Labour civil war and a postcard from Selby – POLITICO

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Good afternoon from Selby, where Playbook PM has been taking the temperature of the upcoming by-election — with a focus on Labour’s chances. Tomorrow it’s the Lib Dems in Somerton and Frome and on Wednesday it’s the Tories in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.


A meeting of Labour MPs could get testy after Keir Starmer pledged to keep a controversial Conservative benefit cap.

As if Starmer’s afternoon wasn’t bad enough, a Labour mayor quit his post with a damning blast at the opposition boss.

Playbook PM has been in Selby to work out what the by-election there is all about.

The House of Commons and House of Lords do further battle tonight over the Illegal Migration Bill.

The government is now refusing to guarantee its trans guidance for schools will be published before the summer recess.

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LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS: Labour MPs are expecting fireworks at a meeting of the parliamentary party due to get going in the next hour, after Keir Starmer sparked civil war with his refusal to overturn the Conservative child benefit cap and took a kicking from a (now former) Labour mayor.

It was never going to go down well: Starmer’s admission to Laura Kuenssberg at the weekend that George Osborne’s cap limiting child benefits to just the first two children wouldn’t be overturned by a Labour government has exposed deep splits in the opposition. “We are not changing that policy,” he said.

The rationale: The argument from Labour is effectively that Britain can’t afford to splash the cash on welfare. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told Sky Labour needs to “be clear about what we can fund,” adding that “anything that we might want to change, anything we might not like that the Tories have done, we’ve still got to say how we’d fund it.”

That’s the line: Playbook PM spoke to Shadow Communities Secretary Lisa Nandy this morning (more on that below) who said there will be “lots of things that Labour would like to do in the first term of a Labour government that we’re simply not going to be able to.” But she said the opposition won’t make unfunded spending commitments and promises it can’t keep, and that to deliver on its plans Labour needs to “rebuild the foundations of the economy.”

There’s more: Nandy said the decision to keep the benefit cap was “absolutely not” about rebuilding the public finances on the backs of those already suffering. “We’re determined to make fairer choices,” she insisted — pointing to the Labour plans for a windfall tax on oil and gas profits, the end of non-dom tax status and the introduction of free breakfast clubs for primary children.

The problem is … these explanations aren’t flying with Labour MPs. “The two child cap is one of the harshest Tory welfare changes,” one frontbencher who is usually supportive of Starmer told Playbook PM. “It’s directly pushed children and families into hardship and poverty. I get that welfare doesn’t win elections but it’s going to be imperative Labour gets shot of this measure in government both to show we are different to the Tories and to tackle inequality.”

Tension to come: The same person predicted the issue would come up at the PLP meeting deputy leader Angela Rayner will address from 6 p.m. Playbook has spoken to at least one MP who plans to raise it — although the meeting could be cut short due to votes on the Illegal Migration Bill. My POLITICO colleagues Andrew McDonald and Noah Keate have a full rundown of the Labour frontbenchers who might be sitting in the PLP willing their colleagues on to fight Starmer on the benefit cap.

And there’s more: One MP said families in their seat are more concerned about “feeding and clothing the kids” than the headline growth figures. The same person said the current stance was “shameful — it’s disgraceful,” adding: “If the Labour Party doesn’t stand for the well-being of our future generations then what on earth do we stand for?” 

On the record: In comments to Playbook PM, former Shadow Cabinet member Barry Gardiner urged colleagues to “continue to reflect Labour’s determination to end child poverty” and pointed to the Child Poverty Action Group’s report warning that the cap “has been a major driver of deepening poverty among low-income families.” Fellow ex-Shadow Cabinet member Jon Trickett tweeted some veiled criticism of the position and has put down an early day motion on it today, Playbook PM can report, after securing House of Commons library research last week showing scrapping the cap would lift 270,000 households out of poverty at a cost of £1.4 billion. 

But even more damning … is Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar vowing to change Starmer’s mind about the position.

Gulp: HuffPost UK’s Kevin Schofield hears the shadow Cabinet is in “meltdown” over the row.

The wonks are against it too: A report from the Larger Familes project for the Nuffield Foundation said the two-child cap and overall benefit cap were causing “extreme hardship” and that there’s an “overwhelming” case for scrapping both.

If all that wasn’t enough: North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll declared he has quit Labour and will continue to serve as an independent rather than “being controlled by Westminster and Party HQs.” In a withering resignation letter, he attacked Starmer for blocking him from becoming Labour’s candidate for North East Mayor, blasted numerous policy U-turns, and said the Labour boss had displayed “mental gymnastics worthy of Olympic gold.” He signed the letter “with candour,” suggesting he’s got a sense of humor.

Ouch: A Labour statement in response to Driscoll’s resignation said Labour candidates are “held to the highest standard.” Which is quite the snub. Driscoll is about to pop up on Radio 4’s PM show, so that could be worth a listen.


TWO HOUSES, BOTH ALIKE IN DIGNITY: A battle between the Commons and Lords is set to kick off in the next hour or so and stretch into the night. MPs will vote on 9 amendments from peers to the illegal migration bill, and the Lords will then consider its response and hold its own votes later tonight. 

Chronic timing: Some reckon the bill could end up back in the Lords at around 8.30 p.m. and peers could sit late late … before the Commons responds to its response tomorrow (keep up at the back!). The usual process is that the number of amendments gets whittled down as the process goes on, but the back and forth could stretch into late tomorrow night or even further. 

Look out for: The Conservative rebellions in the Commons on modern slavery and safe and legal asylum routes. A government official continued to vow there will be no further concessions.

UNCERTAIN ABOUT GENDER: It’s not clear whether the long-promised guidance for schools on sex education (and the approach to trans issues) is still imminent. Downing Street has been telling journalists it will appear before the end of term, but a spokesman for the PM this afternoon refused to commit to publishing it this week. 

HOSPITAL PASS: In a TV clip, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the government is on course to deliver 40 hospitals by 2030 — despite some of them being different hospitals to the ones that were first promised, and despite the National Audit Office stating that just 11 of them will count as actual new hospitals rather than refurbs. 

A MATTER OF DEGREES: In the same clip, Sunak said the new government pledge to cap the number of places on so-called “rip-off” degree courses was at least in part meant to reinforce the message that people “don’t have to go to university to succeed in life.” Questioned by journalists, his spokesman admitted some degree courses could end up closing, but wouldn’t be drawn on which ones might be at risk. 

STATUS UPDATE: The Home Office confirmed that EU nationals in Britain with pre-settled status will automatically have that status extended by two years before it expires, ensuring their rights will be protected. It made the move after official watchdog the Independent Monitoring Authority took the Home Office to court over its stance of forcing pre-settled status migrants to put in a new application to upgrade to settled status. The IMA welcomed the move but said the Home Office hadn’t explained the detail, meaning it was unclear if rights will in fact be protected.

BROKEN BRITAIN: The ASLEF union said train drivers will refuse to work overtime across 15 operating firms from July 31 to August 1. 

UXBRIDGE BY-ELECTION LATEST: A supportive local teacher quoted on Uxbridge Conservative campaign leaflets turned out to be … a Conservative councilor, Josiah Mortimer reported in Byline Times.

GOOD NEWS DAVE: Former PM David Cameron is on the Radio 4 PM show in the next hour hailing a “breakthrough” moment following trial results for a new Alzheimer’s drug — and arguing now is the time to “put more resources into further research.”


THAT SHIP HAS SAILED: It was winter 1993 when Fred Mart killed the lights and locked the gates for the final time on the Cochrane Shipbuilders offices on the edge of Selby, North Yorkshire. After more than a century of building navy trawlers, fishing vessels and passenger ships on the bank of the River Ouse, the closure of the Cochrane works marked the end of an era and a major economic shift for the small market town. Within a decade, almost all the mines were gone too, causing further disruption to jobs and livelihoods.

Going down with the ship: “The market just wasn’t there for U.K. shipbuilders,” said Mart, who served as the finance director and company secretary for the final five years of Cochrane. He was the last man out of the building, honoring debts and finalizing redundancies for the workers, many of whom lived in the red-brick terraced housing lining the street straight off the yard and stretching into the surrounding area. “It was spooky at times,” he added. “I was often there on my own, just clearing up a few things.”

False hope: “I did find for several years after the yard closed that there were people living in Selby who had worked in the yard and who were expecting it would start up again,” Mart recalled. “Of course, that never happened. The site was sold as well, and the buildings were used for other purposes.”

Indeed: This morning, when Playbook PM wandered through the gates Mart had closed two decades ago, most of the former brick buildings, including the offices where he worked and the staff cafeteria opposite, had been taken over by new firms. There’s the odd abandoned building with broken or boarded windows, but numerous building trades, car mechanics and other enterprises going on, all among the ghosts of shipbuilding past. The huge corrugated warehouses and some of the equipment used to launch the boats onto the water are still there too. But they’re now worn and discolored.

Still life: Alex Fenn’s family glass business moved into a structure that housed the blacksmith when Cochrane was thriving. The 33-year-old said the closure of the firm and the hundreds of jobs that went with it would have been painful for the local area. “I imagine it would have been difficult, because people will have had to start their entire working lives again from scratch,” he said.

Ripe ground for the taking: “I think for a lot of people in former mining constituencies —  industrial heartlands — there’s been a real absence of hope over the last decade,” Shadow Communities Secretary Lisa Nandy tells Playbook PM in a tired-looking office kitchen littered with Labour mugs above the party’s by-election campaign HQ in Selby town center. Labour is hopeful of picking up the seat at the vote this Thursday after Conservative Nigel Adams quit. Labour and Nandy are hoping their message of attracting new green energy investment will chime with former industrial towns like Selby.

But but but: The Selby and Ainsty constituency is no simple “red wall” seat that stuck with Labour throughout the decades until 2019 — even if almost 60 percent of its population voted to Leave the EU in 2016. In fact, it’s something of a bellwether, since in recent decades it’s changed hands at the same points the national government has, despite its boundaries being redrawn in 2010, and with further tweaks just agreed meaning a like-for-like comparison isn’t straightforward. 

Range life: Part of the reason it wasn’t a Labour stronghold is its huge rural areas; the farming sector took over as the economic driver when manufacturing declined. But Nandy argues the countryside is turning to Labour too, in part because candidate Keir Mather has a rural background himself. “There are a lot of people there who are considering voting Labour for the first time, not just in their own lives, but in their family history,” she said about the swathes of communities outside the few towns in the seat. Mather has been talking about rural crime and deprivation as part of his campaign, which Nandy said was “bearing fruit” after the issues were forgotten for so long. 

Promising catch: That and the historic mirroring of the national vote is giving Labour hope of taking the seat. Labour is some 20-points ahead on a national level, according to the POLITICO poll of polls, and the Conservatives are struggling to put the brakes on their declining support. A JL Partners poll taken at the end of June and start of July found Labour 12 points ahead in the seat. Nevertheless, overturning the 20,000 majority Adams secured in 2019 isn’t looking like a walk in the park. 

Plus plus plus: As in numerous places around Britain, the common refrain is that people are willing to vote Labour not out of enthusiasm for the opposition or Keir Starmer, but because patience has run out following a prolonged period of Conservative chaos. “It will be a massive red wave,” said Fenn in the glass firm, who doesn’t support Labour but said he could live with a Labour MP and a Labour government at the next election. “There’s a lot of anger towards the Tories.”

The line: Responding to the half-hearted support for Labour, Nandy suggested the low trust in politics after the Boris Johnson and Liz Truss administrations was impacting the opposition too. But she insisted details of the Labour plan, on NHS reform, devolution and reform of the land market, among others, are ambitious and inspiring. “We’re determined that when we make promises, we know that we can keep them,” she said. “But there is no shortage of energy and ambition to transform this country on our side.”

Getting the troops pumped: In a pep-speech to activists in the bustling downstairs campaign hub — the walls adorned with newspaper cuttings on the race and big sheets sporting the signatures of those who’ve been to canvass — Nandy said “this is our shot; this is our moment” to start turning the nation around. Campaigners were told that Labour doesn’t have much data on how people will vote, but is aware there are numerous former Tories and a lot of undecided. The sales pitch is for people to “lend” Labour their vote and elect “Keir for a year” so he can show voters he’s on their side in parliament.

Swings and roundabouts: Labour needs a swing of around 18 points to take the seat. The Tories Playbook PM spoke to were downbeat, but not quite defeated — which chimes with the view from Westminster among Conservative MPs about the next general election too. “I think Selby probably reflects the attitudes of many constituencies,” said Mart, the former Cochrane Shipbuilding finance director. “People are pretty well fed up with what’s going on.”


BIG BEN GOES BIG ON TWITTER: Outgoing Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is determined to go out fighting, er, random Twitter accounts.

NOW READ THIS: My POLITICO colleague Andrew McDonald has a full runners and riders of who could replace Wallace in the defense brief. Check it out here.


IN RUSSIA: Russia has withdrawn from the Black Sea Grain Initiative which made it possible for Ukraine to export grains and oilseeds during the war. My POLITICO colleague Susannah Savage has a helpful explainer. It comes after two people were killed following reported explosions on the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia and Crimea. Moscow blamed Kyiv for the attack on Europe’s longest bridge, which it cast as a “terror” attack. Sky News has the latest.

IN CHINA: U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry met his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Beijing on the same day a remote township in the country’s western Xinjiang region set a nationwide temperature record of 52.2 Celsius, breaking a previous record of 50.6 Celsius — the Guardian has the details.

ACROSS EUROPE: Ancient heat records in Italy could be broken as Europe suffers a “severe” heatwave. Italy issued hot weather red alerts for 16 cities, with an anticyclone dubbed “Charon” potentially lifting temperatures above 45 celsius in parts of Italy, Spain and Greece. The Independent has rolling coverage.

IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Hundreds of Russian mercenaries arrived in the Central African Republic to bolster a referendum which could give the Moscow-backed president another term in power. The Times has more.

IN TUNISIA: Tunisia said it will not be a “reception centre” for the return of sub-Saharan migrants from any European country despite a €1 billion deal signed at the weekend. Authorities are determined not to enter a contract similar to the U.K.’s deal with Rwanda. The Guardian has more.

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LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.) leads on the heatwave hitting Europe … BBC News at Six leads on the Alzheimer’s breakthrough … Channel 4 News (7 p.m.) focuses on the global temperature increases and also has an interview with Nelson Mandela’s daughter Pumla Makaziwe Mandela.

Ben Kentish at Drive (LBC, until 6 p.m.): Independent review of post-18 education and funding Chair Philip Augar (5.05 p.m.).

BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): Former Prime Minister David Cameron … Mayor of the North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll.

Drive with John Pienaar (Times Radio, 5 p.m.): Business executive Claude Littner (5.40 p.m.) … Tory MP John Hayes and crossbench peer Julia Neuberger (both 6.15 p.m.) … Jamie Driscoll (6.50 p.m.) … TalkTV’s Kate McCann and the FT’s George Parker (both after 7 p.m.).

The News Agents (Podcast, drops at 5 p.m.): Former Labour Party Director of Communications Tom Baldwin … Iranian journalist Rana Rahimpour.

Tonight With Andrew Marr (LBC, 6 p.m.): Crossbench peer Karan Bilimoria … Former Tory MP Justine GreeningJamie Driscoll (6.30 p.m.).

Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC, 8 p.m.): Former Tory MP Brooks Newmark … Green Party Deputy Leader Zack Polanski … the Guardian’s John Crace … CapX’s Alys Denby.

First Edition (TalkTV, 10 p.m.): Prison Officers’ Association General Secretary Steve Gillan.

REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: TalkTV (10 p.m.): Historian Tessa Dunlop and the Sun’s Natasha ClarkTimes Radio (10.30 p.m.): Former Labour MP Mary Creagh and the FT’s Jim PickardSky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Sun’s Harry Cole and the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar.


PARTY POD TIME: Outgoing SNP MP Mhairi Black appears at a live recording of the Political Party podcast at the Duchess Theatre from 7.30 p.m. Tickets here.

LAUGHS WITH THE LEFT: The New Statesman and Labour Together host a summer reception in Westminster. Invites needed.


SAFE TO GET HURT AGAIN: Doctors are heading back to work tomorrow following their mammoth five-day strike.

NUKES FOR THE NATION: Energy Secretary Grant Shapps will announce a competition for small modular reactors as part of his Great British Nuclear plan.

TEAM TIME: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet at 9.30 a.m. then holds a business council meeting.

MOD CONS: The Ministry of Defense is expected to publish its refreshed defense command paper, while the Home Office is tipped to publish its counter-terrorism strategy.

EMERGENCY CALL: Government officials in charge of the national text message alert answer questions on it at the public administration committee from 10 a.m.

PANDEMIC DIARIES: COVID Bereaved Families for Justice representatives give evidence to the official pandemic probe from 10 a.m.

HAVING A MONE: The public accounts committee is expected to release a report about controversial COVID-era VIP firm PPE Medpro at 11 a.m.

IN THE COMMONS: Foreign Office questions kick things off at 11.30 a.m. before ping pong on the small boats bill and the Northern Ireland Troubles bill.

MORE CASE FOR THE DEFENSE: Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quin face the Lords constitution committee on firing (and hiring) civil servants, from 1.15 p.m.

GAME OF JESS: Shadow Domestic Violence Minister Jess Phillips speaks at the Center for Social Justice from 2 p.m.

PARTY TIME: Boris Johnson’s peerage nominees Shaun Bailey and Ben Gascoigne are due for introduction in the Hours of Lords at 2.30 p.m.

AND THEN IN THE LORDS: Following questions, peers move to the third report stage session of the leveling-up bill, before further consideration of amendments to the small boats bill.

BEEB IN CRISIS: BBC Director General Tim Davie and other BBC bosses appear at the Lords communications committee in the wake of the Huw Edwards scandal, from 2.30 p.m.

CROSS-EXAMINATION: Justice Secretary Alex Chalk faces the justice committee from 2.30 p.m.

AI CARUMBA: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly chairs a session on artificial intelligence at the UN Security Council from about 3 p.m.

BIG BEN: Outgoing Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is interviewed by Global’s Jon Sopel at the Tony Blair Future of Britain conference from 3.20 p.m.

NEPO-VISION: Labour former PM Tony Blair interviews now Labour leader Keir Starmer at the Future of Britain Conference. Starmer is also doing a speech (from 4.15 p.m.)


PACKED LUNCH OR PARL LUNCH: Subject to change, here are the lunch menus on the estate tomorrow: Bellamy’s: Soup and sandwiches … The Debate: Chili, vegetable and bean burrito with corn, tomato and cucumber salsa; teriyaki stir fried beef and vegetables with noodles; deep fried spiced cod burger with cheese and tomato … Terrace Cafeteria: Smoked mackerel with celeriac remoulade, roast beetroot and edamame bean salad; chickpea and spinach falafel on pitta with salad and sesame tahini yoghurt; chicken katsu curry with rice … River Restaurant: Vegetable dhansak with rice and trimmings; lemon, herb and parmesan fish with roasted vegetables and sautéed potatoes; chili con carne.

NEW GIG: GB News presenter and former Labour MP Gloria de Piero has joined Woburn Partners as a director. Announcement in PR Week. She’s not quitting GB News though.

NEW GIG II: Former Emily Thornberry aide Kane Emerson has joined the YIMBY Alliance as head of housing research.

SPOTTED IN SELBY: Communities Secretary Michael Gove … Government whip Jacob Young … Conservative MP David Mundell … Shadow Communities Secretary Lisa Nandy … Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth … Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne … Shadow Transport Ministers Simon Lightwood and Mike Kane … Labour MPs Dan Jarvis and Kim Leadbeater … The Guardian’s John Harris and his podcast team.

WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Veteran Conservative Michael Ashcroft blogged about his focus groups from the three by-election seats.

ON THIS DAY IN POLITICS: On 17 July, 2013, same sex marriage was legalized in the U.K. Then PM David Cameron tweeted about it.

THANKS TO: My editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster, Playbook reporter Noah Keate and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.

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Emilio Casalicchio

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