The Week in Westminster: Scaremongering, leaky politics and the Jezerendum

By June 3, 2016UK

By Josh Eldridge, Consultant, London

Parliament may have been in recess this week but that did little to quell activity on the EU referendum front. Jeremy Corbyn reaffirmed Labour’s support for staying in the EU, whilst David Cameron and George Osborne, amidst continued ‘project fear’ accusations, rammed home their respective messages that a vote to leave would be a dangerous gamble, almost certain to send the country into a year-long recession.

This week saw growing pressure for Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, to do more to support Remain. Tim Roache, the recently elected boss of the GMB trade union, waded in to the EU debate with a very public call for Labour to cease being ‘half-hearted Remain’ and adopt a stronger position in support of staying in the EU. The Labour leader responded with what many consider to be his most pro-EU speech so far, also serving to distance himself from the Downing Street campaign. He took the opportunity to hit out at George Osborne and what he termed his ‘prophecies of doom’ regarding the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and the likelihood of it sending the country into a year-long recession.

Corbyn also used his speech to register some political attacks against the Tories, suggesting that the biggest risk of recession, and the gravest threat to the UK, was not in fact Brexit, but a Conservative Government “failing on the deficit, failing on the debt, and failing to rebalance the economy”. Corbyn also criticised the Government on immigration and urged the PM to block the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty on grounds that it would threaten public services and lead to the privatisation of the NHS. On immigration, Corbyn condemned Cameron’s record and argued that the abolition of the Migrant Impact Fund had undermined communities’ ability to adapt to the impact of migrants.

On the Leave side, Iain Duncan-Smith warned that whilst EU citizens were excluded from voting in the Referendum, many EU nationals living in the UK had received polling cards and postal ballots. IDS, alongside Bernard Jenkin MP, raised concerns in a letter to David Cameron, criticising the ‘lax’ enforcement of electoral rules and the apparent inability of electoral commission officers to check the legitimacy of voters’ submissions. In the event of a close victory for Remain, this issue will likely return, and could form basis for an official complaint from ardent Brexiteers.

Jeremy Corbyn’s problems were further compounded this week following claims that his material for Prime Minister’s Questions was being regularly leaked to the Conservatives by internal Party opponents seeking to undermine him. Corbyn’s Director of Strategy and Communications, Seumas Milne, said the internal leaks took place following weekly preparatory meetings for PMQs. The accusations of treachery were not levelled at an individual, but a large group of suspect staffers, and appear to have been made without any evidence – aside from Corbyn’s string of poor performances.

If true, it is a shocking revelation of the extent of the internal campaign against Corbyn. However, just as damaging as these claims being true is the impact that seemingly baseless accusations will have on the body of hardworking Labour staffers. Whilst Corbyn should be making every effort to unite a party in disarray, this incident not only reveals the bunker mentality surrounding Corbyn’s office, it also serves to divide, demoralise and foster suspicion.

In other news, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that powers that allow UK security services to collect large volumes of personal data were not “inherently incompatible” with privacy laws. Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson MP, said that MPs’ communications were regularly intercepted by GCHQ, in an effort to bolster his argument for parliamentarians to receive special protections from over-zealous interception.