London Playbook: Sue Gray storm — Windsor winning — Brexit shrug

London Playbook: Sue Gray storm — Windsor winning — Brexit shrug
Опубликовано: Friday, 03 March 2023 09:00

What’s driving the day in London.




By DAN BLOOM


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Good Friday morning. This is Dan Bloom. Rosa Prince returns Monday.


DRIVING THE DAY


WAITING FOR GRAY: Sue Gray is waking up to the prospect of some gardening and Homes Under the Hammer as she faces a three-month-to-two-year wait to start work as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff. The papers are full of apoplectic Tories after the Partygate investigator confirmed her defection from decades in the civil service. While Starmer is “delighted” to win over an experienced operator to help him prepare for government, his rivals’ WhatsApp pandemonium would need a whole new Telegraph team to wade through.


What Tory MPs are asking today: How long was Gray talking to Labour? … Did she declare those talks? … Will Rishi Sunak block her appointment? … And does this make the Partygate report a “stitch-up?” Expect some to come up when Starmer records a pool clip at 3.30 p.m. on a trip to Northern Ireland, where he’s visiting a college as part of the John Hume Peace Summit followed by the Mo Mowlam studio at Ulster University. While we wait, let’s take them in turn.


Tick tock: Starmer initiated contact “several months ago,” according to the Times splash; Playbook hears similar. Two sources tell your author Gray had a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to discuss her exit penciled in for Thursday morning — only for the story to break the night before. The FT is reporting that Case only found out from Sky News’ Joe Pike’s scoop.


Anything to declare? Some Tory officials are suggesting Gray should have disclosed the talks internally, under the civil service code on impartiality. The Cabinet Office is “reviewing the circumstances under which she resigned.”


PM WADES IN: Several Tory MPs, including Tory Vice Chair Paul Holmes and Jacob Rees-Mogg, are demanding Rishi Sunak blocks the appointment. The PM was ensconced at a party dinner last night — but three sources close to him did not rule out a ban, the Mail reports. A source close to the PM tells the Mail and Times that people “cannot simply depart government and go to work for organisations that will benefit from privileged information,” and he “would not countenance anything that would compromise” civil service impartiality.


There’s just 1 problem: No one seems fully clear on how Sunak would block it. Revolving-door jobs watchdog ACOBA is advisory, and its chair Eric Pickles complained last June that his rules were “toothless” and a “sanctions regime” was needed. Will Sunak find himself wishing he — or his predecessor — had tightened the rules sooner?


What happens now: Gray’s appointment is reviewed by ACOBA. It will give advice to Sunak on what lobbying restrictions she should face, and impose a “waiting period” of three months to two years before she can start the job. The PM then “makes the final decision” — but ACOBA guidance doesn’t spell out explicitly whether this includes a total ban. If there are “substantial propriety concerns,” ACOBA can “add a rider to their advice saying that they view the appointment to be unsuitable.” But Gray has already quit the civil service.


That said: Clearly a two-year ban would delay Gray’s job beyond the next election, though that’d be exceptional.


PARTY RAGE: The Mail’s splash asks: “Is this proof the Partygate probe was a Labour plot?” — and Boris Johnson and his allies wasted no time in saying similar. Nadine Dorries tells the Mail “there was a deep-laid plot” to oust him. A person describing themselves as a friend of Johnson said it “reveals what many have suspected all along: Partygate was a deliberate and manufactured plot to oust a Brexit-backing Conservative prime minister.” The Spectator’s Katy Balls reports Johnson personally piped up with his displeasure in a Tory WhatsApp group.


Small reminder: At the time Johnson said Gray’s report “vindicated” him … Gray was only appointed after Simon Case recused himself … police, not Gray, fined Johnson (albeit on evidence she passed on) … and today’s Guardian delicately says there was “nothing to indicate” the lockdown events she detailed “were not accurate.” FDA civil service union General Secretary Dave Penman tells Playbook it’s “beyond contempt” to suggest Gray had an “agenda” after “they relied on her undeniable reputation for integrity in the Partygate report — they actually hid behind it in many cases.”


Its influence lives on: The Mail notes that the full, unredacted version of Gray’s report is being considered by the Commons inquiry into whether Johnson misled parliament.


Venom: The Mail’s Andrew Pierce quotes a Johnson ally branding her a “snake” and says it will “heighten suspicion that she was an undercover operator for Labour all along” … Jewish Chronicle Editor-at-Large Stephen Pollard writes in the Mail that it is “grotesque, appalling and cynical” … The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh says it is a “constitutional outrage” … while a civil servant — some of whom, it must be said, are pretty uncomfortable too — tells the FT it will get “nasty” and “even sane people will now be questioning our impartiality.”


Might this be relevant? Gray was director of propriety and ethics and an ally of Johnson tells the Mail “she knows everything. She knows what’s on all the vetting forms … is she supposed to just forget all this?” A Tory MP tells Playbook “a lot of us have had experiences with Sue, let’s put it that way,” adding: “I think it’s f*cking outrageous, I really do. She claims to be this bastion of standards and independence and then shacks up with Keir Starmer. It’s an establishment stitch-up.”


But but but: It is by no means all hostile. Tory LBC host Iain Dale tweeted it is “confected outrage” and Gray has “total integrity” … former No. 10 spokeswoman Ali Donnelly tweeted a conspiracy is “only true if you presume that senior civil servants are incapable of operating neutrally while having their own views” … a Tory special adviser told Playbook “some people would like to think she’s been a Labour mole all these years and now she’s getting her payday, because that’s how it is in films, but it’s just not the case. She’s not political like that.”


WHAT LABOUR SAYS: An MP told Playbook Gray is being presented internally as a “serious person for a serious job to help Labour transition into government,” and compared to Blair recruiting Jonathan Powell in the 1990s. One aide told us Starmer “will have honestly just picked who he thought would be best for the job.” Jess Phillips tweeted Tory MPs “seem angrier over this than they were about massive rule breaking.” And a Labour aide said Tory MPs had gone “full Trump” in “the latest round in their fight to the death with reality.” They added: “This has been one of the funniest days in a long time.”


FROM THE ARCHIVES: POLITICO’s Ryan Heath wrote a fascinating piece last year on the time he was fired by Sue Gray, while Esther Webber and Shawn Pogatchnik’s profile said she “makes Robespierre look like a choirboy.”


MEANWHILE IN WINDSOR


TEAM-BUILDING LATEST: Tory MPs are waking up at a Windsor hotel this morning to continue the thrills of their away day. The 24-hour shindig, finishing mid-morning, cost a “healthy six figures” according to a party official — including making a mocked-up pub sign out of Greg Hands.


Glum news: Tory strategist Isaac Levido presented an internal MRP poll that suggested the Labour vote was “soft” and the Tories would have won 282 seats — short of a majority but better than many hope — if an election had been held in December. An attendee said he told MPs “there is a mountain to climb, but we have a path to victory.” MPs then enjoyed a speech by Michael Howard, summed up by an observer as “how sh*t it is to be in opposition,” and a dinner speech by cricketer Andrew Strauss.


The pub quiz: Questions included which Labour frontbencher once said Mao “did more good than harm,” the length of convicted ex-MP Jared O’Mara’s sentence, and the price of Angela Rayner’s Airpods. Labour’s attack team drew up a rival question sheet that included Grant Shapps’ alter egos and Gavin Williamson’s tarantula.


NOT SPOTTED: Many Tories swerved the temptation. Liz Truss was seen in PCH just before 7 p.m. And despite Playbook being told he’d come, a mole says Boris Johnson was not seen during the main part of the day.


Time better spent? Playbook’s ace reporter Noah Keate rounds up some other MP activities on the same day … Supporting job opportunities for veterans in South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) … Promoting World Book Day (Greg Smith, George Freeman, Gareth Davies, Nickie Aiken, Caroline Dinenage, Priti Patel and Amanda Milling) … Speaking to residents about dangerous driving (Huw Merriman) … Celebrating extra funding for national parks (Brandon Lewis) … Announcing a review into welfare services for veterans (Johnny Mercer) … Defending local pubs (David Davis) … Spending time with Maidstone and Weald Conservatives (Steve Baker) … Speaking at the Nuffield Trust summit (Helen Whately).


THE ERG STIRS: While the MPs gathered, so did the clouds over Sunak’s Windsor Framework Brexit deal. Arch-Brexiteer William Cash wrote to the PM last night asking him to appear before the European Scrutiny Committee, which he chairs, on March 14 — the day before the budget. He called for a reply by Tuesday, along with an “urgent” list of the 3 percent of EU rules that will still apply in Northern Ireland.


The DUP ruminates: With ERG and DUP verdicts not expected until next week or the week after, the Mail says the latter is preparing a “shopping list” of changes while a source in the former says: “The more I read, the less impressed I am. I think the shopping list might require a visit to a cash & carry rather than a Tesco Metro.”


And of course: There’s Boris Johnson, who warned he would find it “very difficult” to vote for Sunak’s deal. Lord Stephen Greenhalgh tells the i’s Arj Singh “the boss man is back” while Arj’s colleague Paul Waugh brutally compares Johnson to Brexit megaphone Steve Bray. The Times’ Oliver Wright writes Johnson is “presenting himself as a figurehead for opponents of the deal … positioning himself as the prince across the water.”


Act of persuasion: Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris extolled the benefits of the framework and made a pitch to Brexiteers, my colleague Shawn Pogatchnik emails to say. “As we move forward we will seize every opportunity to diverge [from EU standards] from where we are today where it offers benefits to the whole U.K.,” he wrote.


IN THE POLLS


ZZZZZZ: The Windsor Framework might end up a triumph for Sunak (DUP-dependent), but voters aren’t interested. A Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll of 1,500 adults for Playbook finds 48 percent have not heard or read about it “at all.” Sixteen percent heard of it a slight amount, 19 percent a fair amount and 17 percent a significant amount. Some 21 percent hadn’t even heard there were negotiations with Northern Ireland.


Good news for the king: Forty-two percent said his meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen should have taken place, while only 16 percent said it shouldn’t. In fairness, 42 percent didn’t know one way or the other.


Brutal: Despite Johnson agonizing over which side to back in the EU referendum, more voters say Sunak (48 percent) than Johnson (45 percent) supported Brexit “primarily because it would advance his political career.”


Brutal II: Almost three times more people associate Rishi Sunak than Keir Starmer with the phrase “making Brexit work” — 38 percent, compared to just 13 percent for the Labour leader, who has been using the slogan regularly since last summer.


PLANET HANCOCK


‘LOCKDOWN FILES’ LATEST: The Telegraph team’s third splash wading through 100,000 COVID WhatsApps shows Matt Hancock said “we are going to have to get heavy with the police” to enforce lockdown rules in summer 2020. Later in the third lockdown he said “the plod got their marching orders” in a meeting. The paper calls it “political pressure on the police.”


On the other hand: Hancock also warned Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in January 2021 that there would be “serious downsides to remov[ing]” the “exemption” that allowed outdoor exercise in lockdown. The texts don’t make clear who suggested this, but the outcry would surely have been deafening.


WE READ THEM SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO: Latest lines include … Case said he wanted to see the “faces of people coming out of first class and into a premier inn shoe box” quarantine hotel … Boris Johnson said it was “superb” a couple who broke quarantine were fined £20,000 … the decision to cancel Christmas was taken during a law-breaking lockdown party … Rachel Johnson writes that police questioned her father Stanley about whether he broke her brother Boris’ lockdown rules at “his Medieval longhouse.”


But most memorably: Ex-SpAd Jamie Njoku-Goodwin asked if they could “lock up” Nigel Farage for an apparent post-Trump-rally quarantine breach … and even spoke to the Home Office. Farage told GB News he obeyed the law and called Hancock a “pipsqueak.”


Isabel vs. Matt, round 58: Hancock and journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who handed over the messages after using them to ghost-write his memoir, remain at war. She complains to the Guardian that “he vanished to the jungle at a critical moment.” Meanwhile the BBC points out that after saying she broke an NDA, Oakeshott then said it was a “standard terms of agreement.” Hancock said Thursday: “I will not be commenting further on any other stories or false allegations that Isabel will make.”


Party lines: The Mirror carries a poll for GB News showing 70 percent of Labour voters, but only 44 percent of Tory voters, want an immediate COVID public inquiry.


WHO’S NEXT: My colleague Esther Webber writes that the civil service union is consulting lawyers as the fear of what’s to come stalks Whitehall. While you wait for the next victim, Playbook’s Andrew McDonald has a fun round-up of seven times Hancock hogged the limelight, including *that* CCTV.


TODAY IN WESTMINSTER


WATCHING BRIEF: Speculation is rife that parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme will issue a report today on Neil Coyle — who lost the Labour whip last year after journalist Henry Dyer wrote that he made racist comments to him in Strangers’ Bar. One Labour figure suggested the MP, who this week told the Mirror the incident was a “wake-up call” for his drinking problem, is preparing an apology. Dyer’s former colleague Cat Neilan has condemned suggestions that this will pave the way for him to get the whip back. Coyle could not be reached for comment.


Speaking of which: The Evening Standard revealed Rupa Huq, who called then-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng “superficially Black,” had the Labour whip restored after anti-racism training.


IT NEVER ENDS: Dominic Raab has now been interviewed by lawyer Adam Tolley KC over bullying allegations from two dozen officials. PA’s Sam Blewett was first to reveal the news, and your author had it confirmed by two sources too. But D-day isn’t looming yet, as Raab’s evidence now has to go back to the complainants for further liaison. Raab strenuously denies bullying.


KERCHING: Labour pocketed “£1,028,017.17 … from militant trade unions as they inflicted misery on Britain,” writes the Express. Wealthy business people were the other focus from Thursday’s big donation figures, as POLITICO’s Stefan Boscia and yours truly point out. On the Tory side, DeSmog reports the party “received more than £632,000 in new donations from individuals and firms tied to polluting industries.”


GLIMMER OF HOPE: The Guardian’s Heather Stewart reports the government is willing to discuss a one-off payment to health workers in 2022/23, as well as the 2023/24 pay deal. This is a big shift, but will need unions to suspend strikes — which they’re considering, writes Heather.


UBER-KEEN: Uber passengers will get energy saving tips during their rides under a plan launched today by Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps.


BIG INVESTIGATION: The Times’ Andrew Norfolk looks at ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys’ schools where no English is spoken.


REMINDER: Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey speaks at the Our Ocean conference at 11 a.m.


STRIKING TODAY: RMT members at Balfour Beatty, and some DVLA, DWP and Land Registry staff.


LABOUR’S CREATIVITY PLEDGE: Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell will give a noon speech at the Creative Coalition Festival, arguing Britain’s position as a creative nation is threatened by delays in the Media Bill and the Creative Industries Sector Vision — she has the morning media round too (timings below).


BEHIND THE LENS: Outgoing boss of Sky News John Ryley has given an interview to new Westminster Insider podcast host Aggie Chambre, saying we need to see “far more” of what goes on in the Commons chamber. He also took a parting shot at Talk TV and GB News, saying he did not see them as a threat and “they don’t break news.” Get the popcorn for incoming GBN pol ed Christopher Hope’s verdict on that …


Ancient history: Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock tells the real story of what happened when he fell over on Brighton beach. Glenys, his wife, was wearing some “very beautiful” new knee-length suede boots. As the tide came toward them, she jumped out of the way, and in doing so, knocked over Kinnock. Sadly for Kinnock, the television cameras caught it. Happily, the boots survived.


Too soon: Former No. 10 head of Comms Craig Oliver recalls David Cameron talking about making his own bread with Cotswolds crunch flour in 2013 — “I was just like sitting there going, Oh, this is a nightmare.”


VOTE TO EVICT: A future Labour government must act immediately to shrink the House of Lords — before attempting major reforms, says a new paper by Meg Russell for the Institute for Government.


HOW THE WORLD VIEWS UK’S TECH STRATEGY: London has won fans and critics for how it approaches digital, but everyone still believes it can punch above its weight on the global stage, writes POLITICO’s Mark Scott in this analysis.


HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with a day of Private Members’ Bills including Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill (Tory MP’s Sally-Ann Hart), Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill (Tory Bob Blackman) and Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill (Conservative MP Greg Smith).


HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 10 a.m. with a day of peers debating private members’ bills from the Commons including the second reading of: the Pensions Dashboards (Prohibition of Indemnification) Bill, the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill, the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill and the Carer’s Leave Bill.


BEYOND THE M25


SNP LEADERSHIP LATEST: Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Sky News he was contacted 10 days before a vote on equal marriage, asking if SNP leadership contender Humza Yousaf could “skip” it due to pressure from religious groups. Yousaf has previously defended himself over the claims but they are now back in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced he would leave government at the same time as Nicola Sturgeon, having served since 2007.


ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL: The Serco-run Caledonian Sleeper will be nationalized in June. A single bunk to Aberdeen is currently £230.


OVER IN WALES: Plaid Cymru will outline a plan to transform the Welsh economy and create new green jobs as its spring conference kicks off in Llanelli at 9.30 a.m. today — the full agenda is here.


TEA LEAVES ROUND-UP: In council by-election land, Labour held Byker in Newcastle upon Tyne with 47 percent of the votes … Labour also held Rose Hill and Littlemore in Oxfordshire with 44 percent of votes … and Labour held Littlemore in Oxford with 45 percent. The three seats previously won by Conservatives (Belgrave in Tamworth, Watling South in Staffordshire and Hythe West in Kent) will count later today.


HIGH-FLYER: The European Commission is altering its rules on staff travel expenses after POLITICO revealed a top official accepted free flights with Qatar Airways while his team negotiated a major aviation deal with the Gulf state. The director general of the Commission’s transport department, Henrik Hololei, traveled for free nine times with Qatar Airways between 2015 and 2021.


BIDEN HER TIME: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will travel to Washington next week to meet U.S. President Joe Biden for talks on matters including China’s potential supply of weapons to Russia. POLITICO reports von der Leyen will also travel to Canada to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


MEDIA ROUND


Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell broadcast round: GMB (6.40 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.40 a.m.) … Today program (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Bauer media clip (playing out shortly after 8.20 a.m.) … ITN media clip (playing out shortly after 8.30 a.m.) … LBC News (8.40 a.m.).


Also on the Today program: Labour MP Kevan Jones (8.10 a.m.) … Money saving expert Martin Lewis (8.30 a.m.).


Also on Sky News: Former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell (7.20 a.m.) … FDA general secretary Dave Penman (7.30 a.m.).


Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Shell CEO Wael Sawan (7.10 a.m.) … Former Education Secretary Justine Greening and former Labour MP Luciana Berger (9.10 a.m.).


Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Former National Counter Terrorism Coordinator Nick Aldworth (7.05 a.m.) … Former Director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism Nikita Malik (7.10 a.m.) … Daily Telegraph Home Affairs Editor Charles Hymas (7.40 a.m.) … The Sun’s Political Editor Harry Cole (8.10 a.m.) … Tory peer Jonathan Marland (8.20 a.m.).


BBC Breakfast: TalkTV’s Isabel Oakeshott (7.10 a.m.).


GB News Breakfast: Journalist and author Julie Cook (6 a.m. and 7 a.m.) … Political commentator John Coulter (6.10 a.m.) … Academic Matt Goodwin (7 a.m.) … Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Mellor (8 a.m.).


TODAY’S FRONT PAGES


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


Daily Express: Boris — Rishi’s deal will not take back control.


Daily Mail: Is this proof the Partygate probe was a Labour plot?


Daily Mirror: Failed.


Daily Star: Clowns plotted to kill all our kitties.


Financial Times: Fears for City’s status after Arm and building giant opt to list in New York.


i: MI5’s missed chance to stop Manchester Arena bomber.


Metro: The great betrayal.


POLITICO UK: WhatsApp panic stalks Westminster after mass leak of private messages.


PoliticsHome: Chief Partygate investigator Sue Gray appointed as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.


The Daily Telegraph: ‘We are going to have to get heavy with the police’.


The Guardian: Families’ fury at ‘devastating’ MI5 failings in Manchester bombing.


The Independent: MI5 could have stopped him.


The Sun: 22 who should be alive.


The Times: PM urged to block new job for parties inquisitor.


TODAY’S NEWS MAGS


The Economist: Eat, inject, repeat — Curing obesity, worldwide.


THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY


EU Confidential: The POLITICO team discuss the Windsor Framework and try to decode the jargon that dominates EU policy-making.


Westminster Insider: Ace new podcast host Aggie Chambre has her debut delving into the world of TV news — where she worked before making the leap to POLITICO.


Plus 6 of the best political podcasts to listen to this weekend:


Chopper’s Politics: Christopher Hope speaks to former Theresa May aide Raoul Ruparel about the Windsor Framework, the DUP MP Sammy Wilson about the king’s presence and Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker about the DUP.


Crisis what Crisis: Andy Coulson speaks to former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice’s Louise Gleich about the need to update the Modern Slavery Act to include “cuckooing.”


Encompass: Paul Adamson talks to Transparency International EU Director Michiel van Hulten about Qatargate and the European Parliament’s reputation.


Red Box: Matt Chorley interviews crossbench peer Frank Field about his life in politics, faith and relationship with Margaret Thatcher.


The Political Party: Matt Forde interviews SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes.


Whitehall Sources: Calum Macdonald and panelists Kirsty Buchanan and Frankie Leach discuss the British Kebab Awards and the Lockdown Files.


LONDON CALLING


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light cloud and a gentle breeze. Highs of 8C.


Wrap up warm: The U.K. Health Security Agency is advising people to stay warm and look out for those most at risk from cold weather, with all regions of England experiencing cold conditions from 1 a.m. on March 6.


MEA CULPA: Jackie Storer is the speaker’s press secretary, despite our Spotted slip Thursday — the chief of staff is Helen Wood.


SPOTTED … at BBC legend Carolyn Quinn’s leaving drinks at the Phoenix Arts Club: Her long-serving husband and former political editor of the i Nigel Morris … The Mirror’s Ashley Cowburn, Lizzy Buchan and John Stevens … The i’s Hugo Gye and Paul Waugh … The Mail’s Jason Groves … Retired former Political Editor of the Evening Standard Joe Murphy … The Critic’s Robert Hutton … The Guardian’s Pippa Crerar and Aletha Adu … The Express’ Sam Lister … Sky’s Jon Craig … TalkTV’s Kate McCann … The FT’s Miranda Green and George Parker … Times Radio’s Matt Chorley and Carole Walker … Channel 4’s Cathy Newman … Broadcaster Luke Jones … The Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler … The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope


And breathe: The BBC’s Clive Myrie, Nick Robinson, Sarah Montague, Martha Kearney, David Wallace Lockhart, Martine Croxall, Ben Wright, Lizzi Watson, Caroline Wyatt, Jo Coburn, Katy Searle, Helen Catt, Jonny Dymond, Evan Davis, Adam Fleming, Iain Watson and Vicky Young … Former BBC journalist Ritula Shah … BBC Director-General Tim Davie … the IfG’s Hannah White … Tory MPs William Wragg and Graham Brady … Former Tory MPs David Gauke, Margot James and Amber Rudd … Labour MP Meg Hillier … Former Labour and Lib Dem MP Luciana Berger … Labour peer Angela Smith … Lib Dem peer Rosalind Grender … and, of course, the nicest person in Westminster herself, Carolyn Quinn, rocking the bass. The leaving do featured video tributes from Tony Blair and Theresa May.


NEW GIG: Former SpAd and 5654 & Co partner James Starkie has joined the Centre for Progressive Change as a member of its advisory board.


MOVING ON: The Jewish Chronicle’s Ben Bloch is departing later this month to join Sky News as a live politics reporter. The JC is hiring a number of positions, including politics reporter, here.


CONGRATS TO: Behind the scenes broadcasting supremo Rob Burley who announced the front cover of his new book — “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?: Searching for the truth on political TV.” The book is out on May 11.


LABOUR Q&A: Labour in Communications holds a Q&A with Shadow Minister for Courts and Sentencing Alex Cunningham from midday. Registration is here.


JOB ALERT: The i is hiring an assistant news editor for a year of maternity cover. The details are here.


WEEKEND TV GUIDE: Classic film “The Eagle Has Landed,” about a Nazi plot to kidnap Winston Churchill, is on BBC Two this Saturday at 2.20 p.m.


BIRTHDAYS: Buckingham MP Greg Smith … Former Hyndburn MP Graham Jones … Former BBC Director General Tony Hall … Retired Tory peer and former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke … Unicef U.K. boss Jon Sparkes … Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel turns 50.


Celebrating over the weekend: Commons leader Penny Mordaunt turns 50 … Angus MP Dave Doogan turns 50 … Former Labour MP Ivan Lewis … Author and pollster Michael Ashcroft … Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords Navnit Dholakia … Crossbench peer and former Chief of the Defense Staff Dave Richards … Scottish Labour MSP Claire Baker … Scottish Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie … Former No. 10 SpAd Tim Smith … BBC News boss Deborah Turness … Former HMRC boss Lin Homer … Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis … Convicted former French PM François Fillon … Chipping Barnet MP and former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers … Tory peer and constitutional expert Philip Norton … Labour peer Paul Drayson … Britain’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. Jonathan Allen … Former Crossrail boss Andrew Wolstenholme … Former Defense Minister Robert Lindsay … Former Liberal Party President Des Wilson … Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.


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


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