Today’s Waugh Zone is by Owen Bennett
1) MegaTweet Diplomacy
Another day, another set of headlines that in normal times would signal a clamp down on Cabinet leaks, a resignation or three, and perhaps even a leadership challenge. But these are not normal times. Indeed, according to a senior Tory quoted in The Times, it’s “a bit end of days”.
The wonders of Twitter mean that while hacks of yesteryear had to actually call MPs and ministers up to get some sly backbiting, modern politicians are happy to let it all hang out online. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivered a virtual slapdown to his two deputy ministers yesterday by defending Jacob Rees-Mogg’s right to say the Tories could be split over Brexit a la Robert Peel and the Corn Laws. Brexit Minister Steve Baker decided to keep the row going this morning, adding his support to the Johnson/Mogg camp.
Theresa May will have to give a Harry Kane-level of performance at this morning’s Cabinet meeting to try to calm it all down, and this is before they are all locked away at Chequers later this week to actually debate what the UK wants from Brexit.
A so-called ‘third way’ on customs is being proposed, but much like England’s World Cup chances, it exists mainly in theory at the moment, and – again like our boys in Russia – we should know more about it by the end of the day.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt was on the Today programme this morning and tried her best to avoid pouring more fuel on the fire. But the Leave campaigner said she knew what kind of Brexit her constituents voted for and “I will be looking for that in the white paper published next week.”
2) Fuelling The NHS
It became one of the most symbolic policies of George Osborne’s time as Chancellor, but it seems the freeze on fuel duty could be about to come to an end.
The Guardian is reporting today that Government is considering an inflation-linked rise to the cost of fuel to help generate more cash for public spending.
The Chancellor is of course under pressure to write the NHS cheque the PM promised last month, and lifting the freeze could generate £800million for the Treasury next year. That falls far short of the extra £20billion-a-year funding May promised for the NHS by 2023, although it is estimated that since Osborne froze fuel duty in 2011 the Treasure has lost out on £46billion.
The political implications of such a move are risky. When Hammond tried to increase national insurance contributions from the self-employed in 2017, he was met with hostility from many of his own party, as well as an aggressive campaign by The Sun.
Another anti-white van driver policy will no doubt get the same reaction, but the Government may be more determined to ride it out this time, and could even rehash another memorable policy from Osborne’s time in No 11 – ‘we’re all in this together’.
3) Angela Rises From The Ashes
A rogue minister repeatedly threatening to resign unless the country’s leader doesn’t change one of her key policies – can’t the Germans get their own political script?
Angela Merkel is still Chancellor this morning after crunch talks with her interior minister Horst Seehofer over immigration.
Seehofer, who leads coalition partners the Christian Social Union party, wanted migrants who had already been offered asylum in another European country turned away from Bavaria – where the CSU is based.
Merkel reached a deal with Greece and Spain on Friday that any migrants stopped at the Bavarian border would be returned to those countries if that was where they were first offered asylum.
However, Italy – which bears the brunt of much of the cross-Mediterranean movement of people – has not signed up to the plan, which means a route up through central Europe to Germany is still open to thousands of migrants. Seehofer withdrew his resignation threat after talks with Merkel on Monday, where it was agreed that ‘transit centres’ would be established to process migrants asylum claims.
If it has been discovered that another country has already offered them refuge, that country will be asked to take them back. It’s hard to see how that drastically changes the status-quo, but it allows Seehofer to back down without losing too much dignity.
He had received a pasting in much of the German press for overplaying his hand – especially after Merkel secured concessions at the EU summit on Friday.
An editorial in Die Spiegel branded Seehofer’s behaviour as “childish”, adding: “Over the past few weeks, a handful of German certainties once thought to be eternal have been shattered. One is that the German national football team always does well in the World Cup. Another is that the CSU knows when to back away from a conflict with the CDU to prevent things from escalating too far.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch Dutch PM Mark Rutte do what many people would love to do - correct Donald Trump
4) A Tale Of One City
Today’s Waugh Zone is not only being brought to you by a different person, but from a different city. Usually when I step in for Paul, I write this bleary-eyed from East London, but this week, along with all my other HuffPost UK colleagues, I am in Birmingham as part of our drive to get out of the capital and listen to people around the country.
Our first day in the UK’s Second City was as interesting, revealing and, at times, as poignant as we hoped. Brummies were more than happy to walk into our pop-up newsroom located in the Bullring and tell us their stories - so keep an eye on our site throughout the next few days for some incredible tales.
One story of discrimination came from Birmingham student Cheyanne Arnold, who was turned away from a temping agency because she has dreadlocks.
The 22-year-old was told by TempTribe – which supplies staff to The Body Shop, Fortnum & Mason, Wembley Stadium and Capital FM - that her hair was unprofessional and did not meet the company’s uniform standards.
“It’s discrimination,” she said, adding: “My hair is part of me.”
It’s not just HuffPost UK in town this week, as the Local Government Association’s conference kicks off at the ICC this morning. Communities Secretary James Brokenshire will be appearing at a session this afternoon, but awkward questions could be reserved by Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward, who will welcome delegates at 1.30pm.
A joint investigation by HuffPost UK and Birmingham Live has discovered the City Council is failing its promise to secure affordable housing as part of new developments, barely achieving 10% of its promised 35% figure as developers exploit loopholes in planning regulations.
The latest data, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, shows that of the 4,768 houses approved for development in 2016/17, just 425 were lower cost housing.
5) ‘Et Tu, Len?’
As always, it’s not just Theresa May who has to have a head like an owl to keep an eye on the Brexit attacks coming at her from all angles.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will no doubt be saying ‘Et tu, Len?’ this morning after the Unite General Secretary said he would be urging his union’s members to back a second referendum at its conference in Brighton today.
Such a move could increase Corbyn’s Brexit woes from ‘headache’ to ‘full blown migraine’ as one of his staunchest supporters goes against party policy. It may well be that McCluskey – who has promised to use all his “influence and power of oratory” to convince delegates – is pushing at an open door.
A YouGov survey of Unite members published over the weekend showed 57% wanted a public vote on the final deal.
Corbyn addresses the conference at 12noon.
If you’re reading this on the web, sign-up HERE to get The Waugh Zone delivered to your inbox.