Summoning the energy — Read my lips — Balmoral obligations – POLITICO
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By ESTHER WEBBER
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Good Thursday morning. This is Esther Webber with you today and tomorrow.
DRIVING THE DAY
SUMMONING THE ENERGY: Boris Johnson will give his last major speech as prime minister today in the east of England, where he will stress the need to safeguard the U.K.’s energy security in “worrying” times. It comes after a lively final hustings in London for the two candidates vying to succeed him, at which Liz Truss made a couple of bold commitments that may well come back to haunt her in the fall as the energy squeeze begins to bite.
What Johnson will say: The PM is expected to stress the need to take serious, long-term decisions on Britain’s energy supply, saying: “Our energy future will bequeath a United Kingdom where energy is cheap, clean, reliable, and plentiful.” He will acknowledge the current situation is “deeply worrying,” and only by acting now can we establish a future “where families and businesses are never again at the mercy of international markets or foreign despots.” He can point to Hornsea Two, a new wind farm off the coast of Yorkshire, which handily became operational yesterday.
What he won’t say: Otherwise the speech essentially reheats the security strategy announced in April, which set an ambition for 95 percent of electricity being low carbon by 2030 and was greeted by industry experts as bold but vague.
What Labour is saying: Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, accused Johnson of offering “hollow words” at a time of crisis, claiming “one of the reasons bills are so high is the appalling legacy this government has on clean power. They blocked onshore wind, failed to deliver a warm homes plan to cut bills, and delayed on expanding solar and nuclear power.”
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Going nuclear: Expectations are high that Johnson could confirm the British government’s stake in Sizewell C, a new nuclear plant in Suffolk. As Nathalie Thomas and Jim Pickard set out in the FT, the decision on investment by the government was originally expected later this year but people familiar with Johnson’s thinking said it has been accelerated as he “tries to leave a legacy of having made something happen.”
Numbers game: The Sun’s Harry Cole hears Johnson will announce £700 million of initial money toward the government stake to encourage private investment but that the detailed negotiations “have some way to run.”
Last-ditch attempt: A government official told Playbook, along similar lines, that negotiations with EDF were ongoing but they were “very hopeful” an agreement could be reached imminently. Spelling out the government’s thinking, they said: “The last time Britain signed off a nuclear power station was back in 2016 and before that it was 1987, so we’ve done pretty much nothing for 30 years and we have to try and reverse that. Nuclear power is safe, it’s reliable, it’s low carbon, it’s always on and it’s in this country.”
Not to be outdone: Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is about to seal a deal to keep a third coal-fired power station open for another year in a bid to avoid blackouts this winter. Ministers have already extended two other coal power stations which were due to be shut down by 2024, as the Sun’s Natasha Clark details in her scoop.
The last Scholz: It’s no accident that Johnson placed one of his last calls as PM yesterday to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as he seeks to keep up momentum in support of Ukraine through what promises to be a bleak winter. A Downing Street spokesman said Johnson paid tribute to Scholz’s leadership and “encouraged him to stay the course in his political, military and economic support for Ukraine” in the face of “extreme pressure, particularly in terms of energy prices.”
READ MY LIPS: No new taxes was the big pledge from Truss at last night’s hustings at Wembley Arena, landing the front of the Times and some airtime in the Telegraph. It’s one that sounds like a hostage to fortune at the best of times, and these ain’t that. Truss has perhaps even less wriggle room than others before her because she has made a point of skewering Rishi Sunak at every opportunity for breaking a manifesto commitment on taxes.
You don’t know her: Writing in the Sun, Truss gives her clearest promise yet of help for households, vowing to “deliver immediate support to ensure people are not facing unaffordable fuel bills.” The only trouble is, er, it’s still not very clear, as she reveals no further details of her plan and repeats that “it would not be right” to set it out now. So she definitely has a plan, but you don’t know her, she goes to another school.
Skills to pay the bills: The i’s Arj Singh reckons Truss is planning fresh help for low-income and pensioner households — two groups who will not gain much from her proposed tax cuts and could be particularly vulnerable to soaring bills in the fall. He hears the Treasury is working on a scheme to extend the windfall tax to electricity generators as some senior Tories have advocated, but it certainly doesn’t sound like she’s that way inclined after she explicitly ruled out a fresh levy on profits last night.
Cuts not enough: The next prime minister cannot just rely on tax cuts if they want to encourage businesses to invest in Britain again, says a new Institute for Government paper by former No. 10 adviser Giles Wilkes. He warns that a failure to stick to a clear direction is damaging to businesses, with an industrial strategy taken up and dropped twice in the past 15 years.
Three Trussketeers: In the latest Spectator, Kate Andrews talks to three influential figures behind the foreign secretary’s economic agenda: Patrick Minford, Gerard Lyons and Julian Jessop. She will impose tax cuts regardless of what the Office for Budget Responsibility might say, they predict, but overhauling the planning system may have to wait. Elsewhere, Truss tells City AM’s Andy Silvester that the financial sector is a “jewel in the crown of the U.K. economy” which has “been held back by onerous EU regulation,” in a sign she wants to do more for the City than the current PM.
Prepare for the squeeze: It’s a new day and there’s new grim reading on what’s to come, as the Resolution Foundation predicts real household disposable incomes are on course to fall by 10 percent by the end of next year, while the number of people living in absolute poverty is set to rise by 3 million. The think tank says it leaves the next PM facing “the deepest living standards squeeze in a century.” The warning makes the front page of the Indy.
Down to business: Truss is considering a program of business rates relief, per another campaign scoop from Bloomberg’s Todd Gillespie, Ellen Milligan and Alex Wickham. They say she has held several meetings with industry groups over recent weeks, and is considering increasing the threshold for relief from the rates to properties with a rateable value of £25,000 from £15,000, which could remove 200,000 companies primarily in the north of England from having to pay the tax.
A high price: The Liberal Democrats are calling for a £10 billion bailout to save the high street, providing small and medium-sized businesses with government grants covering 80 percent of the increase in their energy bills for one year, up to a maximum of £50,000.
Another one to bookmark: Truss also ruled out energy rationing at last night’s hustings, despite the strain which could be placed on supplies this winter. Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, asked on Twitter whether this meant blackouts would take place at random in the event of shortages. Government officials continue to stress it’s not likely, whatever that’s worth at the moment.
FRACK ATTACK: Two insiders suggested to Playbook that Truss could end the moratorium on fracking as one of her first acts in office. A Conservative MP who said Truss would try to pick up where Johnson had left off and demonstrate action on energy security predicted: “You’ll probably get decisions on fracking and nuclear very soon.” A government aide echoed this, pointing out she had made a commitment to allow fracking where there’s local consent and if she wins next week the moratorium “can be lifted quite easily.”
IN QUAD WE TRUST: Civil servants are currently deep in discussions with Team Truss about the transition which will take place next week. Playbook hears from officials involved that the Cabinet Office has put forward various options for putting the government on a war footing for the winter crisis as happened during the COVID pandemic. Truss is said to be resistant to the idea of daily press conferences or announcements but is considering daily “quad” meetings of the PM, chancellor, and some combination of the chief secretary to the Treasury, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and/or deputy prime minister (the last two roles could merge again as they have in the past).
Shape up or ship out: Tory MPs are — once again — pinning their hopes on a reset of operations at No. 10. One Conservative commented: “I think Liz is pretty aware you need to run a tight ship. What’s been missing is leadership, a competent Downing Street, and you can’t get by without that.”
Fighting on, fighting to win: Aides close to Truss did not shoot down the suggestion of a reorganization drive to meet the coming tests, but stressed they were “still very much fighting the campaign” and would not be drawn on any details.
Not having any of it: Team Sunak put forward quite a different view, unsurprisingly, with one campaign member claiming that Truss “didn’t even bother to get a pic with members” at the London hustings, and that “some of her supporters felt she was acting like she’s banked their votes and didn’t really try.”
Hope springs eternal: “You’d never know the polls say we’re losing based on what is happening here,” they added. “This would be a real force if it were a general election — people on the road day after day working hard for each other. CCHQ people keep saying it doesn’t feel like Boris’ lead over Hunt [in 2019] from what they’ve seen.”
BALMORAL OBLIGATIONS: Buckingham Palace yesterday confirmed the Sun’s story from last week that the new prime minister will be sworn in by the queen at Balmoral, the first time she has performed the ceremony outside London or Windsor. In widely briefed comments, Palace sources said the decision was made to avoid the need for last-minute changes if the queen were to suffer a temporary mobility problem next week.
Break with tradition: The departing prime minister usually makes a statement outside Downing Street before taking their final trip to see the queen at Buckingham Palace. The monarch then formally dismisses them from their role, and welcomes their replacement. It’s not totally without precedent — in 1885, Lord Salisbury was appointed at Balmoral, and in 1908 King Edward VII appointed H. H. Asquith in a hotel room in the south of France. Props to Guido Fawkes’ Christian Calgie who found this contemporary newspaper report: “Mr Asquith’s journey caused great excitement in the Parliamentary lobby, and there were many speculations as to its bearing on the political situation, and especially on the fate of the Budget.” Plus ça change.
How it will go down: In the Sun, Harry Cole and Matt Wilkinson have a good breakdown of how the handover will unfold, with Johnson due to address the nation for the final time as PM early on Tuesday morning before using his ministerial jet to fly to Aberdeen airport. He should then announce his resignation to the queen, with his successor appointed by the monarch shortly after.
Tight turnaround: The new PM is expected to begin work on the plane back from Scotland, arriving at Downing Street in time for a speech at 4 p.m. Once back in London they will begin a Cabinet reshuffle, with the new team due to meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday before the premier embarks on their first PMQs at noon. The Institute for Government’s Cath Haddon has an enjoyable thread on some of the challenges posed by the relocation of the swearing in.
Going nowhere: More good stuff in the Sun from Natasha Clark, reporting Johnson still wants to stay on as an MP and avoid causing a headache to his successor by forcing a by-election in their first weeks in power by standing down. HuffPost’s Alexandra Rogers had a similar readout after he announced he was quitting.
BLUE WALL BLUES: Following similar noises off in yesterday’s Playbook, the i’s Jane Merrick has heard from Tory backbenchers who fear Truss will not help them in the Conservative heartlands and is more interested in the red wall gains made by the party in 2019. One Tory MP in a Lib Dem target seat tells Merrick: “She [Truss] is rumoured to not give a damn about Lib Dem-facing seats” while two others said they would be spending more time defending their seats against the Lib Dems if the foreign secretary becomes leader.
On the offensive: Merrick has also found out the Lib Dems are planning to flood marginal Conservative seats with attack ads portraying Truss as the heir to Johnson, with the slogan: “New prime minister — same old Conservatives.”
Might this help? The Express’ David Maddox has more intriguing reshuffle gossip, saying that despite Attorney General Suella Braverman being widely tipped for home secretary, the job could end up going to Tory moderate favorite Tom Tugendhat. Braverman would then be expected to get justice secretary.
Raab unrepentant: For Dominic Raab to appeal for unity after functioning as Sunak’s attack dog is certainly gutsy, but so he does in an interview with the Spectator’s Katy Balls. Apparently he’s not yet given up on the idea that Sunak could win as there are “enough undecideds for it to still be worth champing at the bit.” Would he find it hard to serve a woman whose agenda he has so sharply criticized? “No, I wouldn’t assume that,” he says.
HUSTINGS ROUND 12
CAPITAL GAINS: Well, we made it. The final hustings of the Tory leadership race took place in London last night, and if you don’t yet know where Truss went to school or where Sunak worked growing up then Playbook can’t help you. The outing at Wembley Arena was a lively affair, despite coming at the end of a long six weeks, with more heckling than at other meetings. There was also a protester from the Don’t Pay campaign, and music provided by Taylor Swift (Truss) and The Weeknd (Sunak). Here, for the last time, are a few highlights and lowlights.
Khan’t stand him: While Truss has her fans wherever she goes, there was audible Sunak-mania at Wembley, with audience members chanting “Rishi! Rishi!” after he finished his speech. The two sides could agree on one thing, however — their dislike for London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was invoked by the candidates at every opportunity and loudly booed. Truss labeled him “anti-growth” and “anti-everything.”
Sadiq says: A spokesperson for the mayor hit back: “While Liz Truss spent most of the final hustings making wild accusations about Sadiq, she had nothing to say on how she would help ordinary families who are desperately worried during this cost of living crisis … Sadiq makes no apologies for being anti-climate change, anti-poverty and anti-homelessness, but unlike the Conservative Party, he is pro-London.”
Peace breaks out? Sunak did a weird bit where he went on about how much he rates Truss, telling the audience: “I agree with Liz on far more than we disagree on, and I don’t just mean our shared love of Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift … When this is done we’re going to come together.” Since he has indicated he would not accept a job in her Cabinet, perhaps it’s all about buying real estate in the moral high ground for further down the line.
Diplomacy dance: Truss appeared willing to do some damage control after her previous explosive statement that the “jury is out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is a friend or foe. She said the United States and France were both “freedom-loving democracies, and I will work with both of them, whoever the leader is.” She also refused to describe China’s Xi Jinping as a foe, despite expressing concern over his “assertiveness.”
Home front: Truss was a little less comfortable when pressed by LBC’s Nick Ferrari on whether she was focusing on Ukraine at the expense of living conditions in Uxbridge, and didn’t take the opportunity to argue the two are linked.
Open road: The curveball of the night was from an audience member who invited Truss to say she would scrap smart motorways, which she duly did, and do away with mandatory variable speed limits, which she also said she would consider. The comments feature prominently in today’s papers, leading the Telegraph. Team Sunak was quick to point out he came out against smart motorways nearly two weeks ago.
Not measuring the drapes: Truss got applause for saying she wouldn’t change the wallpaper in No. 10 while Sunak was clapped for admitting he’d been an “appalling” father and husband because of his job over the past two years. And with that, we’ve surely exhausted the Tories on Tour 2022.
**How do we design London’s transport infrastructure to make it green and people-friendly, while also being affordable and efficient? Learn more on the mobility issues of today and tomorrow in “Mobile Cities” a weekly newsletter from POLITICO. Subscribe now.**
BEYOND THE LEADERSHIP RACE
PARLIAMENT: Still in recess.
A TOUCH OF FROST: Former Brexit Minister David Frost has revealed he has had talks with Tory associations about standing to be a Conservative MP. Frost, who has been touted for a job in a Truss Cabinet, said he was “ambivalent” about being a peer and that decision-makers “should really be elected.” PolHome’s Adam Payne and John Johnston landed the story.
Brexit festival comes unstuck: Unboxed, the arts festival widely dubbed the “festival of Brexit” has seen just 238,000 visitors, against its organizers’ initial “stretch target” of 66 million. This is despite the festival costing £120 million — more than four times the cost of the celebrations to mark the queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The gory details come in an investigation by the House magazine.
BARCLAY’S PRESCRIPTION: The NHS will be told to focus on cutting waits for ambulances, operations and GP appointments in what is likely to be Steve Barclay’s final speech as health secretary, according to the Times’ Chris Smyth. At the event hosted by Policy Exchange, the Sun’s Jack Elsom says Barclay will take aim at NHS bureaucrats, claiming they cost taxpayers £2.8 billion a year that could be spent on treating patients.
Lockdown lowdown: Johnson’s former director of communications, Lee Cain, has written to the Spectator’s Letters page to push back against Sunak’s claims that lockdown’s trade-offs were never properly discussed. He says that the modeling went beyond the publicly disclosed work provided by SAGE, as Dominic Cummings recruited “data experts” who argued that “the NHS would be overwhelmed within three weeks” as COVID cases would rise exponentially without lockdown.
Incidentally: Ministers yesterday approved moving the COVID alert from level three to two for the first time, meaning it is no longer directly affecting the NHS and severe illness as a direct result from the coronavirus is reducing. Which isn’t to say the country couldn’t face further surges, while the indirect impact on the NHS is only just becoming clear.
FENCE-MENDING LATEST: Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called France a “key European ally” and “totally reliable” as he took questions on the AUKUS deal while meeting the Australian Deputy PM Richard Marles at Barrow’s submarine-building yard yesterday. He also discussed proposals for Britain to deploy its own nuclear-powered submarines to patrol the Indo-Pacific, as the Sydney Morning Herald’s Latika Bourke reports.
XINJIANG REPORT: A long-waited U.N. report into allegations of abuse in Xinjiang has accused China of “serious human rights violations” against Uyghur Muslims that could amount to crimes against humanity, POLITICO’s Stuart Lau reports. The Chinese government tried to block the report, by outgoing human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet, at the last minute, reports the Guardian’s Julian Borger.
Trade questions: The U.K.’s race to seal trade deals with China, Gulf States and India is making NGOs — and some Conservative MPs — uneasy, reports my colleague Seb Whale. Having already secured swift agreements with like-minded democracies in Australia and New Zealand, the U.K. now finds itself talking to partners with more problematic human rights records, Seb writes, leaving campaigners fearing a race to the bottom.
APPEAL FOR PAKISTAN: The Disasters Emergency Committee is launching an urgent appeal to help millions across Pakistan who are in need of immediate help to survive. One third of the country — an area the size of the U.K. — has been submerged, according to the government, and at least 1,100 people have already been killed.
Authoritarian turn: Young people are three times more likely to reject democracy than their grandparents, according to new research by the Onward think tank. The number of 18- to 34-year-olds backing a strongman leader in the style of Putin, Trump or Bolsonaro has doubled to 61 percent since 1999, with the poll suggesting it could be linked to social isolation. Read more here.
LABOUR LAND: The results of elections to Labour’s NEC will be released today, for anyone (still) keeping up with the party’s forever wars. As per Labour Kremlinology expert Sienna Rodgers, Keir Starmer’s camp will be looking to win more seats and increase its majority over the left on the party’s ruling body, while the Labour left will hope not to lose any more ground on the party moderates.
Rallying round: Former U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pulled in a massive crowd at the RMT rally last night, telling the audience that striking workers in Britain were inspiring the trade union movement in the States. He managed to steer clear of Labour Party politics, Playbook’s mole reports, but former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and RMT chief Mick Lynch were not so restrained. McDonnell said that all Labour MPs should be on picket lines and supporting the strikes, while Lynch outlined specific policy demands such as banning outsourcing. He spoke about the need for unions to build a presence in communities to organize against Tories — and possibly Starmer’s Labour too, according to those who were there.
Call Keir: Starmer will be on 5Live this morning from 9 a.m. with Nicky Campbell taking calls from listeners on the cost of living and other topics. Will Owen Jones be moved to phone in again? Only one way to find out.
WORD TO THE WISE: The Institute for Government is releasing the latest installment in its Becoming a Minister series — this time on how new minsters can get to grip with departmental budgets: “Ministers also need to understand the consequences of making changes — in terms of how money is spent it, who spends it, and how this will affect the public. Spending public money is at the heart of everything ministers do, understanding how to spend it as efficiently as possible should be a high priority for any new or aspiring minister.” Truss underlings take note.
Accentuate the positive: Raoul Ruparel, former government adviser on Europe, has authored a new report for Boston Consulting Group on how the U.K. can boost growth. “Most assessments of the UK economy focus on its weaknesses and shortcomings,” he says, whereas this one looks at areas of strength and advantage such as fintech, automation and professional services.
DOGE PILE: Seen a lot of Doge memes and NAFO hashtags in your Twitter timeline? POLITICO’s Mark Scott has this must-read on the so-called North Atlantic Fellas Organization — an informal alliance of internet culture warriors, national security experts and ordinary Twitter users weaponizing memes to push back against Russian online disinformation.
**A message from UK Fisheries: Fishing is part of the life blood of our country, but the Government’s disastrous handling of quota negotiations since 2019 is bleeding us dry. The Kirkella – the UK’s last remaining distant waters freezer trawler – is struggling to operate on less than half of the fish we brought home for our national dish in 2019. This means reduced income for our British crews and their families and a greater reliance on imports of whitefish from Norway, Iceland and even Russia. This dangerous situation is well within the Government’s power to fix, but incredibly they have failed to negotiate properly with our trading partners around the North Sea, and have not used Britain’s considerable bargaining muscle as an importer of seafood products to help our industry thrive and grow. The new Conservative administration must act urgently to save Britain’s fishers. Click here to read more.**
Today program: Former Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove (8.10 a.m.)
BBC Breakfast: Lib Dem leader Ed Davey (6.35 a.m.).
BBC Radio 5 Live: Phone-in with Labour leader Keir Starmer (9 a.m.).
Kay Burley at Breakfast: Sunak supporter Mark Harper (7.20 a.m.) … Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds (8.05 a.m.).
Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Tory peer Ed Vaizey (7.10 a.m.) … Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza (7.50 a.m.) … Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein (8.05 a.m.) … Michael Gove (8.50 a.m.) … Former Home Secretary David Blunkett (9.05 a.m.).
Times Radio breakfast: Jonathan Reynolds (7.20 a.m.) … Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities committee (7.35 a.m.) … Michael Gove (8.30 a.m.).
TalkTV breakfast: Mark Harper (8.05 a.m.) … Jonathan Reynolds (8.20 a.m.) … Former Energy Minister David Howell (9.05 a.m.).
GB News breakfast: Jonathan Reynolds (7.10 a.m.) … Mark Harper (8.10 a.m.).
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: ‘Resting’ queen won’t risk greeting new PM in London.
Daily Mail: How could they give my son to my ‘deceitful’ neighbor?
Daily Mirror: 3 million more to fall into poverty trap.
Daily Star: Seaman forgets to grease his shaft.
Financial Times: German factories halt output after Russia’s ‘alarming’ squeeze on gas.
i: Tories urge Truss to act fast on U.K. energy hikes.
Metro: Ryan Giggs trial jury split.
POLITICO UK: Global Britain’s new dilemma — Trade, or human rights?
PoliticsHome: Lord Frost is in talks about standing to be a Conservative MP.
The Daily Telegraph: Truss hints she may axe motorway speed limits.
The Guardian: Children may die if families turn off heat.
The Independent: Biggest squeeze in living standards for a century.
The Sun: Giggs — The jury’s out.
The Times: Decline of traditional U.K. family revealed.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
POLITICO Europe: Doge-pile!! The shit-posting, Twitter-trolling, dog-deploying social media army taking on Putin one meme at a time.
The New Statesman: The Liz Truss doctrine — Prepare for the most right-wing government of our lifetime.
The Spectator: Drama queens — Freddy Gray on the return of Meghan and Harry.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Breezy, but plenty of sun. Highs of 24C.
NEW GIG: The Guardian has picked up the ace Henry Dyer for its investigations team. Here’s the tweet.
NEW GIG II: Former Cabinet Office SpAd Amy Milner is joining FGS Global as a director later this month.
HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY: Shadow International Trade Secretary Nick Thomas Symonds‘ new biography of Harold Wilson is out today.
BIRTHDAYS: Digital Minister Matt Warman … Former Birmingham Northfield MP Richard Burden … Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani … Welsh Counsel General Mick Antoniw … and Tory peer Daniel Hannan.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: Editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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