1. BROTHERS IN ARMS
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) meets today and it promises to be a very important meeting in setting the tone of party conference, and of the future direction of the party overall. Will Jeremy Corbyn be able to land some punches on the Government when he tours Liverpool next week, or will Labour be more preoccupied with internal strife? One key factor will be the balance of power between the two most pro-Corbyn forces within the party: the half a million-strong party membership, and the trade unions.
Some on the Momentum wing of the party want the grass roots in the driving seat, with one-member-one-vote decisions on everything from MPs selections to council leaders to actual national policy. The ultras see trade unions, with their history of ‘fixes’ and ‘stitch ups’, as part of the problem not the solution. Remember way back in March, former NEC member Christine Shawcroft claimed union barons “stick it to the rank and file members, time after time”. Trade unionists believe this betrays a deep misunderstanding of Labour’s roots and some fear an existential threat to the historic link that connects the party to millions of working class voters. Brotherly, and sisterly, love is not always smooth and the Labour family is no different.
The power balance will be played out in several ways today, after what is seen as a last-minute attempt by the leadership and general secretary Jennie Formby to bounce the NEC into radical changes. As we report, MPs reselection is very much back on the agenda. Momentum and Labour International are pushing for ‘open’ or mandatory reselection contests. A compromise plan is being worked on to ensure trade unionists are not cut out of the process, but at the very least it looks like some steps will be taken to make it easier for members to trigger a challenge to sitting MPs. The behind the scenes haggling is intense and a decision may even be delayed until the weekend.
The Guardian has a different angle, revealing that unions could be given a stronger role in the leadership election nominations. An MP would only make it onto the ballot paper if they got the backing of 10% of MPs, 5% of local parties, and at least three Labour affiliates – where at least two are trade unions making up 5% of the affiliated membership. PoliticsHome has yet another line, with local government chief Nick Forbes warning again about plans for members to directly elect council leaders. Note that John McDonnell told me this month he backed the direct elections idea. Today is going to be busy on the NEC, that’s for sure.
2. RETURN OF THE MAC
When the Migration Advisory Committee (known to everyone in Whitehall has ‘MAC’) issued its interim report on Brexit in March, it warned that employers feared that they would lose key EU migrant staff who were more motivated and flexible than their British alternatives. This gets to the heart of the debate on immigration that dominated our EU referendum: some Leavers felt that firms wanted the easy option of importing skills rather than the harder task of training up UK-born workers; some Remainers felt this was as much about ‘motivation’ and work ethic as the smooth running of a market economy.
Today at 10am, the MAC produces its latest report after talking to more than 400 businesses, industry bodies and government departments. It is independent so can obviously come up with surprises (it has stuck by May’s preferred plan to keep students in migration targets, for example). Let’s see if it, or anyone else, can quantify exactly how much on average EU migrants contribute to the economy on average. Will it also give us any clearer stats on the vexed issue of whether EU migrants actually undercut UK worker wages, a claim some researchers say is baseless? The Government is still miles away from sorting its own immigration policy and today’s report will be an invaluable piece of evidence (possibly a protective shield, if it recommends a liberal approach) for its own future direction.
Elsewhere on the Brexit, Sir Vince Cable delivers his big speech on the final day of a Lib Dem conference. This is a gathering that has failed to really generate much media attention, largely because with just 12 MPs the party is back to the old days of having to say and do provocative things to make journalists sit up and take notice. Bang on cue, Cable has a pre-briefed line that Brexit was an ‘erotic spasm’ for Leave voters. More interesting yesterday were the clear tensions between No.10 and No.11 after Philip Hammond said “leaving without a deal would put at risk the substantial progress the British people have made over the last 10 years”. That one line risked upsetting the carefully calibrated PR operation of yesterday on a day of positive BBC coverage that comms chief Robbie Gibb could have only dreamed of.
3. CARRY THAT WEIGHT
We reveal that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s top aides has finally been granted her Parliamentary pass – after spending more than nine months waiting for one. Just days after HuffPost reported on her lack of security clearance, his Private Secretary Iram Awan was suddenly given the go-ahead. She had been coming in to work routinely on a visitor’s pass, an apparent breach of the strict rules forbidding such a practice and an investigation by the Commons authorities is still ongoing.
House officials will now have to explain why there was such a lengthy delay and why any questions about Awan’s application for a pass were not resolved sooner. But the Labour leader’s office are clearly irritated by the delay. A Labour source told me: “We are glad the pass has been granted. It is clearly wrong and damaging for there to have been such an unjustifiable delay.” A total of 41 people working in Corbyn’s office are listed on the Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants, but Awan was not among them as of last week.
Last Thursday, when the issue was raised by Tory MP David Morris, Commons Speaker John Bercow said: “My very clear understanding is that the matter has been resolved.” His office later said the Speaker had misspoken and that he had meant to say the issue ‘was being resolved’. Maybe the Speaker hadn’t misspoken after all, and following the publicity the matter was swiftly dealt with. Corbyn allies will want to know if this nine-month delay was due to specific circumstances or part of a wider systemic problem to sort backlogs. Unite’s Andrew Murray, who is a more occasional visitor to Corbyn’s office, is still not thought to have been granted a security pass.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Russian online influences are very much in the news. But this life hack video on how to create the perfect kebabs is kinda mesmerising.
4. COUNTY LIFE
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Ann Longfield, is making waves again today. This time she has a chilling warning that an epidemic of drug gangs is responsible for a child protection crisis which is as serious a threat as terrorism. She also said the true number of children being enslaved as drug runners in towns across the country could be as high as 50,000. The Mail has done some impressive work investigating the ‘county lines’ problem, where drug barons use children to operate a criminal network selling crack and heroin into provincial towns, and it splashes the story again today. Theresa May, who put ‘modern slavery’ on the map in the UK, will surely be looking at how to do more to combat this new scourge.
5. THE AI-S HAVE IT
The Guardian has a different take on the fightback against gangs that exploit children. In a fascinating report, it says predictive software has been assessing data on the lives of thousands of children, from their potential exploitation by gangs to their risk of not being ready for primary school. Tech giant IBM has been working with Brent council to try to predict which children were at risk, while Essex county council has profiled all of the children living in one of the wards of Basildon to try to identify those that might be unable to read or write. Artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics are being used to identify those susceptible to “gangs, CSE [child sexual exploitation], missing, education and youth offending”. There are huge moral and technical questions thrown up by all this, but expect it to feature increasingly in our public discourse.
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