1. SKILL SET
It’s the first PMQs for months and Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May have more than enough to get their teeth into. May is sure to seize on healthy statistics on jobs and manufacturing. For his part, Corbyn could pick up on any of the following: Grenfell, a Tory MP suggesting sex abuse claims are driven by money, the quiet shelving of an NHS waiting target, calls for McAlpine to be stripped of the Big Ben refurb, the rise and rise of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
But Brexit, and specifically the Guardian leak of the Home Office’s new plans for immigration post-2019, may well dominate (Anna Soubry has the first PMQ, folks). There’s lots to unpick in the 82-page document and it feels as though it was leaked by Cabinet ministers determined to ensure the full public glare will excise the bits they don’t like.
On one level, the idea of some kind of work permit system is no surprise. It has long been expected as May tries to deliver on what she sees as voter demands for lower migration, while keeping business as happy as possible. But the detail of this paper is fascinating, not least the revived idea of ‘British workers first’. The key line that migration ‘must benefit local residents’, not national GDP, is central to the May worldview of this topic. Will Philip Hammond and Greg Clark see the ‘skills tax’ as the best way of allowing firms to keep hiring migrants? Will a numerical cap be remotely workable? Does Amber Rudd (who got a 2016 conference kicking over ‘name and shame migrant-employing bosses’ plans) really believe this stuff? (The Times has a source saying: “This [document] was drawn up by Home Office officials still working to Theresa May rather than Amber Rudd. She has been working to modify this significantly and it is not where the government is any more.”)
Much of the focus has been on unskilled worker curbs, but we pick up on the fact that highly skilled workers (doctors, engineers etc) would face being kicked out after just three years. And on unskilled staff, there are plenty of ministers who agree with George Osborne that there is next to zero evidence that migrants are undercutting pay of Brits. The only research that came close was the Bank of England’s paper, analysis of which reveals higher migration led to a 1% drop in pay over eight years – a pinprick compared to the wider causes of record wages stagnation (see below).
Labour’s response on this has been fascinating, with Diane Abbott very careful to say: “Labour wants fair rules and reasonable management of migration in accordance with the needs of our economy and our values as a party.” She is on record as being a firm believer in free movement and this debate on what that means is now only really beginning in the party. While the Tories are split ideologically on Brexit, Labour is often split geographically, with northern heartlands and London seats giving very different views. Let’s see how Corbyn words his party’s stance today.
2. MOMENT UMMM
Corbyn may try to prod May today by saying how much more secure his own position was as party leader. He could even have fun with her ‘I’m not a quitter’ quote from the Japan trip.
But most wounding of all would be to quote Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench Tory 1922 Committee, from yesterday’s Daily Politics. Brady effectively put May on probation by saying a PM’s authority is “always subject to the support of colleagues”, adding she had such support “at the moment”. Damian Green told Politico yesterday that May was likely to lead the party into the 2022 election. But asked if he was happy for her to do so, Brady said: “Absolutely - if my colleagues are then I am.” ‘At the moment’, ‘if’, it’s all very conditional, lukewarm, tepid support.
The FT quotes one former cabinet minister: “The Conservative parliamentary party has made two decisions. The first is that we don’t want another election, preferably ever. The second is that she won’t lead us into an election when it comes.” But Tory MPs may be cheered by the Times story that the PM is to abandon the manifesto pledge to cut the number of MPs by 50, fearing a rebellion. Many felt it odd that May included the Cameroon pledge at all, but the prize of 15 or so more Tory seats was tempting. No10 sources point out any change would require new legislation.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tells the Guardian that May’s ‘on and on’ line was “a wonderful announcement”. “The best thing she could have possibly done. It boosted support for the Labour party overnight and caused absolute disarray in the Conservative party.” As a new IPPR/Archbishop of Canterbury report lays bare record wage stagnation, McDonnell warned that on public sector pay there would “inevitably” be strikes despite Government hints of “divide and rule” pay hikes for some nurses.
3. EXIT, LEFT
While May is held hostage by her own MPs, Jeremy Corbyn is not hanging around in using the general election to entrench his authority and his new style of politics in the Labour Party. The mass membership is overwhelmingly pro-JC, the PLP and Shadow Cabinet have rallied round and the NEC no longer challenges him. For some Corbyn allies, the only missing piece of the transformation jigsaw was an unreformed Labour HQ.
And last night, I reported on a significant departure, with veteran elections official Patrick Heneghan handing in his resignation. The Executive Director of Elections, Organisation and Campaigns, Heneghan is a true party veteran, having served under Blair, Brown, Miliband and Corbyn.
Within Labour circles, his decision to quit is big news indeed, as he is expected to be replaced by someone closer to Corbyn’s worldview. Ex-Unite official and current campaigns man Niall Sookoo is one name mooted. General Secretary Iain McNicol, who has come under intense pressure from leftwing activists, is next in the Left’s sights, though many MPs desperately hope he stays on.
Corbyn’s grip on Labour is certainly tightening. His uncompromising reshuffle and sacking of Remainer rebels, his plans to replace Shadow ministers’ speeches with more delegate time at conference, and the possible leadership rule changes, all point to a leader and a leadership team who are seizing the moment to change Labour for the long-term.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Stormzy describe Theresa May as a “paigon” (liar, as opposed to ‘pagan’) at the GQ Man of the Year Awards last night. Jeremy Corbyn had just handed him his award.
4. MOGG HORN
The Jacob Rees-Mogg bandwagon keeps on rolling on. Last night the Commons’ favourite young fogey held a Q&A with Tory activists. And he spent an hour trying to play down Tory leadership speculation while constantly fuelling the Moggmentum (and he has a Momentum-style following) with humblebrags.
Yes, he gave the usual formula of “I am not a candidate, there is not a vacancy”, but anyone familiar with Boris Johnson’s non denial denials knows how empty such phrases are. The most significant thing was the way he refused to rule out running for the top job – and showed a crafty approach to the very question.
Asked by Guido’s Ross Kempsell if he would “categorically rule out” ever putting himself forward for the job, Rees-Mogg quoted Jim Hacker, the central character in Yes Minister who wanted to, and eventually became, prime minister. Here’s the key quote: “I remember Jim Hacker’s answer from Yes Minister. ‘I have no ambitions in that direction but if my friends and colleagues advise me that in some humble capacity I could serve my country’, that of course that meant ‘yes’.”
The #JRM4PM mania got a boost earlier when ConservativeHome’s members survey yesterday made him the favourite of activists as their choice for next Tory leader (22% to DD’s 15%). But what provoked most ‘urghs’ online last night was when Moggy joked about his own virility. Asked how to boost the Tory youth vote, he replied: “I’ve done my bit by having six children”.
But Mogg’s Catholicism may now fatally harm his chances. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, he set out his opposition to abortion and said he believes it should not be an option, even after a woman has been raped.
5. GRENFELL TRAUMA
As Robert Peston pointed out yesterday, it was depressing the way a full House for DD’s Brexit statement appeared to empty for Sajid Javid’s Grenfell statement.
The fallout from the disaster continues and yesterday David Lammy told MPs that Grenfell survivors face a mental health crisis as they struggle to cope with the enormity of the tragedy. Lammy, who lost a close friend in the fire, said the grief begun to “really kick in” and survivors were talking of “self-medicating”.
The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show reported have been 20 suicide attempts among survivors and news that 220 people have been referred for treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Yvette Greenway from the charity, Silence of Suicide, told 5 News she is currently working with a woman whose partner took his own life after losing a friend in the fire.