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  1. The Newsnight take on seven day NHS, Labour leadership, Mediterranean migrants

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

Please, take your seats

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer

Imagine if after forty years in the same job a young upstart came into your office and decided to nick your seat. 

Well this is what the SNP tried to do to Denis Skinner today, the veteran MP for Bolsover, who has guarded his seat on the lowest backbench row of the House of Commons for many a year, was not amused.

In this the SNP are already employing some of the old tricks of the Irish nationalist MPs who long ago left the green benches. Parnell, the one time leader of the Irish nationalist party, used to sit in awkward places in the Commons (and instructed his MPs to do the same) to harry unionist politicians of the day. Indeed most of our modern parliamentary procedures were invented to deal with the Irish Nationalists obstructing parliamentary business after they were elected to the chamber as a bloc in the late 19th century. The guillotine for example, which cuts off debate after a certain length of time, was invented for precisely that purpose.

It remains to be seen whether the SNP prove quite so troublesome. In the meantime Mr Skinner may wish that new SNP MPs were a bit more like Sinn Fein parliamentarians and just didn't sit anywhere.  

Milburn: Don't close down choice of Labour leaders

As the Andy Burnham bandwagon gather's pace, some Labour grandees are sounding notes of caution. Earlier Allegra Stratton posted on her conversation with Baroness Royall, who suggested that the next Labour leader seek "reaffirmation" after three years because she thought it would be hard now for the party to pick the right leader for the next five years. 

Since then she's been talking to arch-Blairite Alan Milburn who is none too pleased by the apparent whittling down of the Labour field. He told her: “The Labour party, let alone the country, will expect the widest possible choice of contest. Closing down that choice at this stage would be extremely foolish because the debate needs to be opened up about the future of the Labour party."

Milburn was particularly withering about muscle-flexing by union figures such as Len McCluskey. "Trade union leaders demanding Labour choose the right candidate is like something from a bygone era, and has no place in 21st century politics."

He went on: "In 2007 and 2010 the debate didn’t really happen. We were defeated on an epic scale, it was a calamitous defeat for Labour. One or two candidates being assumed to be the font of all wisdom in this race is just not right.”

Allegra will be reporting on the latest developments in the Labour race on the show tonight.

The answer to Labour's leadership problem: a short term contract

Labour's leader in the Lords says winner should be "reaffirmed" after three years

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

Labour leadership candidates at the Progress conference this weekend
Labour leadership candidates at the Progress conference this weekend

The Labour Party is in the throes of one leadership contest but there are an increasing number of people who are mindful there could be another one, perhaps in 2018. Today I spoke to the leader of the Opposition in the Lords, Baroness Jan Royall, a member of Labour's shadow cabinet. She told me that whoever becomes leader this September should get "reaffirmed" in 2018.

Because of the fixed term parliaments act, Royall told me, for the first time political parties know exactly how long before a politician will be tested at the ballot box. And because the politics of now could be very different from the politics of 2020 - pre-EU referendum and before a change in Tory leader - there should be an opportunity in the future to revisit whether the person chosen this September is the right person for May 2020. 

Royall told Newsnight: "I think it would be very good if whoever puts themselves forward were to say, 'look in three years time it would be really good if you could reaffirm that I'm the right person to take us forward'. Why? Because we're in a whole new landscape. We have a fixed term parliament for the first time. We know when the next election is going to be. We know that David Cameron is not going to be the  leader of the Conservative party at that time…Also the tectonic plates of Great Britain are shifting. We've seen the results of the Scottish election, and now we're going into an EU referendum, so let's just make sure that we do have the right person with the right policies in place to take us forward to be the next government in 2020."

Asked if she thinks whoever is chosen will be right, Royall said "I think he or she probably will be".

Many other senior Labour folk are not so sure. I reported on Friday a growing sense that this race might be re-run in 2018. But today Andy Burnham secured a big endorsement - shadow welfare secretary Rachel Reeves is backing him. His campaign is pulling ahead.    

POTUS joins Twitter (personally)

Neil Breakwell

Newsnight Deputy Editor

An ongoing job for the leader of any political party is to "reach out to voters". This despite most voters wanting political leaders to leave them alone. President Obama, like David Cameron, is in his last term of office and won’t be standing for re-election but this hasn’t deterred him from "reaching out" some more. He’s joined Twitter, in a personal capacity (apparently). So far he’s sent just one, at 11:39 EST that read: “Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.”

President Obama Tweet
President Obama

That the leader of the free world needs to seek permission to open a twitter account is a wonderful thing in itself. But those paid to protect him may have had good reason to keep the Crackberry president under careful control.

David Cameron has always been wary of Twitter. He once said that "too many tweets might make a tw*t" and then a few years later proceeded to prove the point with this post: 

David Cameron tweet
Downing Street

Let's hope President Obama tweets equally amusing content. 

Inflation & the public finances

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Once again the interest rate (or yield) on UK government debt is ticking up.

As I wrote last week, there are a variety of possible explanations for this - but one fundamental one may be that financial markets are becoming less convinced that the current period of low inflation will last.

If that is the case, the impact on the public finances could be big. 

In their latest forecast the Office for Budget Responsibly had CPI inflation at just 0.6% at the end of this year.

What happens if it's higher? 

Thankfully the OBR published a handy table in their most recent Economic Outlook. 

a table
Source: OBR

If inflation is 1% higher than forecast and the yield on gilts (as UK government bonds are known) is also 1% higher than forecast, then the UK's debt interest bill in 2016/17 would be £5.5bn higher, by 2019/20 it would be £10.1bn higher.

Those aren't negligible numbers.

And if productivity doesn't bounce back, that may well be the scenario we find ourselves in

What Tristram's own seat says about Labour's struggle to survive

Alex Campbell

Newsnight producer

Tristram Hunt
Tristram Hunt

If and when Tristram Hunt confirms his candidacy for the Labour leadership this week, he should perhaps be prepared for increased scrutiny of whether his own house is in order.

Given that he inherited a seat -Stoke-on-Trent Central - which has never returned anything other than a Labour MP, Mr Hunt’s constituency life has not always been as simple as it ought to be.

His very selection to stand proved controversial. A long-time confidant of Peter Mandelson, the Cambridge-educated historian and writer was a textbook beneficiary of "parachuting" back in 2010.

Labour’s National Executive Committee excluded all local candidates from the shortlist to ensure Mr Hunt’s coronation.

That prompted Gary Elsby, the former constituency Party secretary and lifelong Labour activist, to not only quit but also stand against Mr Hunt as an independent candidate.

This is a city where people are not shy about airing grievances. Just ask any visiting supporter (or player) at the Britannia Stadium. But when it comes to picking parliamentarians, they usually weigh the Labour vote in this area.

Mr Hunt coasted to power with a solid, if reduced, majority. He became a regular visitor to the offices of The Sentinel newspaper, where I was working at the time.

Highly unusually, and to the ire of his Labour colleagues in Stoke South and Stoke North, he was even handed a full-page weekly column.

That was a gamble, given the tumult surrounding his election. But the newspaper’s then editor, Mike Sassi, correctly identified very early on that Mr Hunt was both genuinely interesting and indeed a man on the rise. An appropriate friend for a local business.  

If there was any concerns about his prospects they were related to his shaggy appearance and the number of shirt buttons he opted to leave unfastened (six was probably the record) – a habit he appears to have excised since rising to the shadow cabinet.  

He quickly found that local politics in Stoke-on-Trent, despite Labour’s traditional dominance, is bonkers. Regardless of whether they vote, and a great many do not, almost everybody there seems to have a strong view or feeling.

Increasingly, though, it’s one of frustration; a city whose people only ever want to support Labour and yet find themselves repeatedly unsatisfied with what they get in return.

Stoke-on-Trent, in this way and more, embodies the disillusionment facing the Labour Party even in its heartlands.  

In five years as a perfectly affable constituency MP with a credible, regular local presence and a strong network, Tristram Hunt seems not to have repaired this.

This time around Stoke-on-Trent Central was the only seat in the country where a majority of people did not vote.

Labour has shed 14,000 voters there since 1997 and Tristram Hunt – while comfortably re-elected – was in fact mandated by a miserly 18.3 per cent of eligible voters.

“People don’t see the point anymore – they won’t vote for anyone else, but they’re exasperated by Labour,” one former contact told me over the weekend.

Occasionally, that exasperation boils over.

This is the city once described by Nick Griffin as the “jewel in the BNP’s crown” as the far-right party picked up nine councillors and even came within a whisker of taking the elected mayoralty (since scrapped).

The latest bloody nose to Labour is that the party has implausibly now lost its majority on a council which once had 60 seats and 60 Labour councillors sitting on them.

Central government stepped in to oversee the running of Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 2009. From 2011, the ward boundaries were redrawn to provide “strong governance” and “political stability”; ostensibly to prevent the authority ever spiralling out of control again.

The logic was that with primarily one-member seats, fringe parties like the BNP (which mostly secured its seats by finishing second to Labour in multi-member wards) would be kept out.

Essentially, given the demography, it was a permanent open goal for Labour.

And yet, as I write this, Labour has managed to find itself as the opposition party in this reddest of cities.  

The City Independents, an eclectic group of unaffiliated locals running on a populist ticket, are leading an improbable coalition with the Conservatives and UKIP.

Their threat to pull the plug on relocation to a new £60 million civic centre in the city centre (which has already been built, under the last Labour council’s direction) is a brewing political earthquake.

Tristram Hunt could well go on to lead the Labour Party – he’s intelligent, astute, measured, looks and sounds the part.

But if his party is to reform and survive, it should start by looking at the mess in Tristram’s own back yard. 

Where do doctors come from?

Jeremy Hunt's 5,000

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

Jeremy Hunt this morning again promised 5,000 more GPs. But where are those doctors all going to come from?

Part of the Government's plan is simply to convince more student doctors that they want to go into General Practice rather than other things. But that ultimately is a bit risky - they're not forcing anyone to be a GP, and as such it basically comes down to the whims of the student. 

So perhaps they could simply train more doctors? Even if the proportion of doctors becoming GPs remains the same, expanding the pie of doctors means the slice of GPs will be larger.

The Government actually controls the supply of doctors because it controls the big subsidies that go to medical schools. Which is why medical school intakes look weirdly consistent: 

Med school intakes

And, of course, the problem with increasing the number of students being taken into medical schools is that it's years and years before they actually become doctors. This is not a short term solution.

So, the NHS is left with its old friend, immigration. Here's a General Medical Council chart of where doctors got their "Primary Medical Qualification" - basically, where they trained to be doctors:

63% of doctors from UK

Maybe the Government will be able to find 5,000 more GPs domestically. But if not there are always GPs from abroad.

What to make of the seven-day NHS pledge?

An old promise, but some grand politics

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

There are a few things worth noting about the pledge to move to a seven-day NHS. 

First, the ambition isn't new. The Conservative manifesto in 2010 pledged "a 24/7 urgent care service in every area of England, including GP out of hours services, and [to] ensure that every patient can access a GP in their area between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week." 

Second, it has strong support from the NHS machinery: Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England's medical director, is already leading this agenda. You can, indeed, have a browse of this document about NHS England's plans on this from the last parliament. I warn you, it contains some baffling diagrams - like this one. 

Baffling graph
NHS England

Third, is it a good idea? There is some academic research which concludes that "7-day access to all aspects of care could improve outcomes for higher risk patients currently admitted at the weekend." 

That report is not a slam-dunk, though. It adds that "the economics ...need further evaluation to ensure that such reorganization represents an efficient use of scarce resources."

Indeed, adding a new objective to the NHS has to be seen as an additional cost  - a service that needs the additional £8bn per year promised to it by 2020-21 just to stay on its feet. So, two successive manifestos aside, why embark on this plan now? Because there are grand politics at play here. 

Under the last Labour government, it was the view that private provision of NHS services would have a series of good effects on the performance of the service. But the introduction of private providers was made easier by making the promise of cutting waiting times into a very high-level objective.

Every argument with the unions could be batted away by pointing to the need to reduce patient waiting times. Similarly, the seven-day NHS gives ministers better cover in their fights with unions than simply saying "we need you to be more productive to avoid a budget blow-out".

The EU's New Libyan Operation

Mark Urban

Newsnight Defence and Diplomatic Editor

Migrants crowd the deck of their wooden boat off the coast of Libya
Migrants crowd the deck of their wooden boat off the coast of Libya

With European countries facing mass migration across the Mediterranean defence and foreign minister are in Brussels to sign off on a new plan. It envisages the establishment of a naval task force and will authorise active measures to disrupt people smugglers including sinking their boats, stopping them inside Libyan territorial waters and even mounting raids on their harbours. 

All of this follows on from last week's European Commission proposal to invoke emergency measures to resettle migrants rescued at sea, and re-settle them across the Union. These plans (which the UK and Ireland have already opted out of) threaten to ignite serious problems because some countries such as the Baltic republics and Poland have made it clear they do not want to take more migrants, but they could be obliged to do so since the Commission's emergency measures could be passed by a majority vote.

Anxious to forestall an internal crisis, European leaders are therefore looking to step up preventive operations, both at sea and in some of the countries that the migrants are leaving. In it's initial phases the planned EU force would concentrate on intelligence gathering, pin-pointing the key ports and smuggling operators. 

What are the obstacles? They are unlikely to be legal, with the EU seeking a UN Security Council mandate under Chapter VII (which concerns serious threats to international security). It has the precedent of Operation Atalanta in this regard, under which an EU naval task force has attacked Somali pirates with some success. 

The real issues for the EU's latest naval venture lie with the practicalities of action against smugglers and destroying their business model. European forces could easily get drawn into fighting militias engaged in Libya's civil war. 

Arriving for today's meeting Federica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs spoke of entering, "partnership with Libyan authorities". But with the recognised government in possession of only some of the coastline, this could be seen by opposing militants as Europe taking sides. 

Ultimately though the most serious disincentive to those who make the desperate journey, handing precious savings to the traffickers, could be the repatriation of large numbers of people caught making the crossing. That's the row that Theresa May stepped into last week when she wrote that she disagreed with Ms Mogherini that repatriation could not be done against the will of those plucked from the sea. 

Although the UK home secretary drew criticism from some European leaders, there's little doubt both that there are other big EU players (such as Spain) hiding behind the UK position, and a feeling among many that repatriation may be a necessary evil. Where would such people be landed? And how could those that the EU wanted to grant asylum or work permits be separated off from the rest? These are the next key issues the European policy makers have to solve as the naval task group to be authorised today takes shape.