1. L’ETAT C’EST MOI? NON!
When Amber Rudd unveiled her citizenship and fee-waiving measures to help the Windrush generation yesterday, she declared: “The state has let these people down.” To which several Labour MPs heckled: “YOU did!” Rudd was certainly contrite, yet the responsibility for the entire scandal remained notably opaque in her statement. “This should never have been allowed to happen” she said. Yet there was no proper explanation as to why the Home Secretary and her Home Office had ignored five months of Guardian stories on the misery suffered by those sent to detention centres and denied basic services.
Rudd may privately think the problem rests with overzealous immigration officials and/or Theresa May’s push to get immigration down below 100,000, but she could only hint at it. “It is about a change of culture that I will be trying to trickle down the department…I am not blaming anyone. I want to make sure there is time, more focus, more resources so there can be more engagement with individuals rather than just numbers.” The fact remains that she is in charge and knows that she now has to deliver. Many Tory MPs think she did enough yesterday to stay, but that means any new cases will surely rest at her door. And new cases there may well be.
Despite her Remainer history, Rudd has been seen as a possible future PM by some in her party. But she is prone to bouts of political naivety, as is evidenced by the FT’s telling vignette that she joked to a business dinner that European nationals living in the UK will find a post-Brexit registration scheme “as easy to use as setting up an online account at LK Bennett”. The campaign group ‘The3Million’ had a telling line: “We had to Google LK Bennett, a popular chain with the upper middle class”. Louis XIV isn’t a great role model, but Marie Antoinette is an even worse one. So far, as David Lammy points out, the ancien regime of May’s Home Office has seen no heads roll.
Speaking of tone, Lenny Henry seemed to have exactly the right combination of anger and dry wit yesterday as he reflected on the Windrush outrage at the Stephen Lawrence memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church. “When it comes to fighting racism, institutional or otherwise, there is no finish line. You don’t get to an age when we can finally breathe out and say ‘yes, no need to worry about racism any more’. Just ask the Windrush generation.” And appearing to address his remarks directly to Theresa May sitting in a nearby pew, he added: “Anybody who’s threatened with deportation or detainment, we’ve got to sort that out, right? We going to do that?” He was applauded, then referenced May: “They just looked at me and went like this [and nodded].”
And for May the political problems of this issue seem to be finally dawning. The Times seizes on Cameron’s former pollster Lord Cooper (he happens to have the title of Lord Cooper of Windrush, by the way) warning that the Tories may find it nearly impossible to win in an seats with a non-white population above 30 per cent, adding that by the time of the next general election there would be more than 120 seats where that was the case. “Unless something changes, before long there just won’t be enough white voters in the electorate for the Conservative Party to be able to win,” he said. Some Tory MPs loathe Cooper as a failed Cameroonian Remainiac. But Rachel Sylvester warns that the ‘UKIPification’ of the party is also putting off women too, adding the caustic pay-off that May’s party of old white men is creating “a hostile environment for so many other groups of voters”. The local elections on May 3 may well have some striking results on that score.
2. JEWS ROUND
Jeremy Corbyn finally meets the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council today and it remains to be seen whether there’s a meeting of minds. The two groups have been resolute that they want action, not words, from the Labour leader on the anti-semitism that has infected the party. They want a fixed timetable for things like an independent ombudsman that will report to them and to the party, something that would require a rule change and may prove too high a bar. There are also demands that MPs should not be sharing platforms with those accused of abuse (Chris Williamson is due to speak at a May Day event chaired by suspended Jackie Walker).
Corbyn will also be urged not to take seriously groups like Jewish Voice for Labour, seen as a ‘fringe’ outfit that does not represent mainstream British Jewry. But as his meeting with activists from Jewdas proved recently, there is a strand of radical leftwing Jewish thought (albeit a small minority) that appeals to his counter-culture instincts. Some around Corbyn think the Board of Deputies risks over-reaching itself and he hasn’t been given due credit for his letter making clear those who raise this issue are not ‘smearing’ him. But others think the problem is so bad that he has to bite the bullet.
In the Indy today, Labour MP Chuka Umunna links the row to the Windrush scandal, asking how his party can “suggest racism lies behind the Tories’ mistreatment of the Windrush generation, when we don’t get our own house in order?” That will sound to some Corbyn allies too much like an echo of May at PMQs last week. But he has a telling story about the reaction of one senior Labour colleague to his robust questions to Corbyn during the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into anti-semitism. “One member of Labour’s shadow cabinet at the time – he is still a member of it – told me he thought my questioning was inappropriate because, as a Labour MP, I should not publicly challenge the leader on anything. What he and many others fail to realise is that the issue of antisemitism and racism is not actually about Jeremy Corbyn (although his handling of it is obviously flawed). He is not the victim here – and the issue is far bigger than one party leader.”
Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne is unlikely to be the unnamed Shadow Cabinet minister Umunna was referring to. He told the Today programme: “There are lots of Jewish people that share Labour’s values…that they currently don’t find a home in the Labour party is troubling…it’s Jeremy’s job as leader of the Labour party to try to rebuild that trust”. But the final word went to Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack, who said that she was appalled that ‘in 2018 we still talk about it’ – and that ‘expulsion from the party’ was the real test. It’s a real test for new general secretary Jennie Formby and her pledge to speed up the process.
3. HUNT THE TAX HIKE
Jeremy Hunt has written to Tory MPs appealing to them for ideas on long term funding solutions for the NHS and promising that he will be ready to propose his own plans for health and social care by the summer. But most intriguing of all is the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reporting that Hunt is ‘open’ to a cross-party call to convert National Insurance into a specific tax for the NHS. The Health Secretary has made it plain he accepts there may have to be increases in tax, but hasn’t made a commitment or a case for a particular option.
It’s unclear what Philip Hammond thinks of the hypothecation idea (though the Treasury has accepted the principle to maintain roads and motorways, the NHS would involve far larger sums). Yet many Conservatives think an NI rise offers a way to outflank Labour on the issue while giving the health service the money it needs due to huge demographic pressures.
Still, as the Cabinet meets today, Brexit is never far away. And there’s one story that has the ingredients of Brexit, Windrush and the NHS all rolled into it. Yes, the Nursing Times reports that Hunt’s Department for Health and Social Care is going to target nurses in Jamaica to help with its recruitment and retention crisis in the UK. The new ‘partnership’ will see nurses from the Caribbean island work in the NHS for three years before returning with new skills. The “earn, learn and return” scheme has already seen Indian nurses come to work for the NHS for a set period of time. Critics point out that Brexit is set to lead to the loss of lots of EU nurses and the Government is scouting around to fill the gaps. And that the axeing of the nursing bursary for students has already made a bad situation much worse.
It’s still unclear how this Government reconciles its backing for the age of austerity on the NHS and other services with the ‘burning injustices’ that May complained about on the steps of No.10. And today we report on another area where the PM appears to have had a blind spot: no appointment to replace Alan Milburn as the ‘social mobility czar’ is likely to be made before the end of May – six months after Milburn walked out in protest at the lack of action. HuffPost UK has learned interviews for the high-profile chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) have still not been carried out, despite government receiving 21 applications for the post.
4. FOOD BANK, A COUNT
The Trussell Trust, the biggest network of food banks in the UK, says it provided record levels of “emergency food supplies” last year. It pointed to a 13% increase, as it provided 1.3 million three-day food packages for “people in crisis”. But in a warning that makes this very political, it adds the increase has been driven by those on benefits not being able to afford basic essentials. The Trust’s report also highlights interviewees raising problems with administration of Universal Credit.
Government sources say the sample size is too small to be meaningful and the DWP rejected a direct link to the new benefit. “The reasons why people use food banks are complex,” a spokeswoman said. Yet again, however, the timing is not great for the Tories given the local elections. And already this morning, Labour activists are sharing this clip of Everton football manager Sam Allardyce talking about how his players help out with foodbanks. He says the rise in their usage for “people in work not just on benefits” is “a disgrace” and “incredibly sad that a country like ours has allowed that to happen”.
5. ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0
Fake News and Facebook data scraping is firmly on the agenda in the Commons today as the DCMS Committee hears from Aleksandr Kogan, the Moldovan academic at Cambridge University whose app sparked the Cambridge Analytica row. As it happens, the whole issue of social media disinformation and lack of trust in experts is covered in a new book published today by Angela Eagle and her aide Imran Ahmed. ‘The New Serfdom’ aims to provide some of the intellectual heavy lifting that Labour needs as it prepares to take on what they call the Hayekian ‘market fundamentalism’ that has dominated the Tory party (and parts of New Labour) in recent years.
In a blog for HuffPost, Eagle and Ahmed call for an ‘Enlightenment 2.0’ to protect truth and evidence in politics and public life (they devote a whole chapter of their book to it too). “Reason is under threat in an era of emotion and ‘alternative facts; wielded by populists and demagogues and distributed through unmediated social media. One American strategist typified this new mood recently by asserting ‘you can’t bring reason to a feelings fight’ but he’s wrong. You can’t defeat hot gut feelings spewed by one side with the same by another.” As hot guts spill out again this week, it’s a sobering thought,
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