Engine trouble — Is Hancock Italian? — A long old Mone – POLITICO

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Good Thursday morning. This is Emilio Casalicchio here seeing out the week.

BREAKING THIS MORNING: Regulator Ofgem just announced its new fuel price cap that will take effect from the start of 2023. It means an average bill would be £4,279 until the end of March. 

But bear in mind: Consumers will be protected from this spike via the government price guarantee. What it means instead is that the higher bills go, the more the government has to borrow or tax to subsidize the public. It also gives an indication of the direction of travel. Finance legend Martin Lewis explains all in this thread. 

This’ll do it: Ministers will meanwhile launch a £25 million public information campaign featuring celebrities to encourage people to turn down boilers and take showers instead of baths in a bid to reduce their bills, according to Steven Swinford in the Times. Playbook is ahead of the game, writing this in a freezing flat wearing thermals and a coat. Put us on the billboards.

**A message from SSE: Actions, not ambitions are what’s needed to secure our energy future. That’s why we’re building the world’s largest offshore wind farm – right now.  SSE. We Power Change. Find out more at sse.com.**


ENGINE TROUBLE: Transport chief Mark Harper goes head to head with rail union hardman Mick Lynch this morning in a desperate bid to stop disrupted Christmas travel adding to the winter of discontent. The pair will meet at the Department for Transport in Westminster for an hour-long showdown aimed at preventing a series of 48-hour strikes through December and into 2023. The mood music last night was positive, but the difference of opinion between the government and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers is quite the chasm. 

Setting the narrative: Before the meeting, Harper is due up in the Commons from 9.30 a.m. for transport questions. Expect pressure from Conservative MPs for the Cabinet minister not to bow to union pressure as he seeks to broker a deal between workers and rail bosses. Also expect a muted response from Labour MPs who wish the whole thing would blow over.

Indeed: On the ITV Peston show last night, Lynch said Labour leader Keir Starmer was being too “vanilla” when it comes to rows between businesses and their staff. “I think he’s sitting on the fence on a lot of these issues,” he griped. 

Sizing each other up: The RMT boss also revealed he bumped into Harper, who also appeared on the show, backstage. “I had a handshake with him just there,” the union chief said. “I’ll work with any politician that has got responsibility for our members and for our industry.” He argued Harper sets the mandate that the rail firms take into the negotiating room. 

Not so fast, pal: Harper said he wouldn’t be going near the actual negotiations and has no business getting into the weeds of the row. He told the show his job was about setting an “ambition for our rail sector” then letting the bosses and the workers hammer out the detail. “It’s not the transport secretary’s job to get into the details of specific arrangements in each industry,” he insisted.

But but but: Harper made clear the unions will have to accept overall reform to plug the financial hole in the sector in order to get better salaries, with rail usage still 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels. He said the government was in no position to deliver inflation-level wage increases.

Terms and conditions: The meeting will take place at 11.45 a.m. at Great Minster House. Expect a press statement from Lynch outside the building afterward. The communication to the public from both sides will be vital, with polling for ITV showing support for the rail workers at 50 percent, while opposition stands at 29 percent. 

Months of strikes hurt: The Mail writes up findings from the Centre for Economics and Business Research showing that the walkouts since June will have delivered a £691 million hit to the economy by the end of 2022, while the rail sector estimates it will have lost more than £320 million — meaning a total impact of more than £1 billion. No pressure, lads. 

IN BETTER TRANSPORT NEWS: Ministers will announce plans to phase out cumbersome airplane hand luggage rules that see passengers separating liquids and removing laptops to pass through baggage checks, according to the Times. Good news for those still able to afford trips abroad in 2024.

**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.** 


BAD LANDLORDS CRACKDOWN: Housing providers who fail tenants will face funding cuts following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, who was 2 years old when he died from breathing problems due to the mold in his flat, Michael Gove announces this morning. The housing secretary is touring broadcast studios right now (a tight eight minutes each to illustrate government prudence) to announce that the Rochdale Boroughwide Housing association is barred from new “affordable homes program” funding until it can prove to be a responsible landlord. He will add that the same fate will befall other social housing organizations failing to meet standards. 

Taking the Mike: “Let this be a warning to other housing providers who are ignoring complaints and failing in their obligations to tenants,” Gove said in comments released overnight. “We will not hesitate to act.” The government is also giving £14 million to seven areas with high numbers of poor private rented homes in a bid to boost standards.

Worth remembering: The Conservatives voted against a Labour amendment in 2016 to ensure rented homes are fit for human habitation, arguing it would mean needless regulation and cost to landlords. Now the government is beefing up the regulator for social housing. 

The Labour line: Shadow Housing Secretary Lisa Nandy said last night there is “no excuse for not showing the same regard for millions of private rented tenants who live in squalid, unsafe conditions and are evicted if they dare to complain. After years of broken promises, the government has taken no action to strengthen rules to protect those families … It would be unconscionable to wait until a child dies in a private rented property before we act.”

SPEAKING OF HOUSING: The row about Conservative MPs shutting out voters under 40 with their attempt to scrap house building targets continues afresh this morning. In the Telegraph, critic of the rebels and former Chair Jake Berry argues the Tories will not win a fifth term unless new homes are built. But housing rebel and former Cabinet Minister Damian Green, also in the Tele, insists he and colleagues are being “vilified” for wanting to protect the environment. 

More house compromise: On Peston last night, Harper said the government would talk to the housing rebels to work out some kind of compromise position. 

The real threat to Conservatism: In a third Telegraph piece on the issue, Trussonomics fan Allister Heath argues the Conservative failure to build more houses has reduced rates of intercourse … without contraception, at least. And we all know how much Conservatives love intercourse. 

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PLAYBOOK’S ANDREW MCDONALD WATCHES HANCOCK SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO: He might never be in government or hold the Conservative whip again, but Matt Hancock could become the king of the jungle. Let that sink in.

Indeed: The jungle-dwelling MP comfortably saw off comedian Babatúndé Aléshé in the public vote on last night’s I’m A Celeb, meaning he’s made it to the competition’s half-way point. Can he accomplish what he never did in politics and reach the top? Mail+ readers seem to think so, according to the paper’s latest gauge. Hancock won support from 36 percent of respondents, while Mike Tindall got 23 percent and footballer Jill Scott 17 percent.

Mentions of dyslexia so far: TWO. In his only real bit of screen time last night, Hancock confessed to finding a word challenge difficult as a result of his reading troubles. The MP for charming snakes was, alongside Tindall, tasked with popping balloons full of gunk and solving anagrams in exchange for the chance to win some chocolate chip cookies. “I’m terrible at anagrams, I’m dyslexic, so all the letters are already in an anagram,” he explained. One mention a week in the jungle is something, at least.

The public opinion battle: SavantaComRes mocked up a word cloud of views on Hancock for YahooNews, finding that the most common term people have used to describe him is: “idiot.” Others that pop out of the cloud include “useless” … “okay” … “weird” … “good” … “stupid” … “funny” … “selfish” … and others that are too rude to include at 7 a.m. Playbook also got a peek at some of the rarer terms that didn’t make it into the word cloud. The most eye-catching were: “absolute knobber” … “non entity” … “he okay I guess” … “sexy” … and “is he Italian??”

It’s not all knobbers and non-entities: To be fair to Hancock, he’s also getting a lot of love on social media. A scan of his Instagram feed does show numerous positive responses to his posts, including “already voted for him” … “my favourite celebrity” and “ITV are editing him out so he doesn’t win.” Team Hancock said his Insta account had gained an extra 10,000 followers since he entered the jungle, while an extra 50,000 had followed him on TikTok.

Like and subscribe: It’s almost as if it was worth him generating all that offal-sifting and penis-eating footage for the next Adam Curtis doc.


A LONG OLD MONE: It’s the VIP contracts scandal that keeps on giving: Baroness Michelle Mone and her kids received £29 million via the massive COVID PPE contract she lobbied to secure for a firm she had links to — and the cash was squirreled offshore out of the clutches of the taxman, the Guardian reveals this morning. The belter of a scoop from David Conn (no pun intended) throws into question the past claims from Mone’s legal representatives that she received no financial benefit from the contract award to the now infamous PPE Medpro. 

Stick it on the list: Conn has put together this withering list of the denials from Team Mone throughout the saga, about the contract award, her involvement and who benefited … all of which keep getting debunked.

Reminder: It’s been almost 12 months since the House of Lords commissioner for standards launched a probe into the PPE Medpro contract and Mone’s involvement. A result is long overdue. 

DOM RAAB, SPECIAL: Multiple civil servants are preparing to input formal complaints about Cabinet Minister Dominic Raab’s behavior at the MoJ and Foreign Office, Newsnight Political Editor Nick Watt told the show last night. FDA union chief Dave Penman said it was “an extraordinary set of circumstances.” He suggested Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should suspend Raab and allow any new allegations to be investigated. Raab denies the allegations. Watt also reported that Raab had used his personal email account to conduct government business — which readers will remember brought down Suella Braverman (for less than a week).

TRADING BLOWS: Former Farming Minister George Eustice doubled down on his criticism of the Australia-U.K. trade deal, telling the Spectator’s James Heale it was “the wrong decision for the country.” He also said he was “genuinely worried” that the hoped-for British accession to the CPTPP trade pact would end up the same.

But but but: James Manning, a former U.K. trade negotiator who worked on the Australia deal, told POLITICO for this top Seb Whale piece about crushed trade dreams, that it’s “hard to see how [the Australia and New Zealand deals] would have happened if the U.K. hadn’t made market access commitments” on agriculture. Another former negotiator who didn’t work on the Aussie deal said about Eustice: “Ultimately if he felt he couldn’t support it then he should have resigned.”

Speaking of trade: Nominations to fill the one Conservative space on the all-male (and almost all-white) international trade committee close at 5 p.m. this afternoon. For women who might be mulling it but not sure whether to commit: trade is cool, honest. It can be a numbers nerd-fest, a bitter political knock-about (see above) or a smorgasbord of geopolitical debate. Something for all tastes. 

SCORES ON THE DOORS: Labour is beating the Conservatives in the red wall (53 percent to 39 percent) and the blue wall (41 percent to 30 percent) according to a new poll for Redfield and Wilton for the Peston show. The research also found Rishi Sunak’s approval rating down 9 points overall and Keir Starmer’s up 1 point, although more blue wallers reckon Sunak would make the better prime minister and red wallers think the opposite. 

NUMBERS GAME: The latest estimates of migration into the U.K. (during the 12 months to June) will be published here on the ONS website at 9.30 a.m. Express Pol Ed David Maddox hears right-wing Conservative parliamentarians have a complaint letter drafted to send to home sec Suella Braverman when the figures come out. 

BEST GIG IN GOVT: Culture sec Michelle Donelan is visiting Pinewood Studios and the Sky data engineering campus later as part of a blitz to promote British TV and film production. Last night she spoke at an ITV reception and recounted watching Corrie and Emmerdale with her soap-addict parents, asking them who the new characters are and what happened to the previous ones. “All those new characters, and those returning characters — people you thought you had finally seen the back of — honestly, it’s worse than a government reshuffle,” she quipped.

GENDER NEUTRAL ROW COMES TO PARLIAMENT: A recommendation from inclusion teams in the Commons and Lords has suggested new buildings on the estate include 70 percent gender-neutral toilets, while existing buildings include 10 percent. The Telegraph got the scoop. 

THE ARC OF HISTORY RETURNS: The government could revive ditched plans for a so-called Oxford-Cambridge Arc to rival Silicon Valley, according to Kate Devlin in the Independent. 

BREXIT LATEST: The U.K. government has ditched controversial plans to allow ministers to “call in” regulator decisions in the financial sector after Brexit, POLITICO’s Hannah Brenton reports for Financial Services Pros.

KUDOS TO … Labour might want to abolish the House of Lords but frontbencher and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan has been administering flu jabs in parliament to keep peers alive and kicking. 

XR IN THE DOCK: Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook is in court today over alleged criminal damage during a protest at the Department for Transport.

HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with transport questions, followed by any UQs. Penny Mordaunt presents the business statement, then the main business is debates on the U.N. International Day of Persons with Disabilities and on the independent review of children’s social care. Labour and Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd has an adjournment debate on the death of Awaab Ishak.

COMMITTEE CORRIDOR: The DCMS committee will be looking at the financial woes of Worcester Warriors and Wasps rugby clubs with MP Robin Walker (10 a.m.) … Anyone familiar with the driving license application backlog can tune in to the public accounts committee, which will be grilling officials from the DVLA and DfT (10 a.m.). Full list here.

HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 11 a.m. with the introduction of new peers (former DUP leader Arlene Foster as an unaffiliated peer and former MP Graham Evans as a Tory peer) followed by questions on reconstructing Ukraine, water quality and the World Cup. The main business will be debates on COP27 and human rights abuse in the Gulf states.

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LAST NIGHT AT HOLYROOD: Nicola Sturgeon told a crowd of disappointed independence supporters outside the Scottish parliament that the SNP “will find another way to independence” — a neat way of summarizing what will dominate the next few months of constitutional discourse. After the Supreme Court took a considerable dump on IndyRef2, focus turns now to Sturgeon’s Plan B of using an election as a de-facto referendum. The first minister and her allies will look to use the momentum and coverage of the court case as a catalyst to increase support for the cause ahead of that election.

On that note: A bombshell snap poll from Channel 4 News indicates that Sturgeon’s gambit might have paid off. The “Find Out Now U.K.” research (a BPC member) shows that 50 percent of Scottish voters would vote SNP at the next election if an SNP win could lead to Scotland leaving the U.K., with only 33 percent opposed. The full poll isn’t online yet — readers will have to wait for this person to finish eating their dinner.

Unionists would point out that asked what issue was more important to them, 61 percent of respondents opted for the economy and public services, while only 26 percent said independence.

Coming attractions: Details to be worked out at the war-gaming conference Sturgeon promised include the form of election (some in the party prefer the idea of a Holyrood election over a general one), the involvement of other pro-independence parties and whether the whole thing actually makes any sense. In the meantime, her officials will continue working on the Scottish government’s series of papers building the case for independence.

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Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove broadcast round: GB News (6.50 a.m.) … talkTV (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.15 a.m.) … Sky News (7.30 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.40 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.05 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.).

Shadow Treasury Minister James Murray: Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Bauer (8.20 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.40 a.m.) … GB news (9 a.m.).

Also on the Today program: Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley (7.50 a.m.).

Also on Kay Burley: Scottish Culture Minister Neil Gray (7.45 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio breakfast: Former Executive Director for Ofgem Mary Starks, now with Flint Global (7.05 a.m.) … Neil Gray (7.35 a..m.) … Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko (8.35 a.m.).

Politics Live (BBC Two 12.45 p.m.): Former Chief Whip Wendy Morton … Shadow Prisons Minister Ellie Reeves … The Guardian’s Pippa Crerar … The FT’s Seb Payne.

Question Time (BBC One 10.40 p.m.): Transport Minister Richard Holden … Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham … Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib … Times Radio’s Charlotte Ivers.

Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): Columnist Carole Malone and the Liverpool Echo’s Liam Thorp … talkTV (10.20 p.m.): The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman and former No. 10 chief of staff Nick Timothy.


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

Daily Express: New dementia drug could be ready next year.

Daily Mail: Drivers hit with 30,000 parking tickets every day.

Daily Mirror: 70,000 Brits scammed.

Daily Star: And sincere condolences to our friends the Germans in your hour of need*.

Financial Times: Business and unions demand Sunak scraps planned bonfire of EU rules.

HuffPostUK: Supreme Court rules against IndyRef2.

i: Sunak faces battle with unhappy Tory MPs.

Metro: Referendum indy bin.

PoliticsHome: Keir Starmer lays into Tory economics at PMQs, Christmas rail strikes, another Tory MP to quit.

POLITICO UK: How Washington chased Huawei out of Europe.

The Daily Telegraph: GPs to go on shame list over access.

The Guardian: Conservative peer Michelle Mone secretly received £29 million from ‘VIP lane’ PPE firm.

The Independent: Coastguard failings in Channel migrant deaths.

The Sun: Place in the Sun axed me after I got cancer.

The Times: Britons told how to save energy.


POLITICO: How Washington chased Huawei out of Europe

The Critic: The big lie — Bashir and the BBC.

The New Statesman: Russian roulette — Is Zelenskyy losing the support of the West in Ukraine?

The Spectator: The red line — Owen Matthews reveals Biden and Xi’s secret Ukraine talks.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain shower and a decent breeze. Highs of 13C.

CONGRATS TO: All the winners at the Spectator magazine Parliamentarian Awards last night, including survivor of the year Jeremy Hunt (“These days it’s not much of an honor to be chancellor because everyone gets a go”) … Peer of the year Richard Harrington … Chancellor of the year Rachel Reeves (that’s right) … Campaigner of the year Liam Fox … Resigner of the year Sajid Javid … Backbencher of the year Robert Halfon … Minister to watch Kemi Badenoch … Minister of the year Ben Wallace … Politician of the year Keir Starmer (“I don’t expect to be endorsed by the Spectator at the next election”) … Speechmaker of the year Theresa May … Comeback kid of the year Rishi Sunak (“I must dedicate this award to my friends, my family and of course — the U.K. bond markets”) … and parliamentarian of the year Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Speccie has all the acceptance speeches on its site. 

Spotted at the bash: All of the above minus Zelenskyy, with Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko standing in … Cabinet Ministers Grant Shapps and Alister Jack … Junior Ministers Helen Whately, Claire Coutinho and Robert Halfon … No. 10 director of comms Amber de Botton … SpAds including James Price, Liam Booth-Smith, Josh Grimstone, Henry Newman, Cass Horowitz, Rupert Yorke, Cameron Brown and Lucy Noakes … U.K. Music chief Jamie Njoku-Goodwin … Shadow frontbenchers Tulip Siddiq and Jess Phillips … Labour aides Matthew Doyle, Paul Ovenden, Leila McIntyre and Sophie Nazemi … Broadcasters Beth Rigby, Nick Robinson, Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel, Tom Newton-Dunn and Jo Coburn … Assorted hacks, including Harry Cole, Glen Owen, George Parker, Tony Diver, Pippa Crerar, John Stevens, Seb Payne, Lara Spirit, Hugo Gye, Steven Swinford, Stephen Bush and Tim Shipman … Plus the entire Spectator staff. See all the pics here. 

SPOTTED ELSEWHERE: Channel 4 anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Tory MP Steve Baker making peace over a coffee in PCH, as well as ex-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng having coffee with his ex-girlfriend and ex-home sec Amber Rudd.

GUILDED LIFE: Top politicos noshed on Carmarthenshire lamb, trout and “some disgraceful lime concoction for dessert” at a banquet for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the London Guildhall last night. Spotted alongside Ramaphosa at the event were Health Secretary Steve Barclay … Education Secretary Gillian Keegan … Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds … Labour MP Chris Bryant … the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester … New Lord Mayor Nick Lyons … London Assembly member Unmesh Desai … Labour councilor Emily Benn … and some bloke who turned up to the white tie dinner in a Hawaiian shirt which, Playbook’s mole insists, was not his national dress.

GOOD NEWS GONGS: Congrats to the winners of the inaugural Pagefield press awards this week, including the Guardian’s Anna Isaac for revealing (while at the Independent) the non-dom status of Rishi Sunak’s wife, and the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti for his growing influence at Westminster. More info here. 

LOBBY MOVE: Express Deputy Digital Political Editor Dan Falvey is leaving the paper in January to become head of digital news at GB News. Congrats!

PLAYBOOK CULTURE PAGES: Comedian Harry Enfield will join a long cast of celebs who have played Tony Blair as he takes on the role in Prince Andrew: The Musical. The Channel 4 comedy will see Kieran Hodgson play the, err, controversial royal in a satirical send-up of his life and recent legal issues, all set to musical numbers.

BIRTHDAYS: Former Shadow Scotland Secretary Margaret Curran … Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine … Former Communities Minister Shahid Malik … Lib Dem peer Andrew Stunell … Crossbench peer Ian Botham.

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

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Emilio Casalicchio


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