Theresa May with Yvette Cooper before the Queen's Speech last Wednesday. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The pressure rises on Theresa May

Home Secretary accused by Labour of breaking the ministerial code and ordered to appear before select committee.

David Cameron's unusually brutal response to Michael Gove and Theresa May's briefing war - forcing Gove to apologise and May's special adviser Fiona Cunningham to resign - was a desperate attempt to limit the damage from one of the most extraordinary episodes of the coalition's time in office. Of the two ministers, it is May who has paid the biggest price. While Gove has had to issue an embarrassing but largely inconsequential apology to Cameron and to Charles Farr, the Home Office security chief he briefed against (who is currently in a relationship with Cunningham), May has suffered the permanent loss of her most loyal and trusted adviser.

This differing treatment reflects No. 10's view of the gravity of their misdemeanours. While Gove was critical of what he regards as the Home Office's lax approach to non-violent Islamist extremism at a Times editorial lunch on Monday (comments reported without attribution by the paper two days later), May took the far more dramatic step of publicly releasing her excoriating letter to the Education Secretary on Islamist infiltration of schools (tweeted at 12:24am on Wednesday morning from the Home Office account), an unprecedented act of hostility.

Reflecting this, it is the Home Secretary whom Labour is concentrating its firepower on. In a joint letter to Cameron, Yvette Cooper and Tristram Hunt have accused both Gove and May of breaking the ministerial code, but they focus on the latter's alleged breaches. They write:

It appears that both the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary have broken the Ministerial Code in the last week. The Education Secretary has now apologised, however the Home Secretary has remained silent.

As Prime Minister it is your responsibility to enforce the Ministerial Code. Can you therefore explain whether the Home Secretary has broken the Ministerial Code or not, and what enforcement action you have taken?

Section 2.1 of the Ministerial Code says: "the privacy of opinions expressed in Cabinet and Ministerial Committees, including in correspondence, should be maintained."

The Home Secretary's letter to the Education Secretary is in response to Cabinet correspondence and circulated to the Extremism Taskforce. It was written and sent by the Home Secretary on June 3, apparently after and in response to the Home Office being made aware of the hostile briefing from the Education Secretary. It was briefed to journalists on the same day and published on the Home Office website in the early hours of 4 June. It remained on the Home Office website for 4 days.

It appears that the Home Secretary wrote this letter intending to publish it. Did she authorise the release of the letter? Is that in breach of the Ministerial Code? Given that the Home Secretary then allowed the letter to remain on the website for 4 days, is that also a breach of the Ministerial Code?

What action have you taken in response to a breach of the Ministerial Code by one of your most senior Cabinet ministers? Will the Home Secretary also be apologising or are some Ministers exempt from enforcement of the Ministerial Code?
 

Alongside this, Keith Vaz, who chairs the home affairs select committee, has written to May demanding "a full explanation of what has happened" and announcing that the committee "will in due course question her about these matters."

But while it is May who is under the greatest pressure, Gove faces the challenge of responding in the Commons tomorrow to Ofsted's 21 inquiries into the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by extremists. While the battle-hardened Education Secretary is likely to put in a typically defiant performance, the more difficult task will be reconciling his commitment to fighting Islamism with his commitment to school autonomy.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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