US kills terror boss — In for a Penny — South-facing Sunak – POLITICO

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BREAKING OVERNIGHT: The U.S. killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a drone strike, U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed overnight. After helping to found the Islamic terrorist organization, al-Zawahri took over from Osama bin Laden in 2011. He was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital — almost a year on from the U.S. and U.K.’s chaotic withdrawal from the country. In a speech last night, Biden told the U.S. that “justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more.”

The strike, carried out by a CIA-operated Air Force drone, occurred at 6:18 a.m. Sunday local time in Kabul as the al-Qaeda leader stood on the balcony of his house, a senior U.S. official said. Read the full story here via POLITICO’s U.S. team.


HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are both setting off on tours of the Southwest today with a spring in their respective steps after a punchy hustings in Exeter last night. Truss will be spurred on by a clutch of big endorsements and a headline-grabbing declaration of war on Whitehall, while Sunak thinks he’s landing well with the membership in the South and the race may be tighter than many have assumed. 

In for a Penny: Truss stole the show before it had even begun with her endorsement by former leadership rival Penny Mordaunt, kept firmly under wraps until a few moments before she took to the stage. Introducing Truss, the trade minister hyped her “graft, her authenticity, her determination, her ambition for this country,” adding that “she, for me, is the hope candidate.” The story is picked up on the front of the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian today.

Hang on a minute: The same Penny Mordaunt whose campaign was widely assumed to have been damaged by briefings from Truss’s side? Yes, the very same. Mordaunt’s erstwhile supporters, many of whom are as-yet-undecided younger members, were astonished by the news last night. One prominent Tory activist who had seen Mordaunt as a bulwark against the culture wars said they were in despair, and “questioning if I even want to stay a member at this point.” Another said: “She preached a sensible approach during her campaign and now she’s gone absolutely the other way.” 

Telegraphing approval: The good news for the foreign secretary did not stop there, with the Telegraph throwing its weight behind her as well as West Midlands Mayor Andy Street. The paper says that while Sunak has tried to portray himself as a steady hand on the tiller, “if the ship is heading for the rocks then a new direction is required.” The editorial goes on to stress that politics “is more than a technocratic process” and Truss has proved herself more adept at “persuasion and encouraging hope for the future.”

Wind in her sails: Truss gave every impression of confidence at the Exeter hustings, delivering her opening speech with ease and appearing light on her feet when it came to some tricky questions. She said a firm no to bringing back fox-hunting, but without riling up the crowd, and when asked by chair Sebastian Payne if she would break up the Treasury, she shot back: “I wouldn’t want to give them too much warning.” She also drew the biggest cheer of the night for saying she would “ignore” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whom she described as an “attention seeker.”

Pumped up: Far from flagging in the face of what has so far been a tough contest, Sunak showed up full of energy — perhaps as a result of his pre-game snacks, which Playbook hears consisted of the traditional Twix and Sprite. He got to his feet to pace around the stage rather than staying seated, calling to mind David Cameron during the 2015 election campaign when he was going around with his sleeves rolled up, declaring himself “pumped up.” He somehow managed to make a hostile question on corporation tax pretty lively, and drew cheers for railing against more public debt. The crowd also responded warmly when he talked about his Hindu faith and the importance of hard work instilled by his family, but it wasn’t exactly edgy or exciting, which is what members were getting from Truss. More on the best and worst from the hustings below. 

POLLS APART: Despite Truss still having the edge (one person in attendance said the audience was “eating out of her hand”) members of Sunak’s team sounded a little more cheerful last night. One reason may be Oliver Wright’s scoop in the Times that private polling carried out for the foreign secretary’s campaign suggests Truss is now only five points ahead of Sunak among members. The survey, carried out last week, put Truss on 48 percent and the former chancellor on 43 percent — a marked contrast to the YouGov poll which indicated a 24-point lead over Sunak. Sources in the Sunak campaign told Wright the shift reflected the feedback on the ground that the race was much closer than previously thought.

The guru speaks: More reasons to be cheerful for Sunak, courtesy of polling expert John Curtice, who told GB News he did not entirely agree with polls showing that Truss is well ahead. “We have to bear in mind that since Tory MPs decided that this was the contest between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, we have had one, I repeat one, opinion poll of the people who will actually have a vote,” he said. “That poll is now nearly a fortnight old.” 

South-facing: One thing Playbook has heard from a couple of senior Sunak allies is that he enjoys particularly strong support in southern constituencies, and that these areas tend to contain a higher proportion of members. “Some of the red wall seats who may resent those who resigned from the government have very few members (typically 40 or fewer) whereas the big Lib Dem-facing seats in the south could have a couple of thousand,” one MP said. Sunak HQ was told yesterday that their man met 2,000 members face to face at the weekend, and hit constituencies where 10,000 members are. 

DIY: The i’s Arj Singh has heard similar — and spoke to YouGov’s Patrick English, who noted the poll of members would include more members in the South than the North. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot has been speaking to MPs who’ve been conducting their own polling of association members and describe the race as “neck-and-neck with a significant number undecided.” One MP claimed their older members were breaking for Sunak and younger members for Truss, suggesting older members were less likely to take part in online polling.

Shots fired: While southern members who are drawn to Sunak like the cut of his gib and his sound money mantra, a Sunak campaign figure suggested to Playbook they also see him as a clean break with “the falling standards in No. 10” which led many to turn their backs on Johnson in the blue wall. Under Johnson there had been “a lowering of standards on the trust side,” the campaign member said, which had not gone unnoticed at the grassroots level and which “you’d have to assume we’d run into in government again [under Truss].” A senior Sunak-supporting MP agreed this was a factor, while adding that issues such as funding the NHS were just as important.

Not so fast: Team Truss pointed out that Sunak was also fined over partygate, which, to be fair, several activists have independently mentioned to Playbook as a reason why he’s a weak candidate. In an interview with ITV this week, Sunak also refused to say former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, who is facing allegations of sexual harassment which he denies, should step down; while in an interview with the Mail’s John Stevens, Truss vowed a “zero tolerance” approach to MPs accused of misconduct. 

SCOOPLET: Party members have raised concerns over senior MPs’ use of membership lists to promote their preferred candidate. Playbook has seen a letter from Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke making a pitch for Truss, circulated to South Tees Conservatives by the association chairman. A senior local party activist confirmed no equivalent offer to make the case for Sunak had been extended by the time Clarke sent his pitch, despite official guidance from CCHQ that “associations should not block an MP from communicating with members, but should not themselves facilitate any message that could compromise their own neutrality.” The association did not respond to a request for comment. If anything similar has happened on your patch, let us know.

CUT NOW, NOT LATER: New polling by More in Common shared exclusively with Playbook shows voters — especially those in the red wall — back Truss’ economic arguments over Sunak’s. As More in Common’s Luke Tryl puts it: “People want tax cuts now and aren’t convinced by the argument that they’ll make the problem worse. The cost-of-living crisis means people want more money in their pockets fast.”

Tax cuts now: Among the whole population, 52 percent of 2,500 people surveyed taxes should be cut now because families are struggling with the cost of living, whereas 33 percent said it was better to wait until inflation is under control before cutting taxes to avoid making the problem worse. Among the segment identified as red wall voters, the gap rises to 60 percent vs. 30 percent.

Pay back debt over a longer period: Forty-eight percent agreed with Truss’ line that we should pay the COVID debt back over a longer period of time, even if that means higher interest rates. Only 30 percent agreed with the counterargument that we should not treat COVID debt any differently.

Reverse National Insurance rise: Almost twice as many people wanted to see the NICs increase reversed (49 percent) than kept (25 percent). The number wanting the increase reversed rises to 56 percent among red wall voters.


WAR ON WHITEHALL: Truss’ latest campaign pledge is all over today’s papers as she promises civil service cuts worth a staggering £11 billion. Under the plan, she will scrap diversity and inclusion jobs altogether, move more civil servants out of the capital, and aim to save money by tying people’s pay more closely to where they live. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who’s on the morning broadcast round today, hails the proposals as “continuing to spearhead the work I have been doing to prevent the waste of taxpayers’ money, such as in the woke indoctrination of civil servants.”

Reading the fine print: In the FT, George Parker and Delphine Strauss highlight criticism that cutting regional pay may not exactly fit with the leveling-up agenda, while in the Guardian version by Heather Stewart and Aubrey Allegretti, Dave Penman of the FDA trade union compares it to the approach of P&O Ferries. “Liz Truss should be focused on ensuring that the civil service has the right people with the right skills to deliver high-quality public services and tackle the challenges the government faces right now, including the recovery from Covid backlogs and the new war on mainland Europe,” he tells them. Not sure Truss will mind too much about the reception in those papers, while the Sun and Telegraph carry warmer write-ups.

Red meat on the menu: There’s plenty more to go round, with a glut of news lines in the Mail’s Truss interview by John Stevens. She tells him she’d implement Johnson’s plan to slash 91,000 civil servant jobs … reduce the number of officials working from home … scrap proposals for a ban on “buy one, get one free” offers on unhealthy food … block any new levies on products high in fat, sugar or salt … and she signaled that she has privately reprimanded Nadine Dorries over her outspoken criticism of Sunak, after the culture secretary retweeted a doctored image of him stabbing Johnson in the back. 

Spice up your life: Geri Horner, a.k.a. Ginger Spice, told Truss to “go for it” when they bumped into each other at the England game on Sunday, Stevens reveals. Horner of course previously described Margaret Thatcher as the “original Spice Girl” — perhaps she fancies a spot in the Cabinet?

Sticks and stones: Team Sunak succeeded in landing a blow of their own as they hit back at Truss’ plan for letting more European fruit pickers into the UK. His allies hit their rival where it hurts, laying into the proposal for showing her “true Remainer colors” in comments to the Sun’s Noa Hoffman.

Clean-up operation: Former Conservative Party chairwoman Amanda Milling has called for an end to “mudslinging and backstabbing” in the leadership contest, warning that it could lead to decades in opposition. She is calling for the rival camps to sign a clean campaign charter and focus on policy, telling the warring groups: “If we’re going to have any chance of reuniting our party when it ends we have got to put a stop to the ‘blue on blue’ attacks that have been used to discredit fellow candidates and provide gifts to the opposition for years to come.” The Times’ Geraldine Scott got the story.

The most important poll of all? Sixty-six percent of Sun readers would rather go for a drink with Truss, while 35 percent would rather meet Sunak in the pub.

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


HOT TICKET: There were 1,247 keen Tory members through the door into the rather sweaty lecture hall in Exeter for last night’s hustings. Whether it was the heat or the raw excitement of democracy in action, the crowd was in a feisty mood and at one point seemed unwilling to let the chair, Sebastian Payne, draw matters to a close. 

STAR ATTRACTION: Penny Mordaunt is clearly not done with the limelight yet. Her surprise endorsement of Truss was a neat piece of political theater, and she warmed up the crowd by joking that she would never have made it as leader because she had nice things to say about both of them. Also quipped she could have been sipping pina coladas instead and staying out of it, which frankly sounds like the better option.

TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW: After the hype-woman drama, Liam Fox as Sunak’s warm-up act was never going to set pulses racing. He *almost* managed to elicit a laugh by recalling Thatcher’s advice that if you want approval you should go into show business, but we don’t expect to see him at the Edinburgh festival this year. 

TRUSS’ TRIUMPHS: Truss played well as she leaned in to her record as foreign secretary, recalling the moment she saw Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe land back in the U.K., and engaged thoughtfully with her record as part of David Cameron’s government. She said they had been “wrong” to cut social care and should have pursued more long-term reform. She got a massive round of applause for suggesting she would “ignore” Nicola Sturgeon if she becomes PM, and was equally pugnacious on the Northern Ireland protocol, saying: “There’s only one thing that the EU understands, and that is strength.”

TRUSS’ TRIPS: Her meditations on the definition of a woman seemed to fall flat, which did not stop her returning to the same theme as she praised Labour MP Rosie Duffield for her stance on trans issues. She still seemed a little wooden at times, particularly when asked about the most embarrassing thing she’d ever done (she didn’t answer) and about her religion (she isn’t observant).

SUNAK’S SLAM DUNKS: The former chancellor’s Mr. Sensible routine went down well with the crowd, managing to draw applause for the health and social care levy and for his approach to corporation tax. There were even bigger cheers for his warning that “we cannot let our children pick up the tab” and he landed a heavy swipe at his predecessor when he told the room: “You can be proud of the government I will lead.” The message he hammered home was that, far from being the continuity candidate, he had often taken the risky option on principle. 

SUNAK’S SLIPS: He didn’t always engage fully with some of the more awkward questions, seeming to suggest one questioner was a user of social care rather than a care worker, and ignored an invitation to comment on climate change. He dodged the spiciest question of the night — on whether he would give Gavin Williamson a job — and suffered a bit of a brain fade about membership of the G7. 

HINTERLAND GRAB: There were some welcome new snippets of insight, as we learned Truss is a fan of Daphne du Maurier (a clever nod to the West Country there) and Sunak reads Roald Dahl to his children. He ‘fessed up to being a fan of the socialist (and fellow Old Wykehamist) chancellor Hugh Gaitskell, while Truss revealed if she had not gone into politics she would have liked to be a food critic. No wonder she’s so into pork markets. 


PARLIAMENT: In recess.

CRUMBLEWATCH SPECIAL: In the closing days of last term, as Johnson’s premiership dissembled and a wacky races contest to replace him got underway, MPs took part in a debate on the future of parliament which largely flew under the radar. They agreed a motion to give responsibility for the restoration of parliament to a new joint department of the Commons and Lords which will consider the best way forward. This effectively drew a line under the decision taken by the management of both Houses earlier this year to scrap the independent body responsible for overseeing the restoration project, and hand the essay question back to MPs and peers.

How we got here: Your Playbook author has attempted a potted history of the Palace of Westminster, its devastation at various different points by fire and flood, and the stop-start battle to stop it from falling down. The illustrated report charts the elusiveness of consensus on how to preserve the Palace. Until recently, its survival was thought to rest in “full decant” — moving MPs off the estate to allow major works — but the political will behind that idea has ebbed away, partly because of the personalities involved and partly because of the economic backdrop, and the guardians of the Palace are now back at the drawing board once again. You can read the whole saga here.

Flaming scoop: The Palace of Westminster has also caught fire 44 times since 2012, new data obtained by Callum Tennant for POLITICO via freedom of information requests shows. In March 2021, a fire had to be put out in Speaker’s House despite £9,243 having been spent on fire prevention in the area. A further 26 fires took place on the wider parliamentary estate, Callum found. This comes after the revelation earlier this year that up to 117 people were caught in a possible exposure to asbestos when trying to make the building safe. 

Fire-fighting: A House of Commons spokesperson said: “Fire safety has significantly improved in the Palace since safety works completed in 2019, with measures including a new fire alarm and detection system, emergency lighting, signage, and fire compartmentation throughout the palace. There is also a fire protection team, which maintain a 24/7 presence and respond to fire alarm activations, carry out fire inspections, issue permits, and liaise and work with the London Fire Brigade in the event of a fire.”

What happens next: There are those who argue it was high time the whole restoration project was due an overhaul — and ultimately, they’ve got it. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with the words of the architect of the Houses of Parliament, Charles Barry, to his collaborator Augustus Pugin in 1850: “I am in a towering rage, and in the right humour for throwing up my appointment at the New Palace of Westminster, which I expect I shall be driven to do before long. All the arrangements of the New House of Commons, including the form, size, proportions, taste, and everything else concerning it are in abeyance, and awaiting the fiat of a Committee of the House of Commons, of all tribunals the most unfit to decide.”

BLAME GAME: As the PM prepares to leave Westminster behind for a summer holiday this week, there’s a juicy tale from the i’s Jane Merrick, who has sources close to Johnson claiming he blames the “narcissistic” 2019 intake for his downfall. Friends of the PM tell her he thinks they spend too much time on Twitter and failed to build proper allegiances because of starting their parliamentary careers not long before lockdown. 

LABOUR LAND: The opposition’s self-induced meltdown over its approach to strike action has dragged into a second week, after Shadow Leveling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy was pictured at a CWU picket line yesterday just days after Keir Starmer’s insistence that his front bench avoid doing exactly that. The Guardian’s Jessica Elgot has the detail on what went down, writing that Nandy and members of Starmer’s team dispute what was agreed before her appearance with the strikers. Nandy is said to have informed Starmer’s team in advance of her intention to speak to CWU workers, but Elgot reports that LOTO were blindsided by the Twitter picture that surfaced which looked like a direct repudiation of Starmer’s policy on strike action. With Nandy looking safe in her role its fair to say LOTO’s policy on frontbenchers at picket lines has evolved since Sam Tarry was sacked last week — the New Statesman’s Rachel Wearmouth writes that the effective U-turn has shows the strength of Nandy’s position in the party.

Is this helping? Eyes emoji at Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar who told TalkTV’s Tom Newton Dunn on the News Desk he was “pleased to see Lisa was out chatting to people on the front line.”

TRANSPORT CHAOS: British Airways has suspended the sale of short flights from Heathrow for at least a week, as part of efforts to comply with the airport’s new passenger cap. This isn’t exactly normal: A senior aviation source tells the Times’ Ben Clatworthy that they’ve “never seen anything like this before” which will see the airline lose thousands of pounds at the peak of the summer season.

LIST OF DOOM: Groups that match Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts have had to stop accepting applications due to the number of available hosts plummeting, PoliticsHome’s John Johnston reports. Organizers say the government is not doing enough to facilitate matchmaking, describing the database where potential hosts were told to register their interest as a “glorified mailing list.” 

UKRAINE UPDATE: The first ship carrying grain out of Ukraine since the Black Sea deal with Russia set sail yesterday morning. POLITICO’s Eddy Wax and Sarah Anne Aarup have an essential read on the significance of the moment and what’s next, including analysis on how likely it is that Russia sticks to the deal … French President Emmanuel Macron told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy that France will support criminal investigations over the bombing last week of a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war … and Labour leader Keir Starmer, former PM David Cameron and an eclectic mix of Scottish politicians that include Ian Blackford, one half of the Scottish Greens leadership and a single Edinburgh city councillor are among the latest British figures to be sanctioned by Russia. Check if you made the list here.

BIG GEOPOLITICAL NEWS: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is heading to Taiwan. China has issued multiple warnings to the U.S. over the visit, which would see Pelosi become the most senior U.S. official to visit the disputed self-governing island in decades. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said China may respond by firing missiles near Taiwan or via other military provocations. The team also report that President Joe Biden’s national security and military advisers cautioned Pelosi against the visit due to the heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing. Perhaps she’s been speaking to the Tory leadership candidates’ advisers.

TRIBUTES TO TRIMBLE: The funeral of Northern Ireland peacemaker David Trimble brought together an exceptional who’s who of politicians past and present, writes POLITICO’s Shawn Pogatchnik — including those who, in the days when Trimble was struggling to make Belfast power-sharing work, rarely had a good word for the Nobel laureate. Packed tightly together beside Trimble’s casket sat Boris Johnson, sandwiched between Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin. Peering over their shoulders from the second row, and diplomatically separated by Northern Ireland’s police chief, were Democratic Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, currently at loggerheads over the post-Brexit trade protocol for Northern Ireland. Perhaps most oddly of all, watching the political benches from the side, sat Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin’s leader until 2018 — and, according to every credible history book on the topic, for decades a commander of the Provisional IRA. That outlawed group killed nearly 1,800 people from 1970 to 1997, among them several of Trimble’s Ulster Unionist colleagues.

Final word: All listened in silence as tributes were paid to Trimble inside a modest Presbyterian church in the village of Lambeg outside Belfast. Lord Godson, the Policy Exchange director who authored a Trimble biography titled “Himself Alone,” noted the reality that many British unionists and Irish nationalists had viewed Trimble with suspicion, derision and even hatred. “In death,” Godson said, “he is finally being afforded the respect and love from all communities on this island that he deserves — and did not always receive.”


ITV Good Morning Britain: Tory activist Alex Story (6.40 a.m.).

Sky News breakfast: Health committee Chairman Jeremy Hunt (7.20 a.m.) … Brexit Opportunities Minister — and Truss supporter — Jacob Rees-Mogg (7.30 a.m.) … Shadow Climate Change Minister Kerry McCarthy (8.05 a.m.) … Sunak supporter Liam Fox (9.20 a.m.).

Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Women’s Sports Alliance founder Jordan Guard (7.05 a.m.) … Jacob Rees-Mogg (7.50 a.m.).

Times Radio: Jeremy Hunt (7.48 a.m.) … Tory MP Kevin Hollinrake (8.07 a.m.) … Jacob Rees-Mogg (8.23 a.m.).

TalkTV breakfast: Liam Fox (8.05 a.m.) … Jacob Rees-Mogg (8.32 a.m.) … Jamaica Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett (9.32 a.m.).

GB News breakfast: Jacob Rees-Mogg (8.45 a.m.) … Liam Fox (9.05 a.m.) … Care Minister Gillian Keegan (9.45 a.m.).

Cross question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh … Financial commentator David Buik … Former Cabinet Office SpAd Anita Boateng … Windrush Lives co-founder Ramya Jaidev.

Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): Tory commentator Tim Montgomerie and Novara’s Moya Lothian-Mclean.


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

Daily Express: Truss — I’m real deal on tax.

Daily Mail: Liz — I’ll halt junk food tax.

Daily Mirror: Pride of the nation.

Daily Star: Why the long face?

Financial Times: Pelosi to meet Taiwan leader as China steps up warning signals.

i: Boris Johnson’s blame game – ‘neurotic Tory MPs clash with ‘narcissist’ PM.

Metro: Dancing queens — Lionesses party with fans a day after Euro 2022 win.

POLITICO UK: The Palace of Westminster is falling down.

PoliticsHome: Ukraine refugee matching groups warn pool of U.K. hosts has plummeted.

The Daily Telegraph: Truss is the candidate of hope, declares Mordaunt.

The Guardian: ‘Everyone is buzzing’ — Lionesses’ victory echoes around the nation.

The Independent: Truss plans public sector pay cut outside south east.

The Times: BA suspends ticket sales.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ☁️☁️☁️ Another odd day where the sun isn’t likely to come out, but it will still be very hot. Highs of 30C.

BIRTHDAYS: Glasgow North West MP Carol Monaghan … Former North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones … Tory peer Michael Brougham … The PM’s press secretary Rosie Bate-Williams … Welsh Government Finance Minister Rebecca Evans … POLITICO’s Leyla Aksu.

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

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