1. JEREMY’S JEWISH PROBLEM
It’s the first PMQs for months but Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn know that the main topics that dogged them before the summer (Brexit and anti-semitism) are still with them today. Soon after yesterday’s NEC meeting, some Labour MPs hoped that the party’s fractured relations with the Jewish community could now at least start to be mended. Lord Dubs, a Jewish refugee and in many ways the conscience of the party on these issues, said last night the Labour had ‘turned a corner’. There’s no PLP meeting until next Monday, but today’s PLP vote on the IHRA definition is now a foregone conclusion.
What’s around the corner remains unclear. I’ve done a full report on what happened at the NEC HERE, including an analysis on how Momentum’s Rhea Wolfson and other Left reps (and Jon Lansman too, according to one source) apparently swung the meeting after expressing concerns. When it became clear that Corbyn’s longer statement would not command formal support in a vote, no vote was called. A shorter, more general statement was agreed that the adoption of the full IHRA definition would “not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”. This was not much different to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s own caveat, so some moderates on the NEC were baffled by ‘overreaction’ to it.
Yet Corbyn’s own longer statement (and a spokesman stressed the NEC ‘welcomed’ his statement) is very telling about his own thinking. It includes a highly controversial line that it should not be considered anti-semitic to describe Israel’s foundation as ‘racist’, and that ‘both Zionism and anti-Zionism have always had honourable proponents in our movement’. Many British Jews (and Labour MPs) regard anti-Zionists as a minority fringe and so it’s no surprise the Jewish Leadership Council was scathing once the Corbyn statement was leaked.
On the Today programme, Dame Margaret Hodge said that the progress achieved had been had been ‘sullied’ by Corbyn’s longer statement, though she added “I want this to work”. Shami Chakrabarti said “there was no sullying…the words are true [that the IHRA definition doesn’t prevent free speech for critics of Israel]”. And the Shadow Attorney General hit back at former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s claim that Corbyn could be compared to Enoch Powell. Corbyn’s words about Zionists and ‘irony’ had been “misquoted and misrepresented and spun”. As an Asian growing up in 1970s Britain she added “I remember the real Enoch Powell”, not the “hyperbolised” comparison made by Sacks.
Much of this comes down to the foreign policy views that Corbyn has held for many years – and how much he’s prepared to trim or compromise on them now he is leader, given that he has to take his party with him. His criticism of Nato and his support for Irish Republicans were shared by many on the Left, but never Labour policy. His opposition to Trident will never be policy either, as long as the trade unions have a say. But given that the party will now ‘consult’ further on yesterday’s statements, will the anti-semitism row rumble on? A newly-elected NEC after conference could revive Corbyn’s full statement with a vote, if he really wanted to push it. The question is whether he will.
2. BREXIT PREP TALK
Expect Theresa May at PMQs to highlight the GMB’s decision to back a second referendum on Brexit, declaring Labour’s ‘union paymasters’ want to foil the ‘will of the people’. Of course, if its biggest union paymasters, Unite, were supporting a ‘People’s Vote’ then that would be a major deal. But with local Labour parties clamouring to get the party to vote formally at conference that the idea is ‘on the table’, will Corbyn hit back with disunity in Tory ranks about Chequers? Justine Greening’s ‘less popular than the poll tax’ jibe may be irresistible for Corbyn, who famously ended in court for refusing to pay Thatcher’s community charge.
Brexit-backing former Bank of England governor Mervyn King has meanwhile given the BBC a corker of an interview in which he attacks “the incompetence of the preparation” for a no-deal exit from the EU. He says it ‘beggared belief’ that the world’s sixth-biggest economy should be talking of stockpiling food and medicines. John McDonnell says: “Mervyn King has hit the nail on the head.” The ex-governor blames both civil servants and politicians for the failure. But surely the blame really lies with David Cameron, who could have authorised the civil service to conduct a thorough risk assessment of ‘no deal’ or other Brexit scenarios back in 2015/16? As for ’Merv the Swerve’s own lack of prep for the 2008 financial crisis, we have to wait until next week’s instalment.
One of the most newsworthy lines from yesterday’s Lobby briefing on the Cabinet meeting came when we were told Jeremy Hunt and Dom Raab had seen a ‘warm and positive’ response ‘from European capitals’ to the Chequers plan this summer. Now Politico has a scoop that Brussels is fighting back at the divide-and-rule tactics of the British, with the European Commission last week warning member countries against allowing their officials to attend a series of bilateral seminars on Brexit put on by the government in London. This morning, Andy Burnham has a big speech in the capital. He’s calling for Article 50 to be extended if a no deal Brexit looks unavoidable.
3. BOUNDARY ISSUES
The whole issue of ‘upskirting’ is back on the agenda as MPs vote on the Voyeurism Bill tonight. After the PR disaster of ‘dinosaur’ Sir Chris Chope blocking a private members’ bill, Theresa May and minister Lucy Frazer have tried to seize back the political initiative. But both face a new challenge from Labour on the wider issue of whether misogyny should be made a ‘hate crime’. The party wants not just upskirting but cat-calling, wolf-whistling and other street harassment to be outlawed.
As we revealed yesterday, the Labour frontbench have decided to back Stella Creasy’s amendments, with a full whip. The Government look set to whip against, but to avoid any knife-edge votes could there be a compromise that allows the Law Commission to look at the issue as part of a review? Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler made clear a Labour government would certainly do so, and this issue is sure to resurface. Watch for Maria Miller’s amendments on the distribution of upskirting images, this could cause as much trouble.
Boundary issues of a more literal Parliamentary form will also feature today as the Boundary Commission hands over its final report to the Government at 10am. Labour are furious that ministers may sit on the recommendations for a week, giving the Tory party a possibly unfair advantage. Insiders expect a vote after conference season and No.10 remains confident it can slash seats to 600 in changes that are worth a crucial 20 or so Tory seats at the next election. But will the DUP sign up to five-yearly reviews that could see demographic change whittle away their own seats? Peter Bone tells the Mail that at least 10 Tories will vote against the plans on ‘principle’. Yet again, the PM’s lack of a majority could be the key.
4. CRIMINAL CUTS
As part of our ‘Austerity Bites’ series, we report on claims that eight years of austerity have left the UK’s police forces so stretched that officers are spending half their time “apologising to the public” for being unable to effectively deal with victims of crime. “Almost every aspect of what we do, we do less well than we would have done were it not for austerity,” said Sergeant Simon Kempton, a Police Federation rep who has been an officer for 18 years.
From a pre-austerity peak of 144,353, the number of officers in England and Wales has fallen by 16 per cent – a total of 22,424 fewer officers on Britain’s streets and in its police stations. But what is it like working as part of a slimmed-down police force? We talked to current and former officers and PCSOs to find out. Earlier this year, police told some local residents in Birmingham that if they were unhappy with the service they should raise it with their MP. So to add to housing, immigration, schools and other issues, police cuts are landing more on the doorsteps of Parliamentarians, it seems.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has surveyed its members and found what it calls a crisis in provision for pupils with special educational needs thanks to cuts to school and health and social care budgets. 94% of respondents find it harder to resource the support required to meet the needs of pupils with SEND than they did two years ago. Some 83% say they are not getting a penny of funding from health and social care budgets to support the most vulnerable pupils. The DfE says more money than ever overall is going into schools, but that sidesteps the issue rather than answers it the union says.
5. POWER OUTAGE
Labour’s Lisa Nandy is at the Compass ‘21st Century Power’ event tonight and will make what looks like a fascinating speech. The backbencher will say that Brexit “was a vote against the crushing nature of modern society that denies millions of people the right to make meaningful choices about the things that matter to them”. The Tories have allowed power to remain in the hands of the few, while the Lib Dems fail to grasp the true cause of the Leave vote, she’ll say.
But it’s her words on Labour that sound the most radical. She says the party wants to build ‘a state powerful enough to equal or outgun the power of the market’. “But this is a path alien to our traditions – of Hardie, Tawney, Cole, Bevan, Attlee and Young. A Party that began in mutual and burial societies and resisted state interference in the labour movement, through the Dockers Strike all the way to the 1970s. That sees power in a state that defends redistribution and power in markets that defend contracts but understands that organised society is the defender of reciprocity and relationships and must not be dominated or destroyed.” There’ll be much more of this tonight. On another note, we have a blog from former minister John Denham on research that voters who identify as English are far more likely to describe Labour as ‘far left’ than the electorate as a whole.
Generation Rent’s hopes of getting more power look like being dashed, as the Sun reports James Brokenshire’s plans for three-year tenancies are being killed off by No.10 and the Treasury (and housing developers). Meanwhile, the Mail has attacked Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for backing IPPR plans to get the wealthy to pay more tax to help the poorest. A new gifts tax would replace inheritance tax. A SkyData poll this morning finds many more people (49%) believe that the economy works unfairly than fairly (22%). 64% of under-35s think the economy works in an unfair way, and 72% think it has become more unfair over the last decade.
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