Keir Starmer feeding frenzy – POLITICO

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It’s so recess that people are slagging off Keir Starmer slagging off the food in parliament.

— Nigel Farage claimed another banking scalp as his Coutts cluster bomb continued to wreak havok on the finance world.

— Nadine Dorries got an F when her local council marked her MP homework.

— Rishi Sunak and Sadiq Khan traded bitter blows about housing in London.

**A message from Lloyds Banking Group: We continue to support our business customers as they navigate the rising cost of living and doing business. We have proactively contacted over 550,000 business customers to offer guidance on building financial resilience and launched a hub in partnership with Mental Health UK to support small business leaders and owners. Find out more.**


A REAL RECESS STORY: Keir Starmer was left eating his words after a string of MPs, parliament officials, business leaders and other food lovers said his views on the House of Commons catering offer should be sent back to the kitchen.

Bitter taste: As Dan Bloom reported in Playbook this morning, the Labour leader slagged off the lunch options in parliament on a foodie podcast, arguing that the Commons catering is “nothing special,” and adding: “Somebody needs to set up a really nice sort of restaurant or takeaway.” It sounded like an attempt to kill the suggestion MPs live a gilded life of lavish and luxurious lunches (which, TBF, there is a hell of a lot of) but it hasn’t gone down too well.

The truth is: The Palace of Westminster is an island paradise of cheap and high quality fresh-cooked food, catering to ravenous politicos from the crack of dawn through the witching hours. The range of options, nutritional value and criminally low prices are unmatched for at least a mile around. There are numerous cheap but excellent canteens offering heart-warming staples, health-minded salads and hot desserts with a choice of custard or cream (both recommended); a mid-range restaurant where a steak and chips is a fraction of the cost in the real world; and a number of fancy eateries offering contract-length menus full of adjectives and packed with “veloutés,” “crumbs” and other items Playbook PM can’t define.

To get an idea: Check out the ParliScran Twitter account and it will come as little surprise that the Starmer view isn’t the populist approach he might have hoped for. No wonder his comments have sparked a feeding frenzy.

Gobsmacked: “Sir Keir has obviously never tried parliament’s jerk chicken or pork, which are almost legendary,” said Conservative MP Nickie Aiken, a member of the House of Commons Commission, which oversees parliament’s administration and services. “I’m sorry parliament’s fare doesn’t match up to his sophisticated north London palate.” It was inevitable the north London thing would come up.

And speaking of north London: One Conservative peer who dines in Starmer’s Hampsted and Kilburn seat on the regs said the food in parliament is cheaper and better than that in the patch. They added that the Commons is even better furnished than the Lords, because the opening times stretch depending on how late the House is sitting. That’s true service.

This is a cross-politics matter: Canteen-enthused Labour figures weighed in too. One said of people who take the Starmer attitude: “I don’t know where they are used to eating but it clearly isn’t for plebs like us.” And a Labour frontbencher added that Starmer had “broke the first rule of teaching — be good to the secretary first then the dinner ladies!”

Even the neutral observers: One former Commons official said he was “gutted to hear that Keir didn’t think the food was anything special. Parliament’s canteens are amazing and their jerk dishes are the envy of the world. Who knew jerk chicken would be even nicer if it was creamy?? Not me.” A retired Commons official added: “I don’t miss much about Westminster but I do miss the food, especially in Portcullis House.” Understandable.

The big cheeses weigh in: Former Clerk of the Commons Robert Rogers wasn’t impressed either. He said when he was head of the Commons service, “I was extremely proud of the young, skilled and motivated chefs who received their training at Westminster and often won awards, as well as going on to work in high-end restaurants all over the country, as they still do. When parliament returns from the recess, I hope that Keir Starmer — an eminently fair man — will do of a bit of a tour of the catering outlets. And it will be to his benefit; because after his comments they will all be on their mettle to show just how well they can perform.”

Quick digression: Rogers added that when he first arrived in parliament in 1972 the food was “very iffy.” He recalled: “I was in the queue in the tea room when a colleague in front of me was about to pay and glanced down at his pie. ‘I’m not having this’ he said. ‘It’s got mould on it.’ The cashier was outraged. ‘That’s not mould’ she said (blowing on it) ‘That’s dust’.”

Back to the matter at hand: The comments have even dented Starmer’s attempts to appeal to business. “Like many of the thousands of people they serve every day, I’ve always had exceptional service and quality hospitality in the wide range of settings in parliament,” said U.K. Hospitality chief Kate Nicholls. “I would have to disagree with the suggestion that there isn’t a great place to eat in the palace and I’ve always been impressed at the quality offered for the price charged — I would challenge Mr Starmer to find a better quality to value ratio anywhere. By comparison, similar offers elsewhere would come at a cost high enough to give you indigestion.” It’s true — just take a stroll down Whitehall.

Not a bad offer: “We’d be happy to arrange a behind-the-scenes taster tour for Mr Starmer with our brilliant catering teams so he can, for starters, see the main course of action that would bring just desserts to Parliament’s catering team and their customers,” Nicholls added. (NB Starmer’s office say he’s usually way too busy for lunch, although Playbook PM can confirm that the Portcullis sangers can be taken to one’s desk and are — chef’s kiss.)

On an unrelated note: The latest Times Radio focus group this morning found 2019 Conservative voters believe Starmer is “smug.” Their view of Rishi Sunak isn’t much better, though, with the group saying he’s out of touch with reality.

But on a related note: One senor former Commons official reminded Playbook PM that Radio 4 did a two part show on the food in parliament back in 2015. Check it out here and here.

One more thing: Playbook PM had the pasta milanese for lunch today from the Terrace Cafeteria; an absolute steal for less than £5. That’s those criminal prices again.


TELL ME WHAT’S YOUR FLAVEL: Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has claimed another scalp after setting off a PR cluster bomb in the banking world.

Peter panned: Coutts CEO Peter Flavel was the latest to stand down after the posho bank closed Farage’s account for — at least in part — thinking he was a bit of a git (in a political sense.) Flavel said that “in the handling of Mr Farage’s case we have fallen below the bank’s high standards of personal service.” POLITICO’s Andrew McDonald has a writeup.

Sitting ducks: Playbook PM is told there had been no push from within government for Flavel to go, but a sense that the writing was on the wall for him. Farage agreed.

Kill list: Flavel’s humiliating departure comes after Alison Rose quit as the boss of NatWest, which owns Coutts, after admitting she leaked confidential (and misleading) information about Farage and the closure of his account. The prominent Brexiteer also has the entire NatWest board in his sights.

Which is bad news for … NatWest Chair Howard Davies, who PM Rishi Sunak wouldn’t commit to having confidence in this afternoon. “What I said right at the start of this was that it wasn’t right for people to be deprived of basic services like banking because of their views,” the PM said in a pooled clip during a visit in London. He said the government was taking “tough action” to make sure similar cases don’t arise in the future.


NAD WITH (A LACK OF) POWER: Wannabe barnoness Nadine Dorries faced some serious harrumphing from her local council over her refusal to do a shred of work as their MP — preferring to host her own TV show, write books about Boris Johnson and map a route into the Lords.

It stings, doctor: The letter from Flitwick Town Council complained that Dorries hasn’t spoken in the Commons for more than 12 months, hasn’t held a surgery in her Mid Bedfordshire seat since March 2020, and doesn’t even have an office presence there. “Rather than representing constituents, the council is concerned that your focus appears to have been firmly on your television show, upcoming book and political manoeuvres to embarrass the government for not appointing you to the House of Lords.” Worth a read in full.

BRICK BATS: Rishi Sunak and Sadiq Khan traded blows on housing in London, after the PM blamed the Labour mayor of London for low housebuilding rates in the city. Announcing a £200 million pot for building initiatives in London, Sunak said Khan had “failed to deliver the homes that London needs. This has driven up house prices and made it harder for families to get on the housing ladder in the first place.”

But but but: Khan accused the Tories of “pathetic gesture politics” that won’t fool Londoners. He said the Conservatives have a “miserable record” of blocking new London housing, while Labour has exceeded various metrics and targets. His office issued a 10-point briefing listing how the government has blocked building in London, and arguing London saw the most homes delivered since the 1930s in 2019/20, at 40,870.

Oh, and … Khan got the claws out with a tweet hitting back at the PM’s claims.

SPEAKING OF SADIQ: Khan admitted to ITV London he might have to pause the rollout of his controversial ULEZ charge if a court rules against him. The ruling comes tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

HOLOCAUST PROBE: Conservative peer Eric Pickles, who oversees the U.K. response to post-Holocaust issues, announced an investigation into the number of Jews and Russian prisoners of war who died in Nazi camps on the British island of Alderney during World War II. Gabriel Pogrund, who reported on the probe in the Sunday Times at the weekend, tweeted the announcment.

SAY CHEESE: Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband branded the government’s windfall tax on fuel firms a “proverbial Swiss cheese,” after British Gas reported adjusted operating profits of £969 million for the first half of the year (a 900 percent boost on the same period last year.) He pointed to a clause which allows companies to access tax relief if they reinvest profits back in energy production, and argued to the BBC that the profits indicate companies are not reinvesting, but rather funneling profits back to shareholders.

Speaking of climate: Chris Stark, the chief exec of the climate change committee, told BBC Radio 4 this morning it was “crackers” for the government to be sending mixed messages about the planned 2030 ban for new petrol and diesel vehicles. “So it’s crackers, frankly, to invest £500 million pounds in bringing Jaguar Land Rover to the U.K. to invest in a new gigafactory for making the batteries for those cars, and then similarly, almost within almost the same week, start to talk about softening that 2030 goal, removing the market for the vehicles that Jaguar Land Rover want to make,” he told the broadcaster.

It gets worse: Stark also said about the government’s wider net zero targets that “the progress we’re making in this country against the targets that are set in law is just not fast enough.”

ANOTHER H.O. BLOW: The “routine” use of hotels to house unaccompanied child asylum seekers is unlawful, the High Court ruled this morning. Announcing the decison in a legal challenge from the Every Child Protected Against Trafficking charity, judge Martin Chamberlain said the government could keep kids in hotel just “for short periods in true emergency situations.” It’s not been a good week for the Home Office in the courts.

BROKEN BRITAIN LATEST: The number of permanent GPs fell for the 12th consecutive month, new figures showed, from 26,859 in June 2022 to 26,521 in June 2023.

CORRECTING THE RECORD: Treasury minister Andrew Griffith has got in touch to say he did not text the word “victory” to journalists after NatWest’s boss resigned, contrary to a report in this morning’s Playbook.


FEEL THE BURN: The first 21 days of July were the warmest three-week period on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization and the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The mean was 16.96 degrees Celsius — above the previous record of 16.63C set in July 2019. My POLITICO colleague Zia Weise has further details.

IN NIGER: Niger’s military leadership supported a coup against President Mohamed Bazoum, after he vowed to protect the country’s “hard-won” democratic gains. The military command said its priority was to avoid destabilizing the country. The Guardian has a write-up.

IN INDIA: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ambitions for the country to become the world’s third largest economy. Speaking at a function, Modi boasted of India’s progress since he took office nine years ago, saying “India’s development journey is unstoppable.” The Times has a write-up.

IN RUSSIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Russia will not rejoin a U.N.-brokered pack to prevent famines as a result of its war in Ukraine. Speaking at the Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said his government would  “refuse to extend” the Black Sea grain deal. My POLITICO colleague Gabriel Gavin has more. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was among those photographed at the summit.

IN OCEANIA: French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the threat from Beijing as he said France would boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific. Speaking in Vanuatu, Macron warned against “new imperialism.” My POLITICO colleague Clea Caulcutt has more.

**A message from Lloyds Banking Group: We remain focused on supporting our business customers across sizes and sectors and have identified and proactively contacted those that may need additional support. Over 550,000 business customers have been contacted to offer guidance on building financial resilience and we have 1,100 business specialists in communities nationwide. We will also continue to work alongside businesses to maximise their potential and support them in growth and innovation. It’s all part of our commitment to helping Britain prosper. Find out more.**


LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.) focuses on British Gas profits … BBC News at Six leads on the climate … Channel 4 News (7 p.m.) holds a housing debate in its Leeds newsroom.

Tom Swarbrick at Drive (LBC, until 7 p.m.): Former Met Detective Chief Inspector David McKelvey (5.05 p.m.) … Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit Head of Energy Jess Ralston (5.35 p.m.) … University of Oxford Professor of Materials Science Susie Speller (6.35 p.m.).

BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): Intergovernmental panel on climate change Chair Jim Skea.

Drive with John Pienaar (Times Radio, 5 p.m.): Met Police former Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Roberts … Every Child Protected Against Trafficking’s Laura Durán … Commentator Tim Montgomerie and the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman (both after 7 p.m.).

The News Agents (Podcast, drops at 5 p.m.): Crossbench peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald.

Farage (GB News, 7 p.m.): Tory MP James Daly.

Jeremy Kyle Live (TalkTV, 7 p.m.): FDA General Secretary Dave Penman … Tory MP Jack Brereton … Reform U.K.’s Alex Phillips.

Newsnight (BBC Two, 10.30 p.m.): Tory MP Mark Garnier … Green Party Co-Leader Carla Denyer.

REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: TalkTV (10 p.m.): Tribune’s Grace Blakeley and journalist Lowri TurnerTimes Radio (10.30 p.m.): PoliticsHome’s Nadine Batchelor-Hunt and the FT’s Jim PickardSky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Journalist Ian Dunt and the Scottish Sun’s Rachel Watson.


SO LONG, FAREWELL: Outgoing Cabinet Office Head of News Shaun Jepson is having leaving drinks at the Tattershall Castle from about 5.30 p.m.


WHAT THE GOVT WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: The Cabinet Office is unveiling the design for its commemorative nuclear test medal.

MASSIVE BANKERS: NatWest posts its half-year results. Might there be any concerns to mention?

LABOUR LAND: The opposition is talking about the number of convictions for people smuggling.

ALSO LABOUR LAND: Keir Starmer is expected to head on holiday tomorrow. He’ll be remaining in the U.K.

EVEN MORE LABOUR LAND: The judicial review into the ULEZ scheme is set to conclude at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Details here.

BLOOD TEST: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is set to appear at the infected blood probe from 2 p.m.

GRASSROOTS TORIES: The vote for roles on the National Conservative Convention closes at 3 p.m.


PACKED LUNCH OR PARL LUNCH: It’s recess! Make the most of a quieter Westminster with a stroll around to check out the menus. The recess opening hours are 7.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Despatch Box … 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (3.15 p.m. on Fridays) at the Terrace Cafeteria … 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (3.15 p.m. on Fridays, then 3.15 p.m. every day from July 31 with no hot food) at the Debate … and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Jubilee Café. 

WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: On his Substack, Byline Times Political Editor Adam Bienkov argues the British press has been sitting on its hands about the “the most serious media scandal for years” — namely the site’s ongoing investigation into GB News presenter and former senior Sun hack Dan Wootton.

ON THIS DAY IN POLITICS: On July 27, 2019, The European Commission appointed Michel Barnier to be the chief Brexit negotiator for the EU.

THANKS TO: My editor Rosa Prince, Playbook reporter Noah Keate and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.

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Emilio Casalicchio

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