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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday April 27 2017
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning from Birmingham,
The Tories don't expect to make many inroads in London but here in Britain's second city and its suburbs there are several Labour seats under threat.

There is talk here that in some areas up to a third of Labour voters are now "undecided". Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart's seat, and Birmingham Northfield are both expected to turn blue, so attention turns to Erdington, which is held by Jack Dromey and is the birthplace of "Erdington conservatism", the political philosophy of Nick Timothy, the PM's chief of staff and Chamberlain fanboy.

You won't find Jeremy Corbyn on many Labour leaflets here and his mayoral candidate will not be seen with him. The Labour leader will be very visible though — in the Tory campaign.

Today's slot in declare Corbyn a national security threat with a straight face falls to Boris Johnson, who describes him as a "mugwump" while also having to defend his own claims about sending £350 million to Brussels. The foreign secretary says that he has no regrets, though a new poll suggests that more than half of people now think that Brexit is wrong.

I would ask you to help out with news from the campaign frontline but apparently it is so easy to ignore an email that scientists have shown that people are 35 times more likely to accede to a face-to-face request. I'll pop round later.
Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
Nothing to do with me
Jeremy Corbyn campaigning in Birmingham last week but his own candidate to be West Midlands mayor stayed away (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Imagine if in the 2015 general election, Boris Johnson had refused to say that David Cameron would make a good prime minister. (He might have thought he himself would make a better one, but that's a different point.)

Johnson is out and about this morning, exclusive to all outlets, warning that Jeremy Corbyn poses a real and present danger to the nation. The real threat he poses is to the Labour party.

Last night I chaired a Red Box/Times Plus event in Birmingham on the race to be the new West Midlands mayor. With Times columnists Matthew Parris and Jenni Russell, we were joined by the two leading candidates: Andy Street, the Conservative candidate, and Labour's Siôn Simon.

While a lot of the talk was about devolution and, in Simon's phrase, "taking back control" from Westminster, the most striking thing was the way in which the Labour candidate sought to devolve himself entirely from Jeremy Corbyn.

I asked him several times to say whether Corbyn would make a good prime minister. He point-blank refused. "It's got nothing to do with the election we are having here." It's got a lot to do with it, a disaffected Labour voter in the audience said.

Last Tuesday, the day Theresa May called the election, Corbyn was in Birmingham. Simon was nowhere to be seen. He insisted that he had had no contact with his leader and would not campaign with him. "We don’t need London politicians to come and patronise us or give us a bit of grace. I don't do national politics," he said, adding that he did not need Corbyn’s “stardust sprinkled on us".

Stardust is one word for it. A new YouGov/Times poll today shows that only 18 per cent of people think that Corbyn would make the best PM. Staff in Labour headquarters are planning to strike if Corbyn tries to cling on after a large defeat.

Simon wants a unilateral declaration of independence from Westminster, with the West Midlands given the same control on spending as the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales.

"Devolution will apply to government and it will apply to political parties," Simon insisted. We are seeing this across the country, with Labour candidates desperately trying to sever all connections with Corbyn.

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP in Exeter, issued a pubic plea to voters not to hand May his seat — an island of red in a sea of Tory blue. "You are not electing a party leader or a government," he writes on Devon Live. "Supporting me in Exeter will not affect who governs nationally."

The challenge all Labour candidates face is that the onset of the general election campaign means that Corbyn is on the TV every day, and with each appearance, it is feared, he deters another batch of voters.

It is every man and woman for themselves. The Guardian reports that the Tories have the likes of Tom Watson, Liz Kendall and Lillian Greenwood in their sights.

Next week's local elections have inevitably been overshadowed by the vote on June 8 but they will give us a clear indication of the scale of the crisis engulfing the Labour party.

Andy Street can't quite believe his luck. The prime minister personally asked the John Lewis boss to run for the West Midlands role, and campaigned with him on Saturday. He hopes to translate the surge in the national Tory poll ratings — still a 16-point lead in today's YouGov survey — into a shock win next week.

Dubbed the Trump of the Midlands (because of his business background, not because of any plans to build a wall and make Wales pay for it), he hopes to ride the wave of public disaffection with "career politicians". He has been bolstered by the apparent backing of Labour peer Lord Bhattacharyya, a prominent figure in the region’s industrial sector.

A few months ago Labour thought that it had the West Midlands in the bag. Now they say that it is neck-and-neck. It shouldn't be: in the police and crime commissioner elections last year Labour won by 26 points. In the 2015 election Labour had a lead of about nine points.

Turnout will be key, and Labour candidates know they are struggling to persuade voters to head out next Thursday to put a cross next to the party led by Corbyn. Their best hope to is say: He's nothing to do with me.
Red Box: Comment
Andrew Carter
It would be a mistake for May to stall Osborne’s devolution progress
Andrew Carter – Chief executive at the Centre for Cities
Katie Ghose
Metro mayors fall into one principle demographic: white men
Katie Ghose – Electoral Reform Society
Apologies to mugwumps
Boris Johnson did the morning media round on the back of an article in The Sun in which he says that voters might think that Jeremy Corbyn is a harmless "mutton-headed old mugwump" but that in fact he poses a grave threat to the nation's security.

On ITV's Good Morning Britain he faced claims that he was not using diplomatic (or particularly clear) language. In case you were wondering, Johnson revealed that he borrowed "mugwump" from Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. "I apologise to mugwumps everywhere for inadvertently comparing them to Jeremy Corbyn." It actually originates as a description of someone who left the Republican Party to support the Democratic Candidate Grover Cleveland in 1884.

He also brushed off suggestions that he has been sidelined in the campaign: "I have not been kept under wraps."

However, the line of questioning in all his interviews goes to show why some are nervous about Johnson taking a high profile role in the campaign. Again and again he was asked about the £350million finger on the side of his Vote Leave bus. He stands by it: “When we take back control it will of course be possible for the government of the day to use this cash on the priorities of the country which could include the NHS.”

Surely more pressing than mugwumps is what the foreign secretary is doing to prevent world war three. On BBC Breakfast he was asked what he would say if Donald Trump called up and said that he was going to launch an attack against North Korea. He replied: "We don't think a military strike is likely to be successful."
Thursday's best comment
David Aaronovitch
Let us forgive Farron his U-turn on gay sex
David Aaronovitch – The Times
Jenni Russell
Chilled-out students let the privileged win
Jenni Russell – The Times
Why Tories should fear a May landslide
Iain Martin - The Times
Tim Farron’s being bullied over his beliefs
Ann Widdecome - Daily Express
At the last PMQs Corbyn showed he has the character for the fight
John Rentoul - The Independent
Today's cartoon from The Times by Peter Brookes
Bregrets, we've had a few
More people think Brexit is wrong than right for the first time since the referendum, according to a Times poll which shows the Tory lead in advance of the election has shrunk in the past week. Read the story

The Mail reports that Richard Branson is bankrolling Gina Miller's campaign to oust MPs who support Brexit. There's no going back, though: the Express reports that the EU has already wiped Britain from the map.
Read the full story >
Back of the queue
Maybe Barack Obama was right. The Trump administration has given its strongest indication yet that Britain is sliding back in the queue to strike a free-trade agreement with America.
On the campaign grid
  • Theresa May campaigns in the East Midlands and Yorkshire.
  • Jeremy Corbyn will use a visit to Harlow to attack Tory failures to build more homes, highlighting figures showing that Labour councils build nearly 1,000 more homes on average than their Tory counterparts.
  • Labour has now promised to spend the windfall from reversing cuts to corporation tax eight times. Read the story
  • Tim Farron uses a speech in Cambridge to attack Labour over Brexit, declaring: "Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer will be remembered as the two people who have failed Britain in its hour of need."
  • Nathan Gill, the former Ukip leader in Wales, told BBC2's Newsnight that "for the first time ever, we have more ex-members than members".
  • Paul Nuttall's party might field as few as 100 candidates at the election, The Sun reports.
  • Alex Salmond says that the SNP will try to force the prime minister to agree to another independence referendum if Scots vote for the party in “overwhelming” numbers in June.
Red Box: Comment
Jon Ashworth
Taking good care of NHS staff will mean better results for patients
Jon Ashworth – Labour MP for Leicester South and shadow health secretary
Comings and goings
Esther McVey, the former employment minister who lost her seat in 2015, is back as the Tory candidate for George Osborne's vacated Tatton seat, which comes with a majority of 18,000. Osborne described her as a "one-woman northern powerhouse".

Zac Goldsmith
has been selected to try to win back Richmond Park, which he lost to the Lib Dems last year.

The Lib Dems have withdrawn from the race in Brighton Pavilion to give the Green MP Caroline Lucas a clear run for the anti-Brexit vote.

Peter Lilley, the former Thatcher cabinet minister, used PMQs to announce that he was standing down.

Labour has selected Blair McDougall, a mastermind of the Better Together campaign, as its candidate for East Renfrewshire, the party’s top target seat in Scotland.
Tweet of the day
"coalition of chaos" #drink
No payouts if the boss loses
Almost all the employees of the 192 MPs who arrived in the Commons in May 2015 or subsequent by-elections stand to receive no payout if their boss is ousted at the general election.
Read the full story >
On the Ward
In less than 24 hours Tim Farron went from saying that Lib Dem candidate selection was nothing to do with him — he is only the party leader — to sacking David Ward, the former MP accused of antisemitism who had hoped to stand again for election. At least the row has stopped everyone asking Farron about gay sex.
Read the full story >
‘Biased’ BBC reporter is booed
Hundreds of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn booed Nick Robinson, the Radio 4 Today presenter, after he was accused by Ken Loach of Tory “bias” and not being fit to interview the Labour leader.
Read the full story >
Tory infighting: the movie
A new BBC drama documentary is to tell the story of the Conservative Party’s 2016 leadership campaign, from the day David Cameron resigned to the moment Theresa May became prime minister, Radio Times reports. As Times colleague Sam Coates asks: "Who will play Andrea Leadsom? And who will play Rachel Sylvester?"
Red Box: Comment
Gideon Skinner
May’s striking ratings suggest that she will outdo her predecessor
Gideon Skinner – Head of political research at Ipsos MORI
The Sketch
Tories get extra time at crease
Patrick Kidd
Patrick Kidd
It takes a brave Speaker to stand between an MP and his lunch but John Bercow was in no rush to draw stumps on this parliament’s final prime minister’s questions. PMs used to get away with 15 minutes twice a week but Mr Bercow kept Theresa May going for almost an hour before letting her loose on the campaign trail. A small act of kindness to the nation.
Read the full sketch >
Don't have nightmares
If there is one question that has dominated the general election campaign so far it is surely: what would the party leaders look like if they were the opposite gender.

Well now we know, thanks to Faceapp, a new app which can also make you look older or younger. Unfortunately a setting to make you look more attractive has been branded racist.
Read the full story >
Drug giants threaten to quit Britain
The pharmaceutical industry has issued an unprecedented warning that the world’s biggest drug companies will abandon Britain unless the NHS receives an extra £20 billion a year. Lisa Anson, who takes over as president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry today, told The Times that the financial squeeze on the NHS threatened the whole of Britain’s £30 billion life sciences sector because firms would reconsider working in the UK.
Read the full story >
Also in the news

From the diary
By Grant Tucker
Crisis management
Neil Kinnock gave a talk at the Centre for Opposition Studies on Monday night and claimed to be the only person who could give a precise date to the span of their mid-life crisis. “Mine lasted from about 5pm on October 2, 1983, to about 2pm on July 18, 1992,” he said. “That was my period as leader of the Labour Party.” If Corbyn clings on after an election trouncing perhaps Labour members will accuse him of having an afterlife crisis.
Read more from the TMS diary >
What the papers say
The Times
"Some senior Tories are said to think that, because inflation over the next couple of years is expected to be high anyway, the economic benefits of ditching the triple lock are meagre compared with the political costs. The reverse is true." Read the full article

The Daily Telegraph
"The Conservatives aim to secure a big majority and that seems to be all but certain judging by the opinion polls. But that needs to be underpinned by a good turnout; and that needs a lively campaign to attract the attention of voters. Boris is good at that. He deserves much more than a cameo role and should be used as often as possible." Read the full article

The Guardian
"Not since 2001 has an election campaign begun with the government so confident of success, nor an opposition so resigned to defeat." Read the full article

Daily Mail
"This paper accepts that the internet has brought myriad advantages to humanity. But with the spread of cyberfraud, fake news, terrorist training videos and ever more extreme pornography, it has also given rise to countless social ills." Read the full article

The Sun
"We never thought Ed Miliband’s sums added up. At least he’d done some. Jeremy Corbyn and his Marxist mob aren’t even bothering with the maths as they churn out ever more outlandish promises in a panic at voters abandoning their sinking ship." Read the full article
  • Liam Fox, international trade secretary, meets Roberto Azevêdo, WTO director general in Geneva.
  • The Better Care Fund is "little more than a ruse" to reduce funding pressures, according to the public accounts committee.
  • Current food labour problems could become a crisis if measures are not taken, according to the environment, food and rural affairs committee.
  • Joint committee on the national security strategy publishes the government’s response to its report on the conflict, stability and security fund.
  • International "delivery units" are increasingly failing to live up to expectations, according to the Institute for Government.
  • 11am The EU 27 general affairs council, minus UK ministers, meet to discuss Brexit.
  • 10:30am High court hears government application to delay publication of draft plan on air pollution.
  • 11am First preliminary hearing of the renewable heat incentive inquiry.
  • 6pm Sir Martin Donnelly, first permanent secretary at the department for international trade, delivers a keynote speech on trade at the Institute for Government.
  • 6pm Ann Widdecombe, former Conservative MP, addresses the Bow Group think tank on women in politics.
  • 7pm Steve Rotheram, Labour’s candidate for the Liverpool City Region, speaks at a hustings event hosted by the Compass think tank.
  • 10:45pm BBC1's Question Time: Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, Clive Lewis, the former shadow business secretary, Stephen Gethins, SNP Europe spokesman, Jo Swinson, former equalities minister, and Camilla Cavendish, former head of the government policy unit.
House of Commons
  • 9:30am Brexit questions
  • Consideration of Lords amendments
  • Adjournment debate on the cost of telephone calls to the department for work and pensions
  • Parliament prorogued in advance of general election on June 8.
House of Lords
  • 11am Oral questions on: pedicab drivers; electronic patient records; disabled parking spaces; North Korea.
  • Local Audit (Public Access to Documents) Bill — third reading
  • Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Bill — third reading
  • Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill — third reading
  • Farriers (Registration) Bill — third reading
  • Orders and regulations: Draft Specified Agreement on Driving Disqualifications Regulations 2017; Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2017; Education (Student Fees, Awards and Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.
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