The editor of Politico’s London Playbook, the must-read morning briefing for PRs, public affairs professionals, journalists and members of the Cabinet alike, joined us this week to answer our big questions: Deal or no deal? Who will be our next Prime Minister? And crucially, Churchill: Hero or Villain?
Alice Hawken shares five things we learned.
Leaders are under pressure
Blanchard reflected on what has been a seismic 24 hours for both Theresa May’s Government and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Although, according to Blanchard it “always feels like a massive parliamentary moment” is happening, we have seen two big shifts in policy from both camps over the last week – Labour backing a second referendum and the PM trailing an extension to Article 50 – and Blanchard reckons the pressure is getting to both Leaders.
At the centre of this particular storm is the newly formed Independent Group whose formation last week, and subsequent defections from both parties, has turned up the heat for May and Corbyn. Undoubtedly, Corbyn has come off worse given the rationale for his former colleagues’ defections, but either way it is knock for both Leaders.
Blanchard added that, given that we have a political system that is “badly rigged” for new parties it will be tough for the Independent Group to get the traction that they are after, but he did commend them for the immediate impact they have had in shaping Labour’s second referendum position.
If we push for an extension to Article 50, the EU have the power
Given our session with Blanchard took place the day the Prime Minister set out her new timetable for Brexit and confirmation that if her Brexit deal is rejected again, MPs will have the chance to vote for “no deal” or a “short extension” to Article 50, it was a topic that couldn’t be avoided.
Blanchard’s assessment of the situation was that, if we do go back to the EU and ask for an extension to Article 50, they will effectively have all the power. Blanchard suggests EU leaders might insist upon a far longer extension than Britain desired, for example, or insist on extra conditions.
As Blanchard reminded us, the optimum outcome for the EU is no Brexit at all. It is this stark reality that sums up what will ultimately prove useful for May in forcing rebellious ERG members to fall in line.
Yes She Can
Ruth Davidson “scares the living daylights of the Labour Party” according to Blanchard and should not be underestimated as a candidate for Tory party leadership in the coming years. Davidson, who is currently on maternity leave, has the media skills, social skills and people skills to do the job, said Blanchard but, she needs more time.
This is not the first time we have heard this prediction recently.
Immediate frontrunners are more likely to be Home Secretary, Sajid Javid or Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, both of whom are just about palatable to both Brexiteers and Remainers according to Blanchard.
Conversely, when pressed on the prospects of a new Labour leader any time soon, Blanchard put it simply “Corbyn can be Labour leader for as long as he wants”.
Hero or villain?
Of course, we had to ask about that Q&A session with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, which dominated the news agenda for a couple of days when McDonnell answered a quickfire question about Winston Churchill with the now infamous: “Tonypandy. Villain.” Blanchard admitted that given he had spent the previous fifty minutes asking the Shadow Chancellor about the nuances of Brexit, to see it distilled into two words was mildly frustrating, but as he put it, “that’s the game”.
Although life beyond Brexit feels like a totally unattainable prospect in the current climate, we didn’t hesitate in asking Blanchard to predict what will dominate the domestic agenda once we have a deal sorted. His answer? “Housing. Housing is becoming the issue of our time”.
Blanchard told us that although housing never gets traction in the news there is a growing “mass of people caring about housing in a way they haven’t for a long time”, namely those under the age of forty struggling to purchase their first home.
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