1. CAVEAT EMPTY?
The Commons returns with both Theresa May (see below) and Jeremy Corbyn facing disquiet and dissent in their respective ranks. The main event for Labour will be the meeting of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) this afternoon as it tries to come up with a position on anti-semitic abuse that can help unify the party.
Of course, many in the Jewish community have seen too much this year to ever consider voting Labour while Corbyn remains leader. No matter what the NEC does, their minds are made up. But it’s the wider public that the party hopes it can persuade and those close to Corbyn tell me they know that the issue has had ‘cut through’. Even though few voters know the details of what constitutes a ‘definition’, ‘examples’ or ‘addenda’, they know Labour has failed to sort a problem with racism within its own ranks.
Allies of Corbyn were struck by this piece in the Guardian this summer by Jewish academic Brian Klug, that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) paper was meant to be a ‘working definition with working examples’. A lot has happened since then and adoption of all the examples is now likely, but the big sticking point may be the ‘caveat’ or clarification drafted today to allow free speech and criticism of Israel. Gordon Brown’s call for the IHRA paper to be adopted ‘unequivocally’ is backed by many MPs, who think any addendum will undermine the bigger attempt to build bridges with the community.
Jon Lansman and others on the NEC’s anti-semitism working group sound like they want a form of words to expand on the free speech issue. This is so sensitive that the actual wording has not yet been given to NEC members in their agenda papers prior to today’s meeting, and a verbal update from the working group is expected instead. It’s what Lansman says, rather than ‘loudmouth’ Pete Willsman (re-elected yesterday), that matters most. Before the full NEC, the disputes committee meets this morning. Jackie Walker, the activist caught by HuffPost making controversial remarks on anti-semitism, won’t be among the cases, as she has already been referred to the disciplinary NCC body. But others are due be discussed.
Don’t forget the Democracy Review is the other item on the NEC agenda today (it got just 20 mins discussion last time). I had a leak in July of the full recommendations in the 81-page report, but most telling was the absence of mandatory reselection. There is instead a reference to boundary review selections that some MPs see as the backdoor to wider problems, though the party insists this is just a tidying up exercise to prevent re-runs off selections of target seats already done in the past year.
Even though only around 20 or so seats have MPs at loggerheads with their local party, reforms to selection rules are very much a cause for concern among the PLP. It was significant indeed yesterday that Corbyn himself sounded very open to Momentum’s idea of ‘open’ selections. He told ITV News: “Clearly there have to be some changes and more democratic accountability”. That’s the next battle, even if an uneasy truce emerges on anti-semitism today.
2. RAAB SEES BREXIT
Dominic Raab is due to make a Commons statement this afternoon to update the House on his recent talks with Michel Barnier. Of course, it will be the backbench interventions rather than Brexit Secretary’s words that could yield the real story. Indeed, we may learn just as much from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Hilary Benn, whose Brexit Select Committee met the EU negotiator in Brussels yesterday and shared his assessment that the PM’s Chequers deal has some serious flaws. MPs are sure to ask Raab about claims in the Sun by ex-No.10 chief of staff Nick Timothy, who claims Philip Hammond is ‘itching’ to make the EU a ‘generous offer’ on free movement of migrants in return for a good trade deal. Expect black belt Raab to deliver a karate chop to that idea.
Long before all that excitement, at 10.15am the Brexit Department’s permanent secretary Philip Rycroft appears before the DExEu Committee. Will Rees-Mogg and other Tories quiz Rycroft on his time as Leon Brittan’s aide in the European Commission in the 1990s? Brexiteers, who often accuse civil servants of ‘going native’ in Brussels, seized last year on the fact that ex-EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers had worked for Brittan too. Rycroft, who has shown nothing but impeccable impartiality, is sure to be asked when we will get more of the ‘technical’ notes about a no deal scenario. No.10 yesterday told us they weren’t expected this week.
The mood music and tactics of both Tory Brexiteers and Remainers will be worth watching today. I’ve covered 20 years of Lobby briefings and I’ve rarely heard as brutal and public a smackdown as that dished out by the PM’s spokesman to Boris Johnson yesterday. Declaring he had ‘no new ideas’ and pointedly contrasting the former Foreign Secretary with May’s “serious leadership”, No.10 sent a stark message to backbenchers that the gaping hole in Brexiteers’ plans left them with little option but to back her complex compromise. Rees-Mogg, however, is delighted by the ‘Chequers or no-deal’ framing by No.10.
Will Boris up the ante again, repeating his Telegraph lines in the chamber, allowing them to be clipped and shared virally. Will this be a mere h’ors d’oeuvres for his Tory conference menu of complaints? He has an unlikely ally in Remainer Justine Greening, who yesterday told Radio 4 that Chequers was more unpopular than the poll tax. As I said yesterday, Nick Boles’ Norway-then-Canada compromise is getting more support by the day, not least from Amber Rudd (though Politico’s Tom McTague has an impressive list of serious problems with it).
Heidi Allen told Newsnight “If Boris was leader, I doubt very much that I would be in the Conservative Party”, and you can bet Anna Soubry and others would follow suit. The people you rarely see quoted are the mass of Tory backbenchers who just want Chequers to be given a chance. Will some of them get up in the chamber today, when May needs them most? Cabinet meets this morning, with the PM thankful that sceptics like Fox, Leadsom, Gove and Grayling are sticking with Chequers.
3. HATERS GONNA WAIT?
Stella Creasy has tabled amendments to the Voyeurism Bill (aka the ‘upskirting’ bill) that try to effectively make misogyny a hate crime – by giving courst the power to consider a wider hatred of women an aggravating factor in any sentencing. The Times quotes Mark Stephens, a human rights lawyer, saying: “What about equality? Should hatred of men also be considered a crime?”
The Guardian revealed at the weekend that the Law Commission supports the spirit of Creasy’s amendment. Her wider aim is to get greater sanctions for all conduct that reveals a hatred of women. HuffPost reported earlier this year on how Nottinghamshire Police have been pioneering a new approach, recording unwanted advances, cat-calls, comments and gestures made towards women. Girls as young as 12 and women in their 60s have all reported abuse to the force.
Theresa May, who saw the PR disaster of backbencher Chris Chope blocking the Voyeurism Bill before the summer, has to work out whether she wants to just signal sympathy with the Creasy move or actually adopt her plans. Will campaigners have to wait before a bigger debate is had? MPs get to decide tomorrow, but I will have an update this morning on the latest stage of this story.
4. STOP, IN THE NAME OF SAJ
After his warnings to internet firms about child abuse images yesterday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid is set to get more attention today with plans to allow police more powers to stop and search those suspected of carrying acid, laser pointers and drones. The Times points up the contrast with Theresa May’s own crackdown on stop and search when she was at the Home Office, though it’s perfectly possible the PM fully supports the limited reforms Javid is backing, while sticking to her wider stance on the disproportionate stopping of young black men.
Inevitably, many will wonder if this is another plank in a future Javid bid for the Tory leadership. It’s true that he’s broken away from the May regime at the Home Office, from removing the migrant doctors cap to showing more compassion on use of cannabis oil. Yet with his brother Bas a superintendent in the West Midlands, Javid is also clearly keen to show he understands the thin blue line’s concerns at the rise in violent crime. One thing’s for sure: he’s his own man. Most importantly, he staunch loyalty to the PM (he backed her up on Boris’s lack of a plan for Brexit yesterday) allows him to buy some leeway on issues in his brief.
5. REHAB: NO, NO, NO
Drug-related deaths in the UK are rising each year, but council spending on rehab centres has been slashed by up to 58%, HuffPost reveals today. As part of our ‘Austerity Bites’ series this week, we cover the closure of Chandos House in Bristol following “swingeing austerity” cuts. It’s left the city without a single residential rehab centre.
Analysis by HuffPost UK found that over two-thirds of councils who responded to an FOI request have budgeted to spend less on residential rehab and detox services. Some local authorities have made significants cuts this year, including Bolton which has cut the budget by 58%; Lambeth, which has cut its budget by 57%; and West Sussex and Leeds, which had both cut budgets by 54%.
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