Sky showdown — Cost of living crunch — Parliament quits TikTok – POLITICO

Press play to listen to this article

What’s driving the day in London.

POLITICO London Playbook

By ELENI COUREA

Send tips here | Subscribe for free | Listen to Playbook and view in your browser

Good Thursday morning. This is Eleni Courea.

COST OF LIVING CRUNCH: Brace for two major announcements today — an update from the Bank of England on interest rates at 12.30 p.m. (they’re expected to go up by half a percentage point, which would be the biggest rise in 27 years), and confirmation from regulator Ofgem that it will start updating its energy price cap every four rather than six months. Both of these spell bad news for people trying to keep up with their mortgage payments and gas and electricity bills this winter.

It’s unfortunate then that … Last night’s Tory leadership hustings in Cardiff were a cozy chat about shearing sheep, leftie lawyers and Shirley Bassey’s Bond theme (more on this later).

Ahead of the announcement on interest rates: Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak accused Foreign Secretary and leadership frontrunner Liz Truss of trying to “rush through premature tax cuts before we have gripped inflation” and warned that would mean “every pound people get back in their pockets is nothing more than a down payment on rising prices.” Truss countered that “we cannot tax our way to growth” and that “modest tax cuts — including scrapping a potentially ruinous corporation tax rise that hasn’t even come into force — are not inflationary.”

DRIVING THE DAY

AS BALLOTS START TO DROP … Sunak and Truss will audition for the backing of undecided Tory members on live television tonight, after another poll suggested Truss is streets ahead and both candidates come under pressure to explain how they’ll help the public with the soaring cost of living.

Sky showdown: At 8 p.m., the leadership finalists will take turns to field 20 minutes of questions from Tory members in the Sky Studios in west London, before being quizzed by Kay Burley for around 23 minutes each.

Is it all over? We’re just two weeks into the run-off but it’s starting to feel like nothing can stop Truss, after a second members’ poll in two days gave her a whopping lead over Sunak. ConservativeHome’s (unweighted) survey put Truss on 58 percent to Sunak’s 26 percent yesterday — a 32-point lead, mirroring her 34-point one in this week’s YouGov poll for the Times.

More on those numbers: Even if all undecided Tory members were to plump for Sunak, Truss would win by a double-digit margin — so he would need to win over a lot of switchers to stand a chance.

Et tu, Saj? Cabinet hopefuls certainly seem to think it’s a done deal. In the most dramatic endorsement of this contest so far, Sajid Javid — who’s always been described as a friend of Sunak — has come out for Truss in the Times. We’re a long way from the moment when Sunak and Javid’s simultaneous Cabinet resignations triggered speculation that they were planning to run for No. 10 and No. 11 on a joint ticket. Instead, Javid is now warning that under Sunak, the U.K. risks becoming a “middle-income economy” with “a big-state, high-tax, low-growth, social democratic model” and praises Truss for her “willingness to challenge the status quo.”

Fighting talk: Playbook will leave it to others to carry out post-mortems of the Sunak-Javid friendship. The Times’ Oli Wright says relations have been strained since Javid returned to the Cabinet as health secretary, with Sunak “exasperated by what he saw as Javid’s failure to spearhead fundamental reform” and Javid in turn feeling that “Sunak had not shown the loyalty that he had when the power dynamics were reversed.” One Sunak-supporting MP texted Playbook last night to say: “Saj is a nice guy, but he’s also the guy who, despite all his tough talk on taking office as Health Secretary, was prepared to lead us into lockdown last Christmas because he was scared witless by a graph. So it’s no surprise he’s backing the Boris Johnson continuity candidate.” Ouch.

Tune in: Javid is touring broadcast studios this morning.

Damage control: Team Sunak insists things aren’t nearly as bad as the polls suggest. One campaign source said the findings don’t tally with the feeling on the ground, and that after last night’s hustings, there were lots of new sign-ups for Sunak, including an endorsement from Welsh Senedd member Sam Kurtz. Another ally said Sunak’s team remained “chipper,” described YouGov’s polls as “properly crackers” and the ConHome panel as “self-selecting.” They pointed to a Savanta ComRes poll that suggested the two candidates were neck-and-neck among Tory councilors and said: “There does seem to be a disconnect between the Twitter narrative and what’s happening on the ground.”

Leap to Liz: For her part, Truss was snapped with Senedd member James Evans after switching from team Sunak last night.

Lessons to learn: ConHome editor Paul Goodman compares this week’s polls to the results from the 2019 Boris Johnson vs. Jeremy Hunt contest and concludes: “Forget the thrills and spills, hype and blunders — such as Truss’s … over regional public sector pay. And stick instead to the simple thought that the Tory membership divides right-of-party-centre to left-of-party-centre by about two to one and so, all other things being equal, the leadership candidate perceived to be right-wing than the other will win by a margin about two to one.”

How we got here: Certainly Truss’ careful positioning over the past few years — with her enthusiastic embrace of post-Brexit trade deals, her well-documented opposition to tax increases in Cabinet and her hawkish stance on China — has lined things up for her perfectly in a contest where candidates from the right apparently have an insurmountable advantage.

And meanwhile: Sunak’s hesitation over whether to resign for months did little to make him seem loyal in the eyes of Tory members (or No. 10), while his last-ditch attempts to outflank Truss on the right — with promises on everything from cutting taxes in the middle-to-long term, cracking down on illegal migration, toughening the Prevent counter-terrorism program and standing up to China — have failed to dent her dominance. There’s also been a failure to keep a sense of momentum building, as the Times’ Oli Wright notes, with zero past or present Cabinet endorsements announced since Sunak reached the final two. Meanwhile, the Telegraph says camp Sunak is worried the “Boris betrayer” narrative is cutting through with members.

On that note: Michael Gove has been awfully quiet lately — could he be tempted to endorse his preferred candidate?

Now read this: Your Playbook author has written a piece about how both candidates have sought to channel Margaret Thatcher during this contest — focusing on different periods and aspects of her premiership. Sunak cites her early budgets where she sought to drive down inflation while Truss idolizes her Cold War-era political leadership. Anthony Seldon, the historian and biographer of prime ministers, said: “In the 32 years since she stood down, no Conservative leader has approached her. No one has won three election victories, nobody has captivated the right, nobody has made Britain feel so strong as a country again … Both candidates want to be the person who can capture her same magic.”

Heavyweight endorsement: Nigel Lawson — who served as Thatcher’s chancellor from 1983 to 1989 — has written for the Telegraph today, saying Sunak is the only candidate who understands Thatcherite economics and expressing “profound concern” that Truss is in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1970s. “Her plans now reportedly comprise approximately £60 billion of unfunded spending/tax cuts — and her message of reassurance about the associated inflationary risk is, to me, uncomfortably reminiscent of the missteps of the Tory government of 50 years ago,” Lawson writes. The Times’ George Grylls adds up the cost of Truss’ declared spending commitments to £82.5 billion and Sunak’s to £29.2 billion.

What Westminster is asking: What would a Truss government look like? The Sun’s Harry Cole has the story everyone will be talking about today, and reports that Iain Duncan Smith is in line to be her prospective chief whip. (A suggestion that’s already ruffled feathers — a Tory source texted Playbook it was “beyond absurd” and said: “If you want to reunite the party, why would you put someone in charge of the parliamentary party who is widely disliked and as a well-known rebel?”). People close to IDS rubbished the suggestion (and the Spectator’s James Heale says he laughed at the idea that he’d take the job).

As for the rest: Cole tips Kwasi Kwarteng for chancellor, Suella Braverman for home sec, James Cleverly for foreign sec, Simon Clark for business, Priti Patel for party chair — and Sunak for health (a “cursed department that’s politically difficult for him to turn down but where they can hope he actually does well,” one astute Tory observer noted). There are more potential appointments in Cole’s piece.

But before we get to all that: Simon Walters reports in the Independent that Truss is facing questions over why her “fizz with Liz” drinks at 5 Hertford Street, paid for the club’s owner Robin Birley, were not declared in her register of interests. A spokesperson for Truss told Walters the events — seen at the time as a sign she was drumming up support for a leadership bid — had “nothing to do with her” and were instead hosted by Birley. That would settle things, except that MPs were sent official invites by Truss’ office and Birley apparently only “turned up briefly to say hello.”

HUSTINGS ROUND THREE

JUST NINE MORE TO GO … Conservative members, party apparatchiks and wary hacks arriving in Cardiff for the hustings last night had to weave through a small crowd of placard-wielding protesters from Extinction Rebellion and Stand Up To Racism, including one woman who dressed up as Truss and held a sign saying: “I thought it was perfectly O.K. to cut teachers’ and nurses’ pay.” Some of them shouted “shame on you” at the attendees as they walked in.

Inside the circus tent: Former Tory leader Michael Howard was up first on stage as Sunak’s supporting act, and drew on his experience of serving under Thatcher to argue she would agree with Sunak’s opposition to immediate tax cuts and his desire to drive down inflation first. Truss was introduced by Welsh Tory MP David Jones, who praised her Brexiteer credentials and commitment to the Union.

The main acts: Both candidates walked onto the stage to pretty muted applause from the audience. Sunak went first and broke the ice with a cringey dad joke about the number of Welsh Tory politicians with the surname “Davies.” Unlike him, Truss swerved the temptation to greet the audience in Welsh and instead recalled learning how to shear a sheep at the Royal Welsh Show. They both ticked the boxes they needed to tick — heaping praise on the Union, trashing Wales’ First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford and promising to level up local infrastructure. When asked what came to mind when thinking of Wales, Sunak named his PPS Craig Williams, while Truss listed horseriding, beach holidays and Shirley Bassey.

What makes them nervous? Sunak (sounding like he regretted it as soon as he said it): “My wife.” Truss: “I was very, very nervous at the Lionesses.”

NEW COMMITMENTS: Truss suggested she’d look at the Bank of England’s mandate on inflation (doubling down on what she’s said in the past) … pledged to fund social care reform through “general taxation,” build the M4 relief road and look again at the Severn Barrage … expressed a desire to extend the Rwanda deportation policy to more countries … and said she’d look at whether the Integrated Review foreign policy assessment is “tough enough” on both Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and “an increasingly aggressive China.”

And in the rival camp: Sunak hinted he’d look at cutting or abolishing inheritance tax … vowed to be more “courageous and conservative” on benefits … pledged to tackle illegal immigration by linking trade deals and aid payments to whether countries agree to take back failed asylum seekers (in a dig at Truss’ record on that front) … and briefly appeared to U-turn by saying he’d scrap a ban on new onshore wind turbines (team Truss accused him of a “policy flip-flop” — team Sunak said he’d misspoken).

If you want more: WalesOnline political editor Ruth Mosalski has a good run-through of the event.

CAMPAIGN ROUNDUP

LIZ FOR LEADER: In an interview with the Mail’s John Stevens, Truss has pledged to cut hospital wait times by “focusing on delivery, cutting out bureaucracy, cutting out central diktat to allow people to do the really important frontline work.” Might need a little more work.

On that note: Former health sec, failed leadership contender and Sunak-backer Jeremy Hunt has attacked “Stalinist centralism” in the health service and claimed the NHS has more targets than any other health service in the world. In a piece for the Telegraph, he said national targets should be scrapped and replaced with better data.

Chopper scrutiny: Truss is under fire for chartering a private helicopter to get to events with Tory members despite her commitment to net zero emissions, the i’s Arj Singh reports. The Lib Dems said it “makes a complete mockery” of her climate policies.   

What Labour is talking about: This piece by former Tony Blair adviser John McTernan, arguing that Truss is a “formidable opponent” for a Labour party with a “longstanding woman problem” because her policies are appealing in their simplicity and straightforwardness. He warns that unless Labour takes her seriously, “Keir Starmer risks being just one more man, in a long line of men, who have underestimated Liz Truss at their peril.”

READY FOR RISHI: In an interesting column for the Times today (a version of which was first in ConHome), Paul Goodman says that what’s held Sunak back is an essentially technocratic approach to politics and lack of imagination.

Dodgy campaign literature update: After my colleague Esther Webber revealed controversy over a letter from Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke making a pitch for Truss was circulated to his local association South Tees Conservatives, Playbook has been forwarded an equivalent letter from MP Theresa Villiers, endorsing Sunak in Chipping Barnet. Villiers tells her local members she is “keen to persuade [them] to back Rishi Sunak to be the next Prime Minister” and stresses he’s the “best hope of winning the next general election.” No equivalent pitch has been circulated on behalf of Truss. CCHQ guidance states that “associations should not block an MP from communicating with members, but should not themselves facilitate any message that could compromise their own neutrality.” The association did not respond to a request for comment.

BRITAIN’S KINGMAKERS: The Times’ Venetia Menzies, George Willoughby and Ryan Watts have pulled together a great digital project mapping the demographics of the Tory membership — or what we know of them, based on research by QMUL’s Tim Bale — as well as the profile of Truss and Sunak supporters in the general electorate.

**During this shift of power in the Tory party, POLITICO Pro helps you keep track of all policy developments. Our UK newsroom follows cross-Channel relations closely to make sure you don’t miss any policy news. Request a free demo.**

BEYOND THE LEADERSHIP RACE

PARLIAMENT: In recess.

TIKTOK ON THE DOCK: Parliament has shut down its TikTok account just six days after creating it, following concerns from politicians sanctioned by China revealed in Playbook last week.

Refresher: Tory MPs Nus Ghani, Tom Tugendhat, Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Loughton, plus Labour peer Helena Kennedy and crossbench peer David Alton, wrote to the Commons and Lords speakers, calling for the account to be removed over concerns that data from the app is accessed in China. POLITICO’s full story is here. A spokesperson for the U.K. parliament wrote to Playbook yesterday saying that “based on Member feedback, we are closing the pilot U.K. parliament TikTok account earlier than we had planned.” TikTok said the decision was “disappointing” and offered to meet with politicians to allay their concerns.

Questions this raises: What about the TikTok accounts held by No. 10 and Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries? And if politicians are so concerned about security issues with the app, do they want the government to dissuade the British public from using it? In a TV leadership debate last month, Truss vowed a “crackdown” on Chinese companies like TikTok — though Playbook hasn’t heard back from her campaign yet on what that would entail.

CULTURE WARS RAGE ON: The Mail splashes on a punchy op-ed by Attorney General Suella Braverman, where she attacks diversity training as something that only “zealots” and the “witch-finders of the middle ages” believe in. Braverman also reveals that she scrapped equality training in her government department after being “horrified” to discover staff had spent almost 2,000 hours on the courses last year. Here’s Martin Beckford’s write-up for the paper. Braverman, who praises Truss’ approach to “woke” issues in her piece, will be doing a morning broadcast round for the foreign secretary shortly.

LIONESSES ROAR: England’s Euros-winning Lionesses have penned an open letter to both candidates calling for them to ensure girls get the same access to football in schools as boys. Currently, only 63 percent of girls in England can play football in PE lessons — the footballers said that “the reality is we are inspiring young girls to play football, only for many to end up going to school and not being able to play.” The Truss camp said she wants equal access to all sports for boys and girls, while the Sunak camp said he would launch a review of women’s football immediately if he becomes prime minister.

R&D APPEAL: Whoever wins the contest should increase government spending on research and development as part of a bigger overhaul of how Whitehall approaches science policy, according to a new Onward report. The center-right think tank points out that the U.K. spends less than 40 percent of what Israel and South Korea do on R&D, relative to GDP, but also calls for what is spent to be targeted into areas that go above Playbook’s head, such as clean tech, AI and quantum computing. The report is backed by former leader Conservative William Hague plus former science ministers George Freeman and David Willetts.

STATE OF THE UNION: A third attempt to elect a new speaker at Stormont and restore devolution in Northern Ireland failed yesterday. In an interview on BBC Radio, Ulster DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson ruled out lifting his party’s block on power-sharing until at least a new prime minister is selected on September 5 — meaning Northern Ireland will have gone four full months without a functioning devolved government. Donaldson said his party “need[s] to know where [the] new prime minister is going with the [NI] Protocol Bill” before it would commit to restoring powersharing. The FT’s Jude Webber has a write-up.

Stalemate: Deputy leader Michelle O’Neill predicted that Northern Ireland faces a winter election while voters are struggling with a cost of living crisis that the devolved government doesn’t have the power to alleviate. Without a speaker in place, Stormont cannot operate, meaning the £400 million-plus provided by the U.K. Treasury cannot be allocated by Northern Ireland’s politicians. POLITICO’s Shawn Pogatchnik has more on the exasperation from Northern Ireland’s other political parties.

TAIWAN UPDATE: China today is launching a series of military drills around Taiwan in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit this week. Beijing has threatened incursions into the island’s territory and conventional missile launches over the island, while also positioning warships around the island in a semi-blockade. POLITICO’s Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary have more. Elsewhere, Bloomberg has details on how the White House tried to dissuade Pelosi from the visit, out of fear of a reaction that looks a lot like the one currently coming from Beijing.

UKRAINE UPDATE: Remember Ukraine’s nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia — Europe’s largest — which appeared to be on fire back in March? The head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency told the AP that it is “out of control” and is becoming more unstable every day. Rafael Grossi issued a plea to Moscow and Kyiv to urgently allow experts to visit the plant and stabilize the situation.

Cash injection: Sky’s Mark Kleinman reports that U.K. Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has backed a new £3 billion export finance package aimed at bolstering the Ukrainian defense and helping the country rebuild.

MEDIA ROUND

Good Morning Britain: Former Education Secretary Michelle Donelan and England international footballer Mary Earps (7.25 a.m.).

Kay Burley at Breakfast: NHS Confederation Chairman Victor Adebowale (7.05 a.m.) … Attorney General and Truss supporter Suella Braverman (7.30 a.m.) … Sunak supporter Mel Stride (8.15 a.m.) … former Home Office SpAd Mo Hussein (9.20 a.m.).

Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Truss supporter Sajid Javid (7.50 a.m.) … Former No. 10 SpAd Alex Dawson (8.05 a.m.) … Mel Stride (8.50 a.m.).

Times Radio: Sunak supporter Mel Stride (7.35 a.m.) … Trusssupporter Sajid Javid (8.07 a.m.) … Euro 2022 champion Alessia Russo (8.15 a.m.) … Lib Dem Treasury and BEIS spokesperson Sarah Olney (8.35 a.m.).

TalkTV breakfast: Sunak supporter Kevin Hollinrake (7.20 a.m.) … Suella Braverman (8.05 a.m.) … Care England CEO Martin Green (8.32 a.m.).

GB News breakfast: Shadow Development Secretary Preet Gill (7.45 a.m.) … Suella Braverman (8.45 a.m.) … Mel Stride (9 a.m.).

Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): The Spectator’s Katy Balls and HuffPost’s Kevin Schofield.

TODAY’S FRONT PAGES

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

Daily Express: Fears soaring gas bills will push inflation to 15 percent.

Daily Mail: Ditch the woke ‘witch trials’ says law chief.

Daily Mirror: End betrayal of our kids.

Daily Star: Grass up a granny.

Financial Times: SoftBank approaches end of an era with steps to reduce Alibaba stake.

Metro: Grass up a neighbor — 20 million people facing hosepipe ban.

POLITICO UK: Chasing ghosts of Margaret Thatcher.

PoliticsHome: Food prices could rise by almost a fifth this fall, officials believe.

The Daily Telegraph: Water plant that could prevent hose ban ‘secretly mothballed.’

The Guardian: Revealed — The far-right web radicalising U.K. children.

The Independent: Truss faces questions over ‘Fizz with Liz’ dinner.

The Sun: My Jamie’s Wagatha death threats — Becky Vardy exclusive.

The Times: Hosepipe ban for millions as country faces drought.

LONDON CALLING

WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Sunny in spells and breezy. Highs of 25C.

NEW GIG: The Mail have made Martin Beckford the paper’s new policy editor, after Daniel Martin moved across to the Telegraph.

Birthdays: Former NHS boss Simon Stevens … Windsor MP Adam Afriyie … Birmingham Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe … former Copeland MPs Jamie Reed and Jack Cunningham … Tory peer James Arbuthnot … BuzzFeed and HuffPost comms chief Tess Atkinson … UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay … and former U.S. President Barack Obama turns 61.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: Editor Emma Anderson, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.

SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | Playbook Paris | Politico Confidential | Sunday Crunch | EU Influence | London Influence | Digital Bridge | China Direct | Berlin Bulletin | D.C. Playbook | D.C. Influence | Global Insider | All our POLITICO Pro policy morning newsletters

More from …

Eleni Courea

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.