PLUS: Farage is milkshaken
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The Times and Sunday Times
Tuesday May 21 2019
Red Box
Matt Chorley
By Matt Chorley
Good morning,
Overconfidence can promote people beyond their competence, a new study has found.

Which will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time working in Westminster.

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
  • Theresa May is to ask the cabinet to agree concessions to Labour in a last-ditch attempt to keep her big bold Brexit deal alive. “It is total s***,” one minister tells me. Andrea Leadsom told the Today programme she would only support the Bill "so long as it continues to be leaving the European Union" - something she defined as being outside the single market and the customs union.

  • Philip Hammond will launch a pre-emptive strike on Boris Johnson today, warning that the next Tory prime minister will not have a mandate to take Britain out of the European Union with no deal.

  • The war of the car park is over: Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, clashed with Gavin Williamson, who as defence secretary had refused to allow a Ministry of Defence car park to be used for deliveries during parliament’s multi-billion pound refurbishment. However, writing for Red Box with Baroness Evans, leader of the Lords, Leadsom reveals that Penny Mordaunt, Williamson’s successor, has allowed the car park to be taken over, saving £350 million and several years of delays. MPs debate the refurb legislation later.

  • Lord Heseltine shrugged off warnings he could be disciplined by the Tories for saying he’d vote Lib Dem in this week’s elections. “They can take away the whip, but they cannot take away my integrity or my convictions or my experience.” Soon after, he had the whip taken away.

  • British Steel, the UK’s second-largest steel producer, is on the brink of collapse with 25,000 jobs at risk, Sky News reports this morning.

  • Computer says no: so many people are mentioning the Brexit Party on the doorstep when the Tories go knocking, they have started putting in a specific code onto Votesource, the computer system which activists use to register voting intentions, when canvassing. Apparently the code many are using is F for Farage. Although as one canvasser points out: "The F could well stand for something else too."

  • Today’s trivia question: Which frontbencher makes their dispatch box debut today after nearly 12 years of continuous service both in opposition and government? Answer at the bottom of today's email.
Red Box: Comment
Andrea Leadsom & Baroness Evans
After Notre Dame, we are taking action to save the Palace of Westminster
Andrea Leadsom & Baroness Evans – Leader of the Commons & Lords
Meanwhile, over in Labour...
The Tories are tanking in the polls, haemorrhaging support from Leavers and Remainers alike, dogged by a Brexit policy which manages to both lack clarity and be all too clear.

To which Labour responds: hold my beer and watch this.

While everyone is distracted by Nigel Farage proving that milkshake brings all the bores to the yard and the prime minister trying to gaffer tape herself to her No 10 desk and watching 313 leadership bids blossom (because we can’t rule out the possibility that Theresa May herself might run), Labour has got itself into quite the mess.

Jeremy Corbyn likes making jam but has branched out into creating the most almighty pickle for his party.

Where to begin? The new IpsosMORI poll showing just how baffled voters are by Labour’s Brexit policy: among the public, around half think Labour want to keep Britain in the EU, but among Labour voters almost half think they want to take Britain out.

Is it any wonder? Asked how Corbyn is doing, 81 per cent of the public and 57 per cent of Labour supporters say he is doing a bad job.

They are not wrong. At the weekend he went on The Andrew Marr Show and as good as smeared his fingers all over the camera lens to obscure any sense of clarity. He suggested he was warming to a second referendum on a Brexit deal, only for Labour spinners to spend Sunday hosing down the idea. He also declared free movement of people from the EU could continue, despite Labour explicitly pledging to end it in the 2017 election.

No wonder his party is struggling to hang on to either Leavers or Remainers, with the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party cleaning up, and pushing Labour into third in nationwide polls for the European parliament elections.

A new poll from Wales makes for even grimmer reading: Labour has slumped to just 15 per cent, in third behind Plaid Cymru on 19 per cent, for the first time ever. The Brexit Party is on 36 per cent. It means support for Labour has halved since the last Welsh Political Barometer poll.

Stephen Kinnock, a Labour MP in Wales, uses an article for Red Box to take a swipe at Change UK – “the politics of globalism and the liberal centre died with the financial crash of 2008” – but also warns his own party is heading in the wrong direction.

He says that Corbyn must “rise to the challenge” of tackling the “virus” of antisemitism, and after going on “a journey” on issues like Nato, the single market and Russia, the Labour leader must also “show that he loves the country that he wishes to lead”.

Clive Lewis, a shadow minister, tells The Independent that Corbyn’s leadership would be “in peril” if he failed to back a public vote. “You can only drive a wedge so far between yourself and the people who put you in that position before your opponents start looking at their options.”

Ooh Jeremy Cor-byn feels like a long time ago. It is quite an achievement that in YouGov’s favourability ratings, voters are more unhappy with Corbyn than May.

The mood inside the party is no better. There is particular anger about a series of regional events already sarcastically dubbed “the JezFest Roadshow”.

The Labour Roots tour will, apparently, mix “politics with music and forging new friendships and connections". If your idea of fun is Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon, Barry Gardiner and “live music from Ferocious Dog” then you’re in luck.

Less good news if you work in Labour HQ and were hoping for an above-inflation pay rise. Instead staff are threatening to go on strike.

It’s all right though because Tom Watson is on the case. Remember how, almost three months ago, he called for Corbyn to make big changes in the wake of seven Labour MPs quitting?

Remember how he called for a reshuffle because the “front bench needs once again to reflect the balance of opinion in the parliamentary Labour Party”?

Remember how he was going to work with Labour MPs to draw up a rival policy platform to stop more defections? In fact the only thing that has stopped defections is the dismal fate of Change UK.

Watson’s plea was met with stony silence. Corbyn just carried on regardless because it was all going so well. “When you’ve got talent like we do at the top table, why mix things up?” says one Labour insider, sarcastically.

At some point when the swirling clouds of chaos clear and we come to survey the rubble that is the Conservative Party, we might turn to find that the Labour Party is barely standing either.
Red Box: Comment
Stephen Kinnock
Corbyn must show he loves the country that he wants to lead
Stephen Kinnock – Labour MP
Poll of the day
Picture of the day
Nigel Farage hit out at “radicalised” Remainers yesterday after a milkshake was thrown at him during a campaign visit to Newcastle.

It is believed that he was hit with a £5.25 banana and salted caramel milkshake from the burger chain Five Guys.

It sparked a debate on whether or not food-based stunts were legitimate forms of protest or unacceptable violence designed to intimidate politicians. It follows other incidents in which milkshakes appear to have replaced eggs as the protesters' favourite food.

The Electoral Commission will visit the Brexit Party's HQ today after starting a review into the systems it has to receive donations.
Read the full story >
I asked you what chance there was that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would pass next month. Zero, replied nearly 90 per cent of you. Full result here
Have your say
I asked how Boris Johnson’s opponents might stop him becoming PM.

David Hopkins: "Make him take a lie detector test and ask him to answer ten straightforward questions."

David Lillystone: "Rivals should devote time to celebrate Boris’s achievements (Garden Bridge anyone?), exemplary performance in public office (Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to give personal testament) and role-modelling of strong moral behaviour (any one of his previous wives and partners). Don’t forget his illuminating (mis)use of schoolboy Latin, and of course his selfless devotion to party and country before, erm, self."

Carolyn McCrae: "Since the grassroot members are unlikely to be swayed it’s up to the Tory MPs (and there must be a few sensible ones) to stop him getting on the ballot. If he loses in the first round as the candidate with fewest votes it might be possible for one candidate to shine. Sorry, a pig just flew past my window."

Alan Halfacre: "The usual method of getting someone blackballed – Theresa May announces that 'Boris has my full support'."

TODAY: What is Jeremy Corbyn doing wrong? Email redbox@thetimes.co.uk and we'll use some of the best tomorrow.
The best comment
Hugo Rifkind
Milkshake throwing isn’t as funny as it looks
Hugo Rifkind – The Times
Rachel Sylvester
Leavers might not get the Boris they want
Rachel Sylvester – The Times
Melanie Phillips
Anxiety can be crippling, as I know too well
Melanie Phillips – The Times
In our bitterly divided nation, democracy must not become a fight to the death
William Hague - The Daily Telegraph
Nigel Farage gives Remainers reason to fear a second Brexit vote
Robert Shrimsley - Financial Times
The cartoon
Today's cartoon from The Times by Morten Morland
Need to know
NOT WELCOME: Hostile state actors, including spies, are to be targeted under Home Office plans to update espionage and treason laws, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, announced. (The Times)

TOP SECRET: Labour has resisted calls to investigate Geoffrey Robinson over allegations that he was a spy for Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. (The Times)

TUNNEL VISION: An ambitious plan to build a road tunnel under Stonehenge is under threat because of delays, escalating costs and fears that it is a waste of money, according to the spending watchdog. (The Times)

ON HOLD: Ministers are delaying the crucial announcement that Huawei can work on Britain’s 5G mobile phone network until after Donald Trump comes to Britain. (The Sun)

STRAINED TEA: Prince Charles will host Donald Trump for tea during the US President’s state visit to Britain next month. (Daily Mail)

EMPIRE BUILDING: "The world is developing into one not of nation states, but of empires,” says Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinater. China is an empire. India is an empire. The US is an empire. We need to create a European Union that is capable of defending our interests.” (CNN News)

UNDERCOVER FASCIST: A young Englishman got mixed up in a white-supremacist movement. Then he learnt of a plot to kill a Labour MP. An extraordinary read by Ed Caesar. (New Yorker)
Red Box: Comment
Will Roberts
Opponents of HS2 lack belief in Britain’s ability to deliver
Will Roberts – High Speed Rail Industry Leaders group
Leadershipwatch
Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, and up to 30 moderate Conservative MPs want to stop Dominic Raab or Esther McVey from becoming the next Tory leader but have reserved judgment on Boris Johnson.

Dominic Raab
used a Daily Telegraph event last night to call for the basic rate of income tax to be cut by 5p.

Esther McVey launched her Blue Collar Conservative group with a call to scrap the foreign aid target of 0.7 per cent of GDP and invest an extra £7 billion in schools and policing.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he was “not going to rule out” running.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, also refused to throw his hat into the ring just yet: “The prime minister has said she will step down. When she does there will be no shortage of candidates and whether I’m one of them, you’ll have to wait and see.”

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, declined to confirm he would run, telling Channel 4 News: “What I can confirm is I want to sort Brexit along with my cabinet colleagues and that’s what we’re discussing.”

The Conservative Party board agreed to hold leadership hustings in all 11 regions of the country, suggesting we could be in for a long campaign.

A survey of LabourList readers suggests that Johnson represents the biggest threat – both to Labour’s electoral chances and to the country.
The Sketch
HMS Mordaunt scores a direct hit on Labour
Quentin Letts
Quentin Letts
Ballast. That’s Penny Mordaunt. Our new defence secretary, a Royal Navy reservist, steamed into the chamber for her first Commons defence questions. People used to find it hard to take her predecessor, Gavin “ooh Betty” Williamson, seriously. Acting sub-lieutenant Mordaunt does not suffer that disadvantage. She is measured, calm, and does not squeak in a comedy northern accent. HMS Mordaunt is shipshape. And possibly a little mirthless.
Read the full sketch >
 
Tweet of the day
Just what the Lib Dems need as they finally enjoy a rise in the polls after years in the coalition-induced doldrums: a reminder of their coalition years.

Danny Alexander, the former Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, chose yesterday to tweet a picture of himself with Sir Nick Clegg, the former deputy PM, and their old Tory chum and architect of austerity, George Osborne, looking like the band Busted had reformed.

Say what you like about losing office but they don't seem to be starving on civvie street.
Red Box: Comment
Norman Lamb
The government can save lives by changing the law on debt letters
Norman Lamb – Lib Dem MP
Now read this
Timothy Kitson with Edward Heath in 1970
Sir Timothy Kitson obituary
When Timothy Kitson answered the phone one Saturday in June 1970 he was more than a little surprised to hear that it was Edward Heath offering him the post of parliamentary private secretary. It was the day after Heath had been appointed prime minister, and the two men did not know each other well. Kitson, moreover, had voted for Reginald Maudling, Heath’s rival in the leadership election of 1965. “I want you to work the Commons tearooms for me,” Heath barked. “Keep in touch with our backbenchers.”

Heath was famously curmudgeonly, even rude at times, and Kitson had an uphill task getting Tory MPs to see his better side. Coaxing him to mingle with, let alone charm them in the tearoom was challenging. When Kitson persuaded him to go into the smoking room and mix, Heath simply grabbed a newspaper, ordered a whisky and did not talk to anybody. On another occasion his idea of friendly chat to an MP was: “That was a bloody awful speech you gave today.”
Read the full story >
TMS
From the diary
By Patrick Kidd
Fight them on the benches
Sir Nicholas Soames is chewing over whether to join the long queue of people who want to be prime minister. “I’m very seriously thinking of it,” the former defence minister says. “I seem to be the only person who isn’t running.” Having Churchill as a grandfather may win over those European Research Group members with a war fetish and Soames has found an MP willing to sign his nomination papers. He notes, however, that this does not mean much. Another MP asked a colleague to sponsor them and got the reply: “I’ll sign for you but I’m not bloody voting for you.”
Read more from the TMS diary >
 
The agenda
Today
  • Theresa May chairs cabinet.
  • 9.30am Alisdair Cameron, interim CEO of the Post Office, gives evidence to the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, on the Post Office Network.
  • 10.30am Sharon White, the chief executive of Ofcom, gives evidence to the digital, culture, media and sport committee.
  • 1pm Tobias Ellwood, the veterans minister, gives a speech on modernising the British Armed Forces to the Henry Jackson Society.
  • 6.30pm Philip Hammond, the chancellor, speaks at a CBI dinner.
House of Commons
  • 11.30am Treasury questions
  • Ten-Minute Rule Motion: Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection)
  • Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill: 2nd reading
  • Adjournment: Compensation for Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel following Christmas Island nuclear testing (Carol Monaghan)
House of Lords
  • 2.30pm Ensuring free sanitary products will be available in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year; concerns raised by teachers in the survey on child poverty published by the National Education Union; government plans to address increases in homelessness, and inquiry into how family courts in England and Wales treat victims of domestic violence.
  • Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL] - committee stage.
  • Report from the International Relations Committee "UK foreign policy in a shifting world order".
Today's trivia answer
Mark Tami, Labour’s pairing whip, will close the second reading debate on the Restoration and Renewal Bill. He was appointed a government whip in July 2007 by Gordon Brown.

Send your trivia to redbox@thetimes.co.uk
 
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