The five things you need to know on Monday, May 15…
1) WORKERS' MAY DAY
Theresa May is certainly determined to be seen as on the side of the workers. Her overnight package of new rights - from requesting leave to care for family members and new protections for those on short-term contracts - was welcomed by the TUC as ‘promising’.
Like her pledge to create more council housing yesterday, this is all seen as yet another foray into Labour territory to secure more Brexit-voting working class votes. It looks like May is not just parking her tanks on Labour’s lawn, but using them to smash into Jeremy Corbyn’s front room. (We have a new analysis showing how the Tories are using Facebook to target Labour voters).
Of course, cynics will point out it’s not that difficult to have ‘the greatest expansion of workers’ rights by Tory government’, given that previous Conservative PMs have traditionally have curbed union and other rights. And the fine print will need analysis. Extending Osborne’s living wage pledge by another two years is hardly radical, and transferring current EU worker rights into the Great Repeal Bill is not exactly the return of beer-and-sandwiches at No.10. She's on ITV's Facebook Live event later.
The real ‘workers’ issue for many is the squeeze on incomes. The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development has a survey out today that average pay rises will be just 1%, compared to inflation of 2.3%. The UK has again fallen down the productivity league table. Tax credit cuts mean the working poor are set to be hit. Damian Green (one of the PM’s chosen few to go in the airwaves in this election) told the Today programme minimum that governments couldn’t ‘mandate’ firms to pay everyone more, but he did say the minimum wage hike mean those at the “bottom of the pay scale” had got 6% rises, “well ahead of the rate of inflation”.
The Lib Dems claim that May is Nigel Farage in disguise. They have targeted their own ads so that when you search Google ‘who is the leader of UKIP?’ , you get a LibDem message saying ‘Theresa May is the de facto leader of UKIP’. The big problem with this is that UKIP became very popular on the back of not just anti-EU sentiment, but anti-bosses and anti-globalisation sentiment, both of which May is trying to tap into. And as the collapse in UKIP support shows, it’s working.
2) NHS EMERGENCY
A new Good Morning Britain/Survation poll has found that the NHS has overtaken Brexit as voters’ most important concern (ahead of the economy, immigration and education too). So Jeremy Corbyn’s big pitch, with big money, to the Royal College of Nursing conference today looks timely.
The sums are indeed big, with Labour pledging to inject £37bn by 2022, including £10bn for capital investment that will include building repairs and IT (see below). The other main new promises are to take a million people off NHS waiting lists by the end of the Parliament (by guaranteeing access to treatment within 18 weeks), hitting the target to see patients in A&E within four hours, a new £500 million winter pressures fund and delivering the Cancer Strategy for England in full by 2020, helping 2.5 million people living with cancer.
There’s no detail yet on how much income tax will be hiked on those over £80k to help pay for the package. What’s also unclear is whether any party will set concrete targets to train more staff as well as remove their pay cap. Janet Davies, the college's chief executive and general secretary, urged party leaders to "put patients before politics by committing to the hard cash and staff the NHS needs”. Tim Farron addressed the conference today too.
Waits in A&E and for GP appointments continue to be real bread-and-butter issues for many, but just how much political capital can Labour make of the issue? ‘Weaponising’ the NHS didn’t work for Ed Miliband and it didn’t work in the Copeland by-election campaign.
3) THE CYBERMEN
The NHS is switching on its computers this morning and bracing itself for a fresh possible wave of disruption after Friday’s cyber attack. Of course, this was a worldwide phenonemon but the blame game has already started here (and in the US) over just how this could have happened.
And curiously Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been kept away from the TV screens, with Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon leading the Government’s response. Is this because Hunt, along with many others in the Cabinet, is deliberately being sidelined in media terms as the PM gets on with her President May campaign? The claim yesterday that he was ‘busy’ sorting the NHS cyber response seemed rather odd. Security minister Ben Wallace (a trusted media performer) was on the airwaves this morning.
On Marr, Fallon implied the NHS was at fault, saying "We warned them, and they were warned again in the spring. They were warned again of the threats.” But Kingsley Manning, a former chairman of NHS Digital, said it was both the decentralised nature of the NHS these days that was a factor - and pointed out ministers had been told repeatedly. He told the BBC on Saturday several hundred thousand computers still ran on Windows XP.
And the Times reveals today that Hunt was warned last summer by the Care Quality Commission and Dame Fiona Caldicott, the national data guardian, of a worrying “lack of understanding of security issues” and that “the external cyberthreat is becoming a bigger consideration”. Their letter last July proposed a 13-point plan to ensure that leaders of NHS bodies improved cybersecurity.
There’s a bigger picture though and that’s how complicit our intelligence agencies were with the American’s National Security Agency in trying to keep secret the fact that the NSA’s tools to allow such a massive hack had been compromised. Microsoft’s President has overnight accused the NSA of a dangerous “stockpiling of vulnerabilities” that led to the cyber equivalent of tomahawk missiles being stolen by anarchists.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Emily Thornberry say the b-word as she turns the tables on Michael Fallon on the Marr sofa.
4) MURRAY STINT
Given that today is a day for ‘tanks on lawns’, it’s worth remembering the origin of the phrase. Yes it was Harold Wilson who told former Communist and trade union leader Hugh Scanlon in 1969 to “get your tanks off my lawn” - a reference to the Soviets crushing the Prague Spring the year before.
And another former Communist (until he joined Labour last December) trade union man is in the news today as we report that Len McCluskey’s chief of staff Andrew Murray has been seconded to help Jeremy Corbyn with his final general election push. Sources tell HuffPost UK that Murray has been welcomed by some at Labour HQ as an experienced ‘grown up’ who can better coordinate the last few weeks.
And the co-founder of Stop the War has his admirers, not least the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire. But critics point out that Murray is an unabashed Marxist and has in the past offered ‘solidarity’ to North Korea. One party source told us: “Corbyn’s Labour has gone full Trump. Andrew Murray is the hard-left’s Steve Bannon.” In the battle of tankies v trots, the tankies are winning, they say. Perhaps the real point is that Unite last week released £2.5m to Labour’s election campaign and is the only union with big enough funds to help out as other unions are cash-strapped.
Meanwhile, there’s fresh talk of a new party or ‘realignment’ of anti-Tory forces if Corbyn refuses to budge after the election. Vince Cable told Pienaar’s Politics: “Then there will be serious conversations about where British politics goes and how you create an alternative to the Conservatives which is centrist, centre left, pro business, practical”. At least Cable has James Bond’s Miss Moneypenny on his side.
5) BIG MAC GOES LARGE
John McDonnell was out and about on the airwaves yesterday, doing the heavy lifting on his new Robin Hood Tax plan to raise billions from the City by extending levies on financial transactions. If Corbyn is Robin Hood, McDonnell is his Little John, a loyal lieutenant who has no fear in taking on the Tory Sheriff of Nottingham.
McDonnell is now one of the Shadow Cabinet’s most self-confident media performers, always ready to sound reasonable and to literally laugh at particularly pointed questions. Allies say he offers a vital clarity to Labour’s message, not least on things like abolishing tuition fees and extending free school meals to primary school kids (when asked if those were middle class subsidies, he said universal benefits are more likely to be ‘universally defended’). He laughed yesterday at suggestions the leadership had leaked the manifesto.
McDonnell also denied suggestions that there had been any ‘row’ between himself and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner over tuition fees. In fact, he heaped praise on her on Sophy Ridge on Sunday. Still, I’m told Rayner had not signed off the policy before McDonnell announced in a stump speech that it would be in Labour’s manifesto. And her personal priority of more cash for early years education is clear (as was her insistence on keeping a reference to Tony Blair in her speech last week).
On the Robin Hood Tax, he pointed out that Sadiq Khan’s criticism of the idea previously was based on a different model (Rachel Reeves blogs for us today on why it’s a smart policy). It’s not clear however whether last week’s Clause V manifesto meeting approved the new tax (inserting such a big ticket item afterwards without approval would be sure to cause a fuss) or if it gave the Shadow Chancellor an unprecedented free hand on all taxes. When Ed Balls and Ed Miliband inserted a new ‘front page’ to Labour’s 2015 manifesto to focus on the deficit, after that year’s Clause V meeting, the trade unions were very unhappy indeed.
McDonnell was firm on Five Live yesterday that his pay policy would mean a serious engagement with firms like BAE to have a ‘transition’ period to get them to slash their CEO pay or face loss of Government contracts.
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