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US 1) Military takes out top Iranian general

“General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ overseas forces, has been killed in a targeted US air strike at Baghdad airport. A US Pentagon statement accused Soleimani of “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq” and said that US forces had “at the direction of the President” taken “decisive defensive action”. The death of the military leader — who controlled Tehran’s extensive influence across the Middle East from Lebanon to Iraq, Syria and Yemen through the Revolutionary Guards’ al Quds forces — represents a dramatic escalation in the conflict between the US and Iran under the Trump administration.” – FT

  • Strike also killed deputy commander of anti-American militia – Daily Telegraph
  • Countries ‘stand on brink of war’ – The Sun
  • Tehran brands move an ‘act of terrorism’ – Daily Express

US 2) Democrats warn of ‘costly war’

US lawmakers were not told in advance of the attack ordered by President Donald Trump that killed a top Iranian military commander, a senior House Democrat said late on Thursday. General Qassim Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a US airstrike alongside top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis early on Friday. The high-profile assassinations are likely to be a massive blow to Iran, which has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with the storming of the US embassy in Iraq. While Republicans cheered news of Soleimani’s demise, Democrats said there were legal concerns over the operation and warned of severe repercussions.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Iranian paramilitaries pull back from US embassy – FT

Cummings appeals to ‘weirdos’ to shake up Whitehall…

“The prime minister’s chief adviser has appealed for “weirdos and misfits” to come to work with him in 10 Downing Street on radical ideas as he set out plans to transform the way the government is run. In a blog post that will deepen his row with the civil service, Dominic Cummings urged “true wild cards” to bypass its formal recruitment process and get in touch with him via email. He argued that while “there are many brilliant people in the civil service and politics” there are also “profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions”. He said that at present we “do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed”.” – The Times

More:

  • Johnson set for ‘major battle’ with unions… – Daily Telegraph
  • …who claim reforms could lead to discrimination – The Guardian
  • Seizing chance for ‘outside-in’ revolution – FT

>Today: ToryDiary: White hot heat of the technological Cummings?

…as Johnson launches hunt for ‘Labour mole’

“Boris Johnson has ordered a major probe into leaking of information from Whitehall – amid fears there’s a Labour mole working at the highest level of government. The PM is said to be worried about an insider working at the top of the civil service, the Daily Mail reported. Government sources said Boris was concerned after multiple top-secret documents were leaked in the general election campaign. One source said: “There was a pattern through the campaign of unhelpful documents being released. The intention was to embarrass the Government.” The insider added: “It does suggest we have a Labour mole and we are going to root them out.” One of them was a Treasury document about Brexit which appeared to contradict some of the PM’s claims about how goods would flow to Northern Ireland after we leave the EU.” – The Sun

  • Complacent civil service needs a serious shake-up – Iain Mansfield, The Times
  • New broom will end the lazy bias of snivel service – Ross Clark, The Sun

Editorial:

>Today:

Shapps could strip Northern of rail franchise

“Grant Shapps is set to strip Northern Rail of its franchise, saying “frustrated commuters will not have to wait long” before action is taken. The Transport Secretary described services on the route as “really bad” and claimed passengers have “had a nightmare on that line” since 2016. The introduction of new timetables in May 2018 saw up to 310 Northern trains a day cancelled, with figures from the Office of Rail and Road showing that only 56 per cent of Northern services were on time in the last quarter. Asked if he would remove the franchise from Northern, Mr Shapps said: “The simple answer to the question is yes, it is going to be brought to an end. It’s partially a legal process but frustrated commuters will not have to wait long.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • Levelling up regions is easier said than done – Chris Giles, FT

Editorial:

Conservative AM suspended after arrest

“A Welsh Conservative politician has been suspended from his party after he was arrested by police. It is understood that assembly member Nick Ramsay was arrested on Wednesday evening at his home in Raglan, Usk, Monmouthshire. On Thursday, the Welsh Conservative party confirmed that the shadow finance minister had been suspended – from the Welsh Conservative Group at the National Assembly for Wales and as a Tory party member… The Conservative party and Gwent police have been approached for comment.” – The Guardian

Soubry and almost half of Tory voters want Farage in the Lords

“Nearly half of Conservative voters believe that Nigel Farage should be given a peerage but most of the public is opposed to the idea, a poll suggests. Forty-five per cent of Tory voters surveyed believe that the Brexit Party leader should be given a seat in the Lords; 32 per cent oppose the idea and 23 per cent said they did not know. Overall more than half of all those asked, 53 per cent, opposed Mr Farage getting a peerage. Just over a fifth of those polled, 21 per cent, said that they backed such a move. Last week one of Mr Farage’s staunchest critics suggested that he should have a place in the Lords. Anna Soubry, the pro-EU former Tory MP who lost her seat at the general election, said that the former Ukip leader would make the upper chamber more representative.” – The Times

  • Half of Britons want licence fee scrapped – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Bullish Tory members: more than nine in ten think the next election will produce another Conservative majority

Eurosceptic MPs want Brexit ceremony enshrined in law…

“A group of Eurosceptic MPs campaigning for Big Ben to chime for Brexit on January 31 have tabled an amendment to Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill that would enshrine the ceremony in law. MPs have pushed for a symbolic chime of the bell to mark the UK’s exit from the EU since March, but were blocked by John Bercow in his time as Commons Speaker. Mr Bercow chaired the parliamentary commission that presides over decisions about the bell, which is housed inside the Elizabeth Tower. The tower is currently undergoing a multi-million pound restoration and its normal hourly chimes have been silenced to protect the hearing of construction workers.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Can Johnson hold the Tory tribes together? – Philip Collins, The Times

…as Corbyn lays down motion for further delay

“Labour has launched a fresh push for a two year Brexit delay if Boris Johnson doesn’t seal a trade deal with the EU by June. Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a change to the PM’s Brexit Bill – which will be brought back to the Commons for more scrutiny next Tuesday. After MPs passed the PM’s Bill before Christmas, just a few more Parliamentary stages are required before it becomes law, and Britain leaves on January 31. But nothing significant will change day-to-day until the end of 2020, when Britain exits the transition period… Labour has put down an amendment to extend the transition unless an agreement on the future trade partnership is done by June 15, 2020, or the Commons votes not to extend it.” – The Sun

  • EU must wake up to what Britain’s departure means – Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Mail
  • A friendly Brexit divorce is now on the cards – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Profiles: Sunak, rising star of the Johnson project

Labour leadership 1) Leader’s critics ‘fear hard-left move to control race’

“Jeremy Corbyn’s critics were on alert on Thursday night for an attempt by the party’s hard left to seize control of the timing of the Labour leadership contest, after a poll suggested the more moderate Keir Starmer is the early frontrunner. The poll by YouGov confirmed that the Corbynite left is struggling to find a viable candidate to halt Sir Keir, the shadow Brexit secretary, who said on Thursday it was time to rebuild Labour “as a trusted force for good”. On Monday, Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, which has been taken over by supporters of Mr Corbyn, will set the timetable for electing a new leader in the wake of the party’s worst election performance since 1935.” – FT

  • Loyalists could run ‘stop Starmer’ campaign – Daily Telegraph
  • Fans call on Corbyn to stay on as leader – The Sun
  • Burgon’s suitability for office questioned – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • A new year’s resolution: join the Labour Party – Siobhain McDonagh, The Guardian

Labour leadership 2) moderates hit out at front-runner Starmer

“Sir Keir Starmer is “another white bloke from Islington” and does not deserve to be Labour leader after serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, one of his moderate colleagues has said. The shadow Brexit secretary has opened a commanding lead among party members in the race to succeed Mr Corbyn but Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark, said that he was not going to win back Labour’s lost heartlands. He urged members to avoid picking a leader to “just put up more placards and get on another protest”. Mr Coyle said that he was supporting Jess Phillips, an outspoken critic of Mr Corbyn, to be party leader.” – The Times

  • Favourite calls for party to be rebuilt as ‘force for good’ – The Guardian

>Yesterday: Left Watch: Will Starmer prove to be the new Kinnock?

Martin Kettle: What candidates will need to do if Labour is to win again

“It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. But Labour is unquestionably going to have to do very much better than this if it is to climb out of the electoral abyss into which Corbyn led it in December. Talking about resistance to Johnson is simply displacement activity. The central truth is that Labour has to make itself the electable alternative that it failed to be in 2019. It needs to have a strategy for power. In the real world, power is hope, not the other way round. The plain truth that underpins everything about Labour today is that it lost, extremely badly.” – The Guardian

SNP MP admits Sturgeon has little chance of a referendum this year

“Nicola Sturgeon has little or no chance of getting a second independence referendum this year, one of her MPs has admitted despite her claims her demand for a vote is “irresistible.” Kenny MacAskill, the East Lothian MP and the former Scottish Justice Minister, said the probability of another separation vote being staged in the short term is “slim” and “more likely nil.” But, amid expert criticism of the SNP’s latest currency policy for a separate Scotland, he said the additional time could be “no bad thing given the failure to have resolved some critical issues from 2014.” He also called for protest marches campaigning for another independence referendum, and hinted at peaceful civil disobedience of the sort seen against the Poll Tax in the 1980s.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Northern Irish leaders move to break devolution deadlock – FT

Moran in relationship with suspended Liberal Democrat staffer

“Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP and prospective leadership candidate, has announced that she is in a “happy, loving, stable relationship” with a woman. She said she had spoken out after being approached by journalists. “If I am going to be outed I want it to be on my own terms,” the MP for Oxford West & Abingdon said. She met Rosy Cobb, the Lib Dems’ former head of press, through work and said she had been told there was no conflict of interest. Ms Cobb was suspended by the party during the general election after being accused of forging an email and has not returned… The MP said that the term she most identified with was pansexual, meaning that she is attracted to people regardless of gender identity.” – The Times

News in Brief:

  • Is the Labour party ready to abandon ‘Corbynism’? – Steven Fielding, The Spectator
  • It’s time for the Opposition to show some humility – Alan Lockey, CapX
  • Why the social justice Left is doubling down – Helen Pluckrose, The Critic
  • The US is being sucked back into the Middle East – Robert Fox, Reaction
  • Should we privatise marriage? – Giles Fraser, UnHerd

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