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By JACK BLANCHARD
Good Wednesday morning from Cumbria. The Playbook summer tour has come to an end.
DRIVING THE DAY
PARLIAMENT’S BACK! Recess doesn’t end until next Tuesday, but peers get back to work early today with a special session of the House of Lords EU committee. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is the star witness and will give evidence from 2 p.m. on the current state of play in the negotiations, the latest on the Irish backstop, the proposed “facilitated customs arrangement” and the preparations for a no-deal scenario. Full details here. It’s been a pretty barren month in Westminster, but today we may see some actual news.
First question for Raab: How far is the deadline for a deal going to slip? Bloomberg’s Tim Ross and Ian Wishart report this morning that both the U.K. and EU have dropped their October deadline for a deal. “They now aim to finalize divorce terms by the middle of November at the latest, according to people familiar with the British and European positions.”
Meanwhile in Africa: Within the past couple of hours Theresa May’s RAF Voyager departed Cape Town and is currently en route to Nigeria for the second leg of her post-Brexit trade tour. The PM is due to land in the Nigerian capital of Abuja later this morning ahead of bilateral talks with President Muhammadu Buhari. This afternoon she will fly on to Nigeria’s largest city Lagos to announce a new crackdown on modern slavery, in partnership with the Nigerian government. The Express’ Alison Little has the story.
But all anyone will ever remember about this trip: Is that video of Theresa May dancing, which has properly gone viral.
Made in Blighty: Speaking to reporters on the trip, May confirmed she plans to pursue a new British satellite positioning system if the EU proceeds with its threat to exclude Britain from the Galileo project after Brexit. “Unless we receive assurance that we can collaborate on a close basis in the future … we are clear that we will withdraw U.K. support for Galileo and pursue our own sovereign satellite system,” the PM said. The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh has the story.
Also on tour: Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington is in Paris today to talk Brexit with government officials and business leaders.
SCOOP — Farron calls for new centrist party: Speaking to Playbook, former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron today urges pro-EU Labour and Tory MPs to “grow a flipping backbone” and form a new centrist party. “And we should work with them,” he says. “Let them form their own party, we will work with them, and we’ll try and do it together.” Farron says he is “terrified” by the current state of British politics and urges wavering Labour MPs not to be put off by the experience of the SDP in the 1980s. “People shouldn’t fall into the mistake of thinking the SDP was a failure. It really wasn’t,” he says. He also declines to back his successor Vince Cable’s reported plan to let the next Lib Dem leader be someone from outside of parliament. Full interview further down.
Brex and the City: Interesting line from my POLITICO colleague over in the City, Cat Contiguglia, who says bank chiefs fear the Treasury’s influence on Brexit has waned. Writing for our Morning Exchange email, Cat reports how one bank’s head of government affairs blames the so-called Project Fear campaign for leaving the Treasury with “very little political headroom.” Another bank’s head of government affairs adds: “It feels like they are just one of many voices.” Cat says bankers were “shocked” to learn the government had abandoned its bid for “mutual recognition” for the City after the Treasury had assured them otherwise. “We were being told right until very close to publication that government supported mutual recognition,” one says.
Remainer Tories targeted: The Times splashes on further reports from pro-EU Tories that their local parties are being flooded with new Brexiteer members. “Local parties represented by MPs including Stephen Hammond, Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Sarah Wollaston have each reported significant increases in membership in recent weeks,” Political Editor Francis Elliot reports. “A Conservative MP told the Times their local party membership had grown from 170 to 221 in three months. Two Tories reported increases of 10 percent in the past fortnight and 30 percent in the past three months, while another reported a rise of 60 members over the summer.”
Unions eye People’s Vote: The GMB trade union is polling its members on whether to push for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, the Guardian’s Heather Stewart reports. And today the Royal College of Nursing backs a so-called People’s Vote as it warns Brexit poses an “immediate risk to the provision of safe and effective care” for patients in the U.K. The BBC has more. It all piles further pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to shift his own position at next month’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool.
Today’s best read: My POLITICO colleague Tom McTague’s “Postcard from Catford” on Britain’s new (Romanian-born) working class is now free to read and well worth your time. It sits nicely as a companion piece to this “Postcard from Întosura” by our colleague Carmen Paun, on the Romanian towns and villages blighted by EU emigration.
**Volatile prices and climate change are two among many of the Agriculture and Food sector’s profit-generation issues. Join the discussion at POLITICO’s second Agriculture & Food Summit, where we’re going to look into the challenges and opportunities that the agri-food industry is facing today to remain competitive. Register now and join agri and food leaders of the like of Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas, MEP Paolo De Castro and National Farmers Union President Minette Batters.**
A VIEW FROM THE LAKES
VILLAGE PEOPLE: I meet Tim Farron in Hawkshead, one of the many tourist meccas in his stunning Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency. It’s a classic Lakeland village with tourist cafes, a lovely 16th century church and a backdrop of impressive peaks. We are right in the heart of the Lake District, with pretty Esthwaite Water just a short walk away. William Wordsworth went to school here; Beatrix Potter lived nearby. And this being August, it is overrun by tourists. “Tourism is massive here,” Farron says. “Sixty thousand people in the county earn their living by it.” But it brings problems of its own. “In many ways, the more beautiful the place, and so the more touristy, the more difficult it is for the local community,” he says. “In one sense obviously there’s employment, which is great — but let’s not pretend tourism pays very well. And the more tourists, the more second homes.”
Price of success: Second home ownership is the issue that blights these small Lakeland communities more than any other, Farron says. Indirectly, the demand from wealthy Brits wanting properties to use as a bolthole for just a few weekends of the year has sent house prices rocketing, meaning young people who grow up in Cumbria are increasingly forced out. “The average household income around here is £26,000 per year — that’s the entire household,” Farron says. “The average house price in the Lake District will be £450,000 to £500,000. So the best you can hope for is people go away, earn some money and come back. But what tends to happen is a house comes on the market and it becomes a second home.”
Hanging on by their fingernails: The scale of the phenomenon is extraordinary. Here in Hawkshead, Farron says, between 50 and 60 percent of the houses are now second homes. At that sort of level, the immediate concern for locals is the impact on services. “Nobody from that house [a second home] sends a kid to school,” Farron says. “Use of the pharmacy, the post office — none of that happens. So it massively reduces the viability of these communities.” Farron has just come from a village called Chapel Stile, which he estimates is around 75 percent second homes. Nearby Elterwater is about 90 percent, he reckons. “So surprise surprise, one has pretty much no local services at all, and in the other they are hanging on by their fingernails.”
Shutting up shop: Later in the afternoon Farron will take me to the village of Backbarrow, a glorious 10-mile drive along the shore of Lake Windermere to the southern tip of the national park. He is holding a street surgery outside the only shop in the village. It closed down over a year ago and has not reopened. “This was a decent shop,” Farron reflects as we stand outside. “It would stock most groceries you would need. And it was the local post office.” Its closure, he says, was life-changing for the village’s largely elderly population. “It just sucks the heart out of things,” he says.
All the lonely people: The impact on people’s lives can be even more immediate. “There’s a row of cottages five or six miles from here,” Farron says. “They are all woodcutters’ cottages; they are all lovely, and when they were built they would have been affordable homes 200 years ago.” Farron met one of the residents, a 70-year-old man who’d lived there his entire life. “It was 12 families when he was a kid. There’s just him now,” Farron says. “It’s miserable for him. I went knocking on his door and it’s just sad. And yes he knows the people that come and stay for the odd weekend, but the rest of the time he’s just on his own. It’s pretty bleak.” The story is part of a wider picture for many elderly people in rural communities. “One of the overarching issues here is isolation,” Farron says. “If you spend half your life knocking on doors, you speak to people and you are the first person they’ve spoken to in days … It’s exacerbated when you are isolated from those services that are fundamental to your life.”
Contrast: The hidden struggles of the local community sit uncomfortably in Hawkshead, which is teeming with visitors with money to spend. The influx through the summer months means businesses are appearing which you might not expect to see in traditional Cumbria. Farron spots a cafe offering “Yorkshire tapas” — sensational platters of Cumbrian cheeses, pies and homemade pickles — and we head inside for lunch … to find cats roaming everywhere. This the Lake District’s first ever “cat cafe” — an oddball import from downtown Tokyo. The effects of mass tourism could hardly be writ any larger. “Not a problem for me — I love cats,” Farron says with a grin. His young staffer Tina squeals excitedly and runs off to play with a ball of fur. Farron wanders over to play-fight with a black-and-white cat perched on the back of a sofa. “You should meet my spaniel!” he says happily.
I know what you did last summer: Farron’s spaniel is famous, of course, an unexpected star of what was otherwise a difficult 2017 election for the then-Lib Dem leader. A year on, Farron says a range of factors were to blame for the poor showing — the snap election came “far too soon” for a party still rebuilding from its 2015 drubbing, while May’s huge early poll lead gave people “permission” to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the expectation he could never win. Farron also points out he was the first Lib Dem leader not to be fighting an election as the third main party. “Nick Clegg was fighting for attention with Gordon Brown and David Cameron,” he says ruefully. “I was fighting for it with Leanne Wood, and Caroline Lucas, and Nicola Sturgeon, and the guy from ‘Bottom.’” And he also wonders out loud “whether it was me?”
Cable guy: Within a week of the result, a badly bruised Farron had resigned. A year or so on, is he missing the job? “I’ll be very careful what I say here,” Farron smiles as he tucks into a plate of Lakeland cheeses. “Mostly, not at all. You always think — ‘I’d have done ‘x.’ The job is to say that privately to His Vinceness, and not to anybody else.”
Follow the leader: His Vinceness — Farron’s successor as leader, Vince Cable — is himself now under pressure, and reportedly planning a speech next week that will pave the way for his own resignation before the next election. Cable’s big idea is to open up the Lib Dem rules so the next leader does not have to be an MP. I ask Farron what he thinks. “Erm,” he says, eyebrows raising, voice lifting several octaves. “Interesting idea. It’s not one I would have put out there.” I press him further. “I just think parties shouldn’t talk about the leadership too much,” he says. “I think the idea we look at a U.S.-style primary — which would by its nature invite people into the fold who were not parliamentarians — is interesting and I wouldn’t rule it out. But to be fair, Vince is only just touting it as an option.” It’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Quaking in his boots: I ask Farron if he’d be concerned that changing the rulebook could dramatically change the nature of the party, as happened with Labour in 2015. “The only entryists we’ve ever had were the Quakers!” Farron says merrily. “And they were great.” He’s chuckling now. “We’d welcome a bit of entryism! I mean, who’d join us? What is the nefarious group that would think taking over the Lib Dems is worth the bother?” He chuckles again and eats some more cheese.
Center ground: He’s obviously joking, but there’s no doubt Farron is vexed by the Lib Dems’ ongoing struggles. “You see with great frustration — and I’m sure Vince feels the same — the colossal opportunity in what I will glibly call the center of British politics, and the desperate need for us,” Farron says. He sees three possible ways forward. “I obviously want the Liberal Democrats to recover, become the next government of the country and solve all the problems,” he says. “Alternatively, let some of these people in the Labour Party and the Tory party grow a flipping backbone and leave. And we should work with them. Let them form their own party, we will work with them, and we’ll try and do it together.” He has a third option too. “I’m at the stage now … I’d be content for my children’s future if the Labour Party just sorted its act out, got a decent electable leader and gave the country an alternative.”
Go for it: I ask Farron directly if he would join a new centrist party. “No,” he says. “But we should work with it.” Farron then issues a message to wavering Labour MPs who might be considering quitting the party. “People shouldn’t fall into the mistake of thinking the SDP was a failure. It really wasn’t,” he says of Britain’s last big breakaway centrist party. “The day before [former Argentine President Leopoldo] Galtieri invaded the Falklands, they were on 51 percent in the polls. And the [Liberal/SDP] alliance got 26 percent of the vote in ’83 — very, very close to having made it.”
From despair to where? For Farron, the need is urgent. Most of the time he is relentlessly upbeat, so it’s strange to hear him speak in bleak terms as when he contemplates the state of British politics. “I’m terrified for the country,” he says. “I don’t do despair, but I feel deeply committed to carrying on doing this because we’re in such an appallingly uncertain time, with extremists on all sides, with a lack of evidence-based decision-making, with the country’s future being put secondary to people’s bizarre ideological whims. And the impact will be on the less well-off and the coming generations. It is dismal. But these things can always be turned around.”
All politics is local: One benefit for Farron of not being party leader is the extra focus he can bring to local campaigning. “It’s a lot easier not being leader,” he says. “It’s about time and focus. I still managed to maintain four nights a week here even when I was a leader, which was flippin’ hard. I thought if there was slippage I would a) not be a good dad and b) not be a good local MP. Now I just throw myself at this, and I enjoy it. It’s about solving problems really.”
Cut chemist: Out in the street, I watch as he tries to do just that. Outside Hawkshead pharmacy he chats with an elderly constituent worried about its possible closure. She is 80, and has regular prescriptions to collect. The next nearest pharmacy is a 20-minute drive to another village. Farron has a petition running about government cuts in support for pharmacies, which he says are pushing many like this one to the brink. “There’s a real argument that what the government is doing is the exact opposite of what they should be doing,” Farron says. “They should be providing specific support to pharmacists to provide consultations to protect GPs and A&E, and to guide the public.”
Pub talk: We drive down to Satterthwaite, a tiny hamlet deep in the heart of the national park. The single track lanes are narrow, and I have to slow almost to walking pace to creep past hazards that include plump wandering pheasants, an elderly lady collecting blackberries and the occasional passing car. This is a lovely part of England, especially in August. As if to emphasize the point, Farron holds his next surgery in the beer garden of a local pub called the Eagle’s Head. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque spot. Two local activists want to talk through a list of concerns with their MP. There are a number of issues to discuss, but they all boil down to the same thing — fighting to maintain real-life communities in this strange, chocolate-box world.
Tax and spend: Farron believes he has a solution, if the political will can be found. He says local authorities need the power to increase council tax significantly for properties being used as second homes. “It would act as a disincentive in certain areas,” he says. “Though I’m not sure how effective that would be — if you can afford a second home for £600,000 you can probably afford another grand or two in council tax. But the main thing is it would raise money you can ring-fence … and funnel towards local services. You would subsidize post offices, schools, public transport.” So far, the government is unconvinced. “They don’t do the things it would entail because, one suspects, it would offend ‘their people,’” Farron says. “But it’s not about penalizing anybody, it’s about trying to protect communities.” He says it is not too late to save villages like Backbarrow. “There are other places I could take you where frankly it is too late,” he says. “Everything has gone, the community is gone, nobody lives there. They’ve become Lakeland stone Beatrix Potter holiday camps.”
Next generation: I ask him whether this isn’t all just inevitable given the scale of modern tourism. “I don’t think it helps the tourism industry,” he says. “People want to come to communities — not ones where the heart has been ripped out of it and where those locals who remain are pessimistic about their future. You want to come to a place that’s joyful. And by and large this is. They are great places, wonderful places to come on holiday, it’s a massive blessing to be able to live here and raise a family here. But you look forward to the future and you think — what chance have my kids got of hanging on here?”
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
STORY OF THE DAY: The £25,000 portrait of Nigel Farage in the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition has failed to attract a single bid, the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn reports. It’s unclear whether the painting of a large penis hanging next to Nigel in the exhibition has proved any more popular.
SUNDAY MORNING LIE-IN: The Marr Show returns this Sunday and is moving to a later start time of 10 a.m., producers announced yesterday. It means all three remaining Sunday shows — Marr, Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday and BBC Radio 5’s Pienaar’s Politics — will now air at exactly the same time … unless one of the others now moves their own slot. Ridge’s first show back is September 9.
From the horse’s mouth: Marr tweeted Ridge yesterday to stress the decision was taken to accommodate lazy football fans watching re-runs of Match of the Day. “Hi Sophy, andrew here,” Marr wrote. “Just to let you know: they are changing the time of my show to 10 AM. It’s a management thing, based on their reading of the football audience, nothing to do with us and absolutely not meant to be rolling onto your lawn! A.” The tweet was quickly deleted — presumably because it was meant to be a DM. Oops. Happily, Guido has a screen grab.
MORE MEDIA NEWS: LBC Radio host Iain Dale announced he is returning to his old 7 p.m evening slot to make way for the incoming Eddie Mair. Dale said in a blog post he “would have made the same decision” to put Mair on at drive time given his legendary status on Radio 4 show PM. The moves are part of a wider shake-up that will see Nigel Farage’s hour-long program shunted back to 6 p.m. — which presumably means Mair will be handing over to him every night. And former No. 10 spinner Tom Swarbrick has a new nightly show from 10 p.m. Full schedule here.
GRATUITOUS TEENAGE PIC OF THE DAY: Editor of Politics.co.uk Ian Dunt tweeted out this photo of his teenage self collecting his GCSE results, and it is quite a thing.
MILLER TIME: Article 50 campaigner Gina Miller will be in conversation with Zoe Williams at a Guardian Live event this evening, ahead of the publication of her memoir tomorrow. Speculation Miller is considering a career in politics will be fuelled by news that even though tickets cost £20 each, she appears to have sold out the whole of Cadogan Hall … which has a capacity of almost 1,000. Not bad going.
GOVE WILL TEAR US APART, AGAIN: David Cameron told friends at a party this summer he is so behind in writing his political memoirs that Michael Gove is “still one of the good guys,” the Sun’s Matt Dathan reports. Ouch.
BACKING FOR BENN: Much love online last night for this Twitter thread in support of Labour activist (and Tony Benn’s granddaughter) Emily Benn from another MP’s descendant, Dom Goggins. Benn has been taking abuse off hardline Corbynistas for attacking the Labour leader over the anti-Semitism row. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ explosive interview on the subject in the New Statesman makes every paper today, including the splash in the Mail and the Telegraph.
BUDGET ROW: Theresa May’s proxy war with Philip Hammond over the autumn budget continues today with more aggressive briefing from aides. Writing in today’s Sun, Tom Newton Dunn confirms the pair are at loggerheads over the PM’s backing for a 10p tax on plastic bags — double the current rate. “Philip is insistent that it’s his budget not hers, so her people should butt out,” a Treasury source tells TND. “She doesn’t write it, he does. And he will not take edicts from No. 10 like this.”
**Brussels is pushing a post-holiday diet as the Commission prepares to propose a legal limit on industrially produced trans fats. Our health care team will be following the details of the cap once the proposal is issued this fall. For a complimentary trial, email [email protected] and mention Health Care.**
Today program: Kabiru Bala, the Nigerian deputy high commissioner to the U.K., and Jim O’Neill, Chatham House chairman and former Treasury minister (8.10 a.m.) … Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács and Marco Zanni, an MEP for Italy’s League (8.30 a.m.).
TalkRADIO: Former Trade Minister Digby Jones (7.05 a.m.) … Tory MP Andrew Bridgen discusses Boris Johnson and the Tory leadership (8.05 a.m.) … Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb (8.20 a.m.).
Anna Foster on BBC Radio 5 Live: Africa Minister Harriett Baldwin (10.10 a.m.) … Tory MP Helen Grant, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle and SNP MP Drew Hendry are on the MPs’ panel (11.30 a.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.45 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Columnist Steve Richards and soon-to-be Telegraph Associate Editor Camilla Tominey … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Daily Mirror’s Associate Editor Kevin Maguire and the Daily Mail’s Consultant Editor Andrew Pierce.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
City A.M.: City bags Aston’s golden IPO.
Daily Express: PM closing in on Brexit deal.
Daily Mail: Corbyn’s “rivers of blood moment.”
Daily Mirror: Found! The twin girls sold on the web for 8,000.
Daily Star: Gordon Ramsay to the rescue.
Financial Times: Alarm over risk to pension funds from big cash transfers.
HuffPost: Theresa May vows to fight Boris Johnson in any leadership bid.
i: Heart attacks predicted years in advance.
Metro: Police — We’re under attack.
The Daily Telegraph: Corbyn’s comments “like Rivers of Blood.”
The Guardian: PM — I will fight any challenge to my leadership.
The Independent: Just the rest of the world to go.
The Sun: TOWIE op kills mum of three.
The Times: Tories fear infiltration by UKIP members.
On the Continent: Read what the rest of Europe’s papers are saying in POLITICO’s EU press review blog here (updated daily at around 8 a.m.).
BEYOND THE M25
TONE DEAF: Tory activists in Northampton are being asked to pay up to £95 a head for dinner with Home Secretary Sajid Javid — the man who oversaw local government finance from 2016 to 2018. Given the local county council has just gone bust and is preparing massive cuts to services, opponents are suggesting the dinner might be a little ill-judged. The Northampton Chronicle and Echo has the story.
MON DIEU: The shock resignation of his environment minister shows the difficulty Emmanuel Macron faces in maintaining a centrist coalition, POLITICO’s Zachary Young reports. Nicolas Hulot stressed his “profound admiration” for the French president, but said he could not accept the slow pace of Macron’s environmental program.
PITCH BLACK: Could artificial football pitches cause cancer? That’s the question regulators in Brussels are currently wrestling with as they consider a clampdown on chemicals used in their manufacture, POLITICO’s Ginger Hervey reports.
Westminster weather: 🌦🌦🌦 Light showers, spells of sunshine and plenty of cloud. Highs of 21C.
Congratulations: To POLITICO health care reporter Carmen Paun, who gave birth to baby Vlad on Monday.
Happy birthday to: UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn … Sunday Times Editor Martin Ivens, who turns 60.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich.
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