Cummings, Streetings and well poisonings.
First though the EU referendum lot, and the spectacle of Dominic Cummings, once Michael Gove's right hand man at the Department of Education, now general hatchet man for hire. Thought to have been behind the highly abusive ToryEducation Twitter account that routinely slagged off hacks and generally acted the twat, Cummings has discovered a new niche for his talents with the Leave campaign. Such is his general charm and pleasant demeanour it's widely held he was the reason the various Leave organisations never managed to amalgamate, and he displayed his general loveliness before the Treasury committee today.
Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the committee, is one of the few Tories who manages to mix general loyalty to Number 10 with the ability to disagree with and hold Cameron and Osborne to account when necessary. He also doesn't suffer fools gladly. Watching him trying to explain to Cummings how the £6bn rebate from the EU isn't taken only to be paid back, clearly dying a little inside as Cummings insists this can't possibly be as that's not how debits from bank accounts work, is to see how the country at large has reacted to the debate as a whole so far.
Why Cummings didn't do a bunk like the other Leave figures who failed to appear wasn't clear, unless their making excuses was directly connected. Cummings' performance certainly alluded to the possibility. Instead of diluting the usual Leave message of how everyone in favour of staying in is either scaremongering or lying, he decided to double down. Not only was the Bank of England in league with In, the Cabinet Office going around threatening to leave horses' heads in beds if anyone so much as squeaked their support for Out and the CBI a bunch of deceitful muppets, but the Foreign Office had been wrong about everything ever and couldn't negotiate its way out of a paper bag anyway. All fine and dandy to claim to the media, but generally select committees expect a bit of evidence to back such accusations up. None was forthcoming, and the session concluded with Tyrie all but declaring Cummings to be detached from reality.
Speaking of which, one of those interrogating Cummings was Labour's Wes Streeting, who has spent the last few days fighting for the honour and dignity of McDonald's within the party. One might have thought it fairly uncontroversial to turn down the company's generous offer to host a stand at this year's Labour conference, what with Maccie D's being opposed to unions, until yesterday refusing to budge on zero hours contracts and purveying junk food. Indeed, said unions and campaigners wrote to the Graun to say as much. But no, as Streeting and others have detected snobbery and sniffy attitudes from Islington's notorious falafel muncher, who can attend the Kebab Awards but not nosh on a veggie burger with Ronald. Isn't £30,000 of their money as good as anyone's? That if the leadership had said yes they would of got it in the neck for exactly the above reasons rather proves Corbyn can't possibly win.
Except in London, where it has been apparent for months that Sadiq Khan is going to walk it in the mayoral contest. Having not seemed bothered that Zac Goldsmith was heading for a thumping, not least as Goldsmith himself was the personification of apathy, the Tories have belatedly decided that if they can't win they'll do their best to poison the well instead. This is all the stranger for how they couldn't have picked a less likely politician to claim is a secret extremist than Khan, who despite his on-off attempts to appeal to the left is dead in the centre of the party. Every past interaction Khan has had with other Muslims or potentially dodgy individuals has been mined, regardless of how unbelievably stupid (also, dangerous) it is to claim that a solicitor shares the views of his clients, for instance. Khan was at one time the chair of Liberty, set-up a human rights orientated law firm and also knew Babar Ahmed from childhood, so there's plenty there just to begin with.
Not that Goldsmith is saying Khan is an extremist himself, oh no. He's merely shared platforms over and over and over again with extremists, a line taken up by David Cameron at PMQs today. Those paying attention might note this is exactly the same line taken against Corbyn over alleged anti-Semitism; no, Jeremy himself isn't a racist, he just hangs around with and has in the past attended the meetings of anti-Semites. Indeed, the similarity between the attacks on Khan for being an extremist, and the on-going criticisms of Corbyn for not cracking down hard enough on anti-Semitism, being BFFs with Hamas et al is pretty striking. The difference is that the attacks on Corbyn come from within Labour as much as they did from outside; who could have possibly predicted that the Tories would then use such criticisms as a template to attack Labour as a whole?
It doesn't really matter that making Suliman Gani out to be second only to Anjem Choudary in the "most repellent figures in the country" stakes has somewhat backfired since Gani has made clear he campaigned for err, Khan's Tory opponent in Tooting last year, as the overall aim is to damage Khan more than it is to win the election for Goldsmith. Throw enough shit and some will end up sticking. Claiming Khan is against the police, sympathetic to terrorists and can't be trusted, all while nodding and winking about his also being a Muslim is meant to make his job as difficult as possible from the very beginning. Create the impression your opponent is an extremist, and even if it doesn't work this time, it will have shaped perceptions that will be all the more difficult to shift. This might be especially disreputable considering the heightened fears of a terrorist attack in the capital following Paris and Brussels, but why would you expect any different from a party that has characterised the opposition as a whole as a threat to national security? And where could they have possibly got the idea to do that from?