PLUS: I went to Tory conference and got a dog
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The Times and Sunday Times
Monday January 20 2020
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning,
Mark Spencer, the government chief whip, celebrates turning 50 today. He has kept a low profile since taking charge of government discipline but is liked and respected by colleagues and opponents alike.

However, when he took the job he made his opposite number, Nick Brown, feel old. Spencer explained that he had met Brown before, when he was chairman of the Young Farmers agriculture and rural affairs committee.

As agriculture minister, Brown had been invited to speak to a rather boozy Young Farmers conference in Bournemouth, and he recalls being greeted by farmers brandishing water pistols.

Spencer denies water pistols being used, either on Labour ministers in the late 1990s or Tory rebels in recent months.

LISTEN: Catch me every weekday morning giving a sneak preview of what's coming up in Red Box at 7.30am with Julia Hartley-Brewer at breakfast on TalkRadio. Listen here
Matt Chorley
Red Box Editor
Twitter icon @MattChorley
 
The briefing
  • Boris Johnson hosts the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London. President Buhari of Nigeria writes for Red Box about how he hopes Brexit will mean "not only closer connections between the UK and my own nation, but of unleashing trade within the Commonwealth club in which we shall together remain".

  • Sexism in the city: Downing Street is fearing a backlash over whether the looming reshuffle will appear sexist if they sack a number of female ministers and replace them with men. One female cabinet minister told me: “If you look at all of the people who get briefed to be getting the sack, it is all of the women. You do wonder if there is some sexism at work there.”

  • Getting Brexit Done reaches the House of Lords, where peers will vote on the withdrawal agreement bill. Baroness Smith, the Labour leader in the Lords, said: “A large Commons majority means the government is guaranteed to get its legislation through but it would be supremely arrogant to dismiss all scrutiny.”

  • Prince Harry spoke last night of his “sadness” at his decision to step away from the royal family as he revealed that the decision to make a clean break had not been his original plan.

  • The Lib Dems are not rushing: the party plans to have a new leader in place by July, just seven months after they lost the last one.

  • Esther Webber's trivia question: One of the Labour campaigners pictured in Friday's Red Box wearing a top hat to mock the Tories during the 2008 Crewe & Nantwich by-election is now an MP. Who is he? Answer at the bottom of today's email.
Red Box: Comment
Muhammadu Buhari
A new case for a Commonwealth based on trade
Muhammadu Buhari – President of Nigeria
Lording it up north
Everyone has got to get out of London. First it was some civil servants (though we have heard that before). Then some junior ministers (although nobody knows how that would work). Last week we were told Tory HQ was heading north (although this was later downgraded to a possible second office, possibly).

Now the latest idea to divert attention from government inaction ... sorry I mean the latest idea from our brave and wise overlords to engage with the northern heartlands is to move the Lords out of, well, the House of Lords. Out of London. To York, specifically.

Because if there is one way for the Tories to show their commitment to the north of England it is bussing in a load of hereditary peers, failed MPs, political donors and two thirds of the panel from The Apprentice.

Don't hold your breath though. It has taken a decade for MPs to decide whether or not to move across the road to Richmond House for a refurb; the idea that they can get peers to move 200 miles away from the producers of the legislation they are supposed to scrutinise seems ambitious.

Asked if the Conservatives would really push on with a move, James Cleverly, the Tory party chairman, told Sky News: “We might." Hmmm.

There is a strange irony that the people who seem to think that this is a good idea are the same people who used to (rightly) mock the European parliament for packing up everything in Brussels to go and sit in Strasbourg once a month, for no reason other than keeping the French happy. Symbolism can be expensive.

What is not clear is how voters in the north will react at getting the House of Lords, while being told they might not get the long-promised HS2 railway. The Financial Times reports that a government review has warned the bill could rise to as much as £106 billion, before giving only lukewarm backing to the project.

It is also worth noting that whoever it is that keeps pushing the idea of moving things out of London (and given Dominic Cummings' dislike of journalistic gossip and tittle-tattle we can only speculate), they never actually suggest moving themselves, or anyone senior in the government or Tory party, to the north.

It is only a matter of time before someone suggests moving Big Ben itself to ring out over the cobbles of Coronation Street (having wrongfully assumed ITV's long-running show was a jolly documentary).

Instead of moving the Lords, maybe we could have a conversation about whether we want to keep it at all? Sir Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Lib Dems, uses an article for Red Box today to urge the new Labour leadership to work together to push for "constitutional change like fair votes, Lords reform and new ways of doing politics".

In fact Labour is embroiled in some very old ways of doing politics. Jeremy Corbyn is packing more Labour peers onto the red leather benches.

His proposed list of new peers includes Karie Murphy, his former chief of staff who is at the heart of allegations that the party covered up antisemitism cases, currently being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Lord Harris, the chairman of the Labour group of peers, told Red Box's Esther Webber this morning that he feels "serious discomfort" about the nomination of while awaiting the findings of the EHRC report.

Also in line for some ermine: Tom Watson, who quit as Labour deputy leader on the eve of the general election, having clashed with (and occasionally sought to undermine) Corbyn for four years.

But the full eyebrow raise should be saved for the decision by the outgoing Labour leader to give a peerage to John Bercow. Yes, the way to win back the trust of Labour voters is to ennoble a former Tory Remainer who has faced allegations of bullying.

The announcement comes almost a year to the day since I revealed that Theresa May and her allies were planning to block the traditional peerage for an outgoing Speaker, and Boris Johnson held the line, leaving Labour to offer it instead.

It is quite an about-turn for Corbyn, having claimed in the 2015 party leadership contest that he saw “no case” for any new Labour peers. His own manifesto a month ago pledged to "immediately end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords". Hmm.

There seems to be a growing case for an overhaul of the Lords, although moving them north might not be enough.

Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, will use a speech today to dismiss the "cosmetic gesture", adding: “An outdated institution 200 miles or so north of its current location is still an outdated institution.”

Perhaps we should be even more radical and have politicians who spend a few days a week in London but then spread across the country, to every town, city and village, spending time addressing the concerns of rich and poor, urban and rural, old and young.

And then they could come back to London and use their knowledge and experience to influence legislation and legislators. They could do their deliberations in the current Houses of Parliament. We could call them Members of Parliament. Just a thought.
Red Box: Comment
Adam Watrobski
Big Ben’s restoration is about more than Brexit day bongs — it’s about the future
Adam Watrobski – Parliament's principal architect
Labour leadership watch
Anyone wanting to vote in the Labour leadership contest has until 5pm tonight to join as a full party member. HuffPost says that more than 100,000 people have joined Labour in recent weeks. Which is bad news for someone, we're just not sure who.

Rebecca Long Bailey’s
leadership campaign suffered a blow last night after a trade union that backed Jeremy Corbyn twice suggested that it could support another candidate.

Jess Phillips
told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday that sometimes men need to “pass the mic” if they “truly believe” in gender equality, as she made the case for one of the four women running to be leader to beat the one man.

Phillips has written a piece for The Guardian admitting she got the first hustings in Liverpool on Saturday all wrong. "I tried to do what was required, to learn lines, appear statesmanlike (as if!) and say the things I am meant to say. Turns out I cannot do it, because when I try it looks fake."

BuzzFeed News reports that current and former employees of Labour’s National Communications Centre (NCC) have said a breakdown in relations between staff and management began after the controversial appointment of an official who had drawn criticism for sharing social media posts downplaying the extent of antisemitism in the party.

You didn't know you needed a list of "Labour Leadership candidates as planetary bodies", until you read this brilliant thread by Twitter's Matt O'Hanrahanrahan.
The latest YouGov poll of Labour members for The Times reveals that 41 per cent of those planning to back Rebecca Long Bailey would give Jeremy Corbyn's leadership ten out of ten, compared to 22 per cent of those backing Emily Thornberry; 5 per cent of Sir Keir Starmer's backers; 3 per cent of Lisa Nandy's supporters and just 1 per cent of those voting for Jess Phillips. More from the poll here
Red Box: Comment
Sir Ed Davey
Lib Dems must show voters what the party stands for, not against
Sir Ed Davey – Lib Dem MP
Need to know
IDENTITY CALL: Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, which is at the centre of a sex abuse scandal, criticised a police force yesterday for being unable to identify an officer who investigated a complaint by a child victim. The South Yorkshire officer had said that the force ignored the sexual abuse of girls by Pakistani gangs because it was afraid of increasing racial tensions. (The Times)

DRIVE TIME: Boris Johnson
has said he will discuss the driving habits of US diplomatic staff with American officials after another close miss near the base where Harry Dunn was killed. (The Times)

BORDER CHECKS: New restrictions on low-skilled migrants coming to Britain would be introduced at the end of this year under plans being drawn up by ministers. (The Times)

TRADING INSULTS: The White House has accused Boris Johnson of “foot dragging” over negotiating a US trade deal as time runs short ahead of a summer deadline. (The Sun)

FROSTY TALKS: Boris Johnson has warned Vladimir Putin there will be no thaw in the countries’ relations in the wake of the chemical attack in Salisbury. (The Daily Telegraph)

ON THE DEFENCE: Boris Johnson cancelled a National Security Council meeting at short notice last week after disagreement at the heart of government over the scope of a major defence review, intended to shape Britain’s priorities until 2030. (Financial Times)

NOT AGAIN: Minsters have discreetly restarted no-deal planning meetings in case Brussels stonewalls in negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal, according to Whitehall sources. (Daily Express)

FOREIGN EXCHANGE:
The Government is extending an exchange scheme to help disadvantaged pupils travel abroad after suffering a backlash over the Erasmus programme. (the i)
Red Box: Comment
Ruth Fox and Brigid Fowler
Select committees are crucial for holding ministers to account
Ruth Fox and Brigid Fowler – Hansard Society
I asked which Labour leadership contender would have the best chance of beating Boris Johnson in an election. Sir Keir Starmer won with 52 per cent, so this result must now be implemented in full without question. Full result here
Have your say
Where would you move to the House of Lords to, and why? Email redbox@thetimes.co.uk and we'll use some of the best tomorrow.
The best comment
Clare Foges
The Queen was right to put the Firm first
Clare Foges – The Times
Libby Purves
Obsession with racism is the new bigotry
Libby Purves – The Times
Carol Midgley
Offer me your seat and I might start crying
Carol Midgley – The Times
Liberalism is collapsing under the weight of its own hypocritical intolerance
Nick Timothy - The Daily Telegraph
The horrible truth is that some female victims are seen as less important than others
Jennifer Williams - The Guardian
The cartoon
Today's cartoon from The Times by Morten Morland
Now read this
Very little good comes from the Conservative Party conference. Leaving the four-day booze and buffoon-fuelled jamboree, the best that you can hope to take away is a hangover, a sense of dread and a Priti Patel tote bag. This time I ended up with a dog.

I write in Times 2 how a chance visit to the Guide Dogs stand led, two months later, to the arrival of Poppy, an 18-month old golden retriever, and one of 400 trainee dogs who didn't make the grade.
Read the full story >
The agenda
Today
  • The UK hosts this year's UK-Africa Investment Summit, led by Boris Johnson.
  • Foreign ministers from the European Union meet in Brussels.
  • Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, is among speakers at a CBI conference.
  • Elections for contested positions in the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs.
  • Baroness Smith, Labour leader in the Lords, and MPs Chris Bryant, Wes Streeting, Bridget Phillipson and Stella Creasy, take part in a Mile End Institute discussion on the future of the Labour Party.
  • Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and the London Assembly host annual ceremony marking Holocaust Memorial Day.
  • Midday Members of the Northern Ireland assembly hold legislative session after three years' absence.
  • 12.30pm Brandon Lewis, the security minister, addresses a tech for safety summit.
  • 1pm Jess Phillips, the Labour leadership contender, takes part in webchat hosted by Mumsnet.
  • 5pm Cut-off date for new members to join and be eligible to vote in the Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership elections.
House of Commons
  • 2.30pm Education questions.
  • Debate on the Queen's Speech focused on the economy and jobs.
  • Adjournment debate on the Lowestoft tidal flood barrier.
House of Lords
  • 2.30pm Questions on human rights in Indian-administered Kashmir; the treatment of Uighurs in China; the Office for Environmental Protection, and plans to replace the proposed UK Holocaust memorial with a national memorial commemorating all victims of extermination or genocide.
  • Report stage of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (day one).
Today's trivia answer
Esther Webber's trivia question: One of the Labour campaigners pictured in Friday's Red Box wearing a top hat to mock the Tories during the 2008 Crewe & Nantwich by-election is now an MP. Who is he?

Answer: Alex Norris, the Labour MP for Nottingham North.

Thanks to Wes Ball for sending this in.

Send your trivia to redbox@thetimes.co.uk
 
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