many ways, the very long policy document approved and amended yesterday isn’t as left-wing as many newspapers make out. It is turbo-charged Milibandism rather than a revolution. Publicly owned railways, energy and mail are mainstream in many European countries. But it is at least honest about putting up taxes to pay for public services (though a big question mark remains on the income tax detail).
And as the Mirror/ComRes poll today shows, many of the individual policies are popular (on nationalisations, the pension age kept at 66, conductors on trains, taxing the rich). But that same poll includes the killer problem: 56% say Corbyn would be ‘a disaster’ as Prime Minister, while just 30% think he should be given a fair chance at leading the country.
On policy, ComRes found the Tory plan to cap immigration at 100,000 a year is popular too. As we revealed yesterday, Labour’s manifesto was amended to include not just a reference to ending EU freedom of movement but also a line about “control” of immigration not just “management” of it. But Barry Gardiner on Newsnight seemed to undo the careful compromises by declaring Labour would “put our economic policy before our immigration policy” and that “immigration numbers will always go both down and up according to the needs of the economy.”
The one hope among centrist Labour types is that because Corbyn now ‘owns’ the manifesto, he will have to ‘own’ any catastrophic defeat. But many of them also know that’s no comfort if they are swept away on the Tory tide and JC clings to the wreckage, blaming the media and the PLP. On Question Time last night, Tory minister Ben Wallace roadtested an attack line that will make Labour candidates wince. For them, Corbyn’s manifesto will be ‘the longest P45 [note] in history’, he said.
3) OTHER THERESA
Theresa May’s LBC session last night was a largely dull affair, but at least she answered a range of questions from the punters (and Nick Ferrari) and we learned how sad she was not to have had children, her faith after her parents’ death and even (sharp gear change) how she could cook a slow-roast lamb for Donald Trump. She even coped with a Ferrari numbers test, responding swiftly with “about 79,500” when asked how many soldiers were in the army. But on the big question of tax, she had a not exactly reassuring line that she had ‘no plans to raise the level of tax’.
Sadly, the PM was not asked about David Cameron’s foray into the election yesterday, when he said a big May majority would allow her to stand up to those backing an “extreme Brexit”. Yet today she will underline her ambition to get a landslide by launching that raid into Labour territory in the North East, where last week the Tories scored that remarkable victory in the Teesside mayoral election. “Put your trust in me” is the line, as well as jabs at “people like Diane Abbott who can’t add up…”
Last night Barry Gardiner suggested Labour’s local election losses were only in ‘rural areas’, to which Emily Maitlis had the zinger: “Rural areas, like Glasgow”. She could have added “like Teesside or the West Midlands”.
The PM is continuing to make the party in her own image and those words ‘Theresa May’s Team’ really do describe the candidates list finalised at close of nominations yesterday. The Tories have a record number of women wannabe MPs (though it’s still only 30% to Labour’s 41%) but many are in winnable seats. A former co-founder of Women2Win, the Tory pressure group, May has succeeded in cajoling, persuading local associations to pick female candidates.
On BME candidates, senior Tories are delighted that - unlike Labour - they have a record of picking non-white candidates in majority white constituencies (Gyimah, Kwarteng, Cleverly, Patel, Vara) and have two more in this list (Kemi Badenoch in Saffron Walden and Bim Afolami in Hitchin and Harpenden). But the Times today reports unease that there are just five BME hopefuls in the top 100 Tory target seats.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch a voter in Scotland tell Tim Farron which politician needs ‘a kick up the arse’.
4) ALLIANCE SHARE
While most parties nationally shun talk of deals, locally there are lots of examples of cooperation in mutual interest. There’s a Progressive Alliance by default, with the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour chopping and changing in various key seats to give the maximum chance of keeping out the Tories. The Greens are not standing in Derby North, nor in Eltham, both with tight majorities. In a total of 22 seats, from Hastings (Amber Rudd) to Chester (Chris Matheson), the environmentalists have opted to back Labour.
But that could well be dwarfed by the ‘Regressive Alliance’ of the Tories and UKIP. Not only are Kipper voters flocking to the Conservatives in droves, and putting at risk scores of usually safe Labour seats, but UKIP are not standing candidates against Eurosceptic Tories they like. From the New Forest to Peterborough, it’s happening on the ground.
Of course much of this may be due to necessity as well as design, and as the 4pm nominations deadline passed last night, the cash-strapped Kippers were struggling to say they would have even 400 candidates nationwide. That leaves a massive 200 seats where they won’t stand - including against Corbynistas Cat Smith and Margaret Greenwood and Corbynsceptics Paul Farrely and Mary Creagh.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are hoping their various unofficial deals with the Greens will pay off too. And speaking of the yellow peril, here’s our interview with Tim Farron on the stump, in which he kinda says he’s Britain’s Emmanuel Macron.
5) DEATH N TAXES
One of the biggest ticket items in the Corbyn wish-list is the extra £8bn promised for social care, with £1bn in the first year. But it is also one of the vaguest, as there is no detail on how the pledge would be funded (unlike the NHS pledge, which is said to come from higher income taxes, though it’s unclear exactly how high).
And the wording here in the draft manifesto was odd. ‘Towards A National Care Service’ was a serious nod to Andy Burnham’s big idea of merging budgets but the wording says only ‘we will review options’ to create one, with ‘options for sustainable funding’. We may get the detail next week, but the fact this is left out so far could mean it really is a known unknown.
As it happens, earlier this week the Times and Mail both had what looked like well-sourced stories that May is set to approve a social care cap of £85,000, though again the funding is unclear. And today the FT reports that despite Philip Hammond’s opposition to a ‘death tax’ that’s exactly what No.10 is now canvassing views on ahead of the manifesto next week. Policy chief Nick Timothy is said to be eyeing inherited wealth of the wealthy. Now that really would be a break with the Cameron-Osborne era, outflanking Labour on IHT. I have something on this very topic coming up today.
Our latest CommonsPeople political podcast (try saying that after a few sherberts) is out. Listen to us chew the fat over the Labour manifesto, Theresa’s personal touch, our HuffPost-Edelman focus group from Birmingham (one Labour Leaver said it was a ‘democratic’ duty to vote Tory now) and more. There’s even a Tim Farron-on-the-road interview. Click HERE.
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