Nuttall goes offline / Trump's problem with intelligence
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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday February 16 2017
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning,
Who would be a politician? You're constantly under pressure from journalists to say interesting things, and when you do they go to great lengths to prove you've lied.

And when you reach the top, even your own spies are out to get you. While all political leaders try to convey an image of professionalism, calm and strength, behind the scenes things are very different.

This week's two-part Red Box podcast with three former spin doctors is a must-listen if you want to know what it's really like working in the thick of it.
Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
The dangers of going dark
Theresa May makes a rare appearance for the cameras, at Captain Shaw's primary school in Bootle, Cumbria (Jack Hill/The Times/PA Wire)
Imagine, for a moment, that David Cameron is still prime minister: In the last week he's told us that John Bercow was wrong to attack Donald Trump.

We've heard that David Beckham is a terrific ambassador for the country who deserves one day to be granted the highest of honours. Mr Cameron has led tributes to Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, congratulated Adele on her Grammy haul and Beyoncé on her pregnancy. We're heard his views on the risks of heading a football, kissing Diane Abbot and smuggling courgettes.

Catch the prime minister in the right mood, and he'd probably have backed Prue Leith to host Channel 4's Bake-Off.

What have we heard from Theresa May? Nothing. Zilch. Nada. She ventured in front of a camera briefly yesterday and was caught grimacing in front of schoolchildren and probably went home thinking, 'Why do I bother?'. The rest of the government has been near-silent too, with the exception of a Liz Truss speech on prisons and Philip Hammond playing with the spies at GCHQ.

Downing Street could set the news agenda, it is just choosing not to. The grid is kept empty, no stories or speeches briefed. A decision was taken after the Article 50 votes to "go dark" during this recess week, leaving political journalists strumming fingers on their desks and idly speculating about who will land the political editor jobs at the Mail and the Telegraph.

The lucky ones went to Stoke, to witness firsthand Paul Nuttall's transformation from Working Man to Walter Mitty. The unlucky ones schlepped all the way to Copeland to see the prime minister being whisked into a school and then away again.

Traditionally a fully-functioning opposition would step up during a recess, rattling out tales of waste and woe, incompetence and corruption at the heart of the government, to keep the news pages filled. We do not have a fully-functioning opposition.

No 10 is right when it says it is not its job to "feed the beast". It takes its cue from the prime minister who remains uninterested in the media, not unreasonably believing it to be her job to get on with running the country. Ever the leader, even on her seldom used Twitter account she follows no one. Some journalists who have been used to a steady stream of prepackaged offal from the Downing Street sausage machine are feeling starved.

No 10 is also right to argue that the strategy is working: the polls suggest that voters quite like it if they don't see the prime minister on the TV every night forcing them to come to an opinion on everything.

But there is a trade-off to be made. No 10 might have gone dark, but that just means journalists shining their spotlight into the darker corners in search of news.

Business rates revaluation has gone from the specialist industry press to appearing on front pages every day this week, in large part because of the absence of anything else. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the policy, Mr Hammond is now under pressure to be seen to do something about it in the budget in less than three weeks.

The i newspaper has run a good series this week on the state of the NHS, highlighting planned hospital and A&E closures. The Daily Mail is cross about plastic bottles. The Guardian's front page today tells us Winston Churchill believed in aliens. Sky News has been debating the perils of having the same lunch every day.

Something always fills the void, not always to the benefit of the government. If the strategy starts damaging the PM, expect it to change.

Until then, we've been warned to expect to spend more time in the dark. And that light at the end of the tunnel is just next week's Lords debate on Article 50 hurtling down the tracks. Oh good.
Thursday's best comment
David Aaronovitch
Being offended is often the best medicine
David Aaronovitch – The Times
Iain Martin
Ukip’s great success will be the death of it
Iain Martin – The Times
Trump’s true believers are feeling the heat
Justin Webb - The Times
Why Stoke is make or break time for Ukip
Alexandra Phillips - The Guardian
Paul Nuttall should know that truth matters to those who still grieve for Hillsborough
Jane Merrick - The Independent
Today's cartoon from The Times by Peter Brookes
You say to Nato
Donald Trump's position on Nato is often cited as one of the US president's great political outrages, when in fact it is uncharacteristically reasonable.

The benefit of being in the Nato club is that if a member is attacked or threatened, everyone else comes to their aid. The price is that everyone spends 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. Except most don't. In fact aside from the US, only four countries (including Britain) meet the target.

James Mattis, the US defence secretary, yesterday delivered a blunt message to those who don't pay up that they cannot count on American taxpayers to pick up the bill for their protection, which doesn't seem unreasonable.

Quote of the day
Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do
James Mattis, US defence secretary
Trump's problem with intelligence
President Trump accused America’s intelligence services of plotting against his administration after it emerged that members of his campaign had often been in touch with senior Russian spies before the US election.
Read the full story >
Tweet of the day
The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence" like candy. Very un-American!
Nuttall goes offline
Well this is one way to ensure no more past statements come back to haunt him: Paul Nuttall's entire website is now "offline for maintenance".

The damage of his claims about Hillsborough has been done though. And just to keep the story going, Arron Banks, one of Ukip’s most prominent supporters, has caused anger by saying that he was “sick to death of hearing about” the disaster, in which 96 football fans died.
Read the full story >
Adolf, you're needed
Nuttall can at least take comfort from knowing that somewhere there is an election candidate in even more of a mess. Elena Roon, a candidate for AfD, Germany's upstart party, sent a photograph of Hitler to a WhatsApp chat group with the phrases: “Missed since 1945” and “Adolf please get in touch! Germany needs you!”.
Read the full story >
Spads calling
Special advisers are not allowed to campaign in by-elections during office hours, which is why tonight a group of them will be hitting the phones after work to call voters in Copeland to drum up support for their candidate, Trudy Harrison. The offer of drinks afterwards has helped to increase numbers.

Mark Wallace has an interesting piece on ConservativeHome, where he says the expectation that the Tories will win Copeland disguises problems with the party's campaign machine.

Red Box: Comment
Daniel Finkelstein
By-elections do matter, but not for the reasons you think
Daniel Finkelstein – The Times
Rates of change
Another day, another serious warning about the impact of the hikes in business rates in England: universities face paying millions more in tax as a result of a big rise in their business rates, with Manchester university, Nottingham and Warwick expected to be the worst hit. Read the story

Meanwhile, business leaders have warned that Scotland’s business rates system could collapse under the weight of appeals if companies take the government’s advice and challenge huge increases in their bills. Read the story
Red Box: Comment
Alfie Sterling
Business rates revolution risks a perfect storm for social care
Alfie Sterling – IPPR think tank
Podcast: When photo ops go wrong
In part two of this week's podcast special with three former spin doctors, Jo Tanner recalls trying to move Boris Johnson from a stall selling crotchless panties, Stewart Wood remembers Ed Miliband's bacon sandwich and #Blackbusters gaffes, and James Holt tries - and fails - to explain why he got Nick Clegg to film a shot-by-shot recreation of Carly Rae Jepsen's music video for I Really Like You.

Plus: how do you protect your boss from a leadership challenge?

Listen to the podcast:
Claiming a fair share
When the Brexit divorce happens, Britain knows it will have to pay a settlement, but until now did not know if it would get to keep a share of the house or even some of the CDs.

However, Bruegel, an independent think tank in Brussels, has made the first attempt to estimate the scale of the EU's assets, placing them at €152.5 billion. And Britain wants its share.
Read the full story >
Keep parma and carry on
In perhaps the most Guardian story ever, the paper reports on fears over the mis-labelling of champagne and parma ham after Brexit.
Kenny survive?
Enda Kenny has described Brexit as a “direct threat” to the country’s economic prosperity.

But the Irish taoiseach faces a threat much closer to home: two senior ministers are urging Fine Gael to prepare for a general election in a challenge to his leadership.

Neuberger bites back
Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, has accused sections of the press of "undermining the rule of law" in coverage of the Article 50 case which saw the judiciary branded "enemies of the people". He tells the BBC: "We were certainly not well treated."
Policy problem never knowingly undersolved
Council care homes, public transport providers and other local services could be spun out into John Lewis-style co-operatives, under plans being put forward by Andy Street, the retailer's former boss now running to be the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands.
Read the full story >
Red Box: Comment
Jane Brophy
We must pay more tax to bring our health service together
Jane Brophy – Liberal democrat candidate for Greater Manchester
NHS overspends £1bn
Hospitals are on course to overspend by almost £1 billion this year - almost twice as much as hoped and raising fears that patient care will suffer in the desperate search for savings.
Read the full story >
Red Box: Comment
Andrew Haldenby
NHS leaders need the tools to make radical change
Andrew Haldenby – Reform think tank
Employment at record high
There are now more vacancies in the jobs market than people claiming unemployment benefits, in a sign that the economy remains buoyant.

There are now 31.8 million people in work, up 300,000. However, the increase was attributed to the number of foreign-born workers rising by 431,000 to 5.5 million.
Read the full story >
Battle over Labour's rules
Jeremy Corbyn's opponents want to see him quit before rules are changed which would mean any future leadership candidate would only need 5 per cent of Labour MPs to nominate them to get on the ballot paper. Richard Angell from Progress, who opposes what has become known as the McDonnell amendment, debated it with Chris Williamson, a pro-Corbyn MP, for the LabourVision website.
Also in the news
The Sketch
Opposing sides cannot even agree about what divides them
Patrick Kidd
Patrick Kidd
It began with what sounded like the purring of an alarm clock, one set not too loud in case it woke you up, and ended with prayers. General Synod has little of the sound and fury that we get in the building on the other side of Westminster Abbey. Even when debating something as contentious as same-sex marriage, the church is more civilised than the Commons.
Read the full sketch >
From the diary
By Patrick Kidd
Mayor needs a feline touch
Every leading politician has a cat. Theresa May has Larry, Boris Johnson has Palmerston and Philip Hammond has Gladstone. Even Jeremy Corbyn has El Gato, who is surely only one reshuffle away from becoming shadow foreign secretary. Now Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, is being urged to get a chief mouser for City Hall. The place is riddled with mice. “It’s not uncommon to see them running boldly round,” says Tom Copley, a Labour assembly member. If Khan does join the kitty club, what name would he choose? Whittington seems appropriate for a London mayor.
Read more from the TMS diary >
What the papers say
The Times
"Plainly Europe not only has to dig deeper in its pockets but also play a more concerted role in rethinking how to defend the West." Read the full article

The Daily Telegraph

"Instead of looking at ways to make it more costly to hire freelancers, ministers should narrow the gap by making it cheaper to employ staff on regular contracts." Read the full article

The Guardian
"Freedom of speech is precious. But it is not an inalienable right to bully, threaten and belittle others into silence without consequence." Read the full article

Daily Mail
"[Philip Hammond] should curb the state's insatiable greed for ever more cash to fritter away – and lift the tax burden on businesses nationwide. Or is he, like so many of his predecessors, intent on killing the geese that lay the Treasury's golden eggs?" Read the full article

The Sun
"The UK needs an immigration policy that works for all Brits, not just those who want to get rich on cut-price labour." Read the full article
  • One in ten parents blame short rental tenancies for unsettling their children, according to the housing charity Shelter.
  • Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, holds a second day of meetings with Nato defence ministers in Brussels. Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary-general, gives a final press conference at 1pm.
  • David Jones, the Brexit minister, speaks at an Enterprise Forum event.
  • The application process opens to fill vacancies on the UK Supreme Court.
  • 9am: Justine Greening, the education secretary, speaks at a conference for the Chartered College of Teaching.
  • 9am: Roundtable breakfast event on the impact of Brexit on the labour market, hosted by the Demos think tank.
House of Commons & House of Lords
  • Parliament is in recess and will return on Monday, February 20.
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