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Remember, remember — Blame game — 36 U-turns in 23 months – POLITICO

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By ALEX WICKHAM

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Good Friday morning.

DRIVING THE DAY

REMEMBER, REMEMBER … British politics is in disrepute this morning after a dire week in Westminster that saw a Conservative MP’s political career destroyed in a sleaze scandal, the prime minister humiliated in a tawdry attempt to get him off the hook, and a Labour MP handed a suspended sentence for threatening a woman with acid. It leaves the government and opposition facing as many as four by-elections in the next few months, where voters could effectively be taking part in referendums on politicians’ sleaze or criminality — and Downing Street’s faltering commitment to standards in public life. As Owen Paterson quits parliament in disgrace, the recriminations are well underway following a week that threatens lasting damage to No. 10’s reputation. Boris Johnson, Chief Whip Mark Spencer, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Downing Street political team, Paterson and his Tory MP friends are all facing fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night.

Are the public watching? You better believe it. A YouGov poll for the Times — with the fieldwork done after the Paterson vote, on Wednesday evening and Thursday — sees the Tory lead shrink by 5 points to just 1. In full: CON 36 (-3) … LAB 35 (+2) … LIB DEM 8 (no change) GREEN 9 (-1) REF U.K. 5 (+2). H/t Patrick Maguire. That’s a lot of political capital spent on trying and failing to save a rule-breaking Tory MP from facing the consequences of his actions.

Regrets, they have a few: As the dust settles, it is clear that multiple senior members of the government have been guilty of remarkable lapses in judgment over the Paterson case. It was apparent straight after the standards report dropped that Paterson’s supporters were deploying an emotional rather than rational argument. There is of course huge sympathy for him across the Tory Party following the death of his wife last year. But as one senior government insider conceded to Playbook, whatever the arguments about the process of the investigation, it was obvious to anyone who read the evidence in the Standards Commissioner’s report that Paterson had breached paid advocacy rules. Despite coming to this internal view, Downing Street nonetheless set out to block his punishment and use the case to rewrite standards rules, something insiders now privately admit was a foolish political error.

The campaign: Soon after the standards report landed, Paterson and his circle began a “sustained” campaign via various Tory WhatsApp groups, my POLITICO colleague Esther Webber reports. Paterson and his pals spent days “literally flooding” the groups “multiple times a day,” sometimes with links to articles and comment pieces, making the case for his defense, a senior Tory MP who abstained on Wednesday’s vote tells Esther. Some MPs felt they should support Paterson out of solidarity. Others were deeply uneasy. Playbook is told there was a divide between a group of older Brexiteer MPs who have known Paterson for years, and newer intakes who considered them completely out of touch with reality.

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The brains trust: By Monday morning, word was quickly going round that an official plot was being concocted to get Paterson off. Playbook is told by multiple sources that it was devised following meetings between Paterson and his friends in the Brexiteer “Spartan” group of MPs, with Mark Spencer, Jacob Rees-Mogg and advisers in the Downing Street political team. The idea was that No. 10 would back an amendment blocking Paterson’s 30-day Commons suspension and establishing a new committee led by Tory grandee John Whittingdale to rewrite standards rules. A senior member of the government tells Playbook that Spencer and Rees-Mogg were the ministers driving the proposal, which was presented to the PM, who then gave it his blessing. On Tuesday night, Johnson attended a Telegraph dinner at the Garrick with the journalist Charles Moore, a friend and vocal supporter of Paterson. A Tory MP tells Esther Webber “the whips were quite explicit in making it known to colleagues that the prime minister himself personally will be in the voting lobby and that should be indication enough.”

The plan backfired: The government won Wednesday’s vote with a far smaller majority than expected, with the Tory rebellion (including principled abstentions) totaling around 50. Within minutes, the realization dawned on No. 10 that its plan had a giant and somehow unforeseen flaw. Labour and the other opposition parties immediately boycotted the new Whittingdale committee, putting Downing Street in the untenable situation of having to set up a Tory-only sham to rewrite the rules in their favor. From that moment, Johnson knew the game was up. Wednesday night’s papers were a disaster for No. 10, and Spencer called Paterson at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning to tell him the government was U-turning, the Telegraph’s Chris Hope and Tony Diver report. Paterson then called Johnson to announce his resignation from parliament. There is speculation Johnson discussed a peerage with Paterson during that call. Playbook is told that is emphatically untrue.

The blame game: Tory MPs and senior ministers — many of whom had not just been ordered to vote on a three-line whip for the amateurish stitch-up attempt, but defended it on broadcast — privately expressed their fury. Thursday saw the Conservative Party resemble a circular firing squad as MPs bemoaned the lack of judgment that left them in this position. Playbook will take you through who is being blamed …

Boris Johnson: The anger leads to the very top. Above all else, Tory MPs are livid that the PM marched them up the hill of voting for an indefensible and immensely publicly unpopular measure, only to then march them back down again and U-turn after the damage was done. More than one Tory MP yesterday complained to Playbook about the number of times this keeps happening under Johnson, whether on Marcus Rashford’s free school meals or Matt Hancock’s corona rule-breaking. Some allies of the PM stress he had been away in Rome for the G20 and then up in Glasgow for the CO26 summit, so had more important priorities than the intricacies of the Spencer/Rees-Mogg wheeze. Some say he had his eye off the ball. Other Tories think it is inexcusable for a prime minister to even consider using his parliamentary majority to abuse the standards process, and that he should have shot it down immediately.

Back to basics: The Mail goes directly for Johnson, with six pages on the Paterson affair that lead with senior Tories questioning the PM’s judgment. A senior minister tells Jason Groves and Harriet Line: “This was completely avoidable. The problem with Boris is he packs his Cabinet with second-rate people, meaning there is no one to tell him he should take a different course. It all just looks like we’re back to the 1990s — MPs getting together to support their friends.”

Mark Spencer: The majority of Tory MPs’ rage is however reserved for the chief whip, who is widely seen as the ringleader of the plot. Multiple Tory MPs told Playbook yesterday that Spencer had committed an unforgivable error of judgment by putting the interests of one unrepentant rule-breaking MP over the prime minister and the wider Conservative Party. A Whitehall insider tells Playbook that Spencer failed in his duties on two counts: realizing his plan was unviable, and predicting the scale of the Tory rebellion. In a sign of the incompetence of the whips operation, at one point they claimed some Labour MPs were going to back their amendment out of a genuine desire to reform the standards system. Zero Labour MPs voted for the amendment.

Farmer drama: The FT quotes an MP warning “people are apoplectic with the chief.” A senior Tory MP tells Guido’s Christian Calgie the row has “blown up” Spencer’s credibility, suggesting his whipping operation has been undermined as potential rebels now know they can force a U-turn and keep their jobs. A Tory MP tells the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti: “I have never heard ministers go through the lobby saying out loud ‘this is absolute madness.’ The chief whip needs to go for this.” An MP tells the Telegraph’s Chris Hope and Tony Diver: “The chief’s entire authority has been absolutely machine-gunned … he has just lost all authority in the parliamentary party.” An MP tells Esther Webber: “This is where you would want your chief whip at these kind of moments to go eyeball to eyeball with the prime minister and say, ‘sorry, that plan ain’t gonna fly.’”

Marked man: There is plenty of Spencer-knocking copy doing the rounds today. ITV’s Robert Peston has insider details of the chief’s call with Whittingdale, offering him the job to chair the new sham committee. Peston reports Whittingdale had assumed Spencer had secured the opposition parties’ consent for the plan. Disastrously, he had not. The FT’s George Parker, Laura Hughes and Seb Payne reveal possible Tory rebels were told “they would lose funding for their constituency” if they voted against the amendment. A Tory veteran tells Jim Pickard: “Any MP who believed this deserves to have funding removed for being a thick gullible tw*t.” Labour’s Anneliese Dodds blasts: “Threatening to hold money back from voters and their communities, all to protect a Tory MP who broke the rules. If true this marks a new low for Johnson’s scandal-ridden Conservatives.”

Is Spencer’s position under threat? Downing Street last night said they would stand by their beleaguered chief whip. Others in the Tory Party wonder if his days in the job are numbered. Last night a “friend” of Spencer told Chris Hope: “He does not regret for one second circling the wagons around a colleague who is in trouble. He would do the same with any other colleague.” What is it with senior Tories and unrepentant doubling-down statements this week?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Spencer is the one getting most of the grief today, though Playbook is told Rees-Mogg was also instrumental in drawing up the botched plot and advising the PM to go with it. The Sun’s Harry Cole says Rees-Mogg assured Johnson the plan was watertight. One younger Tory MP told Playbook that Spencer and Rees-Mogg are insular characters who spend all their time with other Conservative MPs similar to themselves, so have “no political judgment, no understanding of voters” and no understanding of what Tory MPs “outside their weird cabal” think.

No. 10 political team: Also heavily involved in the scheme to get Paterson off were SpAds in the Downing Street political unit, who worked with Spencer and Rees-Mogg on the plans for the amendment and the Whittingdale committee. The Sun’s Harry Cole reports No. 10 aides were divided on what to do, with the political team believing Johnson could get away with it, but Chief of Staff Dan Rosenfield and the press team advising him against. In their write-through, the Times‘ six-strong team of Steve Swinford, Oli Wright, Henry Zeffman, Eleni Courea and George Grylls quote a government source saying Johnson had asked aides on Thursday morning how he had been put in the position. “He’s pretty p*ssed off,” they said. The Mail’s front page asks: “Is anyone in charge at No. 10?”

The Spartans: There is a lot of criticism this morning for the group of Paterson’s friends who lobbied Spencer and No. 10 into trying to help their man. Playbook is told Tory Brexiteers David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith spent days putting extreme pressure on colleagues to support Paterson. Some senior Tories feel these veteran MPs would have done their friend a better service if they’d advised him to keep his head down, accept his punishment quietly, then see off any attempt to force a by-election and carry on as an MP. Instead, they allowed Paterson to run away with the feeling that he was the victim of some great injustice — which didn’t stand up to scrutiny and ended up finishing his political career. More than one MP told Playbook the Spartans failed in their “duty of care” for Paterson.

Class war: The Spartans’ macho behavior has also upset a lot of newer intake MPs, several of whom detect a whiff of condescension. “The toffs putting pressure on the oiks,” was how one MP characterized it to Esther Webber, while a new MP said some Paterson supporters had been badmouthing Tory MPs on the standards committee, “saying they’re first-term MPs who don’t know what they were doing, suggesting they were bamboozled by Chris Bryant and the commissioner.” One MP tells Esther: “Boris has been able to rely on that 2019 lot very heavily as his main phalanx of support — his people, the ones he brought in. No. 10 need to be very, very careful that they don’t p*ss off too many of them and lose the goodwill.”

Owen Paterson himself: The sympathy many Tories had for Paterson has well and truly dried up. There was already disquiet bubbling away at one man deeming himself important enough to ask his colleagues to trash their reputations to defend him, especially when he was bang to rights. The final straw was the ill-advised interview Paterson gave to Sky’s Sam Coates on Wednesday night after the government won the vote, in which he boasted he “wouldn’t hesitate to do it again tomorrow, absolutely no question.” Coates yesterday reported Johnson was deeply unimpressed by the interview. A government source says the same in the Times: “It went down very badly in No. 10. They were expecting some contrition from Owen. Instead he came out all guns blazing.”

By-election klaxon: The BBC website leads on an intriguing tale this morning that “Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green Party are discussing standing aside and backing an independent ‘anti-sleaze’ candidate” in the by-election that will take place in North Shropshire. It’s fair to say this would be a big development if true. However, the FT’s Seb Payne reported late last night that it won’t happen, with senior Labour insiders pouring cold water on the idea. Playbook is also steered away from the likelihood Labour wouldn’t stand. And a Lib Dem source adds: “The technicalities of having an independent candidate opposition parties get behind are frankly a complete nightmare. The Liberal Democrats are the anti-sleaze party wherever we stand.” Still one to watch.

Four by-elections coming up? It’s going to be a busy time in Tory, Labour and Lib Dem HQs. There will be a by-election in Old Bexley and Sidcup following the death of Tory MP James Brokenshire, with polling day expected early December. There will be another in North Shropshire following the Paterson resignation — the question is whether the Tories will try to get it out of the way quickly or go long? There will be an uncontested by-election in Southend West following the killing of David Amess. And there may well be a by-election in a few months time in Leicester East following the sentencing of the now expelled Labour MP Claudia Webbe yesterday. That all depends on Webbe’s appeal and a subsequent recall petition, though it could happen sooner if Webbe resigns.

What happens next? The government has said it will hold another vote on updating the standards system next week, but without any link to the Paterson case. The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar says the hope for cross-party consensus is doomed already, with a Labour source telling her: “It’s laughable. They didn’t want to listen to anyone, now they have totally f***ed it up they suddenly need talks.” Meanwhile the Lib Dems have an emergency SO24 debate in the diary for Monday afternoon.

Kwasi-autonomous: Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has written to the Prime Minister’s Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests Christopher Geidt accusing Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng of bullying Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone. Kwarteng had questioned Stone’s position in an interview on Sky.

Next up: The Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith reports that the Electoral Commission handed its initial findings on the Downing Street flat refurbishment row to Conservative Party chiefs. It will give its judgment on whether Johnson broke spending rules after the party has had a chance to respond — so we could get news on that quite soon.

GOVERNMENT OF ALL THE U-TURNS: POLITICO’s Andrew McDonald has put in the hours to count up all the U-turns that have taken place under the Johnson administration. Since winning an 80-seat majority in December 2019, the government has reverse ferreted on: The NHS staff visa charge … Rees-Mogg’s conga voting system … Reopening all primary schools last summer … Free school meals over last summer (thanks to Marcus Rashford) … Centralized COVID app … Huawei … “Air bridges” … Exam results algorithm (“no U-turn, no change“) … Extending the eviction ban … Face masks in schools … Badger culls … “Go back to work or risk losing your job” …  Pints in parliament after 10 p.m. … October lockdown (second lockdown would be “disastrous“) … Furlough extension … Free school meals over holidays (thanks to Marcus Rashford, again) … The nightmare before Christmas (it would be “frankly inhuman” to cancel it) …

… 36 U-turns in 23 months: Closing schools a day after they reopened, after weeks of mind-melting rhetoric … Free school meals vouchers (thanks to Marcus Rashford, again) … Review of workers’ rights post-Brexit … Cumbria coal mine … Prosecutions of troops overseas … Dyson texts probe … Local lockdowns travel mess … Allowing MPs a vote on the foreign aid cut — which, as a 2019 manifesto commitment, also counts as a reverse ferret … Hancock resigning a day after the matter was “closed” … Johnson and Sunak’s short-lived isolation pilot scheme … “Amber watchlist” … Vaccine passports for nightclubs … National Insurance and triple lock manifesto commitments on the same day … Planning reforms … Emergency extended visas to ease labor shortages … Dumping raw sewage … and then standards reform and the fate of Owen Paterson.

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TODAY AT COP

YOUR WEEKEND LISTENING: My POLITICO colleague Jack Blanchard‘s podcast is back with series four of Westminster Insider kicking off this morning. As the COP26 summit continues in Glasgow, this week’s episode looks back at the history of climate change, from the dramatic shifts at the end of the Ice Age to the political rows of the modern era. Anthropologist Brian Fagan takes you through prehistoric, ancient and medieval periods, and in more recent history, Margaret Thatcher’s Political Secretary John Whittingdale explains why the Tory PM was among the first world leaders to campaign for a global deal on cutting greenhouse gases. Ex-Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband discusses his experiences of pushing Britain’s first climate laws through parliament, and of panicking in his underpants at the COP15 summit in Copenhagen. Author Richard Black and Tory MP Steve Baker discuss the thinking behind those opposed to radical action on the climate. And Boris Johnson’s COP26 Spokesperson Allegra Stratton rings in from Glasgow with an update on the progress — or lack of it — so far. You can listen here.

Main stage: YOUNGO, the Official Children’s and Youth constituency of the UNFCC, will present a global climate statement from young climate activists around the world (10 a.m.) … Followed by an event highlighting the importance of parliaments in delivering climate commitments (11 a.m.) … There will be an event looking at what’s been achieved so far at the conference and whether 1.5C is within reach still, with COP President Alok Sharma and former U.S. VP Al Gore among those speaking (2 p.m.) … Young people, education ministers and climate ministers will then discuss the importance of education in “creating climate positive futures” (4 p.m.) … and then Sharma and Italian Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani will discuss the youth climate summit held in Milan in September with youth representatives and other ministers (5.30 p.m.).

Not on the official set list: The biggest climate protest march of the summit is set to begin at 11 a.m. from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, from where thousands of young people are expected to march to George Square. Greta Thunberg has said she’ll join the protesters, as have Glasgow’s striking refuse workers. A crowd of 100,000 is expected at an even bigger protest Saturday.

**During COP26 in Glasgow, POLITICO Pro’s Energy and Climate newsletter is your chance to discover exclusive in-depth political analysis of the most important moment of the year. Sign up now to receive it for free until November 12.**

TODAY IN WESTMINSTER

PARLIAMENT: Not sitting.

FROM PARIS TO BRUSSELS: David Frost is in Brussels this morning for further Brexit talks with counterpart Maroš Šefčovič about the Northern Ireland protocol. The visit follows his tête-à-tête with French Minister Clément Beaune in Paris, during which they failed to break the deadlock in a spat over fishing licenses. More here from POLITICO’s Clea Caulcutt and Cristina Gallardo.

Not ready: The National Audit Office warns this morning that the U.K. has more work to do before it can introduce post-Brexit controls on EU imports next year. Cristina has the write-up.

HAS COVID PEAKED? A new study suggests coronavirus may have peaked for the year in the U.K. — fingers crossed. The Guardian’s Ian Sample has the story.

YESTERDAY’S UK COVID STATS: 37,269 new cases, ⬇️ 4,030 on Wednesday. In the last seven days there have been 275,264 positive cases, ⬇️ 20,285 on the previous week … 214 reported deaths within 28 days of a positive test, ⬇️ 3 on Wednesday. In the last seven days 1,190 deaths have been reported, ⬆️ 130 on the previous week. As of the latest data 9,311 COVID patients are in hospital.

VAX STATS: A total 50,112,925 people or 87.1 percent of the population aged 12+ have received a first dose, ⬆️ 41,242 … A total 45,770,452 people or 79.6 percent of the population aged 12+ have received a second dose, ⬆️ 17,965 … A total 9,012,676 people or 15.7 percent of the population aged 12+ have received a booster/third dose, ⬆️ 359,834.

NATIONAL SCANDAL: Reported rapes have hit the highest number on record, but the number of charges has fallen to the joint lowest, the Office for National Statistics has found. The Times‘ Matt Dathan has more. It comes following the appalling case of double murderer David Fuller, who sexually abused dead bodies at NHS morgues.

HELPING HANCOCK: Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has given his first interview since his resignation to the Telegraph’s Chris Hope, revealing he’s been getting words of wisdom from Tony Blair: “I hope he doesn’t mind my saying this, but I got advice from Tony Blair [who said]: ‘Just don’t look at Twitter. What on earth are you looking at that for?’”

LIES, DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS: The government changed its methodology for assessing the impact of the Australian trade deal after the usual method showed it would negatively hit Northern Ireland, according to someone familiar with the matter who spoke to Bloomberg’s Joe Mayes. The yet-to-be-published analysis of the deal will now show a positive impact on Northern Ireland — showing that you really can make numbers say anything.

WONK WATCH: As many as 140,000 new homes will be required every year in the North and the Midlands, according to a new report from the Building Back Britain Commission — an independent group comprising of business leaders from Barratt Developments, Legal & General, Mace, NHBC, The Riverside Group and Thakeham.

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MEDIA ROUND

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi broadcast round: LBC (7.20 a.m.) … ITV GMB (7.45 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.20 a.m.).

Also on Good Morning Britain (ITV): Author and UKIP leader Neil Hamilton’s wife Christine Hamilton and former Tory MP Jerry Hayes (7.15 a.m.) … Comedian Matt Forde (8.45 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Downing Street chief of staff Gavin Barwell (7.05 a.m.) … S4 Capital founder Martin Sorrell (7.40 a.m.) … The FT’s Chris Giles (9.10 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio breakfast: Martin Michaelis, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent (6 a.m.) … Chris Mitchell, GMB trade union convenor for refuse and cleansing, and David Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Police Federation (8.15 a.m.) … Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Murray (8.35 a.m.).

Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine (8.05 a.m.) … Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray (8.50 a.m.) … Former Downing Street chief of staff Gavin Barwell (9.05 a.m.).

Good Morning Scotland: Climate activist Sophia Kianni (8.06 a.m.).

TODAY’S FRONT PAGES

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

Daily Express: Game-changer — World’s first pill to fight COVID.

Daily Mail: Is anybody in charge at No 10? On day of farce…

Daily Mirror: How many more victims?

Daily Star: Well, we didn’t see that U-turn coming. Said nobody. Ever.

Financial Times: BoE sends investors scrambling by keeping interest rates on hold.

HuffPost UK: Patterson quits as MP after Tory U-turn.

i: Day of chaos in Downing Street.

Metro: Tory Owen goal.

POLITICO UK: Sprechen Sie woke? Meet the Bundestag’s new progressives.

The Daily Telegraph: Paterson quits after backlash from MPs.

The Guardian: Tories plunged into crisis after sleaze rules U-turn.

The Independent: Tory fury as PM forced into U-turn over sleaze.

The Times: PM faces party backlash after suspension U-turn.

TODAY’S NEWS MAGS

The Economist: One year on.

THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY 

Chopper’s Politics: Christopher Hope talks to former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Labour MP Rupa Huq and the Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey.

Encompass: Paul Adamson talks about Europe’s handling of the pandemic with author Luuk van Middelaar.

EU Confidential: The POLITICO team runs through the latest at COP26, interviews tech entrepreneur John Collison and asks if the EU is funny.

Iain Dale All Talk: Dale talks to former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

Inside Briefing: The IfG team talks to U.K. in a Changing Europe’s Jill Rutter.

Newscast: The BBC team talks to former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The Bunker: The FT’s Simon Mundy joins Alex Andreou, Miatta Fahnbulleh and Arthur Snell at COP26.

The Economist Asks: Anne McElvoy talks to Succession’s Brian Cox about Scottish independence and more.

Walescast: The BBC Wales team chats to the Welsh government Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters.

Westminster Insider: Jack Blanchard looks at the history of climate change with guests including COP26 spokeswoman Allegra Stratton and Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband.

What Next? with Lionel Barber: Barber talks to the chair of the Nuclear Industry Association Tim Stone.

Women with Balls: Katy Balls talks to former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS

COP26: Saturday is Nature day, with presidency events on tackling deforestation, agriculture and biodiversity. Sunday is marked as a Rest day ahead of a grueling second week of negotiations.

SUNDAY SHOWS: No guest news yet for Andrew Marr (BBC One Sunday 9 a.m.) or Trevor Philips (Sky News, Sunday 8.30 a.m.).

T&G host Tom Newton Dunn and his co-host Caroline Wheeler will talk to Tory MP Robert Largan (Times Radio, Sunday 10 a.m.).

Swarbrick on Sunday host Tom Swarbrick will talk to COP26 U.K. spokesperson Allegra Stratton (LBC, Sunday 10 a.m.).

Westminster Hour host Carolyn Quinn will be joined by Tory MP Claire Coutinho … Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Fleur Anderson … Comedian Matt Forde … and the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith (BBC Radio 4, Sunday 10 p.m.).

LONDON CALLING

WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Sunny in spells and breezy. Highs of 10C.

CONGRATULATIONS: Belated congratulations to the Independent’s Whitehall Editor Kate Devlin and the BBC’s Robert Cuffe who have had a baby girl, Lauren.

ALSO CONGRATS TO … All the finalists shortlisted for Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards, with winners announced December 8. Read through the shortlists here.

New gig: Chief Whip’s office SpAd David Sforza is off to Northern Ireland — sort of — to beef up Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’ special adviser team in the always busy Northern Ireland Office.

BIRTHDAYS: Tory Party Deputy Chair Justin Tomlinson … Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove … Labour peer and Cabinet minister under Wilson, Callaghan and Blair John Morris … Former NHS Confederation Chief Executive Niall Dickson … Former Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjørn Jagland.

Celebrating over the weekend: Leveling Up Minister Neil O’Brien … Crossbench peer David Ramsbotham … Irish Ambassador to the U.K. Adrian O’Neill … Newspaper executive David Montgomery … Kettering MP Philip Hollobone … North Wiltshire MP James Gray … Stoke-on-Trent South MP Jo Gideon … Shadow Universities Minister Matt Western … BBC Deputy Political Editor Vicki Young … Crossbench peer and former Trade Minister Stephen Green … ITV Africa correspondent Penny Marshall … New Statesman columnist and former Editor Peter Wilby.

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

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Alex Wickham

https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/london-playbook/remember-remember-blame-game-36-u-turns-in-23-months/