1. SNOW JOKE
It’s PMQs day and after winning business support for his Brexit vision, Jeremy Corbyn may be tempted to taunt Theresa May on matters European ahead of her own Big Speech on Friday. With a big snow dump now due up north at the end of the week, No.10 is urgently looking at alternative options for the venue. Corbyn, whose Instagram game is pretty impressive, was snapped chucking snowballs from the balcony of his Westminster office yesterday (two staffers took the pix). Will he lob a few curveballs at May today?
In case you hadn’t heard, Brussels will today publish its first draft text of the withdrawal treaty. The 120 page document includes a ‘backstop’ plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland by effectively creating a new border between Ulster and the rest of the UK. A senior Government source was firm overnight that was a non-starter: “The EU should be absolutely clear that the Prime Minister is not going to sign up to anything that threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK or its common market.”.
Corbyn could certainly exploit SkyNews’s cracking scoop last night, revealing a private letter from Boris Johnson to PM that hinted that he could indeed live with a ‘hard border’ in Ireland. Sir John Major threatens more trouble on the topic with a speech today and many think Boris’s Camden-Westminster border joke isn’t funny at all. But in fact, he reflects a hardening mood among Eurosceptics and the DUP on this very topic. Bernard Jenkin summed it up on Newsnight last night when he said: “If the EU wants a hard border, and they put stuff up at the border, that’s their problem. That’s not our problem.” And with the Irish economy dependent on frictionless trade, there are plenty who want to call the EU’s bluff. I was most struck earlier this month by the usually moderate David Trimble daring Dublin to impose border controls (in a little-noticed World at One interview). Ex Brexit minister David Jones told Today the EU was trying to ‘annexe’ Ulster.
And on other issues such as the role of the ECJ and the sequencing of the exit deal, transition and trade deal, some in Government think Brussels is in real danger of overplaying its hand. The perception that the EU is bullying the UK is likely to force May to dig in further to reassure her backbenches. Which brings us back to the big issue: does Brussels really want a ‘soft’ Brexit at all? Cooler heads on both sides think there’s a way through, although it will involve both complexity and compromise. Shivering commuters may disagree, but lower temperatures are often a good thing when it comes to high-stakes negotiations.
2. FOR THE JENNIE, NOT THE FEW?
Unite veteran Jennie Formby formally launched her bid to be Labour’s next general secretary yesterday and some heavyweight support was mobilised. The big question is whether Momentum founder Jon Lansman will also apply for the top job, especially as some think he may split the Left vote on the NEC. One Unite source told me yesterday: “It would look terrible if yet another senior Labour post went to a man.” There’s huge pressure on Lansman not to stand, and I understand John McDonnell has personally urged him to back Formby. Today we may find out if Tony Benn’s former campaign chief shares his late boss’s dogged determination.
Despite a concerted (one source says ‘frantic’) ring-round, just seven MPs so far appear to have responded to a plea from the leader’s office to tweet support for Formby (with the hashtags #forthejennie and #jennieforGS). And as I revealed yesterday, Monday night’s Left caucus conference call held back from supporting her. Lansman’s allies think he should run to provide a broader contest and stand up for more democracy and an end to ‘union stitch-ups’. Some claim that the CWU and others on the NEC may not back Formby. Most telling of all was today’s Morning Star, which has not come out for her, as some expected. It cites a source saying the NEC wants “a number of different, good candidates all from the Left.”
Notable in Formby’s leadership pitch yesterday was a line pledging to stamp out anti-semitism. The general secretary may have to swiftly oversee the Ken Livingstone case, as the next NEC meeting is set to finally start a much-delayed new investigation into what Corbyn called his ‘grossly insensitive’ remarks. Amid the noise over the Formby/Lansman speculation, what got lost was that at Monday’s PLP meeting MPs warned of “departures” from the party if Ken’s suspension was lifted. And with Jewish voters key to some London wards, taking Barnet Council could even be put at risk. Senior sources stress Livingstone is highly likely to be properly investigated.
3. BASIC PITCH
Town halls across the land are setting their council tax bills and tonight Tory-run Northamptonshire County Council meets to approve a budget that could leave it running only the most ‘basic’ services. The council claims it is a victim of “severe underfunding” and yesterday the BBC revealed the local authority’s own warning that its adult social services are on the “edge of being unsafe” with 2,000 unassigned cases.
Ahead of the local elections in May, Jeremy Corbyn could highlight the case in PMQs today (he may surprise us by not going in on only Brexit) as part of his wider attack on austerity. But he could also raise the Chancellor’s own local council of Surrey where the Tory leader declared: “We’re facing the most difficult financial crisis in our history. The government cannot stand idly by when Rome burns.” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says this is “a major humiliation” for Philip Hammond.
Sajid Javid, who is responsible for both council funding and housing policy, has a lot on his plate. We have an exclusive that nearly 100 towers and multi-storey apartment blocks in England and Wales have failed fire safety checks since the Grenfell Tower blaze. The stats emerged from rarely-publicised notices published by fire authorities. Separately, we also reveal that Javid has decided to “surrender” £72m in affordable homes cash as it was deemed “no longer required” this year. Labour’s John Healey has pounced.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this extraordinary video of a motorcyclist whose bike slides under a huge lorry. He’s damned lucky to be alive.
4. LABOUR TOO
The #MeToo movement swiftly spawned a #LabourToo campaign late last year and today we see the first dossier of claims sent to Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s HQ. The campaign, whose founders have stayed anonymous to protect themselves and their families, has published testimony that it says is “genuinely distressing to read”.
The dossier says Labour women have been raped, groped and harassed by men within their own party - with one MP alleged to have preyed on a drunken teenager. One said she was harassed at a Christmas party as an intern by a married male MP. If you thought this story had gone away, think again. There are quite a few MPs facing serious allegations of both harassment and bullying and something tells me it is set to explode pretty soon. The anonymous team behind the dossier blogs exclusively for HuffPost today HERE.
5. CHEERS AND BOOZE
Tory vice chairman Ben Bradley hasn’t a had an easy time of it lately, and yesterday his retweets of his apology to Jeremy Corbyn passed the 54,000 mark (more than retweets even than Donald Trump’s latest ‘crooked Hillary’ missive). But the man put in charge of Conservative youth activism, may be able to drown his sorrows as we reveal a new CCHQ scheme to drink with MPs in exchange for campaigning for the party.
In an email seen by HuffPost UK, Conservative Central Headquarters (CCHQ) wants MPs to host drinks receptions and arrange trips to Parliament for young members who campaign and help with “local work”. The ‘MP Patron scheme’ is being spearheaded by the Tory vice-chair for Youth Engagement Ben Bradley as part of a drive to revitalise the party’s youth wing after it was suspended in 2015. Two months on from Bradley’s appointment, a soft launch looks like the approach they’re taking.