Key NEC decisions, the return of ‘scroungers’ and a nearly normal PMQs

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Labour’s new general secretary will be appointed within just two weeks, officers of the national executive committee (NEC) have decided. Set in a meeting of core NEC members yesterday and exclusively revealed by LabourList, the super-speedy timetable will see Jennie Formby’s successor chosen by the whole NEC on May 19th. That is after NEC officers, as the panel, both longlist and shortlist candidates. This process is thought likely to benefit Unite’s Anneliese Midgley, who topped our runners and riders list. NEC officers have also discussed whether summer elections for the ruling body and September conference can go ahead. LabourList understands that no firm decision on cancellations has yet been made, but there was a recognition that all cannot proceed as normal and new virtual processes would have to be introduced.

While we’re on the subject of coronavirus, there is the small matter of the UK’s confirmed death toll becoming the highest in Europe. It must be small because it has been largely ignored by the British papers. They are more interested in the Telegraph scoop revealing that Professor Neil Ferguson broke lockdown rules “to meet his married lover”. He has had to step down from the government’s scientific advisory group as a result. As we see all too often, stories highlighting flaws in individual behaviour are prioritised over stories that expose structural problems and get to the heart of why things are going wrong under the Tories.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak is preparing to “wind down” the furlough scheme. According to The Times, the government fears that people are “addicted” to it. Yes, can you believe it: addicted to being without work and on reduced pay. That the narrative of ‘scroungers’ can survive a global pandemic says a lot about this country, and none of it good.

This development comes as deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries admits that the testing situation would have been different in March if there had been unlimited capacity. At the time, we were told the UK did not need to follow the World Health Organisation’s “test, test, test” advice because it was intended for less developed countries. Such as, er, Germany? And, as usual, local government faces punishment for properly supporting people during this crisis. Robert Jenrick has warned that “we wouldn’t want anybody to labour under a false impression that what they are doing will be guaranteed funded by central government”. It’s a far cry from the “whatever it takes” line used earlier, as Camden Council leader Georgia Gould points out.

Parliament may still be virtual, but there is lots of activity today. With Rachel Reeves on the Labour frontbench, a new chair of the business select committee will be elected. It is between Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Darren Jones. Whichever one of the three wins the post, Barry Gardiner would like a word on changing the way we heat homes. And before that, we will finally see Keir Starmer go head-to-head with Boris Johnson at noon. The Labour leader’s careful and precise approach against the cluttered, bombastic style of the Prime Minister will make for interesting viewing. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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