1. WHAT THE HUCK?
Last week was Jeremy Corbyn’s best ever PMQs since he became leader and his tough task today is to secure a straight hat-trick of wins against Theresa May across the despatch box. Will he keep up the pressure on Universal Credit, seizing on Iain Duncan Smith’s call for the ‘waiting’ period to be reduced? If this morning’s GDP figures are bad, will he pick the economy (Tory MPs were most unnerved that he scored a goal on this last week)? Will he risk a joke about the ‘Leninist’ Government whip who wants to find out who’s teaching what about Brexit in our universities? Will he taunt May about possibly ordering her MPs to abstain on the Opposition Day debate on a ‘dementia tax’? Sajid Javid’s call for borrowing to invest in housing, school sprinklers and the FT’s splash about more multinationals avoiding tax with overseas profits shifts, could feature too.
For her part, and in honour of John ‘Little Red Book’ McDonnell, the PM may be tempted to make her own cracks about the Chinese Communist Party having just elected its new standing committee. But one thing many Tories will want May to focus on today is the latest evidence of sexism (and hypocrisy) on the Left. Yes, the row over Labour MP Jared O’Mara could take centre stage at noon. The Sheffield Hallam MP is being investigated by the party for his “comments and behaviour” following a series of GuidoFawkes scoops about his alleged misogyny and ‘jokes’ about rape, homosexuals and Spaniards.
What stings particularly with several Labour MPs is that it is Guido, home to what they see as vile sexism (and not just in its comments section), that exposed this. Add in the exclusive about Labour MP Clive Lewis’s ‘get on your knees, bitch’ remarks, and you can see why they’re uneasy. Lucy Powell last night told ITV’s After The News programme that O’Mara should be suspended from the party pending the investigation.
Some Labour MPs are prepared to give O’Mara a second chance, as he finds out that your past online and offline can quickly catch up with you as an MP. Others mutter that he’s been an accident waiting to happen for months. In an interview with Huck magazine he blamed his “warped mindset” on “lad culture and football” and tried attack the Tories, saying “the very culture of Conservatism” doesn’t foster equality. That prompted yet more dismay among some in the PLP. Not least as hours earlier, former date Sophie Evans told BBC’s Daily Politics the MP had called her “an ugly bitch” just a few months ago. He categorically denies the remark. Some close to Corbyn think Labour MP Naz Shah was too swiftly suspended last year over an anti-Israel graphic she reposted on Facebook. She was subsequently unsuspended. Meanwhile, Tory MP Anne-Marie Morris remains suspended after using the N-word this year. Suspensions, and how long they should last, are thorny topics for the whips of all parties.
May is sure to ram home the fact that she’s the second Tory female PM, while Labour has never had a permanent woman leader. In the wake of the Weinstein allegations, she may also seize on the new BBC survey showing more than half (53 per cent) of women had been sexually harassed at work or a place of study. Some 63% were harassed but didn’t report it. As for Labour, MP John Mann tweeted yesterday: “I will be naming a Labour MP who behaved appalling towards a young woman”. The Sun reveals the MP implicated by Mann had been “extremely disruptive” during an overseas Parliamentary trip. Let’s see if any name emerges today.
2. DEEP, CRISP, EVEN
David Davis faces the Brexit Select Committee nice and early at 9.15am. He may be sorely tempted to issue an elegant rebuff to EU council president Donald Tusk, who yesterday tweeted that the three options open to the UK were “a good deal, no deal or no Brexit”. DD could point out that Tusk told us last year that the only alternative to “hard Brexit” is “no Brexit”, so his latest third-way option marks at least some progress.
In his interview with the Guardian, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says Brexit is “single stupidest thing any country has ever done”. That prompted a bit of a side-eye online, both from those who spotted he’d said exactly the same thing before in public and from Brexiteers unimpressed with foreign interference. To be fair to Bloomberg, the punchline to his ‘stupidest thing’ gag was “but then we Trumped it.”
But as those GDP figures emerge, employers are increasingly worried about Brexit prep and labour shortages. And we have an interview with UK Food and Drink Federation chief Ian Wright in which he warns of real problems. “Everyone I talk to is losing people and cannot replace [staff],” he says. “A guy I was with last week – he’s a medium-size crisp manufacturer. He runs three shifts, 24/6, they don’t work on Sundays, they clean the machines. Every shift he’s four or five down because he can’t replace them. It’s a big impact on productivity and a big impact on the capacity to produce stuff.” Forget Eurocrats’ bendy bananas, this sounds like a great British Crisp Crisis. Will it stir ministers to draft looser migration curbs?
3. HEAT ON HEATON-HARRIS
Tory MP and veteran Brexiteer Chris Heaton-Harris has until now been best known at Westminster for his so-bad-they’re-good puns (yes, I’m not the only one) on Twitter. “Past, Present and Future walked into a bar. It was tense” is just one example. But after his latest letter to university chiefs on Brexit, he’s now known for something else entirely.
Heaton-Harris’s letter to all universities, asking them to provide details of what was being taught about Brexit and the names of lecturers, was attacked by former Tory chairman and Oxford chancellor Lord Patten as “offensive and idiotic Leninism”. The row blew up because he’s a Government whip aad despite support from Andrea Leadsom earlier, No10 signalled its displeasure. The PM’s spokesman said she “has always been very clear on…her respect for the freedom and independence of universities” and the role they play in stimulating “open debate”.
But the PM’s respect for “open debate” in universities hasn’t always been clear to critics of her Prevent programme and other counter-terror plans to stamp out discussions among students about Islamist extremism in Syria and elsewhere. (Meantime, May opposes ‘no platform’ student union bans on the far-right). And yesterday Max Hill QC, the newish independent reviewer of terror legislation, again burnished his civil liberties credentials with a speech to the group Justice. Ministers should not “criminalise thought” with plans to prosecute people who view extremist content online, he warned. Supported by his Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, Corbyn’s instincts are with Hill, but will he be as explicit?
4. WHAT A CORKER
Our HuffPost US colleagues caused a stir in the 2016 Presidential race when they added an Editor’s Note to every story about Donald Trump, stating he was “a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther”. Well, on the lying front, that verdict is now shared by outgoing Republican Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake (don’t you love American surnames?).
Flake’s retirement speech was extraordinary, attacking Trump’s “flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons.” In an excoriating CNN interview, Corker said Trump was “utterly untruthful” and a danger to the world. Both urged their party and the public to “never regard as ‘normal’” the casual way the President was trashing the country’s standards. White House Sarah Huckerbee Sanders said it was “probably a good move” Flake was not seeking re-election and Trump was more popular. She may be right, but both Senators were more at risk from primary defeat by their own, Tea-Partied party grassroots than by Democrats.
Traditional Republicans like Flake and Corker worry about Russia’s role in Trump’s election. And the hot news overnight from San Francisco is that Twitter has new plans to more clearly label ‘political ads’, after hundreds of accounts shared in the 2016 election were found to have links to the Russian government. Note it is the threat of legislation that’s forced the firm to act. Theresa May, battling to stamp out extremist content, may take comfort from that. For his part, Corbyn could today again ask for Trump’s State Visit to be cancelled.
5. CLIMATE CONTROL
The BBC has offered a kind of apology for allowing Lord Lawson to declare unchallenged that global temperatures had not risen in the past decade. The Corporation’s complaints unit had concluded that the former Chancellor’s remarks in a Today prog interview in August “were, at the least, contestable and should have been challenged”, the Guardian reveals.
Lawson, who also falsely claimed he UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “has confirmed that there has been no increase in extreme weather events”, said global warming was “clap trap”. The Green Party had lodged an official complaint and the broadcaster was criticised by prominent scientists Brian Cox and Jim Al-Khalili, who said it was “irresponsible and highly misleading” to suggest major environmental threats were a debatable issue. Some in the Beeb want even tougher guidelines on the subject, to avoid the ‘fake balance’ often presented between non-scientists and scientists.