The five things you need to know about politics today

After a difficult start to Phase 2 of the leadership contest, Boris Johnson looks like he’s now enjoying himself on the campaign trail. He’s more confident, more relaxed and certainly looks like he wants it. The gags are starting to creep in (he joked to Conservative Home this morning that Harold Macmillan ‘took a Trollope to bed’) and he’s breezily charging on, even as he leaves more policy contradictions in his wake.

Last night he told the digital hustings that the chances of a no-deal Brexit were “a million-to-one against”. Given that he’s also said that he will get the UK out of the on October 31 “do or die”, that suggests that he is totally convinced he can negotiate, legislate and implement a new withdrawal agreement with the EU27 by Halloween.

Some Brexiteer MPs admire his ambition, but even they think no-deal is more likely than not, given the short timeframe. Perhaps the most important statement yesterday in the Tory race came from someone who is not even a Tory. DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “It is very important that we leave on the 31 October, of course we should have left by now.” The new Tory leader should ‘proactively’ deal with concerns about the Irish backstop, she added. Yet with the EU signalling it won’t unpick May’s withdrawal agreement, that’s exactly why no-deal looms so large.

Despite all those rumours of a snap election, Johnson said last night that it would be “absolutely crazy for any of us to think of going to the country and calling a general election before we get Brexit done”. Earlier, in the House of Lords hustings, he had a variant of this, saying it would be “absolutely insane” to go to the country without having left the EU. Still, the threat of a no-confidence vote forcing an election is clearly not far from his mind. That’s why he reminds Tory members he’s a vote-winner, adding the party “need to be ready to wallop Corbyn for six”. Or, as he told peers, “Corbyn’s like a crocodile, he’s lurking under the water.”

If anyone was in any doubt that Johnson wants to keep no-deal firmly on the table, his ConHome interview suggests he would not include in his cabinet anyone who was not ‘reconciled’ to quitting without an agreement. That probably rules out Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark and others. The activists’ website also puts Johnson on 66% to Hunt’s 30%. That’s a huge mountain to climb. And unlike David Cameron’s long summer overhaul of David Davis in 2005, Hunt has just two weeks to turn it around before ballot papers are sent out.

Fears of a no-deal Brexit have forced MPs across different parties to find cunning new ways to stop it from happening. The scramble for novel parliamentary procedure has prompted Dominic Grieve and Margaret Beckett to target the annual finance ‘estimates’, when the Commons signs off public spending, with amendments designed to force the hand of the new PM.

It’s not quite the ‘shutdown’ tactics seen in the US, but the threat to stop all public spending on key areas (the first estimates up for a vote next week are on education, work and pensions, housing and overseas aid) would be a radical move for the British parliament. So radical that several MPs may well baulk at it. The Business Statement today should tell us on which days the estimates votes will occur.

Meanwhile, Labour’s troubles on Brexit rumble on. This morning, Diane Abbott tweeted to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter who felt his leader’s attempts at compromise should now end: “Like you I have supported Labour’s Brexit strategy so far. But like you I am beginning to worry…”

And if anyone needed any confirmation of the damage being done to Corbyn’s reputation on the left, Momentum chief (and former close aide in the leader’s office) Laura Parker was yesterday blunt about the problem. The Labour leader’s “simple authenticity has taken a hit, there’s no way round it”, she said. “In the hierarchy of what counts, does honouring the result of people who are largely fed up and might not have voted before in 2016 count more or less than your membership, when you have talked about developing member-led party?”

Yesterday, after Margaret Beckett claimed Corbyn’s aides didn’t ‘give a toss’ about members’ views, the leader’s spokesman said it was ‘laughable’ to suggest he was ‘under the control of anyone’. The spokesman did however point out that Unite was the biggest union in the public and private workplace. And on the public vote ballot paper he added this: “We would expect Remain to be on the ballot paper in any referendum but of course we are talking about a number of uncertainties.

“At the moment, there’s no obvious mechanism to get a referendum. And what would be on the ballot paper, would depend on the circumstances and depend on parliament’s decision.”

Morale within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) plummeted once more after the PoliticsHome scoop yesterday that Chris Williamson’s suspension for anti-semitism had been lifted. There are all sorts of suspicions as to why the three-person panel that lifted the suspension acted the way they did. The late change in personnel on the panel was called into question too.

Many Labour MPs seized on the fact that NEC member Huda Elmi, who was on the panel, had previously called the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (which is investigating Labour’s alleged antisemitism) a ‘failed experiment’. But some on the Left said that the real problem was Keith Vaz, another panel member, who had apparently warned that Williamson should be let off with a warning because he was in a marginal seat and Labour MPs had two weeks to say if they wanted to stand again.

I’m told that Elmi and Vaz were prepared to send Williamson’s case to the National Constitutional Committee (the quasi-judicial body handling such complaints) - as recommended by party staff. But the pair felt that he would have been spared any sanction even at the NCC. One senior NEC source tells me there is a ‘silver lining’: “While suspended from the Party, Chris Williamson couldn’t face a trigger ballot. Now he can be and I strongly hope he is deselected.”

On ITV’s Peston last night, shadow minister Dawn Butler said “I probably would have imposed a tougher punishment…” but on SkyNews todayRuth Smeeth was scathing. She said that the NEC members’ role in not adopting the party staff recommendations showed there was “clearly political interference”. “It’s yet another slap on the wrist.”

Watch David Gauke talk of his anxiety about entryism into the Tory party, saying the member campaigning against him locally only joined in February

Labour MP Liam Byrne has talked for the first time about the 18 months of counselling he embarked on to help him come back from the ‘abyss’ of his mental health problems. In an interview for our CommonsPeople podcast, he explains how the shock of Jo Cox’s death led him to take off the ‘armour plating’ he’d built up during a childhood as the son of an alcoholic.

Byrne explains how he ‘slept for three weeks’ in the summer of 2016, before his wife persuaded him to find counselling help. “It was bloody awful to start with, really, really horrible…taking that armour plating off for the first time, making yourself vulnerable, it’s so weird that you just fall over.” And he says it has changed the way he does politics, as well as underlining his commitment to improve mental health services for all. Listen HERE from 19 mins 45 secs.

Today sees some serious history being made as the UK becomes the first major economy in the world to commit in law to setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050. Energy and clean growth minister Chris Skidmore signed the order that brought it into force after the Lords last night voted for regulations passed by the Commons on Monday. It may not get much attention, but in years to come today’s date may well feature in kids’ lessons on the history of the West waking up to the environmental emergency.

Still, Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire is seething about the way Theresa May inaccurately claimed the party was trying to ‘block’ the changes in the Lords, when it was instead tabling a ‘regret’ motion pointing out that more had to be done.


Liam Byrne joined us on our CommonsPeople podcast this week. As well as his own struggles with mental health, we chat through the Tory leadership race and Labour’s internal problems on a second referendum. Not surprisingly, Liam was pretty good on the weekly, geeky politics quiz. Click HERE for Audioboom or below for iTunes.

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