Brandon Lewis: I hope our councillors will vote Conservative
After fighting off some technical glitches this morning, the new series of the Marr Show featured an interview with the Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis. With local elections, and potentially, European elections approaching next month, Mishal Husain (filling in for Marr) asked Lewis about the party’s dire standing in the opinion polls. Of particular concern was a poll of Conservative councillors showing that 40 per cent were planning to vote for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party if the European elections went ahead:
MH: When nearly 800 of your councillors were questioned for a survey, 40 per cent of them said they would be voting for the Brexit party...
BL: ...If we have to fight these European elections, I fully appreciate the huge frustration that people, particularly our members and councillors have, that we haven’t left the EU yet, and that we might have to fight these elections at all. But if we do, I hope they’ll vote Conservative.
Councils ‘doing fabulous work’ delivering ‘more for less’
Lewis defended the amount of money going to local authorities, but went on to acknowledge that councils had seen significant cuts since 2010:
MH: The Conservative council leaders who say ‘There isn’t enough money... we can barely manage’ – are they wrong?
BL: It differs around the country. There are some local authorities who are doing fabulous work making sure they are delivering more for less... [but] we inherited such a bad economic situation back in 2010, we had to make some very very tough decisions. Local government has had to take a good part of that, because it does account for a quarter of all public spending.
Andrew Gwynne: I expect Labour will endorse second referendum
Husain also interviewed Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s co-national campaign coordinator. Labour is reportedly redrafting its European election leaflets after they were found not to contain any reference to holding a second Brexit referendum, a policy which the party has recently been flirting with. Husain asked Gwynne about the discrepancy:
MH: A public vote on any Brexit deal – will that be in the election leaflets that are currently being printed?
AG: Our manifesto is going to be agreed by the Labour national executive committee [NEC] on Tuesday. I expect the NEC will endorse Labour’s policy that came out of the conference, [but]... it is for Parliament to decide.
Jo Swinson: ‘A vote for Labour is a vote for Brexit’
However, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Jo Swinson told Husain why she felt that voting Labour was heading down the path of unintended consequences:
JS: Be in no doubt, if you vote for the Labour party, a vote for Labour is a vote for Brexit. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson will use those votes to say that the British people want Brexit to happen. And if you don't want that... [voting] Liberal Democrat is the clearest way of saying you want to stop Brexit.
Rebecca Long-Bailey: We need to declare a ‘climate emergency’
Meanwhile, on Sky News, Sophy Ridge interviewed Labour's Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey about Labour’s plan to put environmental issues at the top of the political agenda. Next week, Labour plans to force a vote in the Commons on declaring a ‘climate emergency’, and to encourage Conservative MPs to back them. The measure, which would make the UK the first Parliament in the world to do so, follows two weeks of high profile protests by the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion on the streets of London:
RLB: It’s quite dramatic... declaring a national emergency in relation to climate and environment, but it’s necessary... Unfortunately at the moment, in the UK we’re simply not doing enough... If we don’t we’re going to see irreversible damage to our environment and our quality of life.
Labour’s priority is to ‘get a deal’
Ridge also asked Long-Bailey about the progress that was being made in cross party Brexit talks between Labour and the Conservatives. Ridge continually pushed Long-Bailey on the likelihood of a second referendum. Long-Bailey suggested that if an agreement could be reached, then a second referendum could fall by the wayside:
RLB: There has been movement in specific areas. We’ve had fantastic discussions on workers’ rights, for example, and the government seems quite amenable to moving towards what I’ve been asking for...
SR: If you got what you wanted... would Labour be prepared to sign off a deal if it wasn’t put back to the public?
RLB: ...All options should be on the table and that includes campaigning for a public vote, but our priority in these negotiations is to find a consensus and to get a deal that we know will protect the economy.
Ian Blackford: ‘The people of Scotland are sovereign’
Ridge spoke to the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford about Scottish independence. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put independence back on the agenda in her latest conference speech, but senior cabinet members such as David Lidington have said that the UK government would not give consent for a second vote, known more popularly as ‘indyref2’. Blackford was defiant:
IB: I’d simply say to Westminster that you have to respect that when the SNP won the elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, it was with a manifesto commitment that said if there was a material change in circumstances, that we had to have that right to have that referendum. The people of Scotland are sovereign and they should be able to determine their own future, and Westminster should listen to that.
‘We’re closing the attainment gap’ in education
Blackford also defended the SNP’s record on education, which has come under considerable fire in recent years, leading Nicola Sturgeon to declare the issue a priority:
SR: It’s not... a really rosy picture on education is it?
IB: I think there’s a lot of change in education... John Swinney, our Education Secretary gave an outstanding speech yesterday about how we’re closing the attainment gap. People from poorer backgrounds are having increasing chances of going on to university. University places for Scottish students have increased dramatically over the last 10 year period... That is working.
Helen Whately: ‘This is a good moment not to focus on Brexit’
And finally, the Conservative’s deputy chair Helen Whately has had a harder time than usual in making the case for voters to back her party at the local elections, and urged people to consider reasons other than Brexit when making their choice:
SR: What are your big flagship policies... going into these local elections?
HW: We can talk about national policies if you like... but this is about what local councils will do for people.
SR: ...Labour recently have been pumping out, it seems like, a new policy every day... Are you being outflanked here..?
HW: I’ve seen some of those policy announcements... Nationally we have been busy trying to do Brexit, and in the meantime, yes policy work is going on, but there’s only so much bandwidth... This is a good moment to not focus on Brexit and focus on what local councils do for people.