1. NEIGHBOURHOOD BOTCH
The police erected 3ft concrete barriers on Westminster, Waterloo and Lambeth bridges yesterday to prevent what Scotland Yard called “hostile vehicle mitigation”. Today, the damage to what was previously the concrete wall of Theresa May’s reputation on crime and security continues.
The PM wanted this to be a ‘Brexit election’ but the London Bridge and Manchester terror attacks have turned it into a ‘security election’ with a focus on her record in office as Home Secretary. May is touring the north talking about post-Brexit trade, while Labour tried an attack line on 4,000 lives at risk from cuts to winter fuel allowance. But it is police numbers that dominates. Again.
May wants to ‘take back control’ of the news agenda, but it is inevitable that security is now the narrative. She staged her press conference yesterday at defence think tank RUSI to target Jeremy Corbyn’s record on terror, but was repeatedly quizzed on her own cuts instead.
And Labour’s talk of police cuts is really connecting with many on social media and the doorstep, insiders in all parties tell me. Yesterday, May’s (and Karen Bradley’s) refusal to even concede falls in numbers of armed officers risked further underlining her ‘Maybot’ image.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan – looking every inch the future Labour leader his admirers hope he will one day be - has pressed on the bruise with new stats this morning. He says Tory plans would mean cuts to the Metropolitan Police of between 10% and 40%. The Times reports Home Office documents showing that May is also cutting £32m from the ‘Office for Security and Counterterrorism’.
Just as worrying are why MI5 and the police failed to keep tabs on the terrorists behind the London Bridge attack. Met assistant chief Mark Rowley said attacker Khuram Butt was investigated in 2015 but “prioritised in the lower echelons of our investigative work”. The PM will not want to dump blame on the security services or police, so she is caught in a real bind between her funding decisions and operational matters beyond her control. All that talk about her being the longest serving Home Secretary in modern history now feels like a millstone not a badge of pride.
Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the BBC cuts in neighbourhood policing were “nothing to do with terrorism”, but the fact is the public don’t believe that and neither do many, many in the police.
2. TRUMP SMELL
Donald Trump’s decision to renew his Twitter criticism of Sadiq Khan has provoked yet more of a backlash. But has it imperiled the President’s planned visit to the UK this year?
The Mayor of London told Channel 4 News last night “I don’t think we should roll out the red carpet to the president of the USA in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for”. Nick Watt on Newsnight had a fascinating hint from a Whitehall source saying that Trump was worried about protests disrupting his State Visit and it was now seen as “in the pretty long and getting longer grass”. Could the October timing slip to the New Year?
Trump’s deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka told Newsnight that Khan ahd shown a “Pollyannaish attitude” to the terrorist threat. “If anybody thinks that a state visit is held hostage to Twitter then they have no understanding of the relationship between London and Washington,” he said.
When confronted about the visit on Today, Boris Johnson said: “As Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was perfectly right to reassure people about the presence of armed officers on the street” [don’t forget Khan’s ‘no reason to be alarmed’ remark was about higher police presence]. But Boris added: “The invitation has been issued and accepted and I see no reason to change that”.
Proving that some of Trump’s most scathing critics are Stateside, I particularly liked this from the Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke: “I could flip off Buckingham Palace, knock fuzzy hats off five members of the Queen’s Guard and run naked through Trafalgar Square with ‘Soccer Sux’ painted on my butt cheeks and still not be as offensive as the president trying to leverage this terrorist attack to stoke fear and promote his own agenda.”
Politico points out Spiegel has a searing piece on Trump, revealing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “aim is that of creating an alliance against Trump. If she can’t convince the U.S. President, her approach will be that of trying to isolate him. In Taormina, it was six countries against one. Should Trump not reverse course, she is hoping that the G20 in Hamburg in July will end 19:1.” Putin will be pleased.
3. ABBOTT AND COST, HELLO
The great irony of Labour’s success on the security issue is that Diane Abbott is clearly seen by the Tories as a voter liability as toxic as Corbyn himself. Theresa May chants her name like a panto villain at many of her rallies (the Tory boos I heard at a Twickenham event last week were louder for Abbott than anyone else), Boris Johnson tried again this morning on the breakfast shows to do the same.
The Shadow Home Secretary’s infamous LBC interview, where she couldn’t remember the costings of her own plan to increase police numbers (which looks prescient now), had genuine ‘cut through’ among all focus groups and in polling. I said at the time that that interview, plus the one later for ITV, hinted that Abbott possibly had a real problem with remembering things.
There certainly seemed something odd again as she tried to bluff her way through a SkyNews interview as Dermot Murnaghan pressed her to recall Toby Harris’s 2016 report on terrorism in London. Abbott also denied claims that she sorted her own media appearances (despite suggestions that she defied orders from Corbyn and John McDonnell to clear her interviews with them).
And this morning, with very short notice, Labour said Abbott had been “taken ill” and pulled out of a planned Women’s Hour special up against Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Many will recall Abbott’s migraine during the Brexit votes. The exact nature of her illness, as crass as it may seem to even talk about it, may well become an issue today. Cabinet Minister Priti Patel is showing no mercy, claiming Labour is ‘hiding her away from voters’.
Because You’ve Read This Far...
Watch Tory candidate Greg Knight’s wonderfully catchy jingle at the end of the most Alan Partridge-esque campaign video ever.
4. FOR WHOM THE POLLS TOLL
Survation has a new ITV/GMB poll putting the Tories on 41%, with Labour on 40%. That one point lead is a marked contrast from the firm’s 17-point Tory advantage just a month ago. Meanwhile, YouGov stuck to its guns yesterday with a new forecast suggesting the Tories could go backwards and fall 21 seats short of an overall majority.
But the ICM/Guardian poll showed a strong 11-point lead for the Conservatives (45% to 34%). The main reason for the disparity is once more the way ICM plays down youth and non-voters’ likelihood to vote. We have a fascinating blog from Southampton University academics Patrick Sturgis and Will Jennings on the pollsters’ ‘Achilles Heel’ of ‘turnout weighting’.
Both Labour and Tory insiders are feeding back from the doorstep that key marginals are still showing floating voters who are deeply unhappy with Corbyn, suggesting his ‘surge’ is in London and big city centres where Labour is already strong. In the small towns that voted Brexit, there is fear among the party’s candidates that May will do them serious damage.
Our own Graeme Demianyk has talked to Tory, Labour and Lib Dem veteran aides on just how to win – and lose - a general election. Spencer Livermore, a Downing Street adviser to Gordon Brown, is withering about Ed Miliband’s 2015 campaign: “There was no hierarchy, no clear structure, no obvious person who was actually in charge because too many people were in charge… I don’t believe there was a strategy to win power.”
5. BORED OF TRADE?
The PM is trying to push her plans for a new ‘Board of Trade’, with nine trade commissioners across the world. Although Boris is being allowed out, Liam Fox (despite being the actual International Trade Secretary and President of the Board of Trade) appears to not be on the stump and only has some overnight words.
The Lib Dems have once again shown their talent for a soundbite, saying the new body was a “17th century solution to 21st century challenges”. Alastair Carmichael says: “This plan is so outdated it’s probably been written on parchment by Jacob Rees-Mogg.”
Much more worrying, as we look to Brexit and beyond, is the report from the Recruitment and Employment Federation which says the UK has a ‘pervasive shortage of skills’, that is getting worse. It says demand for workers is at its highest for two years but there is plummeting availability of trained staff. CEO Kevin Green says the shortages “used to be in engineers, tech and digital…now it is teachers, nurses, bricklayers, carpenters”. (As an aside, I note Green told Radio 4 that ministers should think about “making tuition free” for key university subjects). Since Brexit, EU applications for nursing jobs have gone down by 92%. The GMB union says the UK has lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs in the last decade.
Amid worries about our national productivity, British Airways has revealed just why it plunged thousands of passengers into chaos: an engineer disconnected its computer server power supply without realising. That brings a whole new meaning to every IT department’s age-old advice of ‘turn off, then turn on again’. Such as shame BA didn’t remember the other bit of advice: regularly ‘back up’ your data.
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