POLITICS
18/07/2019 10:18 BST | Updated 18/07/2019 10:29 BST

The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18, 2019

The five things you need to know about politics today

The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,

1. BUNKER BUSTER

Jeremy Corbyn’s critics have been calling for him to take firm action in Labour’s anti-Semitism row and last night he did just that - but in an unexpected fashion. Corbyn sacked his shadow Brexit minister Dianne Hayter after HuffPost UK reported her comparing the “bunker mentality” of his leadership to “the last days of Hitler”. A party spokesman called her remarks “truly contemptible, and grossly insensitive to Jewish staff”.

That in turn sparked a fresh set of tit-for-tat exchanges. Wes Streeting, who was also at the Commons meeting of moderate party members where Hayter spoke, said the dismissal was a “gross over-reaction” that proved her point about the bunker approach. Pro-Corbyn supporters were quick to say Livingstone had been kicked out for his own Nazi comparisons and some cited Streeting’s tweet from 2016 that ‘we need a moratorium on invoking Hitler in political debate’.

Yet as one of the four senior peers who this week demanded an independent complaints system (and a review of the Panorama allegations), Hayter clearly has heavyweight backing. Toby Harris, the group leader, pointed out Hayter had only just been re-elected (by fellow peers) as deputy leader in the Lords, a  post from which she cannot be fired. The only posts in the shadow cabinet that are guaranteed by election (and therefore not in Corbyn’s gift) are the Lords leader and chief whip.

The rebel Lords, who unlike Labour MPs don’t have the threat of deselection hanging over them, have certainly opened up a brand new front on Corbyn’s leadership. His spokesman yesterday hit back hard at their “false” claims in the Guardian and said many had a public record of opposition to the leader and took part in the failed coup of 2016. For good measure, the spokesman added: “We are committed to the replacement of the House of Lords with an elected chamber…”

Some around Corbyn undoubtedly think this week’s events have all been carefully orchestrated by his opponents within the party, not least Tom Watson’s demands for a fully independent complaints system. And it does feel as if we are now close to the civil war that ignited so spectacularly three years ago. 

We report today on the growing expectation among MPs that a fresh vote of no confidence in the Labour leader will be timed with the outcome of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report into anti-Semitism. “If they find against the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn as leader has to take responsibility for that and stand down,” one MP says. And we report Diane Abbott last night at a local party meeting attacking the “incredible onslaught” against him. “What we are hearing and seeing in the past few weeks, we may have to go through a third leadership challenge,” she said. It’s going to be a turbulent autumn, folks.

The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,

2. THE PRICE MAN COMETH

 

Dianne Hayter’s criticism of the Labour leadership also included the party’s failure to spell out the dangers of a no-deal Brexit. “A lot of the polls are telling us that people think no-deal is OK,” she said. On our new HuffPost Opinion pages yesterday, think tank chief Anand Menon set outthe economic impact, the food and medicine shortages, border queues and crime and security issues. “Whatever the superficial, intuitive attraction, no-deal will not make it easier to focus on other things. On the contrary, it will make it harder.” 

The Times reports the Office for Budget Responsibility will today warn no-deal could tip the UK into recession. And Philip Hammond is certainly trying his best to spell out the dangers. Yesterday he tweeted that it was “terrifying” that Brexiteers think the UK would be better off by adding barriers to EU trade. However, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay laughed with contempt at Hammond’s warning that the economy would suffer a £90bn hit, saying that was a ‘selective’ use of figures in a government analysis. 

What struck me most was the way No.10 actually sided with Barclay. “The Chancellor has obviously, over a number of weeks now, been making a particular argument of his own in relation to the Conservative Party’s leadership contest,” the PM’s spokesman said. That slapdown underlined just how badly broken Hammond’s relationship now is with Theresa May and the Daily Mail reports he will quit rather than give Boris Johnson the satisfaction of sacking him. There’s a rumour he could resign as early as today, but given he’s in France at a G7 finance minister meeting he may keep us waiting a bit longer.

Hammond is seen by Brexiteers as someone who thinks he knows the price of everything but actually knows the value of nothing. As I wrote recently, even Remainer colleagues of Hammond’s have been appalled at the way he condescends to colleagues in Cabinet. He told Barclay at a political Cabinet that he was ‘silly’ to think collective responsibility should hold on Brexit during the leadership race. But he also infuriated others by trying to block the net zero emissions plan with inflated figures suggesting it could cost a trillion pounds.

Tonight’s Panorama will hear Michel Barnier say May ‘never’ raised no-deal in her Brussels talks. It will also cite European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans displaying a keen grasp of both English vernacular and English TV history. He claims his dealings with David Davis were “like Lance Corporal Jones, you know, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic!’…running around like idiots”.

Today MPs vote on plans to stop Johnson prorogueing parliament. The Northern Ireland Bill is the vehicle for what looks like fresh Dominic Grieve plans to take bolder action. Will Cabinet ministers like Hammond quit in order to defy the whip and back Grieve? On Today, David Gauke said it would be “outrageous” to try and suspend parliament to ram through no-deal, hinting it could be his own trigger for resignation. Gauke also let slip that no whipping instructions had yet been sent out. In many ways today’s vote will be a proxy to test Tory opposition to no-deal. It won’t quite be a proxy for a no-confidence vote in a Johnson government, but it could offer some big clues.

The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,
 

3. GUTTER SWIPE

 

There was a moment during Theresa May’s speech yesterday where I thought she was really going to go for it and call out Donald Trump’s racism and other sins. She quoted Eisenhower’s defence of political compromise, saying “the middle of the road is all of the usable surface...the extremes, right and left, are in the gutters”. Was that the PM skilfully using the words of a previous Republican US President to finally suggest that the current one was rolling in the gutter? Well, in a word, no.

May couldn’t bring herself to be bold enough to use her final big speech to say what she really thought. Afterwards, No.10 even cautioned us hacks (desperate to write ‘May’s veiled swipe Trump/Johnson/Brexiteers’) that “the speech wasn’t about individuals”. So although she warned against “aggressive assertions”, “rancour and tribal bitterness”, and “coarsening of language” in politics at home and abroad, there was zero specificity.

I’ve written HERE my take on why yesterday was one of the PM’s worst ever speeches and this morning her timidity looks all the more damning as the world woke up to Trump’s latest outrageous conduct. At a rally, he cynically reheated an internet conspiracy story that Democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar had married her brother in an immigration scam. “I know nothing about it. I hear she was married to her brother,” he said. At a later rally, there was a chilling moment when the crowd chanted ‘Send her back!’ Trump appeared to revel in it.

May had actually said this in her speech: “Words have consequences - and ill words that go unchallenged are the first step on a continuum towards ill deeds – towards a much darker place where hatred and prejudice drive not only what people say but also what they do.” Her own lack of explicit challenge to Trump will dismay many Conservatives who think she had nothing to lose in being firmer in standing up for the values she claimed to hold dear yesterday.

To be fair to the PM, she often prefers deeds to words herself. Yesterday’s extradition from Libya of the brother of the Manchester suicide bomber followed months of complex behind-the-scenes work, which was helped by the fact that May took a very close personal interest in it. “I hope it is a welcome step for the loved ones of all the victims,” was all she could say yesterday. Her domestic policy legacy may be a thin one, but if justice is done in this terrorist outrage, that’s at least one achievement of which she will privately be proud.

The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...

In case you missed it, watch England World Cup cricket hero Jofra Archer muck about during a Theresa May photocall.

 
The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,

4. HAIR APPARENT

Boris Johnson is so convinced of victory that he’s gone back to his favourite trick of deploying a prop in his speeches. Instead of a brick, he held up a kipper at last night’s final leadership hustings in London - a play on Ukip supporters and the fishing industry’s battles with EU regulations. 

There was a fun story from Mailonline where Johnson was forced to deny he dyed his hair blond.  Tory MP David Morris, an ex-hairdresser, noticed a tell-tale green tinge recently.  But when asked last night, Johnson said it was “an outrageous suggestion”. Jeremy Hunt said this morning it was still ‘all to play for’ and Tory members had been doing ‘a huge amount of switching’. We find out next Tuesday.

 
The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,

5. WALL-EEK

Maybe Trump is playing the race card partly to drown out the growing suspicion that he had links to Jeffrey Epstein, the financier facing child sex trafficking charges. A new video shows Trump eyeing up women alongside Epstein (whose British links, to Prince Andrew and Robert Maxwell’s daughter, may at some point be reinterred).

Meanwhile, the latest word in Washington is the President is lining up a FoxNews conspiracy theorist Monica Crowley to be his Treasury department spokeswoman. Crowley also happens to be the woman responsible for possibly the worst Tweet of all time. When Trump first raised the idea of  getting Mexico to fund a new border wall, Crowley visited Berlin and declared: ‘Walls work’.

 
The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,
 
The Waugh Zone Thursday July 18,
 

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