The big switch-off — SW1 nepo babies — Iran and China warnings – POLITICO

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Good Tuesday morning. This is Eleni Courea, writing Playbook for the next few days fuelled by Christmas chocolate.


THE BIG SWITCH-OFF: There’s precious little news around and you’ll have to scroll down further for it. Most of Westminster is gorging on Christmas leftovers, binge-watching box sets and catching up on the sleep we collectively lost over the past 78 months or so. To kick things off this morning, Playbook has asked a few of the busiest people in SW1 what helped them switch off during another manic year.

Chris Mason, political editor of the BBC: “My escapism, especially on those 18/19 hour+ days of rolling chaos, was reading, 10-15 minutes at the end of the day. My colleague Mark Easton’s ‘Islands’ and ‘Imagine a City’ by Mark Vanhoenacker were two recent favorites.”

Suella Braverman, home secretary: “There have been some good movies this year — a great way to switch off from politics: Elvis, Top Gun and Death on the Nile.”

Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor: “Strictly and a glass of red wine.”

Steve Swinford, political editor of the Times: “The best respite from the total chaos of politics this year has been to embrace the total chaos of our young daughters. Weekends are carnage — a blur of cricket practise, swimming, play dates and parties. By the time I get to work on Monday morning the madness of Westminster has paled in comparison. That and England’s extraordinary success this year across white and red ball cricket has been the perfect antidote.”

James Cleverly, foreign secretary: “What’s genuinely helped me switch off is going for walks with my wife, as she recovers, in local woodland with our two dogs.”

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary: “Dancing lessons in Doncaster were my great escape this year — it was totally brilliant. Rob Burrow asked me to dance in a Charity Strictly Fundraiser at Headingley for MND, along with Barrie McDermott and Sally Nugent, and when Rob asks, you don’t say no. Learning an American Smooth Waltz was hard and it took me ages to get used to the shoes. Ed tried offering me lots of tips, but in Ginger Rogers’ words, he never had to dance backwards and in heels. Thanks to Rob’s incredible campaigning, with his family and friends, work on the new national MND center is now underway in Leeds.”

Rob Peston, political editor for ITV: “The answer (to everything) is ‘Octordle.’”

Pippa Crerar, political editor of the Guardian: “My three kids are the perfect antidote to political chaos — when I’m with them I don’t have much option other than to switch off. There’s always a game to play, a book to find, a question to answer. I get my thinking time when I’m walking our dog, Buddy, in the woods. A good friend often comes too and we just chatter away, putting the world to rights.”

Lucy Noakes, Cabinet Office SpAd: “For me it’s tennis. Phone in the bag for a whole hour = divine.”

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary: “Normally I switch off with box sets and I’ve been spoiled for choice this year with new releases in some of my favorite franchises like House of the Dragon and Star Trek: Picard and Strange New Worlds. This year I’ve also written a book, which might not sound much like switching off, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot. It’s personal, rather than political, and due for release later next year.”

Beth Rigby, political editor for Sky: “Running down canal paths in various parts of London listening to Beyoncé on full blast.”

Heather Iqbal, Labour political adviser: “Eating my bodyweight in pakoras and doom scrolling dog videos on Instagram.”

Seb Payne, incoming director of Onward: “As well as a series of sublime gigs — topped obviously by Paul McCartney at Glastonbury — my primary non-work endeavor has been a classic car project. After parting farewell to the red Mini that has served me through numerous tours of the country, a 1983 Mercedes Benz has entered my garage, convertible in royal blue that is a work in progress. I’ve improved her stereo, reworked the electrics and will put my efforts into the engine and interior next year. With a 5-liter V8, she is not especially net zero friendly but classic cars account for 0.02 percent of emissions. Plus it will be ULEZ exempt from January as she enters her dotage, so I’ll work on and ride without guilt. Amazingly the Benz, aka Sue (not after Gray), has not broken down once.”



NEPO BABIES COME TO SW1: Times Radio’s Lucy Fisher has totted up the number of “nepo babies” in the Commons and found at least 52 (including Lindsay Hoyle, Victoria Atkins, Hilary Benn, and Bernard Jenkin). In an opinion piece for the i she suggests open primaries for selecting candidates and limiting MPs’ terms in office “to end the entrenchment of old blood, old ideas and old connections.”

That’s before we even get to … special advisers, Labour PADs, parliamentary staffers and, of course, journalists (as Tory MP and former Social Mobility Foundation chief exec David Johnston points out).

‘Nepo babies? What are you on about?’ It all started with this piece in New York Magazine.

WARNING SHOT: Theresa May has criticized Rishi Sunak’s plans to tinker with her landmark Modern Slavery Act to make it harder for asylum seekers to claim to be trafficking victims. The former MP told the BBC’s Carolyn Quinn on Radio 4 that “we need to ensure we don’t reduce our world-leading protections for victims of modern slavery” and “inadvertently” create more loopholes. The Telegraph’s Daniel Martin has a write-up. The Times’ Oli Wright hears Sunak has spoken to May about her concerns.

YES WE MAY: Theresa May also weighed in on the number one thing everyone in Westminster has been talking about for the past six weeks: Can the Tories win the next election? She told Radio 4 that while there is “no doubt” the party’s brand took a knock under Liz Truss, Sunak has shown “can turn it round and we can win that election.” The Guardian’s Aletha Adu has a write-up.

If that doesn’t work out … Jacob Rees-Mogg — one of Sunak’s most strident critics — is mulling a bid for the Tory leadership, the Express’ David Maddox hears. He considered running for around 24 hours after Boris Johnson stepped down. A friend of JRM’s tells the Express that (unlike May) he thinks defeat looks not only “inevitable” but even desirable, because if the Tories do win, “what would they have to offer the country?”

Here’s an idea: More policies for young people. PoliticsHome’s Caitlin Doherty has a feature on how the Tories’ unpopularity among millennials could cost them the next election (though — it must be said — we heard that before 2019, 2017, 2015 and 2010). Sara Britcliffe, the youngest Tory MP and party vice chair for youth, tells her: “If we don’t start to try and engage young people back into our party … in 10 years time, this could be a huge crisis for us.”

WHO’S NOT RUNNING: Nigel Farage won’t be making his eighth attempt at becoming an MP, the Mirror’s John Stevens reports.

SHOW YOU CARE: Damian Green has become the latest thorn in Rishi Sunak’s side with a call for care workers to be paid more. Green has warned that otherwise the entire care system is at risk of collapse — the Indy’s Kate Devlin and the Telegraph’s Dan Martin both have the story.

MEMO TO BERLIN: The Home Office has asked Germany to clamp down on people traffickers who are choosing to operate there rather than from France because of legal loopholes, the Sun’s Harry Cole reports. “We’re having real problems with the German authorities,” a law enforcement source tells him. “There’s seemingly little appetite to tackle the gangs and legally there are limitations to what they can do because their laws are deficient in this area.”

Channel crossings: Small boat crossings in the English Channel continued on Christmas Day, with 90 migrants crossing in two boats, according to the MoD. The number of migrants crossing in 2022 is over 45,000, with 28,526 migrants making the journey in 2021. MailOnline’s Matthew Lodge has the figures.

SQUEEZED MIDDLE: The Times splashes on Lib Dem-commissioned Commons library analysis suggesting that middle-class families will be up to £40,000 worse off over the next 10 years thanks to stealth taxes in the last budget. Citizens Advice’s chief exec Clare Moriarty tells the Times’ Oli Wright that higher-income houses are now turning to the charity for advice on their finances.

HAPPY HOUSING: Michael Gove has backed a proposal to create a national school to promote beautiful urban design, as part of a drive to reduce public opposition to housing developments. He endorsed the idea in a foreword to a Policy Exchange report. The Mail’s Harriet Line, the Times’ Oli Wright and the Telegraph’s Dan Martin all have write-ups.

MENTAL HEALTH PLEDGE: Rishi Sunak has reiterated his support for the No Time to Wait campaign to place a mental health nurse in every GP surgery in a letter to Tory backbencher Jonathan Gullis. Campaign founder and ex-SpAd James Starkie tweeted the letter last night. The Telegraph reported over the weekend that ministers are in discussions over a pilot scheme that could start in 2023.

OFF THE RAILS: Train disruption continues today, with the latest RMT Network Rail strike ending at 6 a.m. this morning, meaning late start times. Meanwhile, TSSA staff working for CrossCountry walked out at 9 p.m. last night. The Guardian splashes on an analysis suggesting that more than half of services departing Great Britain’s 15 busiest train stations over the last year were delayed or disrupted.

WFH January: Travelers are now being advised not to use the railways before January unless “absolutely necessary.”


CHINA WARNING: Senior government figures believe the U.K. is unprepared for the “catastrophic” economic consequences that would result from a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, according to the Times’ Oli Wright. Senior officials say a conflict would cripple supply chains and lead to shortages of vital imports. “If you scale up to any sort of worsening relationship with China there isn’t a single organisation whose supply chains will not be significantly to catastrophically affected where we’re talking about sanctions and difficulties in trading,” one senior Whitehall figure tells him. “I’m not sure we’ve really understood a future in which we are up against some of the greatest chess players in the world.”

ICYMI: The Chinese government staged one of its biggest incursions in the seas and skies around Taiwan over the Christmas weekend, according to the island’s government, with more than 70 warplanes and seven warships taking part in military exercises. The Times’ Didi Tang has the story.

Meanwhile: Beijing has said that incoming travelers will no longer have to quarantine from January 8 as it slowly dismantles its zero-COVID policy. The BBC’s Robert Plummer has more.

IRAN CRISIS ESCALATES: All British nationals in Iran should leave immediately, foreign affairs committee Chair Alicia Kearns said Monday. Iranian authorities claimed they had arrested seven “British linked” suspects, including some dual nationals, involved in the country’s anti-government protests. Kearns said: “This is industrialised taking of state hostages. This is what Iran now does.” Patrick Wintour’s write-up in the Guardian is here. Tehran has accused the U.K. of playing a “destructive role” during the past few months of political unrest.

Breaking overnight: Iranian football star Ali Daei said a plane carrying his wife and daughter out of Iran had been rerouted to prevent them from leaving the country. The pair had been en route to join Daei, who has voiced support for anti-government protests, on holiday in Dubai. The BBC has a story.

SAUDI SHAME: The Times’ Shayma Bakht has gone undercover in Riyadh to investigate the practise of selling vulnerable migrant workers via an online eBay-style marketplace.

UKRAINE UPDATE: A Ukrainian drone attack on the Engels airbase in Russia left three servicemen dead, according to Moscow. The attack is widely seen as a sign of Ukraine’s willingness to target offensive threats far beyond its borders. The Engels air base is located about 600km northeast of the Ukrainian border and has been used by Russia to carry out military strikes on Ukrainian targets. It marks the second attack on the airbase this month, though Ukraine has not taken responsibility for either strike. The most recent attack took place on the day Russia was celebrating 107 years since the creation of its air defense units — POLITICO’s Veronika Melkozerova has a full write-up here.

Now read this: In a separate feature, Veronika also reports on Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts, writing that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is under pressure over reforms of the Constitutional Court.

DRAKEFORD DEPARTURE: Mark Drakeford has said he intends to step down as first minister of Wales by the end of 2024. In an interview with WalesOnline, Drakeford said “I certainly don’t think I will be in the job beyond [2024],” and that his departure would be “a bit more than a year” before the next Senedd election in 2026. The interview by Will Hayward is here.

SHOP TILL YOU DROP: This year’s Boxing Day retail sales were up by more than 50 percent on 2021, when the Omicron COVID was raging. The shopper tracking agency Springboard said sales were helped by Boxing Day falling on a Monday rather than a Sunday, when many chains remained closed. Footfall was still 30.5 percent down on 2019 levels. The Guardian’s Sarah Butler has more.

GONGS FOR GAFFES: POLITICO pays tribute to the best of the worst gaffes and laughs this year with our 2022 Backhanded Awards. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss, Twitter owner Elon Musk and British drug dealers are among the “winners.”


Today program: Guest edited by chef and author Jamie Oliver.

Times Radio Breakfast: Former British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton (7.35 a.m.) … Chief Executive of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland (8.05 a.m.) … Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine (8.15 a.m.) … Chair of the foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns (8.35 a.m.).

LBC: Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting takes the reins between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., sitting in for James O’Brien.

Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m.): The Observer’s Sonia Sodha and Total Politics Group’s Mark Wallace.


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

Daily Express: BBC splashes out £7 million on new logos.

Daily Mail: Agency leeches sucking NHS dry.

Daily Mirror: She was just so happy.

Daily Star: Blizzard of Lizards.

i: Two-thirds of junior doctors ‘are trying to leave the NHS.’

PoliticsHome: The Conservatives’ Millennial Problem Could Cost Them The Next Election.

POLITICO UK: Ukraine takes two steps forward, one step back in anti-corruption fight.

The Daily Telegraph: Energy companies hoarding customers’ billions.

The Guardian: Revealed — the dire state of the ‘broken’ rail network.

The Independent: What does the UK really think about strikes?

The Sun: Light of our life.

The Times: Middle-class couples face £40,000 hit to incomes.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain throughout the afternoon and evening, reaching highs of 10C.

BIRTHDAYS: Cabinet Secretary Simon Case … Health Minister Will Quince turns 40 … Tory peer William Astor … Mayor of Leicester Peter Soulsby … Tory peer Brian Griffiths … Labour peer Irene Adams … Tory peer Jeffrey Sterling … Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee … Sky News Political Correspondent Liz Bates … Sky News Digital Politics Assistant Editor Alan McGuinness … Public First Director Vinous Ali … POLITICO’s Tim Ball and Nicholas Vinocur … POLITICO advisory board member Shéhérazade Semsar de Boisséson.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Noah Keate and producer Giulia Poloni.

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Eleni Courea

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