The five things you need to know on Tuesday, November 29…
1) WALKING COMMENTARY
More than a few ministers will be arriving for Cabinet today with their private papers bound closely to their chests. Many will try to ignore Steve Back, the long-lens photographer whose beady eye has repeatedly caught out ministers, top cops, officials and aides who carry secret memos into and out of No10.
The PM insists she won’t give a running commentary on her Brexit negotiating stance, but thanks to Back’s latest photo, Tory MP Mark Field’s aide Julia Dockerill gave us a walking one, as she breezed from No9 Downing Street (David Davis’s office) to No.10, carrying a summary of notes on Brexit.
Yes, The Thick of It was more prescient than many thought (in one episode, fictional minister Nicola Murray’s private scrawl of ‘Quiet Bat People’ was caught by a snapper) and given current desperation for any clues to May’s stance on Brexit, the feeding frenzy last night was inevitable.
One No10 source texted last night: “She’s not a Government employee, it’s not a Goverment document and it doesn’t represent the UK’s position in relation to Brexit negotiations.” But it looks very much like Dockerill was taking notes as DD spoke to Field – who has the title Tory Party Vice Chairman (International) – in a private meeting.
The stand out phrase was of course “what’s the model? have cake and eat it”, a reference to Boris Johnson’s belief we can keep much of our trade with Europe while curbing migration. The contents will be unsurprising to those who know DD, but will worry Remainers. Other key phrases were “We think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered single market” and “looking at a Canadian deal” But I think the most significant were “ECJ [European Court of Justice] and control of borders won’t fit” and “Transitional [deal], loathe to do it”.
Quizzed about the memo, Business Secretary Greg Clark told Today: “I was interested and amused…it doesn’t reflect any of the conversations I have had.” On cake-and-eating-it, he added: “It would be nice to have but it’s not the [Government] policy”.
Meanwhile, the FT splashes on Europe playing hardball. ECB chief Mario Draghi warned that Britain, rather than the eurozone, will “first and foremost” feel the pain of Brexit. The World Staring Championships have only just begun.
2) KIP, KIP FORAY
New UKIP leader Paul Nuttall’s election yesterday certainly sent shivers of fear down the spines of many northern Labour MPs. And it’s no wonder. Nuttall’s victory speech was a perfectly crafted (did I detect the hand of his new ‘principal political adviser’ Patrick O’Flynn?) and effectively delivered declaration of war on Jeremy Corbyn and all his works.
“My ambition is not insignificant: I want to replace the Labour party and make Ukip the patriotic voice of working people,” Nuttall declared, and got lots of prime time telly for saying so. Corbyn was more interested in “dinner party” topics such as climate change and fair trade than immigration, crime and social mobility, he added. Corbyn and McDonnell’s links to the IRA were a key feature too.
Labour’s first reaction was to put out an attack ad highlighting Nuttall’s remarks from a few years back where he praised ‘the whiff of privatisation” of the NHS. But this plunged many Labour MPs into despair, with one telling me “This NHS stuff didn’t bloody work at any point in the last few years, it won’t work now”. Only a new approach to migration can fend off the Kippers, many think. And as the Times points out, the much-forgotten Sleaford by-election next Thursday is a test where UKIP wants to push Labour into third.
Twitter never seemed so Millennial or so out of touch yesterday as many pointed out how Nuttall looked like Eddie Hitler from the sitcom ‘Bottom’. Our resident Kipper expert Owen Bennett warns Labour that ridiculing Nuttall is unlikely to work.
In an embargoed huddle with hacks, Nuttall added that “I genuinely believe that I can grow this party, not just in terms of membership, but that I can turn 12-13 per cent to 26-30 per cent”. And he set a “double figures” target for the number of MPs he would win at the next election.
But while a united UKIP under Nuttall can do serious damage to Labour’s core vote in the north, getting even a handful of MPs may be a tall order. And don’t forget the high stakes here for its future existence. If Brexit does indeed occur within the two-year timetable, the UK will cease to have any MEPs from 2019. That means UKIP will lose all its ‘national’ politicians and be left with 400 local councillors, and no council leaders. It then risks being no more than an impotent protest vote.
And some Labour insiders believe that Jim McMahon’s Oldham by-election victory proved how best to combat the Kipper threat: choose more working class candidates with strong local roots. I’m told that early on in that contest, Oldham canvassers changed their doorstep message to reassure those worried about national anthem singing (or lack of it): ‘this is not about Jeremy Corbyn or London, this is about Oldham’.
The Sun has some research by UKIP expert Professor Matthew Goodwin, showing the main Labour targets in its foray into northern heartlands: Alan Johnson, Gloria De Piero, Caroline Flint, Jon Cruddas, Tristram Hunt and Rosie Winterton all feature. They all have seats where 50% voted Leave in the EU referendum, and where Ukip are already in second place, or a close third.
3) LOYAL BLAIR FORCE
More trouble ’t mill last night at the Parliamentary Labour Party (read my account HERE). The main event was meant to be Keir Starmer delivering an update on Brexit, but it was quickly clear that MPs were angry about the Corbyn leadership on something else entirely.
Ben Bradshaw and Pat McFadden were furious at weekend reports that ‘senior’ party figures were set to vote for Wednesday’s SNP motion targeting Tony Blair over Iraq. The motion, which claims Blair misled Parliament because of the Chilcot note to Bush (‘I’ll be with you, whatever’), also had a one-line Labour whip. Jon Cryer, the PLP chair, made a passionate speech that he had been a fierce critic of Blair on Iraq but he had not lied to Parliament.
In a highly unusual move, Chief Whip Nick Brown asked for a show of hands for Bradshaw’s call for a three-line whip (which means anyone voting to target Blair will be disciplined) to gauge the mood. A forest of hands went up, including Starmer and Barry Gardiner, sources claim. Shadow Cabinet will be informed today of the mood.
For good measure, MPs were also irritated by Corbyn’s weekend praise for Fidel Castro’s “heroism”. Some wanted to know why Emily Thornberry was being sent to the funeral, when her opposite number Boris Johnson wasn’t. They also wanted to know the cost, and whether the taxpayer or the party was paying for the air fare.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Driving a car across a bridge in South Africa can have its hazards. Watch this angry hippo.
4) EATING THE PREDATORS?
The hot news this morning is that telecoms watchdog Ofcom has said BT must legally separate from its Openreach network division after it failed to address competition concerns. Even though Ofcom is independent, ministers will be pleased by the coincidental timing as it looks like big business under Theresa May finally being forced to respond to consumer worries.
Business Secretary Greg Clark is set to deliver to Parliament today his consultation proposals on corporate governance and the main message is that big private firms will be forced to uphold the same standards as publicly-listed ones. The Government press release even lists the ‘good’ firms it likes: PWC, Ernst and Young, Deloitte (yes, the one behind that unsolicited Brexit memo) and KPMG.
Having seen his letting fees crackdown nicked in the Autumn Statement, maybe Ed Miliband will feel aggrieved that his infamous ‘predators/producers’ schtick is now being purloined too. Miliband failed to name “predators” at the time, although one aide said “You’ll know when you see one”. And since then Sports Direct, BHS and others have entered May’s crosshairs.
Meanwhile, maybe the Government could do more about dangerous high street beasts and how to find them. White goods rental firms such as Brighthouse are denounced by Citizens’ Advice today as a rip off for poor families. Guess which Labour MP led the fight against Brighthouse in recent years? Jim McMahon.
Clark was on Today suggesting binding shareholder votes may or may not be every year: not quite the ‘annual’ hints from Team May in the summer.
5) FAT FIGHTERS
Will the Vale of York clinical commissioning group go down in history as the beginning of serious rationing of care for patients who are fat and smoke?
The CCG (the acronym for Andrew Lansley’s great gift to the nation of NHS reorganisation) wants to restrict all routine non-urgent operations for the obese by upto 12 months, and smokers by upto 6 months. And now NHS England has agreed on the grounds that the restrictions will help to “treat those most in need”.
The Times puts the story on its front page precisely because a third of all CCGs have similar but less extreme curbs and the Vale of York decision could open the national floodgates in a bid to save money. The Royal College of Surgeons said NHS England had given rationing “the thumbs up at a national level”.
Meanwhile, the lack of new NHS or social care cash in the Autumn Statement continues to reverberate. NHS Providers (which represent trusts) chief Chris Hopson will today tell its annual conference the health service is heading towards “a long, slow, inexorable decline.”
The Guardian picks up one Brexit-related quote from a trust chief in a NHS Providers survey: “Brexit has caused drying up of recruitment from the rest of Europe.” Widespread worry about the NHS’s workforce “concerns me more than the money”, said another local health chief. Jeremy Hunt addresses the conference tomorrow.
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