The Waugh Zone Tuesday May 1, 2018

The five things you need to know about politics today

Sajid Javid can be quietly pleased with his first day as Britain’s first ever BAME Home Secretary. He managed to get the key soundbite on to the 10 O’Clock News – “I end by making one thing crystal clear: we will do right by the Windrush generation” – after giving one of his most assured performances yet at the despatch box. Just three days before the local elections, he also gave the Tories some much-needed respite from the reputational damage they’ve suffered over race, competence and honesty.

One day won’t be enough to turn around opinions, of course, and the real test is just what Javid actually does at the Home Office to change policy. On Grenfell and on the need for more homes generally, he showed he was unafraid of standing up to Theresa May, pushing the envelope as much as he dared. And yesterday he trashed the ‘hostile environment’ phrase the PM had made her own, declaring it did not “represent our values as a country”. Last night on Newsnight, he was backed by senior Tory Oliver Letwin, who called for more ‘humanity’ on the issue of immigration as a whole.

Showing some heart on immigration, while stressing the need for strong borders, would undoubtedly be a break from the May Home Office years. Yet in a way, dumping the word ‘hostile’ is the easy bit. More testing will be Javid’s plans to change structures as well as policy and tone at the Home Office. In the Commons, he suggested he would look at legal aid for migration cases, and review the use of ‘internal migration targets’. Everything seemed up for grabs.

As a politician, Javid has certainly grown up since the early days when he was George Osborne’s protégé. He now knows how Whitehall works, appears less wooden in the chamber and on TV, and is unafraid to speak out on issues like Donald Trump or Windrush (and he was one of the first senior Tories to do so on the latter). As I revealed yesterday, the fact that his brother is a chief superintendent in the West Midlands underscores that he’s more in touch with the real world outside Westminster than many MPs. (Another fascinating fact I picked up over the years: he uses a Gillette Mach 3 Tubo to keep his head smooth).

Crucially, Javid retains the hunger of an outsider and a deep scepticism about The Establishment. He once told me how, as he tried to get his first job, he was rejected by City bosses at a British bank. “At my Rothschild interview, I can remember it very well, the people interviewing me were seven men sitting on a stage. I was standing while they were sitting. The first question was what school I went to. And when I told them it was Downend in Bristol [a state comp in one of the poorest parts of the city] I don’t think they were impressed. And then they asked me what my dad’s job was [he was a bus driver]. And it basically ended with ‘have you thought of applying to a high street bank?’.” An American merchant bank hired him instead, and he never looked back.

Most of all politically, Javid owes May nothing. He knows she considered sacking him if she’d won a big majority after her snap election. Yet the PM had little choice yesterday in opting for someone who could make her life more difficult. Crucially, the questions for May over her own role in the Windrush scandal haven’t gone away (did Home Office civil servants get cash bonuses for hitting removals targets, for example?).

If both she and Javid need a reminder of what’s most at stake here, they should watch this Channel 4 News clip about Edmond. He came to Britain from Jamaica when he was nine. He lost his job while fighting deportation threats, has throat cancer and mental health problems – and is still battling to prove his citizenship. David Lammy, without whom much of this consensus would not exist, today hosts a meeting of Windrush residents in the Commons. It’s a sobering thought that when he originally sent out the invite more than a fortnight ago, few MPs – frontbench and backbench - were interested. They will be today.

As a ‘heavy heart’ Remainer, Sajid Javid’s promotion is seen as slightly tipping the balance of the Cabinet Brexit sub-committee in a slightly more hawkish direction. The ‘war cabinet’ meets tomorrow to discuss customs options, but maybe today David Davis will give an update on where he stands on the ‘bonkers’ plan for a ‘partnership’. That’s assuming the Lords EU Committee actually asks him about it (the Commons Brexit Committee didn’t last week).

But Davis will surely want to say something too about the recent rash of Lords defeats on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. There were three more yesterday, taking the total to seven. After the daft talk on both sides yesterday about Nazis and traitors (Lib Dem Lord Roberts compared May to Hitler and Tory hereditary called Remainers ‘fifth columnists’), the Brexit Secretary may however choose his words more diplomatically.

Still, what the Lords did last night was a big deal. The most significant amendment was to give Parliament not just a meaningful vote but a meaningful say over the shape of May’s Brexit deal with the EU. Peers hated the idea of a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ vote. Yet ministers believe none of the Lords could explain how to reconcile their hopes of sending May back to the negotiating table with the fact that Parliament has backed the Article 50 process making sure we leave next March. Even some Remainers believe the brutal fact of Article 50 being approved means the ship has sailed. Unless Parliament forces May to request an extension beyond the two-year deadline.

It’s arguable that the 91-strong Lords majority puts more pressure on Tory Remainer MPs than it does on the government. When the amendment comes back to the Commons this month, will they really risk unleashing more confusion (and we really will be heading into the unknown here)? Will they risk undermining May’s negotiating strength, in the hope of keeping alive ideas like a customs union? Crossbencher Lord Bilimoria didn’t mince his words yesterday: “Do they have the guts—the guts of the so-called mutineers such as Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Jonathan Djanogly and Tom Tugendhat, and I could go on—to stand up when the time comes to do the right thing?”

As we revealed last night, Labour MP John Woodcock has had the whip withdrawn following a decision by general secretary Jennie Formby to suspend him over alleged sexual harassment. Woodcock denies the claims and last night took to Twitter to suggest that his suspension threw into doubt the “integrity of the process”. A fierce critic of Jeremy Corbyn, he also pointed out that that the charges against him were made public during a “politically charged time”.

I understand that the special NEC disputes panel on sex harassment considered the case late last year and concluded that there was enough evidence to warrant referral to the disciplinary National Constitutional Committee (NCC). The panel – which hears cases ‘blind’, with complainant and respondent’s identities kept anonymous - didn’t judge the case serious enough to warrant an instant suspension pending the inquiry. But yesterday Formby decided, following the leaking of the claims to the Sunday Mirror, that suspension was the best course. So Woodcock joins Jared O’Mara, Ivan Lewis and Kelvin Hopkins in being outside the party until it decides their fate.

Meanwhile Labour’s chief whip in the Lords, former MP Tommy McAvoy, was not best pleased when frontbencher Lord Hunt voted for a fresh EU referendum in the Lords. Brexit Minister Steve Baker (perhaps auditioning for a job in McAvoy’s office) said Labour should fire him as a shadow health minister as he’s broken the party line. I’m told that Phil Hunt was invited in for a ‘full and frank discussion’ with Labour Lords leader Angela Smith and McAvoy last night. One source says he was “given a bollocking”. But he was not sacked. And in fact he reappeared on the frontbench late last night – surprisingly unnoticed by Brexit minister Lord Callanan.

Watch Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe sing ‘we’re in the money’ as he waits to be interviewed on ITV News. Not a great look for shopworkers worried about losing their jobs in the merger with Asda. Shades of David Cameron’s nonchalant humming as he left No.10 a final time.

Those who see Northern Ireland as behind the curve on progressive social attitudes have been given strong evidence overnight. Former Ulster Unionist MP John Taylor, now a peer of the realm, tweeted that Irish PM Leo Varadkar was a ‘typical Indian’. Yes, you read that right. His message was prompted by a DUP complaint that Varadkar had disrespected Northern Ireland by staging a visit there yesterday. So, apparently having ‘poor manners’ is ‘typical’ for an ‘Indian’.

Taylor, aka Lord Kilclooney, has form in this area. He had previously been forced to delete a tweet referring to Varadkar (whose father is Indian) as ‘the Indian’. A complaint was made to the Lords Commissioner of Standards at the time, but didn’t even get past the first hurdle “on the basis that a member’s opinion, or the way they express themselves, does not fall within the scope of the code”. Let’s see if that remains the case today.

Education is another area of policy where some liberal Conservatives feared May risked turning the clock back, not least with her grammar school plans. Now, the woman who resisted that push, former Education Secretary Justine Greening, has some advice for employers: don’t hire Etonians if you can help it.

The Times puts on its front page a TES report that Greening told an audience in New York to use ‘contextual recruitment’ when choosing their staff. For those unaware of the phrase, she explains: “So if you get three Bs from Eton, you’re probably not as impressive as somebody who gets three Bs from the school in a part of the country where the school [wasn’t] doing well.” It’s not clear what her successor, Damian Hinds, thinks. But he’s bound to be asked.

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