Knockout phase — Briefing wars — Rishi’s license fee hint – POLITICO

Knockout phase — Briefing wars — Rishi’s license fee hint – POLITICO

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Good Wednesday morning. This is Eleni Courea, bringing you Playbook for the rest of the week.

LOBBY SCOOP: Scoopmeister John Stevens is leaving the Daily Mail after 12 years to become political editor at the Daily Mirror. He will succeed Pippa Crerar, who announced in May that she was joining the Guardian. Stevens broke some of the biggest stories of the year — including the Dominic Raab/Crete fiasco, the leaked SNP group recording on Patrick Grady, and Michael Gove telling Boris Johnson to resign as PM.


AND WE’RE OFF: Eight Tory leadership hopefuls will square up against each other today in the first of a series of knock-out rounds to select the next U.K. prime minister. The handing-in of nomination papers at 6 p.m. yesterday marked the official start of an extraordinary contest already characterized by vicious briefings and rows about dirty tricks, with years of internal party tensions bursting into view.

The 8 potential PMs: Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch, Nadhim Zahawi, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Hunt and Suella Braverman have all made it onto the ballot paper after securing the backing of 20 or more of their colleagues. 

From non-dom to no nom: Sajid Javid — whose resignation from Cabinet over the Chris Pincher scandal set in motion the slew of government departures that ended Boris Johnson’s premiership — pulled out of the contest minutes before nomination papers were due in after failing to get the number he needed. 

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What to expect today: Candidates face hustings before the 92 Group of right-wingers organized by Bill Wiggin from 10 a.m. (though it was unclear last night whether all eight had been invited). The first ballot will be held in-person between 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m., with MPs allowed to cast up to two proxy votes each. The results will be announced at 5 p.m. and straight after that the survivors will take part in the 1922 committee hustings — the main forum for them to make their pitch to Tory backbenchers. 

A reminder of the rules: Anyone with fewer than 30 endorsements will be knocked out this afternoon and ballots will be held daily until there are two names left. The finalists will be put to a vote by Tory Party members with the result announced on September 5. It feels a bit like a weird game show but this is in fact how the next prime minister of the United Kingdom will be chosen. 

Meanwhile: Johnson faces his first PMQs since resigning today — and his penultimate one ever. 

SCOOP — LICENCE, TO KILL: At last night’s hustings organized by the Common Sense Conservatives — whose raison d’etre is “anti-woke” politics — Sunak indicated he’d be willing to scrap the BBC licence fee in future, three sources tell Playbook. His team did not deny it. The former chancellor was reportedly among those resisting Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’ efforts to push ahead with such a move earlier this year. Playbook hears that some in government might have more to say about this soon. 

More from last night: At the same hustings event, candidates were asked about their position on the U.K. withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, after the treaty led to judges blocking deportations to Rwanda. Playbook is told Truss, Badenoch and Zahawi were open to withdrawal from the convention and said all options would be on the table; Sunak too did not rule it out. Braverman has backed withdrawal. The Sun’s Natasha Clark has a write-up of Truss’ comments, where she said the ECHR had “mission creep” and that “if necessary” she’d be prepared to leave its remit. 

Yesterday’s headlines: Home Secretary Priti Patel ruled herself out of the contest after failing to consolidate the Tory right behind her, leaving Truss, Badenoch and Braverman fighting over the scraps … Truss was endorsed by diehard Johnson loyalists Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg in a clip recorded on Downing Street (what could No. 10 be trying to tell us?) … Rehman Chishti dropped out from the race after reportedly getting zero backers … and Sunak secured big hitters Deputy PM Dominic Raab and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who binned his own leadership bid, as well as Matt Hancock.

Coming attractions: The endorsements from Raab, Shapps and Hancock are intended to create a sense that Sunak’s victory is inevitable and he’s the guy to get behind if you want a job in the next government (reminiscent of the way MPs fell over each other to back Johnson in the summer of 2019). But the contest is far more open and unpredictable this time — not least with Michael Gove backing Kemi Badenoch and several other influential figures yet to declare — Ben Wallace, Patel and Javid among them. The Mail’s Jason Groves notes speculation that Javid will row in behind Sunak, while the Times’ Steve Swinford says Patel is preparing to back Truss and Wallace could do the same over defense spending commitments. And as Swinford points out, that puts us in the unlikely situation where Truss — who backed Remain and once said she didn’t want her daughters growing up in a post-Brexit world — is shaping up to be the Brexiteer right-wingers’ choice, while Sunak — a Leave supporter — has become the centrists’ favorite. The Telegraph reports the European Research Group is meeting at noon today to discuss which candidate to back, and the Express’ David Maddox reckons it’ll be Truss.

Thatcher reincarnated: In their efforts to redress this, Team Sunak will be pretty happy with the front-page write-up of the former chancellor’s Telegraph interview with Ben Riley-Smith, in which he becomes the latest candidate to pitch himself as the heir to Thatcher. “We will cut and we will do it responsibly,” he says. “That’s my economic approach. I would describe it as common sense Thatcherism. I believe that’s what she would have done.”

Somewhat less helpfully: The Mail goes for Sunak with both barrels by splashing on a Rees-Mogg comment piece accusing him of pursuing “socialist” policies in the Treasury. The widespread sense in Westminster is that No. 10 is running an “anyone but Rishi” operation, which makes the FT splash. Playbook hears that the PM’s Parliamentary Private Secretary Alex Stafford has been among those making the “stop Rishi” case to MPs.

Briefing wars: As you might have noticed, Westminster is a hotbed of hostile briefing at the moment, and this is fast shaping up to be the most viciously fought Tory leadership contest in recent history. Having emerged as the favorite, Sunak has a target on his back. Multiple rival camps were claiming to reporters including Playbook yesterday that Gavin Williamson — who is backing Sunak — had engineered the lending of votes to candidates whom he would most like to be up against. Dorries tweeted this publicly, saying Sunak’s team wanted Hunt in the final round because he was the candidate “they know they can definitely beat.” Both the Sunak and Hunt camps denied the claim, as did a source close to Williamson.

It comes after: Zahawi claimed over the weekend that he was “clearly being smeared” after questions were raised over his personal finances and tax arrangements before his appointment as chancellor. And there are wild accusations that Gove is secretly brokering a backroom deal between Badenoch and Sunak, something which Tory MP Steve Baker publicly suggested was happening on LBC earlier this week. The relevant camps have rubbished the claims — but there’s likely to be a lot of more of this yet.

Running from scrutiny: One concerning pattern across the various parallel campaign launches yesterday morning were the candidates’ attempts to leg it without taking many questions from journalists. Sunak tried to get away with taking a handful from broadcasters and one friendly Tory councillor, Tugendhat took just two questions and Badenoch five (h/t the Times’ George Grylls). Playbook would underline that the outcome of this contest will be decided entirely by 1) Tory MPs and 2) a tiny and nationally unrepresentative selectorate of around 200,000 Conservative Party members — so questions from the media are the closest we’ll get to public scrutiny of the next person who gets to run the country. 

Helpfully: Broadcasters are lining up a series of TV debates to grill the remaining candidates over the weekend. Channel 4 is planning one on Friday July 15 … followed by one on ITV on Sunday July 17 … and Sky on Monday July 18. No doubt there will be snap polling on what viewers and voters make of the candidates after the debates — and those who come across best will be using it as evidence they can beat Keir Starmer at the next election. Grylls has secured confirmations from everyone except Badenoch and Braverman that they will take part. 

Turning to policies: Public First has started a handy tracker of what the candidates have said so far on the cost of living, tax and growth, health, social care, and policing among other things. The FT reports that none of the candidates have any appetite to scrap ministers’ plan to disapply swathes of the Northern Ireland protocol. The Sun’s Noa Hoffman has a piece on their views on China, where she reports that Truss would formally declare the Beijing government’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide. 

It’s not easy being green: What hasn’t been fully appreciated yet is the likelihood that the next government breaks with the current consensus on climate and the U.K.’s net zero by 2050 target. Francis Elliott has an interview with Alok Sharma in the i where the COP26 president warns that his party would be taking a “road to nowhere” if it were to ax the policy — something Braverman and Badenoch have both committed to doing. Environment Secretary George Eustice tried to stay positive at the Conservative Environment Network’s summer party earlier this week, the Guardian’s Helena Horton reports, telling activists: “I’m not concerned about net zero, it’s law. Suella might be saying that [she wants to scrap it], but she’s not going to win. At the end of the day, it’s the law. It’s what the country wants, it’s what the vast majority of MPs want.” Most significantly, Truss and Sunak have both been significantly less enthusiastic than Johnson on the green agenda — ICYMI, POLITICO’s Karl Mathiesen had a great piece on all this yesterday.

More from the wonks: Robert Colvile is chairing a Centre for Policy Studies discussion on the leadership contest at 11 a.m. at Carlton House this morning. Rachel Wolf, who like Colvile was one of the 2019 Tory manifesto authors, and David Frost — the former Brexit sec turned darling of the Tory right, who has yet to endorse anyone — are both on the panel. Register to watch here. 

Parliamentary shenanigans: There was a heated row yesterday over No. 10’s decision to block Labour from putting up a no-confidence motion in the government today. Constitutional experts accused ministers of breaking with precedent, while the government said Labour was trying to “play politics” with the wording of the motion. The Times’ Henry Zeffman has a write-up.

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THE OTHER RACE FOR DOWNING STREET: At his launch today Sunak was forced again to insist Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings has absolutely nothing to do with his campaign. But there are plenty of well-known past and present SpAds and strategists who are getting stuck in — and POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson has you covered on who is volunteering for whom (a good indication of who would be in line for a plum advisory role in the respective governments). Get in touch with Annabelle or Playbook if you have any more intel. The POLITICO U.K. website now has a dedicated page on the Tory leadership contest, complete with snazzy graphs. 

Flushed with cash: Meanwhile Insider’s Henry Dyer runs through the various candidates’ war chests. 

PENNY FOR PM: Penny Mordaunt will be branding herself a “conviction Brexiteer and One Nation Conservative” at her campaign launch in Westminster at 10.30 a.m. this morning. In a Times Red Box piece today, Mordaunt pledges to give every family a “childcare budget” by the state. The FT’s Seb Payne and George Parker have written about the momentum behind Mordaunt, and say that her patriotism, social liberalism, military background and Brexiteer credentials are a winning combination with Tory members. But one MP tells them: “I worked with her for five years and still feel like I don’t know what she believes or what she thinks.” In his own analysis, the Times’ Oliver Wright quotes a Cabinet minister who believes Mordaunt’s popularity partly has to do with a viral clip of a Commons speech where she attacks Angela Rayner over crony contract claims.

Turkey: Mordaunt has doubled down on her 2016-era assertion that the U.K. would have had no veto over Turkey joining the EU. In an interview with the LBC’s Iain Dale last night she said: “I actually stand by that … There was a provision for a veto but we could not have used it because David Cameron gave an undertaking that he would support that accession.” She went on to accuse Cameron of being “disingenuous” and said “the British public wouldn’t have a say.” All hell has predictably broken loose on Twitter.

The penny drops: Speaking of stretching the truth, Camp Mordaunt’s claim to my colleague Emilio Casalicchio yesterday that she was never meant to lead a Westminster Hall debate on her brief this month has seriously ruffled feathers at DIT. Two sources have showed Playbook two separate internal emails that strongly suggest she was indeed due to host the debate but pulled out (and as Playbook reported yesterday, left it to brand new Exports Minister Andrew Griffiths 72 hours after his appointment). There was no comment from her team. Over in the Mail, Dan Martin has a DIT source who brands Mordaunt “part-time Penny” and claims she has been missing at “crucial moments.” The POLITICO Morning Trade UK newsletter had you covered on all that long ago.

KEMI FOR PM: Badenoch held her official campaign launch yesterday, criticizing the government over its policies on the cost of living and the Tory “bidding war” on tax cuts. Here’s the Times’ write-up.

Awks: Emilio has been passed an internal email chain suggesting that while she was a Cabinet Office minister, Badenoch — who used one of her first campaign announcements to slam the government’s Online Safety Bill — pushed to host a roundtable with other countries on tackling online abuse that would have promoted the importance of the bill. It caused an internal row with DCMS at the time, with senior officials believing Badenoch was straying from her brief. A source close to Badenoch insisted last night that the roundtable was about tackling racist abuse against England footballers rather than championing the legislation, and that she does not support the bill in its present form.

READY FOR RISHI: An Opinium poll for Channel 4 yesterday suggested Sunak was the favoured candidate among Tory members, followed by Truss and Mordaunt, contrasting with the shock ConHome panel earlier this week which put Mordaunt ahead followed by Badenoch.

One group that’s not impressed: Scottish Tory MPs and MSPs — who are largely but not entirely coalescing around Mordaunt or Tugendhat — are pointing to Sunak’s failure to mention the union once during his leadership launch (the Times’ Kieran Andrews has quotes). Andrew Bowie, who is supporting Sunak, said the former chancellor would demonstrate his commitment to the union in office.

LIZ FOR LEADER: As well as Rees-Mogg and Dorries, Johnson loyalist James Cleverly declared his backing for Truss yesterday. A source in her camp said she had “great momentum” and that “unlike some other candidates in this race, she has been a low tax, free market Conservative for a long time.” She has yet to hold a launch event. 

Another trade scoop: POLITICO’s Graham Lanktree reports in this must-read that Truss was given detailed warnings of the hit the U.K. agriculture sector would take under the government’s trade deals with Australia and New Zealand before signing them.

TIME FOR TUGENDHAT: Tugendhat has pledged to spend 3 percent of the U.K.’s GDP on defense, spying an opportunity after Sunak declined to commit to increasing the budget. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “barbaric invasion of Ukraine shows we face the most severe national security threats of a generation,” Tugendhat said. “A sudden U-turn on defense spending would undermine our credibility in NATO.” The Times has a write-up of his campaign launch.

WIN BACK TRUST WITH JEREMY HUNT: The leadership hopeful secured the backing of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street yesterday. Hunt told LBC’s Andrew Marr he was “very worried” that Sunak’s economic policies will lead the U.K. into recession.


HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with women and equalities questions, followed by PMQs at noon … After any UQs or statements, Labour’s Liz Twist has a ten minute rule bill on regulating fashion retailers … and then the main action will be committee stage consideration of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 3 p.m. with questions on Ukraine, support for low-income families and the fiscal impact of tax cuts … Followed by a third reading of the NI Identity and Language Bill and the second readings of the estimates bill and the legislation for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

LABOUR LAND: Labour spies an opportunity to bash Tory leadership candidates over their spending and tax pledges. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves will make a speech today where she will bind a future Labour government to strict borrowing commitments — the Guardian has a write-up of that.

TORY DEAD CAT ALERT: Defense committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood ran over and killed his neighbor’s cat earlier this year and is now being pursued by vigilantes, the Sun and the Mail both report. One person from Ellwood’s village claims Ellwood’s house was egged, while a member of the family who owned the moggie said: “We just want to mourn our cat. We want nothing to do with Tobias Ellwood.” Probably (definitely?) the weirdest thing you’ll read all day.

BORIS VS. GOVE: The BBC’s Chris Mason straight-up asked Michael Gove “are you a snake?” following that extraordinary No. 10 briefing last week. “Uh … no,” Gove told the BBC. “I’ve been called all sorts of things in my political life, but no, I think I’m just a regular guy.”

NADINE VS. CHANNEL 4: The government delayed Channel 4’s annual report because DCMS officials initially wanted it to talk up the broadcaster’s impending privatization, Channel 4 Chief Executive Alex Mahon told the DCMS committee yesterday. Mahon said it was first time to his knowledge in 40 years that the government had sought to influence the channel’s annual report — but in the end the government agreed the report could be submitted to parliament without any changes. The Telegraph’s Ben Woods writes it up.

Committee corridor: RMT chief Mick Lynch is back in the spotlight with a grilling from the transport committee on rail strikes (9.30 a.m.). The committee will also question Network Rail … The home affairs committee has an always-interesting catch-up session with Home Secretary Priti Patel (10 a.m.) … Climate Change Committee Chair John Gummer is up at the environmental audit committee (1.45 p.m.) … and the Treasury committee will question OBR officials (2.15 p.m.). Full list here.

YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: The U.K. government publishing its arguments for the upcoming Supreme Court IndyRef2 hearing. There’s nothing new: the government believes a referendum bill is outside Holyrood’s power and asked the court to dismiss the case. More here from the BBC.

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Transport Secretary — and Team Rishi ambassador — Grant Shapps broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … talkTV (8.05 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.).

Chancellor — and leadership contender — Nadhim Zahawi broadcast round: Today program (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.20 a.m.) … talkTV (8.44 a.m.).

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey broadcast round: LBC (7.10 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.35 a.m.) … Sky News (9.30 a.m.).

Also on the Today program: Runner Mo Farah and his wife Tania (8.10 a.m.).

Also on Good Morning Britain: Tory MP Lucy Allan (6.40 a.m.) … Former Greens co-leader Jonathan Bartley (7.20 a.m.).

Also on Kay Burley (Sky News): Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (7.30 a.m.) … Brexit Minister — and Truss supporter — Jacob Rees-Mogg (7.45 a.m.) … Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden (8.05 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at breakfast (LBC): NHS Confederation Policy Director Layla McCay (7.20 a.m.) … Asda Chairman Stuart Rose (8.20 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio: CBI boss Tony Danker (6.20 a.m.) … Anne Longfield, chairwoman of the Commission on Young Lives and former children’s commissioner for England (7.45 a.m.) … Chief Secretary to the Treasury — and Truss supporter — Simon Clarke (8.05 a.m.).

Also on talkTV breakfast: Tory MP Robert Halfon (7.05 a.m.) … Former Brexit Secretary David Davis (9.05 a.m.).

GB News: Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden (7.50 a.m.).

Politics Live (BBC Two 11.15 a.m.): Tory MP Helen Whately … Labour MP Margaret Hodge … The Northern Echo’s Chris Lloyd … CBI boss Tony Danker … ConHome’s Henry Hill … Tory MP Andrea Leadsom … Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke … Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens.

The Briefing with Gloria De Piero (GB News 11.50 a.m.): Tory MP Ben Bradley … Labour MP John Cryer.

Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Tory MP Ben Bradley … SNP MP Anum Qaisar … Comedian Dane Baptiste … Podcaster Richard Sefron.

Carole Walker (Times Radio 10 p.m.): Former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Peston (Twitter and ITV 10.45 p.m.): Tory MP Steve Baker and Labour MP Dawn Butler.

Reviewing the paper’s tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and the Mail’s Andrew Pierce … Times Radio (10.30 p.m.): Pollster Joe Twyman and former Thatcher aide Caroline Slocock.


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

Bloomberg: Sunak heads list of eight Tories vying to replace Boris Johnson.

Daily Express: Boris loyalists backing Truss to ‘stop Rishi.’

Daily Mail: Rishi blasted on ‘socialist’ taxes.

Daily Mirror: Our recycling … Dumped abroad.

Daily Star: So, Gary, what first attracted you to the multi millionaire BBC?

Financial Times: Eight make Tory ballot as allies of Johnson step up ‘stop Rishi’ push.

HuffPost UK: Eight still standing to succeed Johnson.

i: Eight Tories in today’s vote to become PM, as Sunak leads.

Metro: Britain on red alert.

POLITICO UK: The other race for 10 Downing Street.

PoliticsHome: Rishi Sunak allies dismiss ‘nonsense’ vote-lending claims as Tory leadership race heats up.

The Daily Telegraph: I will run the economy like Thatcher if I win, says Sunak.

The Guardian: Leadership battle leaves eight Tory rivals scrapping for votes.

The Sun: Boris gets new job — Becker that is.

The Times: Sunak and Truss head field in Tory leadership race.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Cut and paste from yesterday: Be careful with temperatures likely to reach the early 30s.

SPOTTED … At the launch of former leadership contender Andrea Leadsom‘s new book “Snakes and Ladders”: Tory MP and 2016 campaign chief Tim Loughton … Tory MPs Victoria Prentis, David Duguid, Heather Wheeler and Selaine Saxby … Tory peer Peter Lilley … Hacks Caroline Wheeler Jo Coburn Iain Dale Rosa Prince Carolyn Quinn Katy BallsRyan Sabey Dave Wooding Camilla Tominey Paul Brand John Stevens Claire Ellicott … Former No. 10 spinner Lucia Hodgson … Former Leadsom SpAd Sam Magnus Stoll … Team Leadsom members Laura Dunn, Luke Graystone and Harry Ward.

Spotted: At Cicero and AMO’s summer drinks party at Carlton House Terrace: Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland … Former Cabinet Ministers David Lidington and David Davis … Tory MP Bob Neill … LOTO strategist Deborah Mattinson … Labour MP Clive Betts … No. 10 SpAd Myles Stacey … Hacks Hugo Gye Jim Pickard Tom Harwood Iain Watson … DWP adviser Jan Zeber … Cabinet Office adviser Jethro Elsden … Cicero’s Iain Anderson and Matt Kilcoyne.

BIRTHDAYS: Transport committee Chairman Huw Merriman Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood … Shadow Treasury Minister James Murray Former LOTO spinner Ben Nunn BBC News at 6 & 10 Deputy Editor Lizzi Watson … Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop.

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

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Eleni Courea

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