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By ELENI COUREA
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Good Friday morning. This is Eleni Courea.
LOBBY SCOOP: Daily Express political editor and lobby stalwart Macer Hall is leaving the newspaper after 18 years to pursue new opportunities. Playbook wishes him all the best with the next chapter.
DRIVING THE DAY
THE TRUSS TIDE: Rishi Sunak heads into a make-or-break weekend for his faltering campaign after failing to dent Liz Truss’ assured performance at last night’s hustings in Leeds.
Where we are this morning: The Q&A with Conservative Party members in Yorkshire — the first of a dozen over the next five weeks — has set the tone for a leadership contest that with every passing day looks increasingly like it is Truss’ to lose.
Rishi’s moment of reckoning: With ballot papers landing on Tory members’ doormats from Monday, time is running out for Sunak to shift the dial. This week he U-turned on scrapping VAT on energy bills (eliciting a sarky comment from Boris Johnson) and threw red meat at Tory members with pledges to protect the green belt, deport more overseas offenders and take a hawkish stance on China. But none of this seems to have made a perceptible difference to his popularity. Instead, Tory members are taking the opportunity at hustings to accuse him of knifing Johnson in the back — Playbook runs through the key moments further down.
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Happening tonight: After meeting members in Kent today, Sunak will be grilled by Andrew Neil on Channel 4 at 7.30 p.m. Agreeing to sit down with British television’s most merciless interviewer is risky — Johnson notably refused to do it and went on to win the 2019 election. But Team Sunak might think they have little to lose at this point, and that their smooth-talking candidate has the ability to come out without too much damage. Truss has declined the invitation.
A word to the wise: Sunak might benefit from abandoning attempts to outdo Truss on areas where that is likely to backfire spectacularly, such as being hawkish on China (case in point). One Tory member who went to last night’s hustings undecided but is now leaning towards Sunak said: “I actually quite liked that Rishi disagreed with people and stood his ground. I’m not thrilled about either of them, but I felt like Liz Truss was playing to the gallery. It’s like she focus-grouped a load of association members about what they wanted from a leader and just did basically … all of it.”
Liz’s critical weekend: Truss is touring Suffolk and Norfolk to meet party members today. If she emerges from the weekend unscathed — and anyone who looks poised to become PM is going to face some extensive digging into their record and past, as both Sunak and Penny Mordaunt have found out — she will be in a strong position to start hoovering up votes next week.
Wallace declares: Truss has enjoyed another major boost with the endorsement of Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who gave an interview to the Sun’s Harry Cole and wrote an op-ed for the Times today. In the Times, Wallace writes that Truss is “straight and means what she says” and that she is “a winner not because she is a slick salesperson, but because she is authentic.”
Pulling no punches: Speaking to Cole, Wallace slammed Sunak for resigning from Cabinet — an event which precipitated Boris Johnson’s resignation — and said: “What would have happened that day if the markets had crashed? I don’t have the luxury as defense secretary of just walking out the door — I have roles in keeping this country safe. And the guardian of the markets, you know, the guardian of our economy, is the chancellor.” He also took a swipe at Sunak’s “highly polished Hollywood production leadership campaign” and said the PM had to overrule him to boost defense spending.
Given all that you’ll be pleased to hear … Wallace is on this morning’s broadcast round.
Lucid Liz: There’s no denying that there has been an enormous improvement in Truss’ public speaking performances since her campaign launch and the first televised debate on July 15. The contrast between her appearance at that Channel 4 debate and the BBC one 10 days later is striking. Playbook hears she has been doing intense prep with the help of a team led by her former SpAd Jason Stein.
WHAT TEAM RISHI WANT TO TALK ABOUT: YouGov polling published yesterday suggested he has a significant edge over Truss among swing voters and Onward polling said that a majority of Tory voters back his planned corporation tax rise. Yesterday, Sunak unveiled a policy to allow overseas nationals who are convicted even of minor crimes to be deported from the U.K., which Team Truss immediately rubbished as unworkable.
What they definitely don’t want to talk about: Ben Gartside reports for the i that Sunak is facing questions over whether he exaggerated his work at hedge funds before politics. Meanwhile, a Public First poll carried out for More in Common found that more than a third of voters blame him for the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation.
WHAT TEAM LIZ WANT TO TALK ABOUT: Truss has written for the Telegraph today declaring herself a “freedom fighter” and pledging to make Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the first foreign leader she calls if she becomes PM. Daniel Martin has a news write-up.
What they definitely don’t want to talk about: Truss is said to be planning to appoint Thérèse Coffey as her chancellor, though her backers on the European Research Group would rather she chose John Redwood, according to the Express’ David Maddox. A campaign source said Truss had been clear she’s not thinking about her Cabinet yet.
POLICY CORNER: The U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank and Full Fact have teamed up to produce a report with detailed policy briefings on the key issues coming up during this contest. Here’s the full document. Meanwhile, Onward/Public First polling published today suggests that ditching the net zero commitment could cost the Tories one in four of their voters.
HUSTINGS ROUND 1
SOUNDTRACK: Viewers waiting for the hustings to begin more than 10 minutes behind schedule were treated to a banging playlist including “Whatever You Want” by Status Quo and “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
OPENING ACTS: After the cameras finally switched on, everyone was momentarily confused about which Tory leadership contest they were here to watch when 2005 candidate David Davis ambled onto the screen to act as Sunak’s hype man, while James Cleverly later did the same for Truss.
NO NOTES: Both Sunak and Truss delivered assured opening speeches while pacing on a futuristic circular white stage with no notes, a bit like Apple execs preparing to unveil the new iPhone — except they were surrounded by silver-haired spectators in blue-tinted lighting.
KEEPIN’ IT IN THE FAMILY: Sunak, who wore a suit and navy blue patterned tie — eschewing his more relaxed open-shirt look during the TV debates — opened with an emotive account of his family background. “I’m standing here tonight in front of you all for one simple reason, and that’s because this country did something absolutely incredible for my family — it welcomed them as immigrants and allowed them to build a better life,” he said.
Inflation station: Sunak appealed to Tory members about the dangers of inflation, underlining that “of course I’m going to deliver tax cuts” once that has passed and warning that Truss would “mortgage our children and grandchildren’s future” with her planned £30 billion tax bonfire. “I know the polls say that I’m behind in this race,” he concluded, but vowed to “fight for every vote.” The problem he’s facing became stark when a party member used his question at the hustings to accuse Sunak of stabbing Johnson in the back when “he is the man who made you” and profess that he was “not sure what planet you’re on.”
LOCAL APPEAL: Truss, in a navy blue power dress, gold heels and red watch, charmed the Leeds audience by recounting her memories of growing up in the city. She joked about buying her first Whitney Houston album in HMV and said her childhood taught her “grit, determination and straight-talking.” She drew multiple rounds of applause when she declared her support for Northern Powerhouse Rail, slashing red tape on farmers, defending Ukraine, the idea that “a woman is a woman” and saying she wanted to channel the spirit of former Leeds United manager Don Revie.
Liz ❤️ Boris: Asked whether Johnson or Theresa May was a better PM, Truss took the opportunity to swipe at Sunak’s disloyalty, saying: “I’ve always been a fan of Boris Johnson, I think he did a fantastic job as prime minister, he delivered Brexit, he delivered on the vaccine and I was proud to serve as a loyal member of his Cabinet.”
BULLET DODGED: During a Q&A expertly handled by LBC’s Nick Ferrari, both candidates named Margaret Thatcher as their favorite PM without missing a beat.
THE NEW COMMITMENTS: Sunak said he backed the return of grammar schools, though his team later clarified he supported existing government policy … Truss said she wanted to carry out a “complete review of the tax system” and that she would look at inheritance tax as part of that … She also suggested she would instruct schools to provide single-sex toilets … And promised to bring the government whips office back to No. 12 Downing Street, reversing a change made by Alistair Campbell, who installed the press office there.
SCOOP — ALL FIRED APP: Parliament’s decision to join TikTok this week has been met with consternation among the senior Tories who are sanctioned by China, and are now calling for the account to be taken down.
Delete your account: Playbook has seen a letter from Nus Ghani, Tom Tugendhat and Iain Duncan Smith to the speakers of the Commons and Lords, in which they said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the move and warned that app user data may be accessed by staff in China and eventually handed over to government authorities there. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese technology company registered in the Cayman Islands.
Data access concerns: The letter, sent yesterday, urges parliamentary authorities to take down their TikTok account “until credible assurances can be given that no data whatsoever can be transferred to China.” The MPs point to Chinese legislation under which companies are required to yield data to government authorities upon request. Read the full story here.
Parliamentary showdown: The letter also claims that the company may have misled parliament over the matter. Ghani, a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: “We can’t have parliament becoming a client of an app which sends data to a government which has sanctioned it. And we certainly can’t allow parliament to become a client of an app whose executives may have misled it.”
Claim and counterclaim: Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s director of government relations, told a committee last year that “none of our user data goes to China” and that “TikTok does not share user data with ByteDance in China,” while Theo Bertram told Damian Green during a separate committee hearing that “no employee in China can access TikTok data in the way that you are suggesting on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party to carry out mass surveillance.” TikTok maintains that within their wider context those statements were referring to the possibility of data access by the Chinese government, which it says it has never provided, and not company employees based in China.
Committee grilling: TikTok executives have appeared at several select committee hearings and repeatedly given assurances about user data. Playbook hears the BEIS committee is in the process of fixing a date for a new hearing with them where fresh questions about user data will be raised.
Other political TikTok accounts: Include No. 10 Downing Street and DCMS, as well as quite a few MPs.
Leadership klaxon: Asked about TikTok during Monday’s BBC leadership debate Truss said: “We absolutely should be cracking down on those types of companies … We should be limiting the amount of technology exports we do to authoritarian regimes.”
Parliament response: A spokesperson for the U.K. parliament said: “Prior to setting up the new U.K. parliament TikTok account, we undertook all necessary steps to ensure none of our data is at risk. We cannot go into any further detail about these measures for security reasons.”
TikTok response: A spokesperson for TikTok said: “The TikTok platform does not operate in China and we have never provided user data to the Chinese government. UK politicians and government departments use TikTok to reach millions of people in an engaging and creative way — we welcome the opportunity to talk directly to the signatories to clarify the factual inaccuracies contained in their letter to the Speakers.”
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TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: In recess.
MEANWHILE IN THE REAL WORLD: While energy bills are soaring, Shell and Centrica have posted huge profits worth billions of pounds. Truss rejected calls for another windfall tax on energy companies during last night’s hustings, saying: “What I believe is we need to keep taxes low to attract investment into industries.” Here’s the FT write-up of her comments.
Grim warning: Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke told PoliticsHome’s Rundown podcast that he’s seen “absolute fear in people’s eyes” on the doorstep over the past six months and said: “To be honest, I’m not sure how in my family we’re going to pay if it carries on going up this road.”
FIG TREE FOLLY: Half of Portcullis House has been roped off during the parliamentary recess because of the hazard posed by three of its £30,000-a-year taxpayer-funded weeping fig trees. Parliamentary authorities stuck up a notice yesterday saying three of the trees would be taken down over the weekend. They have been deemed a health and safety hazard because they have been growing at a “slight angle,” according to the notice, and when Playbook was on the estate on Wednesday one of them was propped up by several hastily assembled pieces of timber. Yesterday they had been tied together with loads of blue rope and with harnesses fixing them to the ground like a tent. The troubled trees were a gift from Jeb Bush, randomly, in the late 90s and have cost more than half a million to maintain, according to FOI requests.
MY LIFE WITH BORIS: Cleo Watson, Johnson’s former deputy chief of staff and an ally of Dominic Cummings, has recounted her time as a de-facto babysitter for the PM in an article for Tatler. “My role at No 10 sounds fancy, but a lot of the time I was much closer to being Boris’s nanny,” she writes, and describes how the PM feigned bending over while having his temperature taken during the pandemic, skulked into adjoining rooms and looked over staff’s shoulders despite having been ordered by the NHS app to isolate, and sacked her in November 2020 by saying: “I can’t look at you any more because it reminds me of Dom. It’s like a marriage has ended, we’ve divided up our things and I’ve kept an ugly old lamp. But every time I look at that lamp, it reminds me of the person I was with. You’re that lamp.” Playbook will let you read the whole thing for yourself.
TARRY ON CALMLY: Keir Starmer has defended his decision to sack Sam Tarry, said he had signed up to do interviews “without permission” and “made up policy on the hoof.” The row it created has brought up renewed questions about Labour’s historic relationship with the unions — and its funding from them. The Telegraph’s Tony Diver writes up warnings the party could face bankruptcy without that financial support while the Times’ Geri Scott says Momentum and several unions have plans to embarrass Starmer and MPs over the summer and at conference over the issue.
BEYOND THE LEADERSHIP RACE
SCOTLAND’S SHAME: Yesterday’s annual stats from the National Records of Scotland show that 1,330 people died as result of drug use in 2021 in Scotland, the second-highest figure ever recorded. The figure was just nine fewer than the previous year, in which many frontline services were closed due to the pandemic across some of Scotland’s problem areas. The tiny decrease — which still leaves Scotland with the unwanted title of Europe’s drug deaths capital — was welcomed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, though she admitted the situation is still “unacceptable.” The crisis leads almost all of Scotland’s papers today.
MID-CRISIS DEVOLUTION ROW: Efforts to introduce drug consumption rooms in Scotland are ongoing, amid a political row about Holyrood’s power to introduce them against Westminster’s will. Playbook reporter Andrew McDonald has a great read about the devolution row that is harming efforts to tackle a public health emergency.
Campaigners say yes, politics says no: Multiple campaigners and experts make the case for consumption rooms to Andrew in the wake of another year of grim stats, with a number highlighting the avoidable risks drug users currently face — from forced amputation after infection, to the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV through dirty needles. After some initial skepticism, the Scottish government is also in favor. But the U.K. government isn’t. Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance says Scotland should be “brave and bold and follow the evidence.” She has passed a proposal for a pilot in Glasgow over to Scotland’s Lord Advocate, who is testing the legal waters. Campaigners say the lack of clarity leads to delays, which lead to deaths.
Time for tanks BoJo? Peter Krykant, a drug policy campaigner who set up his own makeshift and unsanctioned consumption room in a van in Glasgow to prove it could be done, says the Scottish government has hid behind Westminster on the issue over the years as lives that could have been saved were lost. “Anything that the Scottish government can [they] sort of bat off to being Westminster’s problem, or [claim] ‘Westminster won’t allow us to do this,’” he said. “I mean, what are England gonna do — send in the tanks?” Read Andrew’s full piece here.
BORIS BEZZIE LATEST: Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman is depicted as a volatile, video-game playing millennial autocrat in this Economist profile by Nicolas Pelham. MBS has come back into fashion with Western leaders in recent months thanks to oil price surges caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, after he was iced out in response to the murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government officials — a killing widely thought to have been ordered by the crown prince himself. But he never went out of style with Boris Johnson, of course, since the PM has always been best mates with the despot as per Playbook’s colleagues Emilio and Cristina. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed MBS for dinner at the Elysée last night.
UKRAINE UPDATE: Five people were killed and many more injured in more Russian strikes on the surrounding area around Kyiv yesterday. The strikes came as Ukraine continues efforts to retake the occupied region of Kherson. Elsewhere, the former Russian TV journalist who disrupted a Moscow news broadcast with a protest message all the way back in March (profiled by Playbook’s own Zoya Sheftalovich) has been fined the equivalent of around $800.
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Defense Secretary — and Truss supporter — 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.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … talkTV (9.05 a.m.) … GB News (9.20 a.m.) …
Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon: GB News (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley (Sky News): CWU General Secretary Dave Ward (7.30 a.m.) … Sunak supporter Damian Hinds (8.20 a.m.) … Labour MP Sam Tarry (8.30 a.m.) … Truss supporter Jake Berry (9.20 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at breakfast (LBC): Former Defense Secretary Michael Portillo (7.10 a.m.) … Former Boris adviser Will Walden (8.05 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast: Labour MSP for Glasgow Paul Sweeney (7.35 a.m.) … Marienna Pope-Weidemann, cousin of Gaia Pope (8.20 a.m.) … Olympian Greg Rutherford (9.40 a.m.).
Also on talkTV breakfast: Sunak supporter Damian Hinds (7.05 a.m.) … Labour MP Sam Tarry (8.05 a.m.).
Also on GB News breakfast: Tory MP Damian Green (7.15 a.m.).
Reviewing the paper’s tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): PR consultant Alex Deane and broadcaster Jenny Kleeman.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Sunak — I’ll kick 5,600 foreign criminals out of Britain.
Daily Mail: ‘Unsafe’ NHS child gender clinic to be shut.
Daily Mirror: Profits in misery.
Daily Star: Money-grabbing scumbags — British Gas and Shell rake in sickening profits.
Financial Times: Centrica urges more state help with fuel bills as profits soar.
i: Tory contest leak inquiry grows amid toxic fallout.
Metro: Vile texts of Sarah killer police pals.
POLITICO UK: In Europe’s drug death capital, politicians plead for new powers to stem the tide.
PoliticsHome: Energy regulator plans help with bills through ‘increased consumer debt.’
The Daily Telegraph: NHS faces crackdown on puberty blockers.
The Guardian: Energy firms’ profit surge ‘insults working people.’
The Independent: Energy firms’ soaring profits spark outrage.
The Sun: Gagatha — Wagatha decision today.
The Times: Child gender clinic forced to close over safety fears.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
The Economist: Summer double issue.
THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY
Chopper’s Politics: The Telegraph’s Chris Hope interviews Cabinet Office Minister Kit Malthouse and Tory MP Mark Francois.
EU Confidential: The POLITICO team debates the global food crisis and discusses the Swedish city of Umeå.
Politics Weekly UK: The Guardian’s Rafael Behr discusses the week in politics with Onward’s Will Tanner and the Observer’s Sonia Sodha.
The Economist Asks: Anne McElvoy discusses U.S. foreign policy challenges with Wendy Sherman, its deputy secretary of state.
The Rundown: The PolHome team interviews Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke.
YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER: Boris and Carrie Johnson are expected to celebrate their wedding with a big Saturday night bash at a Georgian mansion in the Cotswolds. Cool guests send their spotteds to Playbook.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Sunny and spells and warm, very warm. Highs of 28C.
MATT LE BLANC: Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and partner Gina Coladangelo have completed their charity trek of Mont Blanc, having raised over £21,000 for Cambridge Children’s Hospital and the Willow Foundation. Here’s the pair’s video from day four.
NEW GIGS: Former No. 10 adviser and Badenoch campaign policy lead Alex Morton is joining the Institute of Economic Affairs as director of strategy. Morton was most recently at the Centre for Policy Studies. His role there as research director is being filled by Tom Clougherty, who has led CPS work on tax over the last few months.
New gig II: Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed’s PAd Owain Mumford has moved over to Bridget Phillipson’s team at shadow education. He will continue handling media.
New gig III: Leila McIntyre has left iNHouse Communications to join Labour Party HQ as a political press officer. McIntyre previously worked at No. 10 and BEIS.
BIRTHDAYS: Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott … Commons work and pensions committee Chairman Stephen Timms … Gravesham MP Adam Holloway … Tory peer Norman Blackwell … Commons head of select committee scrutiny and analysis Ariella Huff … Meta speechwriter Phil Reilly … POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi and Freddie Martyn (who turns the big 3-0) … Reuters’ Joanna Plucinska … Japanese PM Fumio Kishida.
Celebrating over the weekend: Former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger … Vale of Glamorgan MP and former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns … Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP Allan Dorans … Lib Dem peer Patrick Boyle … Mother of the House Harriet Harman turns 72 … and Father of the House Peter Bottomley turns 78 Saturday … Broadcaster Andrew Marr … Former BBC presenter Jonathan Dimbleby … Cabinet Office Minister Nicholas True … Labour deputy national campaign coordinator Conor McGinn … Labour peer Angela Billingham … Tory peer Robert Balchin … Former Environment Minister Alan Meale … Former Master of the Rolls and Supreme Court Justice John Dyson … Tory peer James Douglas-Hamilton.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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