1 POCKET ROCKET
Jeremy Corbyn usually loves a demonstration. Street politics is his politics, and Parliament Square protests are in his lifeblood. Tonight, however, when the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council rally outside Westminster at 5.30pm, the Labour leader is unlikely to attend. Ahead of the 6pm weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the Jewish community protestors will deliver a withering joint letter accusing Corbyn of “again and again, siding with anti-semites”.
The Labour leader put out a statement late last night, saying he “sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused” by “pockets” of anti-semitism in the party. But he didn’t include any reference to the pain caused by his own role in the row over the anti-semitic mural that appeared in London’s East End in 2012. It may be that Corbyn felt he had done enough with his other statement (again late) on Friday night: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on [on Facebook], the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic”.
I’m told Corbyn still has no plans to attend the PLP tonight (Angela Rayner is down as the main speaker), despite Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz suggesting he should do so. “I think if members of the PLP have concerns then obviously he should be encouraged to go along and address that,” she told Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour. Corbyn also has no current plans to meet the Jewish groups tonight, but his office is trying to arrange a meeting at some point very soon, I understand.
Corbyn’s defenders insist (to quote shadow minister Andy McDonald on SkyNews yesterday) that he “does not have an anti-semitic bone in his body”. His question ‘Why?’ on his Facebook post suggests he had no idea why the mural was being threatened with removal, or the anti-semitism row surrounding it. But it’s unclear why he didn’t probe further, given that the graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman had written at the time: ’My mural is about class & privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish & white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti semetic [sic]. This I am most defenatly [sic] not. I believe in equality and brother & sisterhood on a global scale. What I am against is class.”
Yet the class point is underscored by today’s joint letter. Referring to Corbyn’s record, the Jewish groups say: “At best, this derives from the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel. At worst, it suggests a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy”. The use of the term ‘Zio’ as form of abuse, the singing of songs ‘rockets over Tel Aviv’, and repeated claims that Israelis treat Palestinians like Jews were treated by the Nazis, all these have caused deep offence.
And the fear of many Jewish Labour supporters (and some Labour MPs) is that the Facebook blunder is not a one-off, that it’s part of a sustained history of Corbyn turning a blind eye at best the anti-semitic views of people he’s associated with for years. Some MPs think the fact that Corbyn couldn’t spot the offensive nature of the Jewish banker stereotypes in that mural suggests he personally needs ‘racism awareness training’ offered by the Jewish Labour Movement. Let’s see just what more he has to say.
2. BREXIT DATA GAME
Tony Blair makes a return to Parliament today. And what an uncanny sense of timing he has. The former PM is due to deliver the latest in the Speaker’s Lecture Series on Brexit at 7pm, just yards from where the PLP is meeting. It was planned before Owen Smith’s Friday night sacking for supporting a ‘vote’ by the public on the Brexit deal, but Blair’s speech will resonate with many Labour MPs. Blair will say that “Parliament has a duty to foil” what he calls Theresa May’s strategy of “cakeism”, claiming she will try to “fudge” her way past March 2019 with a “vague” set of pronouncements rather than a detailed Brexit plan.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer today unveils his own plan to foil the Government, tabling an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that seeks to ensure ministers cannot force the UK to accept a no-deal exit from the bloc. Meanwhile, ahead of the one-year countdown to Brexit, we at HuffPost are conducting our own People’s Negotiation, to ask the public what kind of deal they want. Our first video is up HERE. The idea is so good that it seems the PM is doing it too. The Telegraph reports she will mark Thursday’s big event with a day-long tour of the country to meet “families, workers, migrants and EU migrants”.
Of course, some Remainers have pounced on the latest row over Vote Leave and data campaigning. It’s hard to believe that any Facebook campaign operations really affected the outcome of the EU referendum, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions to answer over claims that Vote Leave broke the law with a £625,000 donation to a fellow pro-Brexit group. Whistleblowers Chris Wylie and Shahmir Sammi stage a 4pm press conference today to present their “recommendations to MPs”. On the Today programme, Sammi had a separate beef with Stephen Parkinson, a No.10 adviser and former Vote Leave official who revealed on Friday that the pair had been in a relationship. “He should resign for his actions in outing someone,” Sammi said.
As for data more widely, this Digital Secretary Matt Hancock’s title is looking less gimmicky by the day. And his interview with Nick Robinson on his weekly podcast had some interesting news lines: giving the Information Commissioner tougher powers such as unannounced inspections, monetising personal data and even his personal decision to put his ministerial phone in a box at home to allow family time. Listen here.
3. PENNY LANE
It’s the 70th anniversary of the NHS’s founding this July and many Tory MPs would love to prove to voters their party’s commitment (and outflank Corbyn) with a big funding increase backed by the Big Idea of a specially earmarked tax. Jeremy Hunt is continuing to push his plan for a 10-year funding timeline for the NHS, but has thrown in a hint that he also wants to look at hypothecated taxes to pay for health and social care.]
On ITV’s Peston, the Health Secretary said he was open-minded about “innovative forms of taxation”. He also attacked the “rather crazy way that we have been funding the NHS over the last 20 years, which has basically been feast or famine” (though Labour will point out the ‘famine’ has been since 2010). Hunt, perhaps emboldened by his success in getting a pay rise for staff, sounds more unafraid of the Treasury than any other Government minister. Asked by the Mail on Sunday if the appeal of a ringfenced tax was that it would guarantee money to help the elderly and infirm, he replied: “Absolutely. That is the attraction,” he said. “The Treasury do not like it because it takes it out of their hands.”
As I’ve written before, in fact the Treasury has already watered down its traditional opposition to hypothecation with George Osborne’s roads fund. No.10 insists Hunt isn’t speaking with the authorisation of the PM, but marking this year’s NHS birthday with a big bang announcement must be tempting. Even the Sun suggests an extra penny on National Insurance could be worth it.
4. THE HOLE TRUTH
An extra £100m is being handed to English councils to help them repair potholes caused by winter and spring storms, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has announced. But although two million potholes will be patched up, the Local Government Association says the sum is a drop in the ocean compared to the £12bn they need. The Sun points out £1bn of damage to cars was caused in the past year by the holes. It quotes Howard Cox, co-founder at the FairFuel UK group, saying: “This amount not cut it with drivers dodging the deepening grand canyons in our roads.”
Potholes, along with bin collection, are often dismissed as mere ‘pavement politics’ by some, but they are incredibly important to many voters. With the local elections coming up in May, our Kate Forrester has met a raft of smaller ‘community’ parties competing in the poll. From the new Advance Party standing in Kensington and Chelsea to the Polish Pride party, it’s a different take on how would-be councillors can break from the mainstream.
5. DOUBLE TROUBLE
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has said that children in the north are facing the ‘double disadvantage’ of more deprived homes and worse schools than counterparts in the south of England. Having spent a year interviewing children and teachers, her new report Growing Up North urges ministers to make education a key part of the Northern Powerhouse policy.
The stats are stark. Pupils on free school meals in London are twice as likely to go to university (and 40% more likely to get good maths and Englisgh GCSE results) than pupils from similar backgrounds in the north. The gap between Hackney and Hartlepool is of course down in part to the huge success of the ‘London Challenge’ schools programme started by the last Labour government in the capital. Translating that success in other areas has so far proved elusive. Given her ‘burning injustices’ speech in 2016, maybe it’s time the PM found out why.
SUNDAY SHOWS ROUND-UP
Got a life? Had a clocks-changing lie-in? Here’s our handy round-up of all the Sunday politics shows including: Vote Leave data latest, actor Michael Sheen hints he could stand to be a Labour MP, and David Davis’ sick bucket.