Blog: London Playbook: Discontent latest — Matt mauls Moyles — Brexit bat signal – POLITICO Europe

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By EMILIO CASALICCHIO

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Good Friday morning. This is Emilio Casalicchio. Eleni Courea will be back to kick off next week. 

MEN ON: Good luck to the England team in their World Cup match against the U.S. at 7 p.m. tonight. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is planning to watch it from the Darlington Economic Campus where he’s working this afternoon. Labour leader Keir Starmer will watch with Bloomsbury Football, a grassroots football charity in his constituency. Best wishes to Wales too, who are up against Iran at 10 a.m.

Remember: When the goals start scoring, it becomes less boring.

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DRIVING THE DAY

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS NEWSLETTER: The winter of discontent grows colder this morning with the announcement that nurses will strike in the run-up to Christmas — throwing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak into fresh turmoil. Hospital staff will walk out on December 15 and 20 in what will be the biggest show of industrial action the NHS has ever seen. Both the nursing union and the government are blaming each other for the breakdown in talks, setting the two sides on a pre-Christmas collision course. But as the season of gloom begins to bite, it could be Sunak who emerges from the wreckage with the lasting damage. 

Details, details: The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said strikes will take place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the Scotland branch holding off after the SNP administration reopened negotiations over wage increases. Emergency and life-preserving care will still be provided during the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. strikes, but routine services in workplaces set to be specified next week will be hit. The RCN wants a 19 percent wage hike after salaries saw real-terms cuts of 20 percent since 2010, but the government said the £10 billion price tag for such a rise is too much, after a recent increase of about 4 percent on average.

Not the Christmas gift he’d hoped for: Health Secretary Steve Barclay said in an overnight statement that the RCN demands were “not affordable.” He said he was “hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of nurses and deeply regret some union members will be taking industrial action.” He said the priority would be to keep patients safe, insisting the NHS had “tried and tested plans in place to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.” A Whitehall insider told Playbook Barclay had offered further talks with the RCN but had been rebuffed. 

But but but: “My offer of formal negotiations was declined and, instead, ministers have chosen strike action,” said RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen. “They have the power and the means to stop this by opening serious talks that address our dispute.” She added: “Nursing staff have had enough of being taken for granted, enough of low pay and unsafe staffing levels, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve.” Cullen is on BBC Breakfast at 7.10 a.m.

I’m mad as hell, and … One nurse on BBC Question Time last night urged the government to make health and care “a good profession that’s well paid with good working conditions. We want to be proud of our profession.” She added: “I don’t want to strike but we’ve been waiting for jam tomorrow for decades now and it hasn’t come … We need to be able to lead reasonable lives without having to strike so pay us, please, what we deserve.” Watch the clip.

Not making things easier for Sunak: Health workers at Unison have a ballot closing today, while Unite’s closes next week. Midwives and physiotherapists are also being balloted on strikes, while junior doctors will be asked in the new year. One NHS trust chief executive told the Times the nurses strike would be manageable but “I’m not sure how we’ll manage it if the Unison strike joins with it. And we’re pretty confident it will. That’s going to get more hairy.”

This won’t help either: Even with the extra cash from the Autumn Statement, the NHS will struggle to catch up with backlogs, while other services will continue to degrade, according to a new report from the Institute for Government that the Guardian wrote up. It means the tough job nurses face in hospitals won’t be getting easier soon. 

All in all: Massive industrial action in the health service, alongside the rail, higher education and post office strikes, are further nails in what numerous people in Westminster believe is the coffin of Conservative rule since 2010, according to various conversations Playbook has been having. There had been some hesitation toward writing the Tories off at the next election when Sunak first entered Downing Street, in the expectation he might turn things around, but the current signs have left Conservatives increasingly despondent and Labour increasingly hopeful. 

Striking while the iron’s hot: “Patients already can’t get treated on time, strike action is the last thing they need, yet the government is letting this happen,” Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said overnight. He added that if the Conservatives have “given up governing, they should stand aside for Labour.” The tone from the opposition grows ever more bullish — even if Starmer is urging his MPs not to join the picket lines.

Speaking of Streeting … The frontbencher, tipped by many as the next Labour leader, did a sit-down interview with POLITICO’s Jack Blanchard for the latest episode of our Westminster Insider podcast. An interview with dinner. And a decent bottle of red wine, of course. He discussed his poverty-stricken childhood, his recent fight with cancer and his hopes for the future as he prepares to turn 40.

Oh, and … his battle with mice in his London flat. “On Sunday I spent eight hours literally playing cat and mouse with this mouse,” Streeting told Jack. “In the end, the only thing that emerged from this eight-hour circus was a well-fed mouse. I don’t have any traps in the house and so I put a vase down with some peanut butter in it. The mouse loved the peanut butter, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch him.”

**On December 7, POLITICO will unveil its POLITICO 28 list during its annual gala dinner. Our award-winning event and publication will recognize the 28 most powerful players driving change and solving problems in European politics, policy and business for the year 2023. The event will also feature an exclusive interview with European Parliament President, Roberta Metsola.Register here.** 

HANCOCK WATCH

PLAYBOOK’S ANDREW MCDONALD WATCHES HANCOCK SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO: Born winner Matt Hancock took a step closer to the jungle crown when he saw off DJ Chris Moyles in the latest I’m a Celeb public vote. “I’m gutted Matt Hancock is more popular than me — what the bejesus is going on?” Moyles boggled in his exit interview. What the bejesus indeed.

Questions to the former minister: Before leaving the jungle, the dumped disk jockey managed to draw a bit of politics chat out of (checks notes) the actual jockey. The MP for Down Under explained in detail how Cabinet reshuffles work. He also revealed that former U.S. President Barack Obama once advised him to “always wear the same thing” so people would focus on his personality rather than his clothing.

Showing the real me latest: Asked if he had any questions for Moyles about his career, Hancock drew a — very awkward — blank. The veteran DJ didn’t look best pleased.

Hancock and the horn: During a camp chat about dream dinner party guests, Hancock picked Marilyn Monroe as his ideal “naked chef,” to be joined for a meal (presumably not of cow’s anus) by JFK, former footballer Kevin Keegan and Pocahontas. In a sense, Monroe is a perfect politician’s answer, being probably the safest option from a PR perspective to the point of being boring and obvious. Touché, Matt.

Path to victory: If Hancock can get through tonight’s episode, he’ll be in the final four ahead of the program finale at the weekend. One of the final challenges often sees celebs don capes and do battle with a massive slip and slide while being pelted with Boris Johnson-style water cannons. Something to look forward to.

Timeline: The live final — and possible proudest moment of Hancock’s career — is on Sunday night.

Mentions of dyslexia: Still two.

Worth pointing out: Bereaved COVID families are very, very, very not happy about this whole thing. The Mirror has a write-up. A spokesperson for Hancock said the MP continues to support the official COVID inquiry.

TODAY IN WESTMINSTER

HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. for private members bills. Former Cabinet Minister Liam Fox is up first with his bill to create an independent compensation system for National Grid disruption. The next one, from Tory MP Henry Smith, would ban the import of trophies from endangered species.

HOUSE OF LORDS: Not sitting.

BREXIT BAT SIGNAL: Nigel Farage can smell the pursed lips of a Brexit Judas kiss from a mile off, and dispatched a mailout to fans teasing the prospect of a return to the political limelight. The adviser on not-the-best investments sent supporters the text of his Tele piece about the Tories being total sell-outs on Brexit … but also on the rest of the world. The solution? “All of this means that the conditions for a new insurgency in British politics are ripe,” of course. 

Hint hint: “Whether I take a more active role in Reform UK in future will depend on the extent of the betrayal of Brexit,” Farage said. “But at the risk of stating the obvious, I didn’t spend 25 years of my life battling to secure a seemingly hopeless cause only to watch Jeremy Hunt give it away.” It sounds as though Richard Tice has kept the throne warm long enough.

Ruh roh: A possible Farage return won’t calm Conservative nerves, with Reform support growing, according to the latest tracker for the Express.

Not so fast: It seems the Tories can smell Faragist (and Frostian) opportunism from a mile off too, and are manning the barricades to keep him off their lawn. For example, someone briefed that Rishi Sunak could cut foreign student numbers to tackle the record net migration figures, according to the Times (a move the i newspaper notes could spark a massive Cabinet row). Even Chancellor Jeremy Hunt went all “people in this country have had enough of experts” in an interview with Sky News last night. He insisted the OBR was wrong to suggest Brexit will shrink the economy by 4 percent. 

But get this: Despite having its sums all mashed about on Brexit, the OBR was correct in its predictions about inflation falling, Hunt maintained. How about that. He also insisted that although Trussonomics was a bit of a bummer, it didn’t do lasting damage to the public finances. 

SPEAKING OF TRUSS: It’s exactly a month since Rishi Sunak became prime minister and most of Liz Truss’ No. 10 political team had to hand back their coveted Downing Street passes. While former prime ministers, chancellors and some of their backroom staff have notoriously cashed in after leaving office, earning millions delivering speeches, signing lucrative book deals and being snapped up for big advisory jobs, senior figures in those sectors tell POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson the prospects are less bright for Truss and her closest allies, who held power for just 45 days before being forced to resign amid market turmoil.

Cut-price Boris and Theresa: While the previous two British PMs have been raking in six-figure sums on the Washington speaking circuit, industry figures are dubious it could be a decent earner for Truss. One former speaking agency employee tells Annabelle that Truss would be unlikely to break the $100,000 mark, with her market value more likely to hover in the $75,000-a-speech territory, given there are “a lot of options on the market right now.” Which doesn’t exactly sound like chump change to Playbook, but it’s all relative, isn’t it?

ALSO SPEAKING OF TRUSS: She and Boris Johnson have backed Conservative rebel Simon Clarke in his push for the government to back new onshore wind farms. Various Westminster wags were pointing out on Twitter last night that BoJo wasn’t an enthusiast for onshore wind when he was PM — just offshore. No doubt it was evidence that won him around, rather than political pettiness against his foe Rishi Sunak. Government insiders insist ministers will take a constructive approach to backbench colleagues. 

MASSIVE KUDOS TO … ITV’s Daniel Hewitt, who’s been pursuing the scandal of disgusting social housing conditions for an age and managed to bag an interview with Housing Secretary Michael Gove during a visit to the estate where little Awaab Ishak died due to living in a mold-infested housing association hell. Gove was on the back foot in the interview, struggling to explain how the Tories managed to ignore the issue for so long despite promising a new approach in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. 

Gove landlords fight latest: Following a meeting between Gove and the RBH housing association that owned the flat Awaab lived in, a government official said the minister “does not have confidence in the leadership” of the organization and will be watching it like a hawk. 

DEPRESSING DATA: The ONS will release new stats on domestic abuse here at 9.30 a.m. and new info on its work covering violence against women and girls here at the same time. The releases coincide with White Ribbon Day, which raises awareness of violence against women and girls.

The buck stops Keir: Keir Starmer is in the West Midlands to mark White Ribbon Day, where he’ll visit a domestic violence refuge center and talk to frontline staff and charity workers. Expect a broadcast clip and other interviews to appear after lunchtime. Starmer has written in the Guardian and the Sun (not online) in advance to complain that 97 percent of sexual offences are currently failing to end in charges despite record reports.

Speaking of Starmer: He stars in the latest Chopper’s Politics Podcast, which saw him interviewed not just by Telegraph veteran Chris Hope but by a class full of A-level students from St George’s, Harpenden. He said he would cut taxes for working people … ruled out a Swiss-approach Brexit deal … and said Labour MPs must not claim expenses for office Christmas parties. He said Winston Churchill was his favourite Conservative politician and, asked if he’d ever taken drugs, said: “I had a good time when I was younger.” Podcast here and write-up here.

SPEAKING OF OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTIES: The MPs’ expenses watchdog has apologized for suggesting parliamentarians were requesting to charge their office Christmas bashes to the public purse. 

IN A SIMILAR SPIRIT: Playbook feels bad for suggesting the Lords sleaze watchdog was being a bit slow investigating the Michelle Mone PPE contract. As the commissioner made clear in a statement, its probe is on hold while police are investigating the case. 

NEW GIG: Rishi Sunak’s new investment minister in the trade department is … the man he sacked from the job last month! Indeed, investment firm co-founder Dominic Johnson, of bezzies-with-Jacob-Rees-Mogg fame, was reappointed last night, Downing Street confirmed. It must have been the exit interview he did with POLITICO that changed Sunak’s mind … the one where he said the government should ditch meaningless trade deal deadlines; be honest that trade could harm farmers but help them transition to other forms of income; and reward trade negotiators with commercial rate sales salaries. 

Worth noting: Former Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry wasn’t best impressed

SPEAKING OF TRADE: There are three nominated candidates for the space on the international trade committee. One of them might even be a woman.

NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP: BEIS Minister Nus Ghani still describes herself on Twitter as the minister for science, even though she’s been told in no uncertain terms that George Freeman is the minister for science.

DEEPFAKERS IN DEEP TROUBLE: Sharing pornographic deepfake images without consent will become a crime, after the government accepted suggested reforms to the Online Safety Bill from the Law Commission. Those accused of “downblousing” — which is as vile as it sounds — could also be jailed.

ROAD RAGE: Much-needed government repairs to British motorways and other roads will cost around £3.3 billion more than planned, a new National Audit Office report has found.

DEAD CATFISH: £20 million in new funding will be allocated to new infrastructure projects in the fishing and seafood industry, the government announces this morning.

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BEYOND THE M25

STURGEON SPOTTING: Scottish FM Nicola Sturgeon is giving the opening address at the Poverty Alliance charity’s annual conference at 10 a.m.

Meanwhile: Her official spokesperson used a briefing with the Holyrood Lobby to compare unionists to Donald Trump because they “are trying to pretend they won an election they lost.” The Times’ Kieran Andrews has the full quotes.

UKRAINE UPDATE: As much as 50 percent of Ukraine is enduring electricity and water supply problems, following mass Russian shelling all week. Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska has a big interview with the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, in which she insists her country is “ready to endure” over the winter.

From the frontlines: “I write this from Avdiivka, a town 10 kilometers from Donetsk. I was born and raised in Donetsk, but my grandmother lived here. These days, I’m serving as a tactical medic — and this is one of the most ferocious frontlines in Ukraine.” Read this first-person account for POLITICO by Yegor Firsov, an activist and former member of Ukrainian parliament.

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MEDIA ROUND

Labour Chair Anneliese Dodds broadcast round: talkTV (7.32 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.) … GB News (9 a.m.).

Today program: Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (7.50 a.m.) … Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive Pat Cullen (8.10 a.m.).

BBC Breakfast: Pat Cullen (7.10 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio breakfast: Clare McGlynn KC (7.20 a.m.) … Executive Director of John Lewis Pippa Wicks (7.35 a.m.).

Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Tory councillor and former SpAd Claire Pearsall (7.10 a.m.) … SANE founder Marjorie Wallace (9.10 a.m.).

Also on talkTV breakfast: Tory MP Craig Mackinlay (8.05 a.m.).

Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): Mirror columnist Susie Boniface and writer Benedict Spence … (talkTV 10.20 p.m.): Journalist Jonathan Lis and broadcaster Esther Krakue.

TODAY’S FRONT PAGES

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

Daily Express: Suella vows to cut net migrant record of 504,000.

Daily Mail: GPs vote to shut doors at just 5 p.m.

Daily Mirror: First class disgrace.

Daily Star: Bunk-off Friday!

Financial Times: Zelenskyy vows Ukraine will thwart Russia’s attacks on power networks.

HuffPostUK: Rail strike deal inbound?

i: Student visa crackdown set to spark major Cabinet row.

Metro: World sup!

POLITICO UK: There’s no post-power gravy train for Team Liz Truss.

PoliticsHome: Rishi Sunak challenged to ‘face down’ Tory Brexit ‘hardliners’ to fix the economy.

The Daily Telegraph: Johnson and Truss in planning rebellion.

The Guardian: MPs urge investigation into PPE contracts after Mone revelations.

The Independent: ‘Collapsed’ system leaves 140,000 awaiting asylum.

The Sun: Walliams quits BGT.

The Times: Foreign students face ban from universities.

TODAY’S NEWS MAGS

The Economist: Frozen out — How the world is leaving Europe behind.

THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY

Chopper’s Politics: Labour leader Keir Starmer gets grilled by politics students from a school in Harpenden.

Clear the Air: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan talks to filmmaker Richard Curtis.

EU Confidential: POLITICO interviews Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Iain Dale All Talk: Dale interviews the General Secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady.

Inside Briefing: The IfG team is joined by the Guardian’s Anna Isaac.

Newscast: The BBC team interview Labour MP Diane Abbott and Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

Politics Weekly UK: The Guardian’s John Harris talks to teachers, librarians and a local council in the West Midlands about cuts to public services.

The Rundown: The polhome team talk Brexit with former Cabinet Minister David Gauke and U.K. in a Changing Europe’s Anand Menon.

Westminster Insider: Jack Blanchard interviews Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting.

Whitehall Sources: Calum Macdonald talks about the week in politics with former SpAds Kirsty Buchanan, Oscar Reddrop and Luke Graham.

YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS

STRIKES: Aslef train drivers will walk out on Saturday across the country.

FAO BBC SCOTLAND JOURNOS: Scottish nationalists backing the All Under One Banner group will hold a rally outside BBC Scotland’s headquarters in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon. Fifty-eight people have said they’re going on Facebook.

ALL HAIL HANCOCK, KING OF THE JUNGLE: The I’m A Celeb final is Sunday at 9 p.m.

SUNDAY SHOWS: Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC (9 a.m.) will be talking to Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds. No guest news yet for Sophy Ridge on Sky (Sky News, 8.30 a.m.).

Westminster Hour host Carolyn Quinn will be joined by Tory MP Miriam Cates, Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock, commentator Jo Tanner and the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar (BBC Radio 4, 10 p.m.).

LONDON CALLING

WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Sunnier. Highs of 12C.

NEW GIG: Rishi Sunak has hired a vegan environmental expert (and former Conservative SpAd — not some Extinction Rebellion crust-bucket, as amusing as that might be) to advise him on climate issues. Meera Vadher is due to start soon in 2023, according to Helena Horton in the Guardian.

IN DEEP WATER: Peers beat MPs in a swimming competition at Porchester Hall in Bayswater last night on behalf of Hope for Youth NI. The annual event has become something of a grudge match between team captains Labour MP Chris Bryant and Lib Dem peer Brian Paddick. “The Lords won this time, partly thanks to a spirited effort from [Conservative peer] Jo Johnson who swam without goggles,” Bryant told Playbook. Conservative MPs “Flick Drummond and Bob Seely ran each other very close and Robert Buckland swam precisely as you would expect a former lord chancellor to swim.”

SPOTTED: At an intimate pre-launch gathering at the Spectator offices last night for the new Liz Truss biog from Harry Cole and James Heale … Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey … New (and former) Trade Minister Dominic Johnson … Tories Priti Patel, Brandon Lewis and Dehenna Davidson … Downing Street Press Secretary Nerissa Chesterfield … CCHQ’s Alex Wild … top government comms aide Lynn Davidson … NewsUK boss David Dinsmore … HarperCollins editor Imogen Gordon Clark and her team … Spectator chiefs Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth … Cole’s Sun colleagues James Slack, Natasha Clark, Kate Ferguson and Ryan Sabey … Fellow journos Steve Swinford, Glen Owen, Kate McCann, Christian May, Seb Payne, Alex Wickham, Juliet Samuel, Katie Hind and Hugo Gye … Ex-SpAd Kirsty Buchanan … broadcaster Rachel Johnson … think tankers Matt Kilcoyne and Mark Littlewood … Author Eliza FilbyLady Jake Berry and her priest … and posh celeb Georgia Toffolo. James Starkie’s 5654 and Co. bought the booze (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) which was toasted alongside the authors’ mums, dads, siblings, uncles and old pals. The launch proper is next week. 

BIRTHDAYS: Sports Minister Stuart Andrew … North Devon MP Selaine Saxby … Former No. 10 aide Dominic Cummings … Labour peer Paul Murphy … Tory peer Michael Morris … Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sheila Rowan … Former Sunday Times Deputy Editor Sarah Baxter … City Hall spinner Sarah Coombes … City of London corporation senior manager Martin Bailey.

Celebrating over the weekend: Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn … Change Britain Chairwoman and unaffiliated peer Gisela Stuart … Independent Committee on Climate Change Chairman John Gummer … Labour peer Joyce Quin … Crossbench peer and CBI President Karan Bilimoria … Former Labour MP Keith Vaz … Former Labour MP Ann Keen … Scottish Tory MSP Donald Cameron … Channel 4 News Europe Editor Matt Frei … Prisons Minister Damian Hinds … Former High Peak MP Ruth George … Wantage MP David Johnston … Labour adviser Kate Forrester … DIT’s CPTPP chief negotiator Graham Zebedee … Labour peer Ann Mallalieu … Fabian Society General Secretary Andrew Harrop … Former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells … New Statesman Senior Online Editor George Eaton.

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

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