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SCOOP — CRUMBLEWATCH: Major restoration of the Palace of Westminster is unlikely to progress before the election, my colleague Esther Webber reveals today. MPs were meant to vote on options before Christmas, but will now only “take note” of them while more scoping work is carried out — despite the “do nothing” option costing around £2 million a week. Former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom brands it “totally ridiculous.”
And let’s be honest: With HS2 already on the block and Labour determined not to splash the cash, how likely is it even after an election? Administration Committee Chair Charles Walker tells Esther the full restoration will only “really happen when the Treasury decides it wants to write the check.” Good luck, as they say, with that.
Good Friday morning. This is Dan Bloom.
DRIVING THE DAY
SMELL THAT ELECTION: With the Lords rising (pretend you noticed!) and Lib Dems arriving in Bournemouth, we’re now fully into party conference recess and the whiff of raw politics is in the air. No. 10’s net-zero bonfire … proposals to scrap A-levels … Labour’s trolling of Liz Truss … its awkward Brexit questions … Lib Dem role-play … fighting over a lectern … and the looming King’s Speech. Welcome to the next year (?) of your life.
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BACC TO THE DRAWING BOARD: After net zero, a fair bet for the next big speech Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised is on the topic of education. The Times and FT say Sunak is considering scrapping A-levels and replacing them with a “British baccalaureate” — a pledge in his 2022 leadership campaign that was part of the gamut he put back on the shelf.
The details: Both papers report children would study more subjects if they stay in school to 18, including English and math (Sunak pledged the latter in April) under a European-esque system. No. 10 is not denying the story but an official says it is speculation. It seems it’s unlikely to take effect before an election.
The politics: The Times says Sunak hopes it will “open up a clear dividing line with Labour on education policy.” More broadly, a Downing Street official tells Playbook: “We’re now in the period of the prime minister doing what he believes is right. You have had the period where he’s been more focused on fixing issues — we’re now in the period where you will get more policies that are authentically his view.”
Tell us what you really think! Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson calls it the “latest undeliverable gimmick from a weak PM and dying Conservative government.” Labour spinners also pointed to ex-Michael Gove SpAd Sam Freedman saying it’s totally impractical and there aren’t enough teachers.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Saturday marks a year since ex-PM Liz Truss’ mini-budget. Labour is of course being polite and not mentioning it. Oh wait …
Trolling Liz: Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves is on the Today program at 7.30 a.m. and will visit the London Stock Exchange with Labour leader Keir Starmer. A Starmer clip should appear by lunchtime before the pair do a rare double-act interview with Channel 4 News’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
WHAT LABOUR WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: Reeves’ overnight pledge to pass new laws “guaranteeing” that future governments can’t make “significant tax and spending changes” without an Office for Budget Responsibility forecast. The BBC was given the deets and Reeves has an FT op-ed (which references “stability” eight times).
More detail: A Labour official tells Playbook this would happen in the first session of parliament and the “significant” threshold would be agreed with the OBR, but it would’ve counted Truss’ OBR-free mini-budget.
Farewell, spring budgets: Labour has also pledged budgets will have to be held by the end of November to give enough time before the new tax year — and spring can only have a fairly minimal “update.”
WHAT TORIES WANT TO TALK ABOUT: Starmer’s comments in Montreal six days ago that a Labour-run U.K. can have a close relationship with the EU — because “actually we don’t want to diverge, we don’t want to lower standards.”
Manna from heaven: CCHQ leapt on the clip, and the Mail splashes it under the headline “Starmer lets cat out of bag on Brexit betrayal” — with six(!) current or former Tory Cabinet ministers sticking the boot in. One, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, told LBC it “will worry a lot of people that what he really wants to do is to unpick Brexit.”
Labour’s line: A party spokesperson said: “We don’t support dynamic alignment. We’re not joining the single market or the customs union. We will not be in a situation where we are a rule taker. Any decisions on what standards we follow will be made in the U.K. parliament.” Officials argue Starmer was talking specifically about standards like for the environment and workers’ rights, not all EU laws.
But but but … Charles Grant, director for the Centre for European Reform, told Sky Starmer had gone further in his language than before and “maybe it just slipped out.” Starmer’s full words are here for you to judge for yourself.
Always watch the full livestream: The comments went unremarked upon by hacks for five days until they were spotted by Sky’s Sam Coates.
Perfect timing: Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy (who a million years ago voted against triggering Article 50) has told the Mirror’s Ben Glaze Labour will have a “dramatic tonal shift” and a “fundamental” review of the U.K.’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU in 2025, “sector by sector.”
Bon appétit: Lammy’s favorite cuisine is French. “They do a wonderful duck in orange sauce.”
Now read this: My colleagues Eleni Courea and Zi-Ann Lum have a fun write-up of how Starmer has been canvassing the opinions of pretty much all the center-left big guns, from Barack Obama to Tony Blair.
GREEN SCRAP: As night follows day, the Guardian splashes on legal challenges brewing over Sunak’s net-zero U-turn from the Good Law Project and Friends of the Earth. The Environmental Audit Committee is also regrouping for a mid-recess Teams call on Monday, writes PoliticsJOE’s Ava Santina.
But but but … One Tory MP tells the i they expect only 15 to 20 rebels in the vote on delaying the ban on new petrol car sales. One person trying to rustle them up tells Playbook: “I don’t think it’s looking great. Seems a lot are just accepting it.”
See me after class: Full Fact has scolded Sunak’s claims about bins and meat.
CASE TO ANSWER: A classic of the genre emerges. Labour has complained to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (via the Times) about Sunak using the Tories’ conference slogan on his No. 10 lectern. Campaign Group Unlock Democracy has also written to ethics adviser Laurie Magnus, reports the Mirror. Both argue it’s a breach of the ministerial code.
We’ve all done it! A senior Tory aide furiously rebuts this by pointing to a 2009 story about Labour doing something eerily similar. Back then it was the other way round — a slogan designed by Whitehall was appropriated for the Labour’s website. “It is not uncommon for the governing party to use government messaging,” says a government spokeswoman drily.
You couldn’t make it up: So presumably, the Conservatives were totally OK with this 14 years ago? Er, no. They wrote a complaint … to Simon Case’s predecessor.
SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
WINNING HERE: SW1’s minds are turning this weekend to the grassroots tactics that’ll win or lose next year’s election, as the Lib Dems kick off conference season on Saturday.
But the real action in Bournemouth … is today. The Libs are hosting a private “blue wall summit” and my colleague Andrew McDonald has got hold of the agenda. Sessions include “The Air War: Ignoring the Tory culture war and focusing on health, sewage and cost of living.” Aka relentlessly bashing the government.
It gets worse: Like all the worst corporate away-days, it ends with … role play. Attendees are asked to “imagine you are a Conservative MP” and show how they’d attack the Lib Dems. Is Glee Club (on Monday, FYI) not unbearable enough?
THAT’S ENOUGH, ED: Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband is “in conversation” at Saturday’s Co-Operative party conference, which also features Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, Chair Anneliese Dodds and Shadow Business and Trade Secretary Jonathan Reynolds.
BATTLE FOR SCOTLAND: Thirteen sleeps till the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. My colleague Ailbhe Rea devotes today’s full episode of the Westminster Insider podcast to the most important battle for Keir Starmer before Christmas. It includes pollster John Curtice, SNP First Minister Humza Yousaf and doorknocking with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who wants an election “launchpad.”
STICKY WICKET: Labour is 15 points ahead of the Tories for the third month in a row, according to the latest monthly More in Common poll shown to Playbook. It’s 43 percent to 28 percent. Director Luke Tryl says: “For the first time this parliament, public opinion seems to have become profoundly ‘sticky’ … it’s clearly going to take some major developments at next month’s party conferences to shift these numbers.”
But silver lining … Of the 6 percent of Reform U.K. backers, a quarter would vote Tory and only 3 percent Labour if there is no Reform candidate.
LIMP TO THE FINISH: After conference season on October 16, there are only about two weeks before we all leave again ahead of the King’s Speech on November 7. Of 12 government bills left on the books, half will be “carried over” into the next session.
Final battle: By far the most contentious is the Levelling-Up Bill, with two dozen Lords amendments sent back to MPs. One wag in the upper house predicted it could return to peers in the week of October 23, days before prorogation, bringing with it “40 or 50 more Tory peers” to get it through — “people who are hardly ever here.”
Roll call: The other bills to be finished before prorogation are the Economic Crime, Energy, Non-Domestic Rating, Procurement and Schools bills. There are carry-over motions for the Victims, Data Protection, Digital Markets, Economic Activity and Holocaust Memorial bills.
Last but not least: The Renters’ Reform Bill made so little progress, it isn’t even eligible for a carry-over motion — yet. It might still be given a second reading in the final two weeks, to make it eligible for the next session. But that’s not pinned down.
The biggest question: Tory MPs and aides have been fretting about what the next King’s Speech will look like and whether it can help turn the polls. Compounding that are previous reports that a reshuffle is due this fall. One Tory MP tells Playbook they’re “baffled,” adding: “You’re going to have a King’s Speech and an Autumn Statement announcing policies that the people in charge of had no say over. People will be giving conference speeches on briefs they won’t be in charge of afterwards!”
TIMES A’CHANGING: Billionaire world’s-most-powerful-media-mogul Rupert Murdoch’s exit with a swing at *checks notes* “elites” has prompted reminiscing about his raw power in SW1 — and News Corp veterans questioning the future of his outlets in the U.K.
First, the memories: The hagiographic spread in Murdoch’s Times quotes ex-PM Boris Johnson saying “Hail Rupe,” the man who could “intimidate politicians on every continent.” A long line of voices praises his investment in journalism.
Ah, sweet memories: The Guardian’s not-so-hagiographic Dan Sabbagh prosecutes the argument that Murdoch drove “the politics of three countries to the right,” while left-wing columnist Owen Jones told Sky he is “the most poisonous individual of my lifetime.”
Silent influence: Former Murdoch newsroom insiders tell of how he would fly in ahead of an election and sit in the Sun’s morning conferences, “not saying anything.” Come election night, his “legendary” party upstairs would keep some execs detained past the exit poll — if the result was going the right way. “There was definitely a feeling everyone was more focused with him around,” quipped one. “You were definitely aware when he was in London and that he would be scrutinizing what we were writing,” says another.
Case in point: A third insider says the Sun’s interest in the Titan submersible rocketed after the proprietor made a passing comment about it. As for his influence on politicians, Playbook’s spotted list from his June summer party, where Keir Starmer had a one-to-one, speaks for itself.
Succession: The Guardian has a thorough profile of heir Lachlan, while the Independent has a mischievous profile of the Murdoch children that asks: “Is Lachlan a Kendall or a Roman?”
So what happens next? Sky News’ Adam Boulton argues a “big change” is unlikely because Rupert retains a controlling vote. But he adds Lachlan raises questions, because “I don’t think he’s particularly interested in the U.K.” And so …
Ruh-roh: Former News of the World editor (and jailbird) Andy Coulson writes in the Speccie that no one else will put their “money where their mouth is” and staffers will be asking: “How long have we got?” Andrew Neil in the Mail predicts Murdoch’s British newspapers will be sold when the 92-year-old goes to the “great newsroom in the sky.”
Impeccable timing: Reform U.K. leader Richard Tice has jumped ship from Murdoch-owned TalkTV … to staunch rival GB News.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: In recess until October 16.
BUFFERS AHEAD: After Sunak refused to say HS2 will go from Euston to Manchester, Jeremy Hunt’s support for it on Thursday was ice-cold. The chancellor told LBC talks with the PM are “happening at the moment” due to concerns “costs are getting totally out of control.” The Times reports Sunak is “likely” to scrap the leg in a planned infrastructure speech — and quotes ex-Chancellor George Osborne warning a Tory row is already brewing.
Don’t forget: The Manchester leg is still government policy. Boris Johnson’s 2021 Integrated Rail Plan scrapped the leg to Leeds but kept Manchester, albeit only opening in the early 2040s. Since then inflation has surged and parts were “rephased” in March. How long before they change the … er … line?
TIDE TURNS? The i splashes on economists predicting interest rates have peaked, and the Times goes in on NatWest, Nationwide and TSB cutting mortgage rates, after the Bank of England held rates on Thursday.
But but but … The Telegraph splashes on Hunt’s comments that tax cuts are “alas … virtually impossible” in the Autumn Statement.
SIGNED WITH AN X: Elon Musk would be “very, very welcome” at the U.K.’s AI summit in November, Hunt has told Bloomberg during his tech-friendly trip to the U.S. The chancellor said he’d not spoken to the X billionaire but tech tycoons are welcome, and “I think we’re going to get most of them coming.”
Schmoozefest in full: Hunt is having lunch with Microsoft, touring Amazon’s Seattle offices and meeting Google owner Alphabet before flying home today. So keen is he on investment that the Treasury — unusually — forwarded a Warner Bros press release, complete with the company logo, announcing it will add 10 new sound stages to its Leavesden studios. More at LBC.
OLIVER’S PIZZA THE ACTION: On the east coast, Oliver Dowden’s big moment at the U.N. General Assembly is at 8 p.m. U.K. time. The deputy PM — filling in for absent Sunak — will continue Britain’s journey from exuberance to caution on artificial intelligence, warning 193 nations “global regulation is falling behind.”
THE BEST SUELLA CAN GET? Home Office officials determined Channel migrants’ ages with the help of a … er … Gilette report on teenagers’ shaving habits, the Times’ Matt Dathan writes.
MEANWHILE ON NEWSNIGHT: Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick had a testy interview where he rebuffed suggestions the asylum backlog was 20,000 under Labour by claiming “there were over 400,000 … asylum records” at the time. A Labour aide points out the statistics watchdog rejected this argument in a letter to Jenrick back in March.
BREAKING JUST NOW: Retail sales stats for August have just been released.
HEALTH CHECK: The NHS junior doctors’ strike is on its third of three days.
OUT OF COURT: Security officers in 149 courts begin a four day strike over pay.
GREEN CRAP NEWS: An expert study on “climate-related mortality” from 1988 to 2022 is out at 9.30 a.m.
STILL WAITING: Playbook hears school unions still haven’t had a reply to a letter they wrote to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan two weeks ago stuffed with questions about crumbly RAAC concrete. Keegan did meet them on Monday, though.
Other problems: NASUWT chief Patrick Roach suggests some schools are unwilling to do basic checks because they’re “flawed from the outset.” He tells Playbook: “You are asking schools to have a visual look around and prod a screwdriver or back a broom handle into a ceiling.” A government official insists guidance does not tell schools to do this, they only have to suspect RAAC, and over 98 percent of questionnaires are back.
MOVE OVER RAAC: Hundreds of British Army vehicles could contain asbestos, ministers said in a letter to Labour that runs in the Times. The MOD says it’s a “worst-case.”
KEEPING TRACK: The Transport Committee has set “nine tests” for how railway minimum service levels would work, if you’re into that kind of thing. Unions hit the roof with ASLEF saying most “will not be achieved.”
SPY NEWS: The Mirror splashes on the five Bulgarians living in the U.K. who have been charged with spying for Russia. It’s mostly a big front-page picture of the youngest, Vanya Gaberova, 29, a “beautician specialising in eyelash extensions.”
DO RIVERS NEXT? Offenders will do their community service by “picking up wet wipes” from beaches under a Probation Service “Community Payback” scheme briefed to the Sun.
FAILURES OF STATE: Former FCDO senior official Josie Stewart said she witnessed “devastating failings” in the government’s response to Kabul’s fall in 2021, as she takes the government to court to test the legal protections for whistleblowers — via PA.
COPWATCH: London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced members of the London Policing Board to oversee reform, including retired Met Police Officer Neil Basu and Stephen Lawrence’s brother Stuart.
LOSING FAITH: The Policy Exchange think tank has a 176-page report out today about Islamic veils, via PA.
BECAUSE IT’S FRIDAY: Here’s Matt Hancock being shoved into water in slowmo and interrogated about his affair on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
**POLITICO Power Play, our brand-new global podcast, brings you insightful conversations with global power players, hosted by award-winning journalist Anne McElvoy. Don’t miss an episode of our first season by subscribing for alerts in one click.**
BEYOND THE M25
ARE THEY NEXT? Derbyshire County Council has approved cutbacks including freezing recruitment to plug a £46 million budget gap — via the BBC.
NEWS YOU CAN USE: Nominations for the Local Government Information Unit and CCLA councillor awards close at midnight — anyone can nominate here.
GREAT SCOT: Three out of four schools in Scotland will close for three days next week as UNISON rejected a pay offer — the Daily Record has a write-up.
ZELENSKYY’S TRIP TO WASHINGTON: U.S. President Joe Biden held a White House war council with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and said American support will be maintained, including $325 of million military aid — my U.S. colleagues have more.
Meanwhile in Congress: Hardline Republicans in the House of Representatives prevented a vote on the party’s own defense spending bill, raising the threat of a government shutdown — again, more from the Stateside gang.
ASSAD IN CHINA: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has visited China for the first time since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war 12 years ago. AP News has more.
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Environment Minister Mark Spencer broadcast round: GB News (7.15 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.30 a.m.) … LBC News (7.45 a.m.).
Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury James Murray broadcast round: TalkTV (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.10 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.) … GB News (9.05 a.m.).
Lib Dem Education Spokesperson Munira Wilson broadcast round: GB News (7.45 a.m.) … LBC News (8.50 a.m.).
Today program: Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (7.30 a.m.).
Also on LBC News: UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls (7.20 a.m.) … ONS senior statistician Heather Bovill (7.50 a.m.) … Tory MP Iain Stewart (8.20 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio: Former French Ambassador to the U.K. Sylvie-Agnes Bermann (7.20 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (from 7.05 a.m.) … Independent Business Network Chief Executive Brendan Chilton (7.15 a.m.).
Also on Sky News Breakfast: Former NHS Trust Chairman Roy Lilley (7.20 a.m.).
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
POLITICO UK: Restoration of crumbling U.K. parliament slips beyond next election.
Daily Express: If Mr Hunt says so … then it must be true!
Daily Mail: Starmer lets cat out of bag on Brexit betrayal.
Daily Mirror: For your eyes only.
Daily Star: Save our spam!
Financial Times: End of an era as Murdoch hands reins of media empire to elder son.
i: Interest rates have now hit peak, predict economists.
Metro: Drugs free transplant revolution.
The Daily Telegraph: Hunt — Tax cuts are virtually impossible.
The Guardian: Campaigners plan legal challenges to Sunak’s u turn on green policies.
The Independent: The sun sets on Rupert Murdoch as he retires at 92.
The Sun: BBC’s shame over flasher Brand.
The Times: PM wants A level reform to boost pupils’ life skills.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
The Economist: Time for a rethink — helping Ukraine win a long war.
THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY
EU Confidential: The team are in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.
Power Play: POLITICO’s Anne McElvoy interviews Labour Leader Keir Starmer about China, Donal Trump and his vision for a global “clean energy alliance.”
Westminster Insider: POLITICO’s Ailbhe Rea has the essential guide to the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election on October 5.
Plus 6 of the other best political podcasts to listen to this weekend:
Encompass: Paul Adamson hears from U.N. Director at the International Crisis Group Richard Gowan about the U.N. General Assembly.
Leading: Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell talk to West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham about being regional mayors.
On the Couch: Lucy Beresford speaks to Tory peer James Bethell about the Online Safety Bill and stopping children accessing porn.
Political Thinking with Nick Robinson: Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey is asked about net zero, the coalition government and the triple lock.
Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women: Johnson interviews Sky’s foreign correspondent Alex Crawford.
The Rundown: Alain Tolhurst talks to Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill and Lib Dem peer Lorely Burt about prisoners on indeterminate sentences.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain showers and a gentle breeze. Highs of 18C.
SPOTTED … at a welcome reception in honor of the U.S. Embassy’s Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Rodney Ford and Spokesperson Cynthia Harvey at Wychwood House: ITV’s Robert Peston … Sky’s Beth Rigby and Deborah Haynes … the BBC’s Gordon Corera … Channel 5’s Andy Bell … Bloomberg’s Jonathan Browning … the FT’s Helen Warrell … the Independent’s Kim Sengupta … the Evening Standard’s Nicholas Cecil … the Daily Mail’s Robert Hardman … the Washington Post’s William Booth … and the U.S. Embassy’s Rita Rico, Yuki Kondo-Shah and Ryan Maskell.
APTLY TIMED JOB ADS: The Climate Change Committee is hiring a communications officer and executive assistant — applications close Sunday.
LIFE AFTER POLITICS: Former Commons Speaker John Bercow has been announced as a contestant on the U.S. version of gameshow The Traitors. No doubt he’ll love the ceremonial pouches. Details here.
AUDIO TREAT: On their latest Breakout Culture podcast, Tory peer Ed Vaizey and journalist Charlotte Metcalf talk to John Leighton, director of National Galleries Scotland, about its £38 million revamp.
LISTEN TO: Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown discusses the 2008 financial bailout in a repeated episode of Radio 4’s Archive on 4 at 9 p.m.
FRIDAY FILM CLUB: Musical West Side Story from 1961 is on BBC Two on Saturday at 3.25 p.m. … and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic Psycho is also on BBC Two on Sunday at 11.30 p.m.
BURNT OFFERINGS: The Scotsman’s Alexander Brown resorted to promising baked goods in exchange for a lift to and from Tory conference.
NOAH’S CULTURE FIX: Tate Britain’s The Rossettis exhibition closes on Sunday … and a British Museum exhibition on migration also closes on Sunday.
NOW READ: In the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson analyzes Rishi Sunak’s decision on net zero, arguing the prime minister believes voters will reward him for confronting hard truths.
WRITING PLAYBOOK PM: Emilio Casalicchio.
WRITING PLAYBOOK MONDAY MORNING: Rosa Prince.
BIRTHDAYS: Former Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland … North Somerset MP Liam Fox … Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey … Former No. 10 aide turned-podcaster Jimmy McLoughlin … Head of the government’s communications service Alex Aiken … Labour Lords adviser Ian Parker.
Celebrating over the weekend: Former Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price … City of Chester MP Samantha Dixon … Lib Dem peer Floella Benjamin … U.K. Ambassador to the U.S. Karen Pierce … U.K. Ambassador to Italy Ed Llewellyn … Labour peer Jenny McIntosh … Former Tory peer Joan Hanham … Crossbench peer Colin Low … Former UKIP MEP William Legge … BBC correspondent Hilary Andersson … Labour adviser Emma Barnes … Tim Farron’s former Chief of Staff Ben Williams … barrister Cherie Blair … former Tamworth MP Chris Pincher … former Trade Minister Conor Burns … Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quin … Shadow Foreign Office Minister Anna McMorrin … Tory Deputy Chairman Matt Vickers turns 40 … UUP MLA Robin Swann … Trade Envoy to Algeria Richard Spring … DWP SpAd James Heywood … former Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter … Sunday Times Executive Editor Ben Preston turns 60.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editors Jack Lahart and Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Noah Keate and producer Seb Starcevic.
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