Welcome home Rishi Sunak – POLITICO

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BREAKING THIS MORNING: The Office for National Statistics releases its latest earnings stats here right around now. With inflation figures out on Wednesday, could this be the tipping point, as the Times predicted last week, when wages begin to grow faster than CPI — an indication the cost of living crisis could be easing? Or will they signal the start of a wages-prices spiral that sees interest rates stuck in the stratosphere? Welcome home, Rishi Sunak.

Good Tuesday morning. This is Rosa Prince — Dan Bloom will be bringing you Playbook from Wales for the rest of the week as he continues his epic summer tour.


CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Having landed back from his California jaunt on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will today be boring Health Secretary Steve Barclay with phone pics from the Taylor Swift concert as they head out on a visit to launch Day Two of the government’s Health Week.

The deets: The main announcement today is an additional £250 million to pay for 900 new hospital beds, and expanded urgent care and emergency treatment in a bid to treat more patients this winter. In words briefed overnight, Sunak said: “These 900 new beds will mean more people can be treated quickly, speeding up flow through hospitals and reducing frustratingly long waits for treatment.” The Mail has a write-up and Health Minister Will Quince is on the morning round — details below. 

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Good timing: The latest junior doctors’ strike in support of their demand for a 35 percent pay rise ends round about now.

Labouring the point: Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting is hitting back hard on the government’s record on health, providing an interesting test of No. 10’s thesis that it’s worth taking the fight to Labour even if it’s ground the Tories are not super confident on. The FT and Mirror report on pushback from senior doctors over suggestions the government is poised to scrap its cancer targets (which it consistently misses), which Streeting describes as “cynically moving the goalposts.” 

And there’s more: Of the additional £250 million, Streeting says: “Conservative mismanagement of the NHS has left us with huge backlogs, unacceptable waiting times, and an annual winter crisis. Now Rishi Sunak is offering a sticking plaster, which comes nowhere near the 12,000 beds the Conservatives have cut over the last 13 years.”

And more: Labour points out there are 22,000 fewer hospital beds now than when it was last in power, and says that “on every measure” this has been the worst year in the history of the NHS. That involves, deep breath, 570,000 waiting more than four hours in A&E in July; highest ever overall NHS waiting list of 7.57 million, average waits to see a hospital doctor of 14.3 weeks, and 1.5 million waiting more than a month to see a GP and average ambulance wait times for a serious condition of 32 minutes.

Hitting back: A Tory aide told Playbook the barrage from the opposition showed its health attack lines were working: “Labour are clearly rattled that their disastrous management of the NHS in Wales — Starmer’s blueprint for a Labour government — has been exposed. The only surprise is that Wes Streeting has found the time in between plugging his vanity memoir to notice.”

Spotted: Steve Barclay celebrating a successful Health Week Day One by lunching alone at French eatery Chez Antoinette in Victoria on Monday. We all deserve a little me time, right?

MORE LABOUR: For Labour leader Keir Starmer it’s Scotland Day Two; he’s campaigning in Rutherglen and Hamilton where, you will recall, a by-election is on the cards to replace recalled COVID law-breaker and now former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier. He and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar will take part in an “in conversation” event to discuss what a Labour government would mean for the people of Scotland. They’ll set out their visions for Scotland, and then do a Q&A — kicking off at 10.30 a.m. 

Smashing the class ceiling: Starmer has written a meaty — count ‘em — 2,700 word op-ed for the Scotsman in which, along with lots of other stuff, he says of his Labour Party: “[F]or me, smashing the class ceiling that holds working people back is our defining purpose …”

WHAT ELSE LABOUR WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: Labour’s main offering is data showing fewer than one in 20 participants on the government’s “skills bootcamps” are over 55, undermining claims by ministers that the scheme is a key tool to help get the over 50s back to work. In words briefed overnight, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Instead of helping people in their 50s move into work or re-skill, this analysis shows they have been abandoned to the scrap heap by the Tories.” Ashworth has a morning round — timings below — and will respond to the earnings stats.

Hypocrisy: Skills Minister Robert Halfon isn’t having it. Demonstrating that the new Wales attack strategy isn’t just a health thing, he said: “This is pure hypocrisy from Labour — in Labour-run Wales a lower proportion of over 50s are in work and unemployment is rising.”

WHAT LABOUR DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT: The latest spat between Starmer and London Mayor Sadiq Khan over Uxbridge by-election nemesis ULEZ. While Khan vowed on Times Radio to push on with the policy of taxing gas guzzling cars, even if it costs him votes, the Labour leader insisted: “What I don’t want is schemes that disproportionately impact on people in the middle of the cost of living crisis.” The Sun has a write-up.

BACK TO RISHI: My colleague Tom Bristow has a piece today suggesting that among the many pressing matters in his in-tray, Sunak really needs to crack on with planning for his proposed international AI summit — it is his fave subject after all.

BROAD CHURCH: After a group of blue wall Tories banded together to urge Sunak not to drop his green commitments on Monday, today the red wallers hit back in the Telegraph, calling on the PM to hold a referendum over the government’s 2050 net zero target. A Savanta poll for the PLMR agency and reported in the Sun shows that only a quarter of voters would be prepared to pay higher taxes to hit the target ahead of time.


NOT ON YOUR NELLY: The Times and Mail both carry reports of a meeting in which a European Commission official made clear to his U.K. counterpart that the EU is not open to a new migrant returns agreement. Notes of the discussion, between the Cabinet Office’s National Security Adviser Tim Barrow and Bjoern Seibert, head of Cabinet to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, were seen by the papers, although the account was disputed by a Commission spokesperson.

GRENFELL ON SEA: The Fire Brigades Union has yet to hear from the Home Office a week after it warned that the Bibby Stockholm barge was a “potential death trap,” PoliticsHome’s Adam Payne and Caitlin Doherty say.

Warning, warning: Officials warned the Home Office of the potential for an infectious outbreak on the barge before asylum seekers were moved aboard last week — Bloomberg’s Alex Wickham has the scoop.

No hurry: Migrants are unlikely to return to the Bibby Stockholm for “weeks,” both the Mail and Times (again) hear, after the PM’s official spokesperson said they would be back ASAP. The Times’ Matt Dathan also reports on delays to plans to replace aging Border Force vehicles.

Number crunching: My POLITICO colleagues have crunched the numbers on the immigration challenges facing the government. The figures paint a complex story behind the U.K.’s “failing” asylum system.

LIKE THAT SPIDERMAN POINTING MEME: Former Home Secretary Priti Patel effectively called successor Suella Braverman “evasive” over Home Office plans to house asylum seekers at the Wethersfield former RAF base near her Witham constituency.

IT ALL ADDS UP TO … Not much of a holiday for Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who’s on a staycation in the U.K. but joined Zoom calls to discuss the Bibby Stockholm situation on Monday, according to the Mail.


UP ON THE FARM: Beyond the slurry tank I can see the Skirrid and Sugar Loaf mountains (Dan Bloom writes). Mist hangs on the wooded hills; swallows flitter. Locals call it “God’s pocket,” says Emma Robinson. “When you sit on a bench and look down, it’s just a tapestry of farms all doing the same thing — producing food. Mostly run by families. It’s pretty tremendous.”

Out of my depth: Robinson, in navy overalls and smart glasses, is rattling through terms I don’t understand — milking parlors, ADF liner venting systems, NVZ regs. She has 100 pedigree dairy cows, sheep, and also produces their feed on her 380 acres. The family wakes at 5.30 a.m., has a quick slice of toast and begins milking and feed rounds. At 9 a.m. they stop for breakfast, then carry on. 

Tiny carbon feet: The family produce as much of their own feed as possible. She encourages me to smell — it’s earthy and pleasant. Slurry is put back on the land. She saves £350 a month off electricity by using a heat pump.

BUT BUT BUT Robinson and post-Brexit farming grants don’t get on. The Welsh government’s offering will be replaced in 2025 by its Sustainable Farming Scheme, which suggests 10 percent of land is taken by trees. There are lots here but “we still haven’t got enough,” says Robinson. “I’m not going to take out good land” to plant them.

What the Welsh government says: It’s consulting on this, a final scheme is due next year, and it is exploring tweaks to the rule on trees.

But there’s more These days grants are almost entirely centered round the environment, say Robinson and a second farmer, Nigel Bowyer (we’ll meet him later). Wales’ 2025 scheme will incentivize farmers to use fewer antibiotics and test soil. She agrees with all this in principle, but says it has unintended consequences. 

Such as … She wants to install solar panels, but her shed roofs are too knackered. “If I wanted to take that roof off there, I wouldn’t be able to get a grant to do that,” she says. “If I went 6 miles this way” in England, she could. (She also blames the U.K. government, as “they’re the ones that dish out the money” to Cardiff.)

ENOUGH TO CRY OVER: All that’s before you get to the supermarkets. Robinson shows me the metal pipes of her half-built new milking parlor. It will be energy-efficient, auto-wash itself, and … cost £100,000 to install. Yet what she’s paid for milk still isn’t covering the 40p-a-liter cost of production.

Not so super: Supermarkets have “way too much power,” Robinson says. Processors write to her once a month with the price they’ll pay for her milk — “but if I wanted to come out of that contract, I would have to give a year’s notice.” How, she asks, is she supposed to plan?

Into her own hands: Robinson now sells raw milk from the gate to locals in 2-liter cartons. There’s loads of paperwork, but at least “I can get what I want for it — what it’s worth.”

POLITICS AT THE TABLE: Over a cuppa (with raw milk, natch), Robinson tells me she was a long-time Conservative supporter who voted Remain at the referendum and independent in 2019. For next year, she is undecided. There’s been too many times now “where you put your faith in people … and the things they should be doing haven’t been put in place.”

Calm down, Starmer: Labour? “No,” she replies instantly. Her experience of jumping through Labour-run Welsh government “hoops” put paid to that.

SEAT RECAP: Sprawling Monmouth was Labour under Tony Blair but held since 2005 by David TC Davies, now Welsh secretary. Labour has selected local councillor and Welsh Fabians Chair Catherine Fookes as its candidate. On a straight swing, the 9,982 margin makes it a seat Starmer needs to win (just) for an outright majority. But it loses two red-leaning areas east of Cwmbran in boundary changes.

Apologies … To Davies and Fookes. I ended up talking to a second farmer instead.

17 MILES AWAY: I’m standing in a muddy field near Usk. Nigel Bowyer is talking me through the intricacies of lamb pricing. The only problem is, there’s a cow licking my note-taking arm. Earnestly. 

INFLATION ORATION: Bowyer empties two feed bags into a trough while telling me his game of chicken with prices. Last fall he cracked and bought fertilizer at £750 a ton, worried it would go up further. Later it fell to £400 a ton. Agriculture inflation is higher than most — “input” costs rose 15.1 percent in the year to January. 

How it works: While cows galumph round his Land Rover Defender (“we’ll drive round the field until they get fed up”), Bowyer explains most of his sheep are on contract to a supermarket. That means it’ll buy them later — but not promise him a fixed price. Those are set by market forces at the time. 

No let-up: A tanker arrives mid-interview with heating oil for Bowyer’s farmhouse. “I thought I would take evasive action before it went up any further,” he says. 

SICKNESS: Another constant fear is bovine TB — “we lost our favorite cow” to it, says Bowyer. Once it’s detected, a farm can’t buy in new cattle for 60 days and some farms locally “have been down for years,” says Robinson: “The strain on farmers’ mental health is enormous.”

Border hosts: A few miles away in England, badgers — which can carry the disease — are culled, but not in Wales. Animal rights activists detest the cull, but Bowyer believes it’s effective. The Welsh government insists there’s no evidence a cull would make a significant difference.

BREXIT BLUES: Bowyer — who also voted Remain — is furious at the U.K.’s post-Brexit trade deal with New Zealand, which opened access for lamb and beef. “They completely disregarded us for what I think was purely ideological grounds,” he fumes. “They’ve chucked us under a bus, and for what?”

Trade jitters: He and Robinson believe the prices farmers get for lamb and beef have already been affected by the trade deal. Now the U.K. is joining the CPTPP trade bloc, and negotiating a deal with Canada. Robinson raises biosecurity and audit trails, and the need to compete fairly — “it makes us feel quite vulnerable.”

HARSH WORDS: Bowyer voted Tory up to 2017, but in 2019 “I may have voted Liberal or something.” And while Labour’s a “difficult” ask, he’s not going blue again soon: “Until they get back to where they should be, in the center ground, and get rid of all those maniacal right-wingers, I won’t vote Conservative again.”

SUCCESSION: Bowyer’s farm has been in his family since 1937 — and the future is an existential worry. The 66-year-old has three grown children, who’ve shown some interest in returning, but the plan isn’t clear yet. Bowyer’s dad worked until he was 90, and he can see himself doing so too. By contrast Robinson, 55, can see the future — her two grown children, Harvey and Phoebe, work on the farm. “My children work incredibly hard, and they have a lot of pressure on them, but it’s a way of life,” she says proudly. They built her son a house on the land.

So … for all the complaints, the existential worry and the political doldrums, does Bowyer still enjoy his life here? “I do!” he says without hesitation. “Except when it’s pissing it down with rain.”

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AFGHANISTAN 2 YEARS ON: The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association is holding a peaceful protest in Parliament Square from 10 a.m. to noon to mark two years since the Taliban takeover, followed by an event at its Feltham Center from 5.30 p.m. with Tobias Ellwood as the keynote speaker. 

Frustration: A new report by More in Common based on more than 100 interviews with Afghan families living in the U.K. tells of the frustrations of those seeking stable homes.

More help: A cross-party group of MPs including Lib Dems Wendy Chamberlain and Daisy Cooper, Labour’s Clive Lewis and Dan Jarvis and Caroline Lucas for the Greens has written to Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick urging him to ensure Afghans still stuck in their homeland are able to take up the offer of asylum in the U.K. 

Our man (not) in Kabul: In his first interview since leaving Kabul, former Ambassador Laurie Bristow tells the Telegraph the U.K. has “an obligation to Afghan refugees who helped its forces.” Writing in the Independent, another former ambassador, Nicholas Kay, says Britain should engage with the Taliban in order to provide much-needed aid.

SW1 EVENTS: The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit holds a webinar marking the anniversary of U.S. President Joe Biden signing the Inflation Reduction Act into law with speakers including Energy U.K. Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck at 2 p.m.

IN BUSINESS: Small businesses received £21 billion worth of government work in 2021/22, equating to around £3,800 per British small business, according to Cabinet Office figures.

THE GREAT RESIGNATION: Ministers’ disparaging attacks on civil servants damaged Whitehall staff retention and morale, the Committee on Standards in Public Life said.

DE-BANKING PART 94: The Financial Conduct Authority will send letters to politically exposed persons — including MPs, peers and senior ranking military officers — asking if they have been denied banking or other financial services. The Guardian has further details of the latest twist in the Nigel Farage, Coutts bank furor.

CHILD SAFETY: A record 6,350 sexual communication with a child offenses were recorded in 2022/23, an 82 percent increase since 2017/18, figures published by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children charity show.

LOOSEN THE PURSE STRINGS: Funding systems for many public services poorly align funding with spending needs, with deprived areas getting a lower share of local government and police cash while rural and suburban areas receive a lower share of public health money, an Institute for Fiscal Studies report finds.

TIGHTEN THE PURSE STRINGS: Today marks Cost of Government Day, which is when the average taxpayer stops paying their share of government spending and taxes, according to the Adam Smith Institute.

HOT AND BOTHERED: More than a third of homes in England are at high risk of overheating, with the poorest fifth of households three times as likely to be affected as the richest fifth, a Resolution Foundation report says.

But but but: Age U.K. warns elderly people could be left to freeze in winter if oil boilers are banned in off-grid homes from 2026, saying it’s “crucial” any deadline is enacted in the spring or summer — the Telegraph has more.

GRADUATES CELEBRATE: Civil Service Fast Streamers have been awarded a 6.75 percent pay rise over two years — the largest increase in Fast Stream pay since 2015 — with the FDA union recommending members accept the offer.


RED SCARE: Two RAF Typhoon jets intercepted a pair of long-range maritime Russian bombers near the Shetland Islands, after they strayed into NATO’s northern policing area — the Telegraph has further details.

NORTHERN IRELAND TROUBLES: Dissident republicans are likely to possess the details of officers released in last week’s data leak, the Police Service of Northern Ireland admitted — Sky News has a write-up. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said: “The U.K. Government remains committed to providing specialist support and expertise, and I know that PSNI and security partners will continue to take proportionate action to protect officers and staff and their families.”

TRUMP INDICTED — AGAIN: Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been indicted by a grand jury in Atlanta, Georgia, in a case focused on his efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election in that state. Eighteen others were also charged in the case, including Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The indictment, the fourth against Trump, is the most wide-ranging set of criminal charges he faces as he seeks reelection in 2024, my U.S. colleague Kyle Cheney writes.

NIGER UPDATE: The U.S. State Department said it would be “unwarranted and unjustified” if Niger’s military junta prosecuted ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on treason charges. Spokesperson Vedant Patel said a prosecution of the democratically elected president would “not contribute to a peaceful resolution of this crisis.” My POLITICO colleagues have more.

OVER IN ARGENTINA: Javier Milei, a “former tantric sex coach” who plans to do away with Argentina’s public health and education systems and allow people to sell their organs has moved a step closer to becoming the country’s next president after a landslide win in open primaries — the Guardian has more.

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Health Minister Will Quince broadcast round: GB News (6.45 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.05 a.m.) … Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … TalkTV (8.05 a.m.) … Today (8.10 a.m.) … GMB (8.25 a.m.).

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth broadcast round: GMB (7.25 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.) … GB News (9.10 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Vauxhall Managing Director James Taylor (7.15 a.m.) … the NSPCC’s Rani Govender (7.35 a.m.) … Medic and broadcaster Chris van Tulleken (8.15 a.m.) … Royal College of Emergency Medicine President Adrian Boyle (8.45 a.m.).

Also on Sky News Breakfast: SNP Glasgow City Council councillor Ruairi Kelly (7.45 a.m.).

Also on TalkTV Breakfast: Tory MP David Davis (9.05 a.m.).

LBC News: Office for National Statistics Director of Economic Statistics Darren Morgan (7.50 a.m.).


POLITICO UK: Britain’s ‘failing’ asylum system in numbers.

Daily Express: Dear France … for £480 million can you actually stop the boats?

Daily Mail: Parents told to get a grip on “TikTok yobs.”

Daily Mirror: Another day, another attack.

Daily Star: The proof.

Financial Times: Saudi Arabia and UAE buy Nvidia chips to power AI drive.

i: 7 percent boost to state pensions.

Metro: Moving targets.

The Daily Telegraph: Children’s czar piles pressure on Covid Inquiry.

The Guardian: Dissident republicans have data from PSNI leak, says police chief.

The Independent: Silence that shames Britain.

The Times: EU rejects new deal for return of migrants.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain and a gentle breeze. Highs of 23C.

GOTCHA: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, aged 92, is now reportedly dating Elena Zhukova, a 66-year-old retired scientist, after his engagement to former dental hygienist Ann Lesley Smith was called off earlier this year. Murdoch and Zhukova are living it up by cruising the Mediterranean — the Mail has the full skinny.

SLEUTH ALERT: In the latest development of what is surely to become a future limited series, Erin Patterson, an Australian woman suspected of killing three lunch guests by serving them highly poisonous mushrooms, admitted she lied to police but maintained she was innocent. The Times has more.

HER DAUGHTER MUST BE FURIOUS … At Nadine Dorries’ latest Mail column, in which she reveals she was so banjaxed by her youngest’s rotten A-level results she drove her car into a yew hedge.

DIARY NOTE: Know of a brilliant councillor deserving of national recognition? Nominate them for a 2023 Local Government Information Unit and CCLA Cllr Award. England and Wales winners will be unveiled at the Guildhall on November 16.

VISUAL TREAT: The episode of The Thick of It in which newly appointed Cabinet Minister Nicola Murray has to deal with her department accidentally wiping the immigration records of 170,672 people is on BBC Four at 9.30 p.m. — because nothing like that could ever happen in real life.

NOAH’S CULTURE FIX: Former Defense Secretary Michael Portillo’s series on unearthing previously classified documents from the National Archives — Portillo’s State Secrets — continues its repeated run on BBC Two at 3.45 p.m. with an episode looking at UFO files kept by the Ministry of Defense.

JOB ADS: The Guardian is hiring a political correspondent … and the Treasury is seeking two senior policy advisers covering health and social care.

BIRTHDAYS: Chief Whip Simon Hart turns 60 … Edmonton MP Kate Osamor …West Lancashire MP Ashley Dalton … Poole MP Robert Syms … Former Tory MP Jane Ellison … Tory peer and former Health Secretary William Waldegrave … Former Westminster Abbey organist James O’Donnell … 5654 & Company’s Robert Nisbet … Biographer Patrick Barclay.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editors Jack Lahart and Zoya Sheftalovich and producers Seb Starcevic and Dato Parulava.

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