London Playbook: Budget blues — Starmer’s ultimatum — Wallace unleashed

London Playbook: Budget blues — Starmer’s ultimatum — Wallace unleashed
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 15 February 2023 06:22


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London Playbook

By DAN BLOOM

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Intuit

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Good Wednesday morning. This is Dan Bloom, with you for the rest of recess week.


DRIVING THE DAY


MONEY MONEY MONEY: Can you tell it’s one month today to the Budget? Despite a quiet recess, it seems public sector pay, tax, childcare, sickness benefits, energy bills and defense spending are all jostling for the top of Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt’s in-trays.


NEWS JUST IN: CPI inflation was 10.1 percent in the year to January — a drop from the 10.5 percent recorded a month ago. But don’t crack out the Champers … we’re still near a four-decade high and in double digits, with a dramatic fall only predicted later this year.


Battle for today’s airwaves: Sunak, who bet his reputation on halving inflation this year, will record a pool clip at 4 p.m. after meeting Bill Gates at Imperial College London. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace — no stranger to creating news, who reportedly wants up to £11 billion in the budget — is getting in first, with a rare broadcast round from a NATO summit starting at 7.05 a.m. Keir Starmer is then up with a 8.55 a.m. press conference on anti-Semitism. More on these below.


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LET’S START WITH DEFENSE SPENDING: Tory MPs sound the trumpet in today’s Mail, with Iain Duncan Smith telling the chancellor to “stop this nonsense and pretence that we can get military forces on the cheap.” The Telegraph reports French officials raised concerns over the state of the British Armed Forces … which a U.K. government spokesman calls “unsubstantiated rumors.”


PUBLIC SECTOR PAY: The idea of extending 2023-24 pay offers to January 2023 — which seemed to go nowhere last month — has resurfaced in today’s FT. This time Sunak and Hunt are said to be looking at backdating some extra pay not just for NHS staff, but “other key workers” too, to try to end waves of strikes.


But but but … A “Treasury memorandum” seen by the FT says rises over 5 percent would be deemed to worsen inflation. Translation: not gonna happen. Unions won’t like any offer that doesn’t budge on 2022-23 pay. And IFS economist Ben Zaranko points out a below-inflation rise is still “very likely” because pay must come out of departments’ existing budgets. No. 10 said overnight there was no change to its position.


This’ll be awkward: A 16 percent rise over two years has been offered to some lawyers in the Government Legal Department … but not their junior colleagues, says a memo leaked to Civil Service World. A senior lawyer calls it “extremely welcome news for the lucky few.”


ENERGY BILLS: A Resolution Foundation briefing today predicts the chancellor will cave in over an energy bill “rollercoaster.” Now that wholesale gas prices have fallen, reducing the energy price guarantee on April 1 will mean annual household bills go from £2,500 now to £3,000 in April, but then fall again to £2,400 from July. Pre-payment customers are on course for a £45 jump in one month. In a bold turn of phrase, the think tank’s Chief Executive Torsten Bell says the Treasury “can — and almost certainly will — delay the increase in EPG for three months,” at a cost of £3 billion.


CHILDCARE: Former Bank of England economist Charlie Bean tells the i Hunt has some “wiggle room” … but only enough for things like childcare reform, not significant tax cuts. Better than nothing. Tory MPs are pushing hard on childcare, and Sky News has an Early Years Alliance survey showing providers expect to raise fees by 8 percent this year.


SICKNESS CRACKDOWN: Ministers, Labour and think tank-land are all agonizing over how to solve the post-COVID surge in long-term sickness, and today’s Telegraph splash says it will be at the heart of the budget. Ben Riley-Smith and Nick Gutteridge report the Treasury and Department for Work and Pensions are looking at encouraging GPs to recommend ways their patients can continue to work, rather than signing them off sick. One eye-catching idea even involves putting work coaches in doctors’ surgeries.


WHAT THE TREASURY WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: A 20 percent cut in business rates for England’s retailers as April bills start to drop on doormats. The Federation of Small Businesses says it will be a “big relief,” but “we are calling on the Government to go further” in the budget.


More happy news: Not overjoyed enough? The monthly U.K. House Price Index is out at 9.30 a.m.


LABOUR LAND


LONG WAIT: Labour has been let out of special measures over anti-Semitism after 839 days — and Starmer has grabbed the watershed moment with both hands. In a Times op-ed, he says the party was “an incubator for this poison” and tells left-wing members who don’t like his leadership to take a hike.


Filling your screens: Starmer is making a statement and taking questions in East London from 8.55 a.m., while backbencher Margaret Hodge — who once called her party a “hostile environment for Jews” — is on the morning broadcast round. Starmer says it “is not a moment to celebrate,” but “a time to apologize once again.” The party knew the announcement was coming for about a month.


That ultimatum: “The Labour Party I lead today is unrecognizable from 2019,” Starmer writes. “There are those who don’t like that change, who still refuse to see the reality of what had gone on under the previous leadership. .. If you don’t like it, nobody is forcing you to stay.” While this is technically about anti-Semitism, it’s not hard to read it more widely — the Times’ headline is “Back me or leave party, Starmer⁩ tells Labour’s left.”


The details: A 130-page Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report in 2020 found three breaches of equality law, “political interference by LOTO staff and others” under Jeremy Corbyn, and “serious failings in leadership.” An action plan including an independent complaints process and “strengthened due diligence checks” on candidates finished on January 31 and the EHRC has now “concluded its work with the Party.”


The reaction: Jewish Leadership Council Chair Keith Black and Community Security Trust Chief Executive Mark Gardner welcomed Starmer’s “radically different approach,” but said: “There is still much work to do.” More reaction via the Jewish Chronicle, while the Mail points out there have been 700 cases in three years. No comment appeared to be offered ahead of the embargo from Corbyn, who is still suspended from the Labour whip over his response to the report.


TANKS ON TORY LAWNS WATCH: Labour’s latest party political broadcast, which airs on ITV at 6.25 p.m., goes in heavily with the “we’ve changed” message — but from a completely different angle. It shows Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves taking turns on a brown leather armchair, presenting themselves directly to voters as sober custodians of the economy. Reeves stresses her experience “in financial services in the private sector” and says “we can’t promise the earth,” while Starmer says “sound money” will be “a foundation to everything that we build.”


POLLWATCH: A Redfield and Wilton Strategies poll of 42 so-called Blue Wall seats puts Labour in the lead at 41 percent — up from third place in 2019. The Conservatives are on 34 percent in the poll, which suggests Dominic Raab — pictured on a ski trip by the Mirror — would lose his seat.


Red Wall watch: Shadow Cabinet Minister Jim McMahon appears to concede Labour’s past “mistakes” today, telling the Yorkshire Post Tories should not be “making the mistakes that Labour made in those rural and coastal seats because Labour is coming for them.”


WHAT LABOUR AIDES ARE TALKING ABOUT: A Labour political adviser texts Playbook about Guido’s piece on nearly two-thirds of their number being men. It “just confirmed what all the women advisors know and talk about constantly,” they say. “Maybe it’s time for all-women-shortlists for advisors as well as candidates?”




WAR IN UKRAINE


TODAY IN BRUSSELS: Defense Secretary Wallace kicks off a six-outlet U.K. broadcast round any minute now, from a NATO defense ministers meeting with counterparts including from Germany, Canada, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Ministers will discuss “sustaining and accelerating” military support for Ukraine, modernizing NATO, and Sweden and Finland’s applications to join. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is giving opening remarks at 8.30 a.m. and a press conference at 11.45 a.m.


Fighting talk: The Express splashes on defense editor Michael Knowles’ interview with Lieutenant Colonel Ben Hawes, who will assume command of NATO’s high-readiness force on January 1. Contrary to worries about resources, he tells the paper: “If I ask for it, I get it. I don’t feel like we’ve been under-resourced.”


One to watch: An eighth Brit has died in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the Foreign Office confirmed on Tuesday night. The BBC has the story.


COMING ATTRACTION: The bigger story might come when Sunak meets world leaders at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Labour leader Starmer is also attending from Friday, as is Defense Secretary Wallace, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, and their Labour opposites David Lammy and John Healey.


Guest list: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron are among those expected to turn up in Munich. POLITICO’s Nicholas Vinocur has a piece on how Macron is missing his “golden opportunity” to lead the European response to the war.


CHINA FEARS


CHINA WATCH WATCH: Never mind balloons — Wallace will surely be asked about a watchdog’s warning that U.K. police forces are “shot through” with Chinese-linked cameras, drones and numberplate readers. The Mail and Guardian both splash on Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson, who says some forces are using kit made by Huawei despite the firm being banned from the U.K.’s 5G network. Police forces “are generally aware that there are security and ethical concerns” about the kit, he writes. It comes a day after the Telegraph led on concerns about drones.


Pressure grows: On Sunak to take a tougher line. China hawk Iain Duncan Smith writes in the Sun that the PM is guilty of a “significant weakening” in his position since the leadership race.


If that didn’t worry you: Whitehall officials have war-gamed the economic fallout if China were to invade Taiwan, with disruption to the microchips trade a particular concern, sources have told the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti.


ICYMI: The governor of the Chinese region of Xinjiang canceled a visit to London planned for this week amid huge backlash from U.K. officials and human rights activists. Erkin Tuniyaz, who had not been invited by the U.K. government, has decided against traveling to London, U.K. officials and campaigners pressing against his visit told POLITICO’s Cristina Gallardo.


LABOUR HAWK: Shadow Chancellor Reeves today says “I think we are still too over-reliant on China,” in an interview with HuffPost UK’s Alexandra Rodgers. “National security has always got to come first — whether on telecommunications or energy, I want us to do more to buy, make and sell more here in Britain.”


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BROKEN BRITAIN


HALF TERM FUN: England’s biggest teaching unions will all file into the Department for Education this morning for talks with Gillian Keegan. NASUWT General Secretary Patrick Roach says ministers have “failed to come forward with any proposals” on pay and “our members’ patience is being sorely tested.” The National Education Union is readying a staggered wave of strikes for February 28-March 2.


STRIKING TODAY: More than 70,000 UCU members at 150 universities, some DVLA and Jobcentre staff, and PCS members at the British Museum, which has canceled half-term activities and limited entry to pre-booked ticket holders and members.


STRIKING SOON? As the British Medical Association ballot of junior doctors prepares to end on Monday, the Telegraph reports nearly 7,000 have joined the union in the months before voting. Tory MP Christopher Chope says it’s “opportunist entryism.”


SOLIDARITY FOREVER: Redcar MP Jacob Young has one solution … “Nurses have been offered a bigger pay rise than MPs are getting,” he told a Facebook user who accused MPs of double standards. “Maybe I should go on strike.” It was spotted by Labour’s Anna Turley, who lost the Red Wall seat to the Conservative in 2019.


TODAY IN WESTMINSTER


MEANWHILE IN BREXIT: Reports continue to trickle in that a deal to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol debate is more or less ready, but needs final work and sign-off by Sunak. A detailed piece by the Guardian team suggests the PM will look at the details in the second half of this week, while the FT suggests he’ll raise it with EU leaders on the margins in Munich.


Good luck with this one: The Guardian suggests any deal might not need a vote in parliament, heading off a showdown with Tory Brexiteers. They’ll be having none of that, if a tweet on Tuesday night from former Brexit minister David Jones is any guide. He said compromise was not an option over any role for the EU’s court. A European Research Group source told to the i’s Arj Singh: “Are they flying a balloon to see how quickly it gets shot down?”


The details: The Guardian piece suggests the final shape will involve a “fudge” allowing Northern Ireland courts to adjudicate in disputes over food and agricultural products, and a “carve-out” for food retailers. Playbook is among many to hear an announcement is possible, though by no means guaranteed, next week. A Whitehall source tells The Times that Sunak “has basically been sitting on it, asking for bits of clarification, but the deal is done” — and is hoping Boris Johnson will refrain from criticizing it.


Downing Street’s line: There is no deal yet for the PM to sign off on. A U.K. government spokesperson said: “We are currently engaging in intensive scoping talks with the EU to find solutions to these problems.”


REFUGEES CHANGE: The Home Office will act as a legal parent for unaccompanied child refugees as part of new legislation to overhaul the asylum system, according to The Times, which notes it could mean hotels will continue to be used for the foreseeable future. A Home Office official on Tuesday night insisted there were no plans for it to act as “corporate parents” to unaccompanied child refugees, adding: “This isn’t true.”


CULTURE WARS: More in Common’s Luke Tryl put up an interesting thread claiming Lee Anderson’s aim to win an election on “culture wars and trans debate” — unearthed by the Mirror — may not be the election-winner he thinks it is, despite many voters agreeing with him.


UNDERCOVER FOOTAGE: The Guardian released a deep-dive investigation overnight into “a team of Israeli contractors who claim to have manipulated more than 30 elections around the world using hacking, sabotage and automated disinformation on social media.” Read the full thing here.


JOURNALISM APPEAL: OpenDemocracy has launched a campaign to raise several thousand pounds for a reporter to sit through every day of the COVID inquiry — which is due to start in May or June. “Stretched national news desks will send reporters to cover the inquiry on the days that are most likely to generate a quick headline,” says the site — “but the devil is in the details.”


PARLIAMENT: You guessed it — still in recess until February 20.


ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL: Nearly half of England’s hospital trusts are missing a two-week target for patients to see a cancer specialist, says Commons Library research commissioned by the Lib Dems. It says 63 out of 132 NHS trusts missed an NHS aim for 93 percent to have a cancer specialist appointment within two weeks of an urgent GP referral in every month last year. The Independent’s splash examines the cost of NHS strikes, including 10,000 people waiting 18 months for surgery and 140,000 appointments canceled … and PA have dug out figures showing thousands of people waited more than three months between mental health appointments.


CELEB LINEUP: The NACOA charity’s “children of alcoholics” lecture is at 3 p.m. in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House. Featuring Calum Best (son of footballer George), 2015 “I’m a Celebrity …” winner Vicky Pattison, the Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey — and Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who will accuse the government of cutting support at a time of record alcohol-related deaths.


LIB DEM BAR CHARTS: Lib Dem analysis of Sunak’s record as prime minister has been given the dreaded going-over by Full Fact. The fact-checkers say the claim that an average or typical household became £1,200 poorer in his first 100 days was based on “several significant flaws.”


CONSPIRACY WATCH: Unherd asked 10,000 voters what they think of the claim that “the world is controlled by a secretive elite” — and 38 percent agreed. There’s even a breakdown by political party, with the Brexit Party coming out on top, and Labour “ahead” of the Conservatives. Get your tin foil hats here.


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BEYOND THE M25


ROAD TO NOWHERE: All major road building projects in Wales have been scrapped because of environmental concerns, from the third Menai bridge to the controversial “red route” in Flintshire. The decision is part of the Welsh government’s national transport plan and follows a year-long review, but Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies called it “utter madness.” The BBC’s Teleri Glyn Jones has the story.


EARTHQUAKE UPDATE: At least 35,000 people have died from last Monday’s devastating earthquakes in Turkey, more than 105,000 are injured, and 47,000 buildings are destroyed or so badly damaged they need demolition. POLITICO’s Nektaria Stamouli says the aftermath threw a spanner into Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans for elections, which should take place by June 18. Officials informally indicated an extension might be needed, but the leader of the main opposition CHP party Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said such a delay would be unconstitutional.


COFFEY AND DC: Like the Beatles, Thérèse Coffey has gone Stateside. The environment secretary will give a 15-minute speech in Washington to agriculture department heads from all 50 states, praising Ukrainian farmers and vowing to “work together” with the U.S. Will she revive her friend Liz Truss’ love letter to cheese? It’s at 5.30 p.m. U.K. time.


MEANWHILE, IN BRUSSELS: European Council President Charles Michel has been drawn into a row about … whether Eurocrats routinely snort cocaine. Erm, he’s saying they don’t. POLITICO’s Aitor Hernández-Morales has the whole saga.


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MEDIA ROUND


Defense Secretary Ben Wallace broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.) … GMB (8.20 a.m.).


Labour MP Margaret Hodge broadcast round: GMB (6.45 a.m.) … Sky News (7.35 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.50 a.m.).


Also on Sky News: Former director of British Army Staff, U.K. Ministry of Defense, Ben Barry (8.05 a.m.) … Chief economic adviser at Allianz and President of Queens’ College, Cambridge Mohamed El-Erian (8.30 a.m.).


Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Waitrose CEO James Bailey (7.35 a.m.) … Former U.K. Representative to NATO Peter Ricketts (8.05 a.m.) … Actress Joanna Lumley (8.20 a.m.) … Labour MP Diane Abbott (8.35 a.m.).


Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Former head of policy planning at NATO Fabrice Pothier (7.05 a.m.) … Former British Ambassador to Ukraine Leigh Turner (7.10 a.m.) … Royal College of Psychiatrists President Adrian James (8.20 a.m.) … Spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism Fiona Sharpe (8.35 a.m.).


Also on talkTV breakfast: Defense Analyst Colonel Simon Diggins (7.05 a.m.) … Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith (8 a.m.) … Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib (8.20 a.m.) … Former NATO commander, Rear Admiral Chris Parry (8.30 a.m.) … Former National Security Adviser Kim Darroch (9.05 a.m.).


Also on Good Morning Scotland: Tory MSP Maurice Golden (7.35 a.m.) … Circularity Scotland’s Donald McCalman (8.05 a.m.).


Nicky Campbell’s political phone-in (BBC Radio 5 Live 10 a.m.): Shadow International Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds … Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher … and the Green Party’s co-leader Carla Denyer.


TODAY’S FRONT PAGES


(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page):


Daily Express: Defiant Army Chief says ‘We can stand up to Putin’.


Daily Mail: Worry about the Chinese cameras six feet over our heads.


Daily Mirror: Agony … and Joy.


Daily Star: Don’t shoot E.T.


Financial Times: Russia masses aircraft within striking range of Ukraine targets, west warns.


i: Women face postcode lottery for HRT supply.


Metro: Was it a hate crime?


POLITICO UK: Theater or Zelenskyy? How Macron keeps failing to lead European response to Ukraine war.


PoliticsHome: Home Office delays workforce review to frustration of staff-short industries.


The Daily Telegraph: Sick note crackdown to boost workforce.


The Guardian: Beijing could use police cameras to spy on Britain, warns watchdog.


The Independent: Revealed — the real cost of NHS strikes.


The Sun: Nicola — stained glove found.


The Times: Back me or leave party, Starmer⁩ tells Labour’s left.


LONDON CALLING


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Gorgeous. Sunny with a gentle breeze and chance of rain in the evening. Highs of 14C.


HOW THEY SPENT IT: MPs celebrated Valentine’s night by … Watching “All Quiet on the Western Front” with their eldest (Jess Phillips) … Meeting rock band Reverend and the Makers (Kate Osborne) … Visiting Israel to receive a strategic briefing from the Israel Defense Forces (Jo Gideon) … Celebrating local shops (Wendy Morton) … Chatting to residents in Nottingham (Lilian Greenwood) … Revealing their favorite contronym (Chris Bryant) … Watching “Clarkson’s Farm” and “laughing like a drain” (Nadine Dorries) … Remembering St. Valentine was also the patron saint of beekeepers (Richard Graham) … Celebrating being in so in-demand at Tory fundraising events (Lee Anderson) … Retweeting a Communist meme (Anne McLaughlin) … Presenting Love Hearts — Darlington-style (Peter Gibson) … Watching Chris Packham’s “Inside Our Autistic Minds” (Olivia Blake) … Catching up with the Perth Parrots Floorball Club (Pete Wishart) … and, perhaps most importantly, giving thanks to their better half (Paul Bristow).


And if that wasn’t romantic enough: A Tory mole writes in to say the party’s spiritual home, the Carlton Club, hosted a £90-a-head, black tie, five-course Valentine’s dinner on Tuesday night including oysters, Dopff Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose, gilthead bream ceviche and pheasant breast. How the other half love.


Still no word from: Sunak or Starmer’s teams on how the two leaders marked the big day. Spoilsports!


TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM: BBC News presenter Ben Boulos detailed his visit to a restaurant as a party of one, saying: “If you’re single or spending it alone … you might be feeling like you’re the only one in the world. You’re not. There are lots of us.” We hope his wholesome message includes Playbook toilers in the middle of the night.


NEW GIG: Former China Research Group director Julia Pamilih has joined Policy Exchange’s foreign policy team to work on U.K. economic and technology security.


CONGRATS: To the Express’ Sam Lister, whose name was engraved on Tuesday into the wooden board of “chairmen of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.” Given she’s the fifth woman to hold the post, four of them elected since 2018, perhaps that “men” header needs an upgrade …


LAST ORDERS: Westminster’s largest and most chaotic networking event of the year — the British Kebab Awards — kicks off in less than a fortnight with the last chance to book your tickets. Could the top booking be King Charles III, after the monarch visited a kebab shop in Hounslow to meet earthquake aid volunteers?


IN MEMORIAM: Arthur Alexander (Alex) Blackford, father of former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, died on Tuesday after a short illness. Blackford’s tweet has a touching photo.


NAVAL-GAZING: Tower Bridge will open for an unnamed vessel next Thursday at 3.45 p.m. — which is usually code for a naval ship. Blogger ianVisits has more details.


BIRTHDAYS: East Londonderry MP Greg Campbell turns 70 … Former Eddisbury MP Antoinette Sandbach … Times Radio’s Adam Boulton … Former International Development Secretary Clare Short … Former Lib Dem aide Fionna Tod … National Security Adviser Tim Barrow … Director of the SMF Think Tank James Kirkup.


PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Noah Keate and producer Grace Stranger.


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