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Good Monday morning. This is Eleni Courea.
DRIVING THE DAY
THREE WEEKS ON: The war between Israel and Hamas and the political response to it continues to dominate the agenda and features on most of Monday’s front pages. But this week the SW1 spotlight is turning to two other things — a series of blockbuster COVID Inquiry hearings and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s landmark AI summit.
To kick things off this: Downing Street will hold a COBR meeting focused on domestic security this morning, a No. 10 official tells Playbook. The Times’ Matt Dathan reports that Home Secretary Suella Braverman will meet national security officials and police to assess the risk for the first time since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7.
ICYMI: POLITICO’s Tim Ross and Andrew McDonald reported 10 days ago that security services were considering raising the terror threat level in England, Scotland and Wales from “substantial” to “severe” or “critical.”
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On protests: The Mail, the Express and the Times all report that Braverman is looking at tweaks to the wording of existing laws to strengthen policing of the language and slogans at pro-Palestinian demos. The Times also reports that Communities Secretary Michael Gove is expected to announce a new, non-statutory definition of extremism by the end of the year.
Touching down: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and his Labour counterpart David Lammy have embarked on simultaneous but separate tours of the Middle East. Cleverly arrives in the UAE today and will meet his counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan for talks focused on stopping the conflict from spilling over into the wider region. Lammy arrives in Jordan today and will meet the foreign ministers of Jordan, Qatar and Egypt during his three-day trip.
HERE AT HOME: The COVID Inquiry is guaranteed to land major headlines this week, judging from the list of characters lined up to appear before its no-nonsense chair, Heather Hallett. The list of witnesses the inquiry is about to call up ranges from political aides — some of whom have an ax to grind — to lower-profile civil servants who were key to the pandemic response. Their collective evidence will shine a light on how the COVID crisis was handled by ex-PM Boris Johnson’s dysfunctional administration.
First up: Giving evidence this morning are Martin “Party Marty” Reynolds — who sent the infamous BYOB email inviting officials to drinks in the Downing Street garden — and Johnson’s former Private Secretary for Public Services Imran Shafi. In the afternoon the inquiry hears from Johnson’s first director of comms Lee Cain. The hearings are being live-streamed from Dorland House near Paddington.
Critically: It’s not just the hearings themselves that are potentially explosive, but the WhatsApp messages (h/t Political Currency) and the witness statements being published as evidence. My colleague Dan Bloom has a piece on how the disappearing messages feature on WhatsApp — used by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case among others — is changing transparency in Westminster. Half the Cabinet are using it, one official estimated.
Here’s a nugget: Two people told Dan a phone number that Sunak has used in the past was displaying a seven-day disappearing message timer. By last week, the number — which first emerged online in a prank video reported on by the Sun — appeared to have vanished off WhatsApp completely (as MailOnline spotted at the time). A No. 10 official said it wasn’t Sunak’s number but wouldn’t comment on whether it used to be.
Keep the popcorn flowing: Other box-office inquiry sessions this week involve Dominic Cummings on Tuesday (happy Halloween!) … former Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara on Wednesday … and former NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens and DHSC perm sec Chris Wormald on Thursday. Full schedule here. Case had been due to give evidence but is off on medical leave.
Mini teaser: BoJo “never warmed” to COBR meetings and didn’t like attending them as he had to come “away from his study,” MacNamara said in her witness statement — the Mirror’s John Stevens has the scoop.
TECH BROS OUT TO SAVE THE WORLD: What No. 10 wants to talk about is the highly anticipated AI summit taking place on Wednesday and Thursday at Bletchley Park (or at least a prefab conference center next to it). Its success has become a matter of legacy for the PM.
SCOOP — CHINA GAMBIT: Two well-placed U.K. officials tell Playbook that in the last few weeks, a decision was made to upgrade the level of invitation sent to China and address it to President Xi Jinping. Previously China was invited at a more junior level. It’s highly unlikely that Xi would attend — but inviting China at the highest level indicates how keen the U.K. is that Beijing sends representatives to Bletchley Park. If the U.K. succeeds in getting China and the U.S. in the same room this week to discuss AI it would be a diplomatic coup, my colleague Vincent Manancourt wrote in our curtain-raiser last week.
In response: A No. 10 official said there would be an update on attendees nearer to the date.
Cheery start: Tech sec Michelle Donelan warned overnight that AI would inevitably lead to job losses. A FocalData poll for Jimmy’s Jobs found that 64 percent of people thought the government should intervene to stop this.
NEVER MIND AI: Ministers are worrying about losing their jobs right now. Some good news for them — Sky’s Sam Coates told “Politics at Jack and Sam’s” on Sunday that he’s heard the reshuffle won’t take place in the near future and could be delayed to next year.
PARLIAMENT: Prorogued until November 7.
That’s lucky for … Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is facing the biggest parliamentary challenge to his leadership with more than a dozen frontbenchers breaking with Labour’s position by calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. As parliament isn’t sitting there’s no regular Monday PLP meeting this evening.
Instead: Starmer has a series of internal and external meetings mostly relating to the Israel-Palestine crisis. No word on whether he is seeing concerned MPs and peers (though the Times reports Muslim Labour parliamentarians will discuss next steps). A Labour official told Playbook that Starmer wasn’t planning to sack the frontbenchers who have strayed from the party line to urge a cease-fire or suspend the whip from leftist MPs who have gone further.
Where that leaves us: Waiting for potential resignations. As one hitherto loyal frontbencher put it to Playbook, the current situation leaves senior Labour MPs two options: “Break collective responsibility and call for a cease-fire and expect nothing to happen to you, or to follow your conscience … and resign.” They added: “This could be his Iraq moment, but unlike Blair, he doesn’t have a three figure majority to squander seats going into the next election.”
Opening the door to a compromise: Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones — who drew the short straw and is about to tour morning broadcast studios — told the BBC’s Westminster Hour that frontbenchers calling for a cease-fire “should continue to make their case to Keir Starmer … it’s right and proper that individual MPs represent their individual constituencies in Westminster.”
What that tells us: Starmer’s office has decided to allow MPs, including frontbenchers, to call for a cease-fire in Gaza if they want to — especially where they have large Muslim communities in their constituencies. A senior party official told the i’s Hugo Gye: “We understand where people are, and why they have that position given the constituencies they represent, but the party line is clear and won’t move.” Gye hears that the party is considering taking action against Andy McDonald for using the phrase “between the river and the sea” at a demo.
What Labour wants to talk about: Government defense projects running over budget have cost nearly £1 billion in a year, according to MoD stats crunched by Labour. The i has the story.
CALLING NOTICE: Are you a Tory who thinks the AI summit sounds a bit too wet and wonkish? Did you miss out on NatCon in the spring? You’re in luck — between Monday and Wednesday this week, leading lights from the right in the U.S., U.K. and other countries are gathering in London for the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship conference.
Who and where: The event is taking place in Greenwich in south-east London — home to the Liz Truss set which ran Britain for a brief time. And it is being backed by Paul Marshall and Christopher Chandler, the duo behind GB News (which has just signed on Boris Johnson as a presenter).
On today’s agenda: Tory peer and ARC Chief Exec Philippa Stroud is chairing introductory events from 9.30 a.m. with beef-eating psychologist and author Jordan Peterson, new U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (who?) and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy … Paul Marshall and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy are among the speakers at a panel on free markets.
Here’s a preview: McCarthy will say that while his removal as speaker of the House “surprised most of America,” no-confidence votes are a “familiar sight in Britain.” He’ll cite the oustings of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, though of course there are some more recent examples.
What this is about: From a U.K. perspective, with many Tories convinced that Sunak is on track to lose the next election, the lines are already being drawn in the battle for the future direction of the party. Like the NatCon gathering, this event is part of efforts to shift the political gravity in the Tory Party to the right and link up with like-minded politicians across the world.
Other interesting names billed to attend: Leveling-Up Secretary Michael Gove … Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch … trio of former Australian PMs John Howard, Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott … Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson … rising stars of the Tory right Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger … historian Niall Ferguson … columnist Toby Young … academic and commentator Matt Goodwin … Blue Labour architect Maurice Glasman … headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh … Tory peer David Frost … and slightly unexpectedly, former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.
**The British staycation trend is booming but are short-term lets causing housing woes? Join our experts in London on December 5 at POLITICO Live’s “The Housing Crisis: The Evolving Landscape” to explore the current state of the U.K. housing sector and discuss if changes are necessary. Apply to join onsite!**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
WILL TAXES FALL FOR FALL? There was lots in the weekend papers about Tory pressure for tax cuts in the Autumn Statement — now weeks away — and speculation that ministers are looking at stamp duty and inheritance tax as likely targets.
Fake it till you make it: The Telegraph’s Nick Gutteridge reports that Tory backbenchers led by John Redwood have submitted their own “draft Autumn Statement” to No. 10.
Watch this space: The Sunday Times reported that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will receive his next update on how much fiscal headroom he has from the OBR on Tuesday.
DON’T THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS? Immigration officers have had all their Christmas leave canceled ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision about the government’s Rwanda policy during the first two weeks of December, the ISU union’s Lucy Moreton told the i’s David Parsley.
MIGRATION NATION: Foreign worker visas are set to double in the next five years as people are recruited to take “skilled” jobs with shortages, internal Home Office estimates show — the Telegraph’s Charles Hymas has the story.
BROKEN BRITAIN: Britain’s public services risk getting stuck in a “perpetual state of crisis” and could be performing worse in 2027/28 than on the eve of the pandemic due to government spending plans, an IfG and Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy stocktake finds. The story splashes the Yorkshire Post.
STOP DIGGING: The U.K. has publicly backed a moratorium in deep-sea mining at least until its environmental effects are better understood, the FT’s Harry Dempsey reports. It brings the U.K. in line with more than 20 other countries including France and Germany.
LIB DEM WORLD: Lib Dem spinners have scheduled a “crime week” with a flurry of related announcements. (As Playbook readers know that never goes wrong.)
SW1 EVENTS: The Reform think tank hosts a discussion on the civil service with speakers including former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell at the RSA from 6 p.m.
Not in Westminster but: The Resolution Foundation holds an event about household wealth in Scotland with panelists including former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, political scientist John Curtice and Nicola Sturgeon’s former Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd in Edinburgh at 1.30 p.m.
BEYOND THE M25
POLLS APART: U.K. government ministers “need to be careful” and not rewrite Irish border poll rules “on the hoof,” Irish Tánaiste Micheál Martin told the BBC after Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker said such a vote should need a “super-majority” to win.
FRENCH REFORM: French President Emmanuel Macron announced his government plans to submit a draft law to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution — my colleague Federica Di Sario has a write-up.
TURKEY REMEMBERS: Turkey marked 100 years since the creation of its secular republic with muted celebrations months after an earthquake killed 50,000 people — AP has more.
ISRAEL-GAZA WAR UPDATE: Israel says its troops killed militants in direct clashes with Hamas in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, with Hamas fighters killed leaving a tunnel close to the Erez crossing — the Times has a write-up, with Israel’s expanded operation making the FT’s splash.
Life on the ground: Hundreds of people continue to shelter in a Gaza city hospital which Israeli authorities ordered to evacuate, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society — Sky News has the footage. The U.N.’s warning “civil order is starting to break down” as Palestinians raid warehouses for food splashes the Guardian and Times.
In Russia: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel “expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they may be” after hundreds of people stormed into the main airport of Russia’s Dagestan region to protest the arrival of an airline from Israel, forcing the airport to close — more here.
OPPOSITION CLAMPDOWN: Bangladesh’s opposition leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was arrested after violent antigovernment protests in the capital Dhaka as protestors called for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s resignation — via the BBC.
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Education Minister Robert Halfon broadcast round: Times Radio (7.05 a.m.) … Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … GMB (8.30 a.m.) … GB News (9.10 a.m.).
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones broadcast round: GMB (6.45 a.m.) … LBC News (7.25 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.10 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Jonathan Hall (7.20 a.m.) … former Israeli Ambassador to the U.K. Mark Regev (8.05 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Royal United Services Institute Associate Fellow Samuel Ramani (7.05 a.m.) … Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (7.10 a.m.) … Police Foundation Director Rick Muir (8.20 a.m.).
Also on GB News Breakfast: DUP MP Sammy Wilson (7.10 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein … Labour’s Barry Gardiner … the Guardian’s Rafael Behr … former Tory SpAd Anita Boateng.
Mariella Frostrup (Times Radio): Former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland (2 p.m.).
**Playbook is going Global! Never miss a beat on the global events shaping power, politics and policy with our latest newsletter, POLITICO Global Playbook. Get your VIP pass to the world’s most influential gatherings today. Register here.**
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
POLITICO UK: The British government’s disappearing WhatsApps.
Daily Express: Middle East on precipice.
Daily Mail: Watching the fierce combat we’re like spectators in a vast, bloodied colosseum.
Daily Mirror: Our best friend.
Daily Star: Whiff whiff woof.
Financial Times: Israeli forces “gradually expanding” Gaza ground assault against Hamas.
Metro: We’ve lost a great Friend.
The Daily Telegraph: Hamas blocks exit of foreign citizens.
The Guardian: U.N. says civil order in Gaza is starting to break down.
The Sun: Friend to the end.
The Times: U.N. warning on Gaza as desperation takes hold.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain with 15C highs.
NEW GIG: Peter Cardwell has been promoted to presenter and chief political commentator for TalkTV.
CONGRATS TO: Shadow Armed Forces Minister Luke Pollard and his partner Sydney who celebrated their anniversary.
GET WELL SOON: Tory MP Craig Mackinlay is recovering from sepsis after being placed in an induced coma with multiple organ failures.
NOAH’S CULTURE FIX: Musician Brian Eno and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic perform at the Royal Festival Hall from 6.30 p.m.
Or listen to: The future of American democracy ahead of next year’s presidential election is explored in Election Countdown: America on the Edge on Radio 4 at 8 p.m. … and Radio 4’s Analysis examines the constitutional future of France after President Emmanuel Macron leaves office in 2027 at 8.30 p.m.
Coming soon: Keeping the Red Flag Flying: The Labour Party in Opposition since 1922 by academics Mark Garnett, Gavin Hyman and Richard Johnson is available to pre-order ahead of its publication in April 2024.
WRITING PLAYBOOK PM: Emilio Casalicchio.
WRITING PLAYBOOK TUESDAY MORNING: Rosa Prince.
BIRTHDAYS: POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson … Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter … DHSC Permanent Secretary Chris Wormald …Labour peer David Triesman turns 80 … former Council of the EU Secretary-General Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen … The Times’ Brussels Correspondent Bruno Waterfield … U.K. in a Changing Europe’s Jill Rutter … former White House Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editors Jack Lahart and Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Noah Keate and producer Dato Parulava.
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