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By DAN BLOOM
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Good Wednesday morning. This is Dan Bloom.
HOT HIGH NOON: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is preparing his first PMQs for seven weeks as temperatures nudge 31 degrees — and surely the thickest tab in his folder will be the “bubbly concrete” (RAAC) that has left him handling a back-to-school crisis.
RAAC ATTACK: Labour leader Keir Starmer is making this about as political as you can get, squeezing in an early morning visit to a RAAC-hit school in north London before his usual PMQs prep. He’ll be on BBC Breakfast at 8.30 a.m.
RAAC defense: Newly promoted Defense Secretary Grant Shapps is on the morning round, including Today at 8.10. a.m.
After PMQs: Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson will kick off a three-hour opposition day debate after 2 p.m. Labour has dropped its plan to force out the full list of 104 schools that have had to partly or fully close due to having RAAC in buildings. The list is due by Friday anyway, and could arrive as soon as today.
**A message from Google: Google’s Be Internet Legends programme helps children learn five key skills needed to be safer online through interactive materials that make learning fun. Teachers and students are invited to join a Back to School assembly, in partnership with Parent Zone, on 14th September. Find out more.**
Consolation prize: Labour will instead push to release Department for Education (DfE) submissions to the Treasury for funding in 2020 and 2021, and internal correspondence about school buildings. These votes tend to just fall along party lines, so the bigger drama may be across the chamber.
BLUE ON BLUE: If Education Secretary Gillian Keegan joins Sunak on the front bench she might not want to look behind her. Gordon Rayner, associate editor of the Conservative-friendly Telegraph, has compared her to Marie Antoinette in a wince-inducing download of Tory briefing against her handling of the issue. Her request for schools to “get off their backsides” makes the front of the Sun, and the i’s Paul Waugh has highlighted a photo she tweeted in 2020 “sleeping out” for the homeless with comfy bedding and swishy curtains. (To be fair, the actual sleepout had to be canceled due to COVID).
THE STORY SPREADS: As the row marks a full week at the top of newslists, Keegan colleagues complain to Sky’s Sam Coates that she “unilaterally” decided which schools should close — and set the “safety first” bar so low, it will open a “Pandora’s box” for other public buildings. But her allies and Downing Street argue it’s no precedent, because schools are different to other public buildings — they’re less likely to have building managers on-site.
Too hasty? NationalWorld is reporting two primary schools in Kent were told on Monday to close some areas — but later told they could open.
Here’s that Pandora’s box you ordered: NHS England’s Tuesday letter to hospital managers saying they should be ready to evacuate gets coverage aplenty. The i reports one hospital has trained cleaners to spot structural decay.
THE OTHER RUNNING STORY: Is how school funds have been spent in general — or haven’t. BBC research says 13 schools with RAAC lost out when Labour’s rebuilding scheme was axed in 2010 … while the Mirror splashes on a £1 million IT contract given to a firm where Keegan’s husband is a non-exec director (while stressing there is no suggestion of wrongdoing).
Tory aides’ argument … is that general spending on school buildings is not directly related to the RAAC problems we have now. CCHQ has accused Labour of “misleading parents,” an accusation which no doubt will be tested at the despatch box.
Under one roof: The Commons Education Committee will question the DfE’s Permanent Secretary and Minister Diana Barran on September 19. Parliamentary officials were still investigating on Tuesday if any areas of the estate have RAAC, as first reported by the Times last Friday.
MEANWHILE, AMID ALL THIS: Hundreds of Conservatives, including campaign managers and all CCHQ staff, are gearing up for Thursday’s away day at a Midlands digger factory. More in Common has handed Playbook a back-to-school poll of 2,044 people which they might like to read.
Strong and stable? The think tank claims strategists can forget about a “President Rishi” strategy for the next election — as 29 percent agree and 41 percent disagree that Sunak is an “asset” to his party. That net score has worsened since May this year. For Starmer, 32 percent agree and 34 percent disagree he’s an asset. The poll gives Labour a 15-point lead.
Resounding: YouGov polling via Sky adds that “Don’t Know” is the runaway public favorite for next chancellor on 65 percent. Congratulations! Labour’s Rachel Reeves is on 21 percent and Jeremy Hunt 14 percent.
One water cooler topic … at the away day will surely be election timing, which most Tory insiders seem to think is next October but could yet happen in spring. Resolution Foundation analysis today suggests waiting for the economy to improve will be no easy game, as workers are on track to be 4 percent worse off in real terms next year than in 2019.
Line to take: Sunak used Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting to say ministers should keep talking about new improved ONS growth forecasts, the Sun’s Harry Cole hears.
LETTUCE REMEMBER: A year ago this afternoon, Prime Minister Liz Truss delivered her 516-word first speech in Downing Street, promising to “rebuild our economy” and “ride out the storm.” She was out 49 days later at the hands of her party and the markets. We’ve rounded up her nine wildest moments, and my colleague Stefan Boscia has interviewed money men about her legacy.
Speaking of which: Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey is at the Treasury Committee from 2.15 p.m. — and will expect a rough ride on his rate rises and questionable forecasts.
Anniversary present: You could watch Piers Morgan spend 20 minutes demanding to know if mini-budget Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is sorry. Or not. Up to you.
RESHUFFLE DAY 3: Labour is likely to pump out more junior frontbench jobs later after announcing one batch of six changes on Tuesday evening. Four were sideways moves while two — former South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis and Petitions Committee Chair Catherine McKinnell — are new appointments.
CLASH OF THE TITANS: Forget Blair vs. Brown, Heseltine vs. Thatcher … Liam Byrne and Angela Eagle are both going for chair of the Commons Business and Trade Committee, Playbook hears. The Labour pair, ministers in the Treasury at the same time under Gordon Brown, have both thrown their hats in the ring to replace Darren Jones after Starmer hired him as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.
Quick bios: MP of 31 years Eagle ran Jones a close second last time and was (briefly) Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow business secretary before running against him for leadership. Ex-Chief Secretary to the Treasury Byrne’s team say he has had support from groups including Labour First and Tribune and chairs the inclusive growth APPG.
Big role: Whoever wins will have a platform to grill the most controversial business leaders of the day — the business committee produced the all-time great clashes with Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley and Arcadia’s Philip Green. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle is expected to announce the election timetable today, but the ballot of all MPs (only Labour MPs can stand) won’t happen this side of party conferences.
Playbook missed the story: Is that what Jones and Byrne were chatting about in the PCH coffee queue?
MEANWHILE ON THE LABOUR LEFT: Labour MP Dawn Butler agreed (when challenged) on Sky’s Politics Hub that the party’s policies are “not out there.” “People will start to move over once we start talking about our policies,” she said.
SCOOP — SECOND TIME LUCKY: Rishi Sunak sets off to the G20 in New Delhi on Thursday for a whirlwind 48 hours — but a second, bigger visit to India is being tentatively planned for later this year to sign a long-coveted trade deal, my colleagues Eleni Courea and Graham Lanktree report.
Two birds with one stone: Discussions are underway about the prospect of a bilateral visit in the coming months, where Sunak could combine one of his favorite pastimes — cricket — with the political prize of a post-Brexit trade agreement. Potential dates being considered in late October or early November coincide with the Cricket World Cup, which India is hosting.
On the trade talks: Officials in both countries are increasingly confident that an agreement can be finalized before the end of this year, Eleni and Graham report, depending on the outcome of talks between Sunak and Indian PM Narendra Modi at the G20 and the next round of formal trade negotiations later in September.
The next challenge will be: Selling any agreement to a Tory parliamentary party that is jittery about the prospect of more migration. The Sun’s Natasha Clark reported last month that Tory MPs fear Sunak could agree to thousands of visas for Indian students.
On human rights: The BBC has been given a letter from more than 70 MPs urging Sunak to raise the case of Scottish Sikh rights campaigner Jagtar Singh Johal, who is facing the death penalty in India over accusations of murder and conspiracy to murder, linked to political violence in the country.
Elsewhere at the G20: U.K. officials are preparing for a potential meeting between Sunak and Chinese Premier Li Qiang (who is attending in President Xi Jinping’s absence), two U.K. officials tell Eleni and Graham, though this is merely a possibility for now.
Drop-outs: Russia’s pariah President Vladimir Putin has already confirmed he won’t attend, while U.S. President Joe Biden is due at the G20 — but is on COVID alert after First Lady Jill tested positive. With prominent non-attendees, and hosts India refusing to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine, progress on global security could be tricky. But at least leaders will get to eat the “poor man’s grain” millet, via the Times.
Speaking of Beijing: Chinese-owned TikTok has hired British cybersecurity firm NCC to audit its data controls and is opening three data centers in Ireland and Norway in a bid to calm nerves about security. More via Reuters.
MERCENARY TERRORISTS: A draft order will be presented to parliament today proscribing the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization. The FT’s Lucy Fisher got wind of it two weeks ago.
WATCHING BRIEF: Senior Tories believe Tamworth MP Chris Pincher could resign today, sparing him a long recall petition and allowing a swift by-election, the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti tweeted late on Tuesday night.
RIPE FOR A UQ: Wilko’s administrators will confirm the locations today of 52 stores to close down next week, with 1,332 fresh redundancies. More at the FT.
BIGLY: Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan — who met tech firms on Monday — has an interview with Telegraph saying they “could face massive, humongous fines” if under-13s continue to sneak onto apps like Instagram and TikTok.
REVVED UP: The Mail has challenged ministers’ claims about the number of electric car sales — as only 24 percent of sales are to private buyers, with businesses taking the rest.
LEVELING-UP? Conservative MP Nick Fletcher’s call on Woman’s Hour for there to be a minister for men gets a write-up in the Mail and the Times.
ON THEIR TURF: Keir Starmer has posed in hay and written a lengthy piece for Country Life magazine in which he offers farmers — seldom enamored with Labour — a “new partnership.”
MIXED BENEFITS: Tuesday’s announcement that benefit claimants with mobility and mental health issues will be told to work from home has had a varied reaction — with the Times and Mail splashes going big, but the Telegraph leading on the line that it will only take effect in 2025. Which means a tricky decision for new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall, should Labour win power next year.
Good and bad: The Mail reckons the “blitz” will order “up to a million” claimants to seek work, but also notes the late start and objections from charities. Disability Rights U.K. tells the Times it is a “cynical attempt” to cut payments. Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride has a Tel op-ed.
Small print: The consultation says ministers are considering whether to remove the “limited capability for work-related activity” category entirely — and move its 2.4 million claimants to a less heavily supported category.
LAST NIGHT IN PARLIAMENT: The Energy Bill breezed through its final Commons stages unscathed after a heap of government compromises, despite nine Tory MPs trying to vote it down entirely at third reading — including ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith, net-zero skeptic Craig Mackinlay, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Richard Drax, who called eco policies “cultish.”
What’s next for wind turbines: Several outlets pick up on the vow to set out “improved rewards and benefits” by Christmas for communities that welcome wind farms — with the Times saying some schemes offer 10-50 percent off energy bills.
But but but … Write-ups of Tuesday’s tweak to planning rules — making it a bit easier to build an onshore wind farm — are not generous. Friends of the Earth say it falls “far short” while the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank saying it’s a “step in the right direction, but there is much more to be done.” PA has an explainer on the onshore fiendishly techy reforms.
CONSEQUENCES: The Illegal Migration Act could blow a a £2 billion hole in the Home Office budget — because it will no longer be allowed to spend foreign aid on migrants’ hotels, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact has declared, via the Mail.
Not the best timing … for ministers to say it will be “weeks” before migrants are moved back onto the Bibby Stockholm barge. But they will be heartened by the fact Austria is demanding (says the Times) a Rwanda-style asylum processing policy as the EU prepares for a million migrants to arrive this year.
Written warning: The Refugee Council has a letter to ministers, saying changes to the 28-day notice period for asylum seekers to leave accommodation are driving some into “destitution.” The Telegraph has the story.
IN THE LORDS: The Online Safety Bill has its third reading today, and tech firms and campaigners are still not happy at moves they say will erode encryption technology. The gigantic Levelling-Up Bill is in for report stage too, and the government is trumpeting an amendment that will create one nationwide “official” scheme to put blue plaques on historic buildings, via the Guardian.
NEW CROWD TO CHARM: The Mirror’s John Stevens has spotted Dominic Raab is listed as an after-dinner speaker by the agency Chartwell, five months after he resigned over a bullying investigation.
SPLASHING THE CASH: Frank Hester, whose healthcare firm TPP has public sector contracts worth millions, has given the Conservative Party one of its biggest ever donations of £5 million. Via several outlets including Sky News.
MISSING BILLION: The government has been slow in recovering an estimated £1.1 billion in fraud and error losses from COVID-19 grant schemes, says a Public Accounts Committee report out today.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: New funds for a “national synchrotron” in Oxfordshire — “a giant microscope which produces light 10 billion times brighter than the sun.”
LAST POST: Royal Mail is hoping to end Saturday deliveries, via the Guardian.
BIGWIGS ABROAD: Britain’s Chief of the Defense Staff Tony Radakin flies out today to Washington D.C. to meet his U.S. counterpart Mark Milley … and Industry Minister Nus Ghani will be at the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Romania talking infrastructure and energy.
SW1 EVENTS: The National Council of Resistance of Iran holds a press conference at 11 a.m. on the parliamentary estate, with Tory MPs David Jones and Bob Blackman and Labour MP Steve McCabe, about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seeking to avoid international sanctions.
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with Northern Ireland questions, PMQs at noon and Tory MP Stephen Metcalfe’s 10-minute rule bill on defibrillators … and then the main business is ping pong on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill and Labour’s opposition day debate on schools. Tory MP Henry Smith has the adjournment debate about duty on shopping at U.K. entry points.
WESTMINSTER HALL: Debates from 9.30 a.m. on financial education in schools (led by Tory MP Jerome Mayhew) … access to broadband (led by SNP MP Alyn Smith) … and water resources in Teddington (led by Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson).
On Committee corridor: SDLP leader Colum Eastwood gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (9.30 a.m.) … Transport Minister Huw Merriman is in front of the Transport Committee on nationalized rail (9.30 a.m.) … British Gas, EDF and E.ON bosses are at the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee on preparing for winter (11 a.m.) … and Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey is before the Treasury Committee (2.15 p.m.).
HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 11 a.m. with the sixth day of the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill at report stage followed by oral questions on renters, teacher shortages and asylum applications … then the main business is the third reading of the Online Safety Bill.
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NO MONEY LEFT: Birmingham City Council leader John Cotton has admitted “tough and robust decisions” will have to be made after the Labour-run authority declared itself essentially bankrupt — while insisting vital services would be protected. The Guardian has a helpful explainer looking at what went wrong at Europe’s largest local council, including equal pay claims and an IT systems. BirminghamLive outlines the key questions and impact for employees, business rates and services, and it makes the FT and Guardian splashes.
Blame game: This all shoves an iceberg under the already frosty relationship between Tory-run SW1 and Labour-run areas. The Times notes Sunak refused a bailout in July and quotes the city’s Tory group leader Robert Alden accusing the council of “lies to the public.” The Telegraph and Mail leaders both call it a glimpse of life under Labour rule. Yet the Local Government Information Unit says “central government has kept councils living from hand to mouth” for years and the Local Government Association speaks of a £3 billion shortfall.
MEANWHILE IN HULL: A former Tory councillor who was a fined £400 for fly-tipping is standing for the party again, reports the Mirror’s Sophie Huskisson.
NORTH OF THE BORDER: Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf delivered his first Program for Government setting out his agenda for the next year. There are 14 pieces of legislation including on cladding remediation, electoral reform and human rights, per the Herald, and he pledged the minimum wage for social care and childcare workers would be made £12 per hour. But climate activists say his actions were “underwhelming.”
ICH BIN EIN MACHINE: German Labor Minister Hubertus Heil has forecast every job in the country would involve working with artificial intelligence by the mid-2030s — via the Times.
GREECE FLOODS: At least one person has died and another was missing after hours of torrential rain flooded hundreds of houses and roads in central Greece, my colleague Nektaria Stamouli emails to say.
UKRAINE UPDATE: A British Challenger 2 tank given to Ukraine was destroyed during fighting against invading Russian forces, a defense source confirmed to PA, which reports the Ukrainian crew survived.
FEEL THE HEAT: U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un his country would “pay a price” for supplying Russia with weapons to use in Ukraine — via Reuters.
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Defense Secretary Grant Shapps broadcast round: Times Radio (7.05 a.m.) … Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.35 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.) … GMB (8.35 a.m.) … GB News (8.50 a.m.).
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Pat McFadden broadcast round: Times Radio (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … TalkTV (8.30 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.) … GB News (9.05 a.m.).
Also on BBC Breakfast: Labour leader Keir Starmer (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Director of Genderplus Aidan Kelly (7.35 a.m.) … Tory MP Justin Tomlinson (8.10 a.m.) … Tory MP Danny Kruger (9.35 a.m.).
Also on Sky News Breakfast: Tory MP Robert Buckland (8.20 a.m.) … Women and Equalities Committee Chair Caroline Nokes (8.30 a.m.) … Former Commander of the Joint Forces Command Richard Barrons (8.45 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Green Party peer Jenny Jones (7.05 a.m.).
Also on TalkTV Breakfast: Labour MP Khalid Mahmood (8.05 a.m.) … Defense Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood (8.20 a.m.).
Also on GB News Breakfast: Climate Party leader Ed Gemmell (7 a.m.).
LBC News: First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford (8.40 a.m.).
Nicky Campbell’s political phone-in (BBC Radio 5 Live 10 a.m.): Tory MP Matt Warman … Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire … SNP Foreign Affairs Spokesperson at Westminster Drew Hendry.
Politics Live (BBC Two 11.15 a.m.): Tory Deputy Chair Matt Vickers … Labour’s Chris Bryant … Economist Mariana Mazzucato … ConHome’s Emily Carver … Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake … Shadow Business and Trade Secretary Jonathan Reynolds.
Mariella Frostrup (Times Radio): Mark Drakeford (2.05 p.m.).
POLITICO UK: One year on, the specter of Liz Truss still haunts Britain.
Daily Express: French “clearly need to be doing more” to stop small boats.
Daily Mail: One million on sickness benefits will have to find a job.
Daily Mirror: Old school ties.
Daily Star: The great fool of China.
Financial Times: Birmingham declares itself bankrupt after equal pay deals drain resources.
i: NHS staff told to watch out for concrete danger signs.
Metro: What a fine mess.
The Daily Telegraph: Back to work drive shelved until 2025.
The Guardian: Birmingham ‘bankrupt’ as councils suffer cash crisis.
The Independent: What a nerve! Now minister tells schools to “get off their backsides.”
The Sun: I’ve had my Phil of Holly.
The Times: Mentally ill to work from home in benefits revamp.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Sunny with light winds — Highs of 31C (yes, really).
POSH NEW DRINKING DEN: The Old War Office on Whitehall — bought by tycoons including the Hinduja family (yes, that family) in 2014 — finally had its doors open on Tuesday night after being turned into a hotel, “extensive spa” and “residences” costing up to £30 million. This week was a private view and it opens on September 29 with two watering holes including a “spy bar.” Will the cost of a cocktail breach the £20 mark? We await with eagerness.
SOCIETY PAGES: The Mail has an interesting story about singer Ellie Goulding and Tory peer Zac Goldsmith.
POACHER TURNED GAMEKEEPER: Here’s someone who’s been on a bit of a journey … Portland’s U.K. Chair George Pascoe-Watson, a former political editor of the Sun, is joining law firm Schillings to “lead their corporate reputation efforts,” according to an email leaked to my colleague John Johnston.
MORE NEW GIGS: Labour’s deputy head of business engagement Isaac Oliver has joined public affairs firm WPI Strategy … and Aliona Hlivco has been appointed managing director of the Henry Jackson Society.
SPOTTED: Plentiful politicos of all stripes enjoying the Indian summer on the Commons terrace — from a SpAd’s birthday party, to the Labour MPs enjoying champagne with Betting and Gaming Council Chief Executive Michael Dugher. Inspired, no doubt, by Labour’s thirst-inducing attack ad about tax cuts for fizz.
JOB ADS: The Cabinet Office is hiring a policy adviser.
DON’T MISS: Former Sun Editor David Yelland and former Downing Street Director of Communications Simon Lewis discuss crisis management and PR in When It Hits the Fan on Radio 4 at 9 p.m. Perhaps the DfE will tune in.
THE UNSOCIAL NETWORK: The News Media Association has said it is “extremely disappointed” by the revelation that Meta will remove Facebook News — a dedicated tab for news content — in early December in the U.K. and wind down funding for the Community News Project, which helped to fund more than 100 reporters in under-served parts of the country.
NOAH’S CULTURE FIX: George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion opens at the Old Vic at 7.30 p.m., until October 28 — a 19-minute walk from Westminster.
MEA CULPA: “Pubic sector investment would still fall,” as stated in Tuesday’s Playbook PM, is officially the best typo we’ve ever made. We of course meant “public sector.” Oh, and Greg Clark is very much not the chair of the Conservative Party.
NOW READ: The New Statesman’s Chris Deerin and the Spectator’s Lucy Dunn both criticise the SNP’s Program for Government, saying it offers little ambition … and DeSmog has a critical 2,000-word piece about a group called the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, describing links to Conservative politicians and theories about climate change.
BIRTHDAYS: Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens … Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan … Former Warrington South MP Faisal Rashid … Former Transport Minister Simon Burns … Former DHSC SpAd Damon Poole … Global podcaster Emily Maitlis.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Jack Lahart, reporter Noah Keate and producer Seb Starcevic.
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