The Waugh Zone Monday June 26, 2017

The five things you need to know about politics today.

She knows she’s not popular, but Theresa May will try to return to at least looking Prime Ministerial again today. With a likely DUP-Tory agreement securing her short-term future, she will strive for gravitas with her first proper Commons statement on the actual shape of Brexit.

Her statement on the plans for EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit is due this afternoon. Hacks will gather in a confidential Whitehall ‘lock-in’ to go over the details of the 15-page document that will give the first clue to how much the PM will play hardball in the wider talks. Brussels wants detail on the status of families (with messy human things like divorces and non-EU spouses crucial to many), on and on the cut-off timings for recent citizens

The Times splashes its front page with Brexiteer-friendly plans to deport “serious and persistent” EU criminals (will we get the Costa del Crime geezers in return?), the Telegraph says it has confirmed Brit expats will continue to get free health cover. EU leaders, who were withering on Friday about the lack of specifics in May’s proposal, will find out which judges we want to oversee all this too. Despite the rhetoric on both sides, maybe we will get an elegant compromise similar the German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel’s judicial solution for the single market: a joint court staffed by Europeans and Britons, which in principle follows the decisions of the European Court of Justice?

As for the wider politics of a minority government and the power of its Tory Remainer backbenches, Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman put her finger on it on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night. Tight numbers make a whip’s job easier as no one wants a Government to fall on a key vote, yet the very threat of a rebellion could be enough to effect change. “Informal” talks are taking place between Labour and Tory rebels. “Theresa May…will know the attitudes of some of her people sitting behind her, and I think that will change what she presents to Parliament in the first place because she won’t want too many knife-edge votes”. Politics is about the art of the possible, after all. And as the House of Lords shows, the most interesting change often comes before votes, not during them.

Equally at home with el Gato as with el Glasto, Jeremy Corbyn is more confident than ever (spontaneous chants of his name to the Seven Nation Army tune this weekend came the day before he spoke). So confident that he confided to Glastonbury founder and fellow Jedi beard-wearer Michael Eavis that he reckons he’ll be Prime Minister sooner than many think. “I said to him, ’When are you going to be prime minister? He said: ‘In six months’.” (Somerset Live reporters inform us). As it happens, John McDonnell hinted at something similar on Pienaar yesterday: “I think if a few weeks time, if the campaign had lasted longer, we would most probably be in Government.”

There was another intriguing Corbyn quote too in the Q&A. Asked when he was going to scrap the Trident nuclear weapons system, Jez replied: “As soon as I can”. Labour sources swiftly ‘clarified’ that Eavis had ‘paraphrased’ the conversation and the party’s position remained in favour of renewal. It’s likely JC said he personally wanted an end to Trident but you can bet there will be fresh attempts to revisit this at party conference. Ed Miliband, himself a Trident sceptic, was a more metropolitan festival yesterday (King’s Place not Glasto). The Sun reveals that when asked if he’d serve under Corbyn, he replied: “I’m not ruling it out because I don’t think it would be right to rule it out, I want to make a contribution.” Strongest hint yet, etc etc.

The only reference to Theresa May at Glastonbury was a huge banner citing her ‘Fields of Wheat’ quote. And with her leadership the subject of popular ridicule, her party is struggling with the timing of just when to jettison her, amid fears that the longer she remains, the longer it will take to recover in the polls (Labour was ahead by five points yesterday). Frances Elliott’s long read in the Times on Saturday laid bare just how dysfunctional the sinking ship now looks. The Sunday Times reported Philip Hammond being touted as a caretaker PM. David Davis said the main reason May should stay was her departure would undermine his Brexit negotiations. Chris Patten said “calamitous errors” by Cameron and May had left the UK in “a hell of a mess”.

The Queen’s Speech vote looms on Wednesday and there is at least some good news for May in the shape of the Tory deal with the DUP being nearly ready. The Guardian cites DUP sources saying the agreement could be published by tomorrow. All the shopping list items seem there - more capital spending on the NHS and roads, possible corporation tax and air duty cuts – but will the spending commitments be published too? Or will May repeat the mistake of her own Tory manifesto and assume no one will notice the costings are missing? DUP leader Arlene Foster is in London and sounds upbeat ahead of her meeting with the PM at 10.30am. Surely she won’t embarrass May again with a last-minute back-door exit?

Straight after every general election, the TUC commissions a mega-poll of voters to check why they voted and what could persuade them to change in future. This year’s, conducted by pollsters GQR and shared exclusively with HuffPost UK, has some fascinating findings.

One of the most striking (we will be publishing the results between now and Wednesday) is the sheer number of Tory voters who now want an end to the public sector pay freeze. Some 68% of Conservative voters backed the scrapping of the 1% cap, which has lasted seven long years. Yet even more worrying for Theresa May is this: the end to the freeze is backed by 80% of Tory voters who considered backing Labour on June 8. Thawing that freeze is very popular indeed.

In a blog for HuffPost UK, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady writes: “Rather than being seen as a responsible spending policy, holding down public servants’ pay is now an electoral liability.” Ahead of the TUC’s one-day conference today on insecure work (which will hear from Matthew Taylor), there’s another finding of relevance. Some 76% of potential Tory switchers want to ban zero hours contracts completely. Former homeless entrepreneur Anthony Watson also blogs for HuffPost today that Labour is now “the natural party of business”.

Remember when David Cameron mocked Jeremy Corbyn as being like Monty Python’s ‘Black Knight’ (“it’s only a flesh wound!”)? Well, Jezza can have the last laugh now with this superbly produced ‘Theresa May and the Holy Grail’ [of a landslide]. You’re welcome.

Theresa May chairs another meeting of the Grenfell Tower Recovery Task Force to assess the results emerging from council tests of cladding on tower blocks. At least the Department for Communications and Local Government (DCLG) media team are getting their comms act together. Last night they told us sixty high-rise buildings in 25 local authority areas had failed fire cladding safety tests, and sent a table of areas affected. Information, timely and accurate, has been in such short supply since the disaster that this is some progress. Housing minister Alok Sharma seemed less sure footed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today however. And on Today he couldn’t say how many people had been rehoused from Grenfell.

The Telegraph reports the cost of the changes could be £600m, but also says Jeremy Hunt’s plan to get every hospital tested were left in chaos after fire chiefs said they just didn’t have the resources to do that. Some 30,000 schools may have to be checked too, and the Indy says ministers have dropped plans to ease fire safety regulations. Hugh Grant’s old school, the private Latymer School in Hammersmith, is helping 100 pupils from a state comp near Grenfell, that was closed by fire checks. Latymer’s head grew up in a tower block nearby.

With 200 residents refusing to leave their homes in Camden, feelings are still raw about the reaction to the fire’s aftermath. The Mail has splashed on a Tory backlash at Labour’s John McDonnell claiming the victims of Grenfell had been “murdered by political decisions” over years. His words at the Glastonbury ‘Left Field’ event were not endorsed by Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey on Today: “I wouldn’t use the word murdered”. Would “killed” be more acceptable a word, I wonder? David Lammy claimed yesterday the announced death toll of 79 is “far, far too low”, “fuelling suspicion of a cover up”. We certainly need to know just how the deaths number tallies with those missing or assumed living in the block.

When MPs and their staff turn on their computers today, they’ll be hoping things are getting back to normal after the huge cyber-attack that took place of Friday. We revealed on Saturday the email from Parliamentary digital chiefs sent to all MPs, setting out how the UK Parliament had come under “sustained and determined” attack. What was new was that it targeted “all Parliamentary user accounts” in a bid to test weak passwords.

The House authorities and the National Cyber Security Centre worked round the clock to sort the issue and we were told last night that around 90 of the 9,000 accounts had been compromised. But the big (though not surprising) news is that the spooks have concluded that this was “a brute force attack” and appears to have been “state-sponsored”. The Guardian cites sources saying Russia is seen as the most likely culprit.

Of the accounts being hijacked, the risk of blackmail looms large. Still, perhaps the prize for best tweet under pressure comes from Tory MP Henry Smith, who sent this public information message for his constituents’ benefit: “Sorry no parliamentary email access today – we’re under cyber-attack from Kim Jong Un, Putin or a kid in his mom’s basement or something.”


Had a lie-in? Preferred to enjoy the summer sun? We watch all the Sunday political shows so you don’t have to. Catch Owen Bennett’s round-up, including handy video clips, HERE.

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