The five things you need to know about politics today

Around 11.45am, Tory backbench 1922 Committee chairwoman Dame Cheryl Gillan is expected to finally confirm that Boris Johnson is the new Tory party leader (and therefore will be the UK’s next prime minister). With the result a foregone conclusion, the main point of interest will be just how big a victory he secures over rival Jeremy Hunt.

It’s worth remembering that back in 2005, David Cameron beat David Davis by a huge 68% to 32%. So there’s a whiff of expectation management around this morning with the talk that Johnson could keep Jeremy Hunt in his current post if he wins by just 55% to 45%. If he gets more than 60%, some in his camp (via the Daily Mail) say it would be such a big margin that he would have a ‘free hand’ to sack Hunt as foreign secretary. Despite the expected bromide of praise for Hunt today, it all points to a demotion for the man who called Johnson a ‘coward’ earlier in the leadership race.

As well as the margin of victory, everyone will be watching for hints of policy direction from Johnson when he delivers a short address. There will be no media Q&A and the Big Speech will be tomorrow afternoon after he’s formally installed as PM, but we should get the broad brush today. The Sun reports we could get a mix of more cash for schools, plus a big pledge to sort social care (Matt Hancock’s insurance plan idea looks like it will be purloined).

Of course, the only margin that matters is not Johnson’s lead over Hunt, it’s what his working majority in parliament will look like. Although few expect Charles Elphicke to defy the government, his status as an independent (the Tory whip was withdrawn after he was charged for sexual assault) means that Johnson could have a technical majority of just one if the Lib Dems win the Brecon by-election next week. A few more by-elections and you can see why Team Boris have been wargaming a snap election.

As of this morning, it looks like several senior Tories are not yet prepared to trigger such an election. David Gauke told Today that Johnson did not ask him to stay when they met yesterday. But crucially he also said “I want him to succeed” and he would not vote against him in a confidence vote (a better question is whether he would abstain in such a vote, but that’s for another day). Alan Duncan said similar things yesterday after he quit.

Rory Stewart last night made clear a no-deal vote was his priority: “[imagine] there is a majority of two and I have at least three friends”. More worrying for Team Boris was Stewart’s long, long pause earlier in the day when asked by LBC’s James O’Brien if Johnson would be a ‘dangerous’ PM. “The danger is the lack of detail, the lack of anything particular, the vagueness, the abstraction, the blandness,” he eventually replied.

Which brings us back the key point: Boris Johnson needs to be bold on policy (from Brexit to social care) to live up to his own hype, but he can’t be as bold as he wants without a decent majority…and only a fresh election can deliver one.

Last night’s PLP had a sombre and serious tone, with many Labour MPs directly addressing their complaints to Jeremy Corbyn more in sorrow than in anger. Lots of backbenchers made plain how unhappy they were with the way the party had dealt with anti-Semitism and had responded to the BBC’s Panorama programme by appearing to discredit the whistleblowers.

I’ve done a full write-up HERE on what went down both at the PLP (some MPs praised Corbyn’s new plans to fast-track anti-Semitism cases and said it was time to unite and focus on attacking the Tories) and at the shadow cabinet earlier. After PLP, Ruth Smeeth (who cut her teeth with anti-racist group Hope not Hate before becoming an MP) sounded more hopeless, frustrated and ‘impotent’ (her word) than ever. “I just think this was to get us through to [Commons] recess.”

Away from the row over procedures, the most striking thing for some MPs was the new figures released by general secretary Jennie Formby. Just eight Labour members had been expelled in the first half of this year, up only one on the same period for 2018. This was despite nearly three times as many cases being concluded by the National Constitutional Committee (NCC). And there was this startling stat too: of 190 decisions by NEC panels, 97 were sent for disciplinary investigation, while 90 were dealt with instead by a formal warning or a ‘reminder of conduct’.

Today, the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) meets and is expected to back Corbyn’s plan to create a new panel of the general secretary and members of the NEC Officers’ Group to expel the most severe cases of abuse. There was some push back from shadow cabinet to insist more “independent oversight” of the system but it’s unclear if we will get any detail on that today. It may all have to wait for party conference when detailed rule changes will be drafted and voted on.

Some of his critics are relieved that Corbyn is doing more. But the Jewish Labour Movement thinks a fully independent system is the only way of reassuring their community. And Mike Creighton, former rulebook supremo, says handing more power to the NEC actually runs in the opposite direction from independent oversight. As he points out, when Kinnock was trying to kick out Militant in the 1980s the NCC was only created because the courts ruled the NEC couldn’t act as both prosecutor and jury. Will the new system make legal challenges more likely, not less?

Jo Swinson won the Lib Dem leadership by 63% to Ed Davey’s 37%. In fact with a turnout of 72%, one cruel observer noted that Davey won less votes than those Lib Dem members who abstained from the race (why anyone would be in a party and not take part in its leadership election is a mystery of the universe).

Will Boris Johnson - who remember has clean hands from the Coalition years - revive his attacks on the Lib Dems? Or will that goad more moderate Tories (MPs and voters alike) into switching sides? In the Times, David Gauke set the hare running over which Tory MPs could next defect to what his party used to call the yellow peril. He said a no-deal Brexit “would play into the hands of the Liberal Democrats. I don’t think we should underestimate Jo Swinson. I think she’s capable, she’s a very good communicator. I think she will be energetic and a passionate advocate for her party’s views.”

A ComRes/38Degrees poll today shows 43% of voters report that they are less likely to vote Conservative if the next PM takes the UK out of the EU on a no-deal basis. Johnson’s personal net ‘trust’ rating is dire, on minus 32. Sir Oliver Letwin said: “These results show that many of our fellow citizens are concerned about the risks associated with a disorderly ‘no deal’ exit from the EU. I share that concern.” In normal times all this would open the door to the Opposition, but Swinson clearly thinks she has a chance to mop up both disaffected Labour and Tory voters.

Perhaps that’s why so many Corbyn supporters attacked her record on austerity yesterday. Those attacks in turn left some moderates feeling Labour just wasn’t getting the message. The more Swinson was attacked, the more they felt ‘liberalism’ was a dirty word in the Labour Party and the more the Lib Dems felt like home. Still, if somehow a Johnson government delivers Brexit, it may at a stroke remove Swinson’s biggest selling point. Once we are out, we are out and even the Lib Dems would struggle to call for re-entry to the EU (single market membership is probably their limit). It’s a reminder that there’s a lot at stake for all parties in coming weeks.

Rory Stewart is not the only one pausing when asked important questions. Watch Tony Blair struggle to answer Emily Maitlis when she asks what in politics gives him cause for optimism. He came very close to suggesting the voters would abandon the Tories and Labour for the Lib Dems.

We always look for governments trying to bury bad news in the avalanche of written ministerial statements that come out just before recesses. But yesterday we had the extraordinary spectacle of the Dept of Health trying to bury its good news (for anti-sugar and anti-obesity campaigners at least). A new public health green paper includes possible extension of the sugar tax to milkshakes and similar drinks, but the FT reports Matt Hancock was furious with Theresa May for publishing the thing against his wishes.

Hancock, who has ignored the stick he’s got for putting loyalty to Boris Johnson above all else, is certainly engaged in a ruthless realpolitik. It sounds like he didn’t want to do anything to tie the hands of the new No.10. And linking the policy to a May ‘legacy’ increased the risk of it being ditched. As one Hancock ally put it, “because it is put out as part of this administration, then the next administration might dump the whole thing.” Sceptics will look at the Sun story that suggests Hancock has flip-flopped, saying he ‘thinks it goes too far’. Expect Labour shadow Jon Ashworth to make hay in health questions in the Commons.

Even before he’s PM, here’s one state that assumes he’s already got the job. “It is very important for Boris Johnson as he enters 10 Downing Street to understand that Iran does not seek confrontation, that Iran wants normal relations based on mutual respect,” foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said overnight.

Meanwhile, detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been sent back to prison from a mental health hospital, her husband has revealed. “I am all right, broken, but I survived,” she said. “They did all they could to me – handcuffs, ankle cuffs, in a private room 2x3m, with thick curtains, and the door closed all the time. I wasn’t allowed to leave the room, as I was chained to the bed. It was proper torture.”

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