The Waugh Zone Wednesday January 24, 2018


It’s PMQs day again and Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May certainly have plenty of ammo to chuck at each other. The PM may choose to highlight Labour councillors comparing Labour’s NEC to ‘the politburo’, or even the party’s differential charging for white and non-white members (James Cleverly and Andrew Bridgen have pushed the issue hard). For his part, Corbyn could make hay with more post-Carillion revelations, including Chris Grayling’s admission the Government had not taken a ‘sensible approach’ to the ‘overambitious’ Virgin East Coast mainline bid. The Labour leader could even pounce on the PM’s failed Donald Trump handshake, with the White House last night announcing President Macron, not May, would get the first state visit to the US. “He connected with Macron — not with May, not with Merkel,” a U.S. official tells the Times, in a killer quote.

Yet Corbyn must be most tempted to hammer home the NHS and tie it to Boris Johnson’s frosty reception in Cabinet yesterday. He could follow up on Jon Ashworth’s line to HuffPost that Boris “bottled it” at Cabinet, and didn’t even demand the extra £100m a week for the NHS his allies had spent so much time pre-briefing. Corbyn could even work in a gag about the Government’s new ‘anti fake news unit’ (see below) needing to look at not just Johnson’s Vote Leave battlebus promise, but his new £5bn pledge as well. Thankfully for May, Boris won’t be on the frontbench: he’s conveniently out of the country for the rest of th week.

Boris certainly got a kicking in the meeting, with eight fellow ministers telling him his leak (though not the plan itself) had been a mistake. Those present say he looked suitably chastened as his isolation became obvious (only Michael Gove made a lukewarm crumb of support). One minister even speculated to the Sun “Is Boris preparing to flounce out of the Cabinet?” (his allies deny he is).  And yet in the long run Johnson did what he’s best at: sketching out in primary colours his big idea of using a Brexit dividend to give more cash to the NHS.  

Note too that the Foreign Secretary bounced May into revealing in Cabinet there will be a new spending review next year (normally the Treasury would make such an announcement) that will give more to health, housing and education. He may be drunk on his own ambition, yet I bet he will raise a glass of ‘told you so’ beer if Hammond does unveil more money next year. 

The real cost was his isolation – and given you need Tory MPs’ nominations to have a crack at leader, not being seen as a team player is perhaps Boris’s most fatal flaw of all.  To adapt his own analogy, the Tory leadership rugby ball may well ‘come loose’ from the scrum. But he needs a team to help carry it over the line.



Our hot news from yesterday’s meeting of Labour’s ruling NEC was an unprecedented move to urge Haringey council to pause its controversial public-private development plan, pending local mediation. In what some present felt was an ‘ambush’, but others felt was long-overdue, the meeting was urged to act on an overnight letter from 21 councillors (passed to HuffPost) calling on the NEC to intervene.

As soon as NEC member Jim Kennedy tabled his motion to halt the proposals, there was a flurry of activity among the party’s compliance unit to check whether the motion was in order. Following resistance from some on the NEC at the idea of the party’s national body effectively ‘instructing’ a Labour council to change policy, the motion was amended. I’m told Jeremy Corbyn himself recommended that Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne be given the task of mediating between rival councillors, allowing the NEC to vote unanimously on the compromise. A senior party source said: “The NEC has agreed to advise Haringey Council to pause the plans if mediation processes do not bring about a resolution.”

Some on the left think this is an audacious move to seize on the Carillion collapse and tap into local unease about public-private regeneration plans. But centrists are furious. Haringey leader Claire Kober insisted last night said her plan offered “the only viable option for building new homes…sitting on our hands achieves nothing.” Fellow Cabinet member Joe Goldberg was more blunt: “I serve the people of my borough first not my party – regardless of what the politburo say.” With deep splits locally, it looks inevitable the mediation will fail.  Momentum-backed councillors have helped drive the opposition to the plan, though the group insists the issue is not a left-right one.

And speaking of Momentum, founder Jon Lansman has told the Independent that Momentum “nationally” will not target MPs for deselection. “We are not going to campaign to deselect anyone, at all, anywhere. No Labour MP that works hard and campaigns and listens to their members has anything to fear from the selection process.” Some MPs note the careful language (“nationally” and “campaign”), which they say allows Momentum locally to indeed push deselection. They also note that Lansman also didn’t rule out changes to reselection rules to lower the threshold for a challenge.



The FT’s front page carries its shocking undercover report on the annual men-only charity dinner run by the secretive Presidents’ Club. Journalist Madison Marriage was among 130 ‘hostesses’ at the black-tie event. All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned. Marriage told Newsnight: “I was groped several times….Hands up skirts, hands on bums, hands on hips, hands on stomachs, hands going round your waist suddenly..”

As well as City financiers and business bosses, the event was also attended by newly-appointed Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi. Newsnight’s Nick Watt says he had been invited to the dinner by a non-executive director at the Department for Education, David Meller. Zahawi “left this event early, because he felt it was a bizarre and uncomfortable event,” Watt reported. (Curiously Zahawi also told ITV ’I didn’t stay long enough to really comment on the occasion.”) And there’s more: apparently a senior member of David Cameron’s top team attended the same event in a previous year, while a Cabinet minister.

It seems this event has been hiding in plain sight for many years, and the Harvey Weinstein scandal seems not to have altered its conduct one jot. Last night, an eagle-eyed Twitter user dug out a City diary piece from the Indy reporting on the dinner in 2010: ‘“The boys tucked into the girls,” confesses my man on the inside, before adding swiftly: “after I’d left.”’  The event undeniably raises lots of money for good causes, and among the auction items was ‘lunch with Boris Johnson’ and ‘tea with Mark Carney’. Both of them may want to now distance themselves from the event unless guarantees can be given about the ‘hostess’ treatment.

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “Those who are worried that women’s confrontation of sexual harassment has gone too far and turned into a ‘witch hunt’, look no further…Men like host David Walliams, David Meller, who sits on Sadiq Khan’s Fund for London and co-chairs the charitable trust, and Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi and Labour peer John Mendelsohn, who were on the seating plan, need to ask themselves some searching questions.” Women and Equalities committee chair Maria Miller tells the Guardian: “If business leaders are simply paying lip service to equality issues then perhaps it’s time the government gives the Equality Act some real teeth.”  If Mendelsohn wasn’t there, I wonder if Corbyn will raise this at PMQs?



Watch this teenager’s 60-yard shot win the game as the buzzer sounds in a girls’ high school basketball match. The reactions afterward make it.



No.10 decided to tell us yesterday afternoon two important developments from the usually secretive National Security Council meeting: there will be a brand new defence review (‘Modernising The Defence Programme’) and the Government is setting up a new anti-‘fake news’ unit (the ‘National Security Communications Unit’.

In an irony not lost on anyone, the announcement of the comms unit (whose task will be “combating disinformation by state actors and others”) acted as a neat distraction from the cold hard fact that Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has forced No.10 and the Treasury into tearing up their current defence cuts plans.



The environment is finally getting the attention it deserves, not just from the Government and Opposition in Westminster, but also from local city mayors who can actually play a big role. As part of HuffPost’s new ‘Killer Air’ series, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tells us it’s ‘shameful’ that air pollution has been ignored for so long, and it has overtaken passive smoking, obesity and alcohol as to become ‘the defining public health issue of our time’.

There is hope and signs the tide may be turning. Now weeks into January, London has still not yet breached its annual legal limits for NO2 (it was breached by January 6 for the last 18 years). From India to Mexico, our global project will draw on HuffPost international editions across the globe. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tells us: “It’s going to take a lot of resources. It’s going to take public education. It’s going to take community organizing. But this is the way of the future if we’re going to save our Earth.”


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