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Farage against the machine

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Good Thursday morning. This is Dan Bloom. Eleni Courea will return to finish the week.


WHAT EVERYONE IS *STILL* TALKING ABOUT: The City turmoil, £850 million share wipeout, heavy No. 10 intervention and divergent Labour line — none of which could have happened if Nigel Farage had not tweeted a 365-second clip about his bank account shutting 28 days ago. That’s right, this story has now outlasted a full cycle of the moon.

Dominant: With recess giving editors little distraction, the row splashes the iIndependent, Telegraph, FT, City A.M. and Guardian. After NatWest Chief Executive Alison Rose’s 1.29 a.m. resignation for leaking to the BBC (we did all that on Wednesday) the fallout basically splits into five categories: New threats to the bank and its board … questions over Rose’s payoff … the wider impact on customers … inside-the-room looks at what happened … and Labour’s not exactly united response. Let’s whip through them in turn.

WHAT NOW FOR NATWEST: The Telegraph splashes on the Information Commissioner’s warning that banks must “follow the law” under the headline: “NatWest may have broken law.” But it also has sources saying the bank would be more likely to face a civil penalty than prosecution. 

The bigger problem for now … is for bank Chairman Howard Davies, who stood by Rose on Tuesday — only to perform a colossal U-turn when the government conveyed its displeasure. An investor tells the FT Davies is “clearly not in charge” while another says: “My suspicion is that he will end up going but probably shouldn’t have to.”

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WHAT NOW FOR ROSE: The Times reports the £5.25 million-a-year CEO may get a payoff of up to a year’s salary, which Farage (surprise!) opposes. We may only find out in NatWest’s annual report next year. The Business Department has become the third to boot her off a government body, this time the “Rose Review” of women’s enterprise. It’s … gonna change its name.

Someone’s briefing the press again! Rose’s allies tell the FT she has been “extraordinarily poorly treated” and losing her job was “disproportionate” to her mistakes — especially compared to “many more astonishing cases” of CEOs whom No. 10 didn’t shove to the cliff edge.

SOMEONE GET THIS GUY A COLUMN: TV presenter and former politician Farage is planning to launch a “very large database” of other “de-banked” people in the coming days, he writes in the Telegraph. The Federation of Small Businesses tells the i it is hearing of “more and more” firms having their accounts closed without explanation.

Farage against the machine: My colleague Andrew McDonald has talked to those who know Farage about why he can still “touch the clitoris of public opinion” (yes, really) and “run rings” round the establishment. Well, the bits of establishment he’s not already part of.

INSIDE THE ROOM: Hacks have clearly relished the chance to write big features on how it was done. The Mail’s Andrew Pierce says a “visibly breathless” official slid NatWest’s initial defense of Rose across the table to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, at which point his “jaw literally dropped.” After Rose’s resignation, Treasury Minister Andrew Griffith sent a 6.45 a.m. one-word text to selected journalists: “Victory.”

How it went down: An official tells Playbook Treasury officials did not realize in advance that Rose was going to try to cling on. Once Hunt saw the NatWest statement, he and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decided her position was untenable. A senior Treasury official “swiftly communicated” this to Davies, who called a fresh board meeting. A government figure tells the FT: “There was not an explicit demand for her resignation. It was more a case of handing the board a loaded revolver and leaving them to it.” 

MEANWHILE, THE OTHER ARGUMENT: The Guardian’s very different tack reflects that of grumbling Labour MPs, who are fed up of Farage masterfully steering the news agenda with one pinky finger. Under the headline “PM ‘damaging U.K. plc,’” the paper goes in on officials’ “real disquiet” that No. 10 and the Treasury let it be known they had lost confidence in Rose.

One problem: Labour has not exactly sung from one sheet. Before Rose resigned, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told Channel 4 News there were “bullying attitudes towards her” as a woman … then Shadow Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said No. 10’s pressure was “astonishing” … but leader Keir Starmer then said NatWest was in the wrong and he felt sorry for Farage. The Mail has a spread on “Labour chaos.”

Here’s a theory: The Bloomberg team’s analysis says the Treasury felt it had to act over a breach of client confidentiality — but it also “suits Sunak” to unite his MPs against a common enemy and “divert public attention away” from crises in health and housing.

WHAT EVERYONE IS ARGUING ABOUT: Emily Maitlis complaining Farage has turned “utter entitlement into victimhood.” 

What they’ll argue about next: The “new elite” is “curtailing free speech” and “silencing” dissent, writes Matthew Goodwin in a 1,000-word column in the Sun, one of the country’s best-read newspapers.

WAIT TILL TWITTER HEARS ABOUT THIS: A Telegraph eyebrow-raiser says a hedge fund run by Paul Marshall made about £5 million in gains on Wednesday by shorting NatWest. Marshall is the big-ticket investor in … checks notes … GB News, where Farage has been attacking the bank nightly. (The Tel does, however, add the bet was “mostly computer-driven” and the short began in March.)

In praise of Farage: Among those hailing his “seismic victory” was fellow GB News presenter Dan Wootton, who in unrelated news, remains very much in post and on air despite the Byline Times continuing to publish lurid allegations about his past behavior. Wootton has said “a hard left blog is on a deranged campaign of harassment.”

Coming attraction: NatWest posts its half-year results Friday.


MEANWHILE, IN END OF WORLD NEWS: The first 40-degree heat wave helped make 2022 the U.K.’s warmest year on record — but it will be the norm by 2060, and cool by comparison in 2100, the Met Office’s annual State of the U.K. Climate says today. Royal Meteorological Society Chief Executive Liz Bentley says: “2022 for me was very much a sign of things to come.”

Report in numbers: It was the warmest year recorded in a series dating back to 1659 … All four seasons in 2022 were individually in the top 10 warmest since 1884 … the last decade was 1.1 degrees warmer than 1961-1990 … and sea levels around the U.K. rose 11.4cm in 30 years. PA has some of the key stats, while Chatham House holds a panel from noon on how the world can adapt.

BUT BUT BUT … Both main parties are agonizing over how to tackle it without losing an election in the process.

FIRST THE TORIES: The race to dump “green cr*p” drives on as Toyota and Honda both urge the government to relax the “zero emissions vehicle mandate” — which could force them to make 22 percent of their cars and vans green from January. The Telegraph got statements from both firms and a government source in “listening” mode.

Electric cul-de-sac: Tory London mayoral candidate Susan Hall is the latest to stick her oar in over the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars — telling the Spectator’s James Heale it is “not going to happen.”

Cool the engines: It’s “false” to say there’s a hard 2030 deadline — and the brewing debate over it is “unhelpful,” because it distracts from the more pressing issue of a Brexit cliff-edge that could make EV exports to the EU more expensive on January 1. That’s according to Mike Hawes of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, who spoke to reporters including my colleague Graham Lanktree.

By the numbers: British automotive exports rose 13.6 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to last year, say SMMT figures out overnight. 

OK, NOW LABOUR: Yet more grueling red-on-red for London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves tells the Sun’s Natasha Clark “with the cost of living, it doesn’t feel like the right time to clobber people” by expanding the ultra-low emissions zone. Starmer told Labour’s ruling body this week (more below) that he knows ULEZ cost it the Uxbridge by-election, as the party had detailed data on the issues driving voting behavior.

Ratcheting up the pressure: Neither Starmer nor Reeves are saying the ULEZ expansion on August 29 should go ahead on schedule, with Starmer mincing his words (via the Mail) and Reeves telling the Sun: “I would like it to be rethought.”

EVEN HE’S AT IT: Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has suggested a toughening-up of EPC ratings could be, er, weakened, according to the Herald.

WON’T SEE THIS ON A LEAFLET: Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham told TalkTV there should be more “incentive” than “lecturing” on getting to net zero. Likewise Ed Conway, in his Times column, argues there should be “more carrot, less stick” as the costs of net zero are mostly front-loaded. There’s just one catch … the “break-even year” may only be 2080.

Catchy: Robert Shrimsley in the FT coins a phrase for the Tory strategy against green and trans campaigners, judges, lawyers and the media — the War on Big Everything.

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: That other uncontroversial issue, housing. An announcement on homes provision in London is due today, after Leveling-Up Secretary Michael Gove said this week the capital has been building “as few as 30,000 homes a year” despite needing 52,000. Gove wants a “Docklands 2.0” extension of homes along the Thames. Khan’s team insist more homes have been delivered per year than under Mayor Boris Johnson.

The flag-bearer for that one: Sunak will visit a housing site in London and record a pool clip late morning.

Good timing: ONS stats on how affordable houses are drop at 9.30 a.m. 

BUT OTHERWISE: It’s recessy. Very recessy. Your author bravely witnessed the hordes of staffers in their shirtsleeves outside the Red Lion early on Wednesday evening. Seldom has there been a more impressive PCH-to-pub occupancy ratio. Keir Starmer is in internal meetings. Sunak hung out with Ryan Reynolds on Tuesday. There’s very little on the diary … And now, of course, we’ve jinxed it. 


FOOD FIGHT: Forget shredding his 10 pledges — is this Keir Starmer’s most polarizing moment yet? “Oh, the food in the House of Commons is … nothing special,” the pescatarian Labour leader told singer Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast. “Somebody needs to set up a really nice sort of restaurant or takeaway.” 

Don’t let the catering team hear that: Has he not had Strangers Dining Room fish? Adjournment pizza? Jerk chicken? The Lords, given he wants a “really nice fresh salad bar?” Or, frankly, tried to find anywhere for a similar price-to-quality ratio locally? Perhaps there’s a good explanation. “There’s almost never a slot put in my diary for lunch,” he lamented.

SCOOP — LABOUR UPROOTED AGAIN: He may be a food snob, but at least Starmer understands the woes of London’s short-term rental market. Sort of. Three Labour officials told Playbook the party is moving HQ again soon after October’s party conference — despite only relocating from long-term base Southside to a flashy open-plan Blackfriars office in December, at great faff.

Planning for 3 terms? Playbook hears party officials have been assured the office is on a 15-year lease this time, unlike Blackfriars which had a short lease to 2025. The still-under-construction HQ in Rushworth Street, Southwark, is 100 meters away from Labour’s current base, staff were told on Tuesday.

Meanwhile at the NEC: Labour’s ruling body met on Tuesday and was told there will be a “review” to “learn lessons” from the Selby and Uxbridge by-election, says a readout on NEC member Luke Akehurst’s blog. Campaign Director Morgan McSweeney said he had been studying “complacency” in campaigns like Neil Kinnock’s in 1992 and Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. Snap and general election plans will be updated. 

Numbers game: NEC members were told Labour membership is now 385,324, Akehurst wrote. That is down 10k from 395,811 in May and down considerably more since the days of Corbyn. But the party is turning more to private donors, with 590 in the “Rose Network” who give at least £1,000 a year each.

Bearing that out: The Spectator’s cover story on Labour’s “new paymasters” looks at how it’s turning back to a millionaire “load of centrist dads” — including former Tory supporters — with introductions being done by well-connected Brunswick Group Chairman Alan Parker.

POLICY EXPRESS: Just like the government, Labour’s summer grid of save-uppable material is in full swing — with Rachel Reeves telling the Sun she would tell supermarkets to stock their cheaper own-brand products in smaller stores, not just cavernous mega-marts. The party also has analysis claiming coach fares are up 84 percent since 2010, and “beef and veal” for a summer BBQ is “up by 16.2 percent in the last two years alone.”

Shadow boxing: Labour’s campaign chief Shabana Mahmood has defended *those* attack ads in a New Statesman interview, telling Rachel Wearmouth: “It’s not so much a case of taking the gloves off. I’ve never had any gloves on.”

ALTERNATE REALITY: Meanwhile, the New Statesman’s Andrew Marr has interviewed Tony Blair at his institute full of “hyper-educated, beautiful young people with transatlantic accents,” which to your author sounds like a Bond villain’s volcano HQ. The ex-PM insists “at some point a future generation will take Britain back into Europe” — and says “engaging with China” is the only way climate change will be solved. Good luck, as they say, with that.


ANCIENT HISTORY NEWS: Remember that OBR forecast that Chancellor (checks notes) Kwasi Kwarteng didn’t release? Well, it come out on Wednesday after a freedom of information battle — and shows the watchdog was predicting a “year-long recession” and rising borrowing costs in the run-up to last September’s mini-budget. The FT and Guardian are among those writing it up.

BOOK THROWN: Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has written to the Solicitors Regulation Authority urging the “full force of sanctions” against immigration lawyers exposed by the Daily Mail. The paper’s day three splash also has Sunak calling its investigation “truly shocking” and saying any lawyers who’ve lied to help economic migrants claim asylum must “face the full consequences.” 

RELOCATION, RELOCATION, RELOCATION: Planned regional “hubs” to move civil servants outside Whitehall have been downsized because so many are WFH after the pandemic, according to the small print of a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report spotted by the Times.

HIT ‘EM WHERE IT HURTS: Parliament should “look carefully” at revoking rule-breaking MPs’ pensions, standards Commissioner Daniel Greenberg has told Times Radio.

READY FOR CHRISTMAS: Is it that time already? Care “traffic control” centers, additional ambulance hours and more beds will help prepare for a “difficult winter” under NHS plans published today. More via PA.

Data dump: The NHS is publishing figures today on the NHS workforce, sickness absences and GP appointments.

Don’t tell these guys: Patients face “catastrophic health impacts” due to vital appointments being postponed and canceled, warns a Healthwatch England report.

COVID’S LOST KIDS: The Times splashes on research from the Centre for Social Justice think tank suggesting there could be 9,000 more young offenders by 2027, because school absences have risen — and absent children are more likely to move on to crime.

DEATH BY MORTGAGE: Ministers are looking at the benefits of longer-term fixed-rate mortgages (currently pretty rare) as an option for first-time buyers. TheTelegraph’s Ruby Hinchliffe has a readout from Treasury Minister Andrew Griffith’s meeting last week with MPs, the Bank of England and lenders offering 40-year deals, where he said he was “definitely interested.” The problem, as one official tells Playbook, is: “Who would fix at 6 percent for 40 years?”

DEATH AND TAXES: The Express splashes on Treasury figures that showed 3.73 percent of U.K. deaths in 2020/21 resulted in inheritance tax. Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg says it’s “grave robbing” as the average bill fell slightly since the previous year to £214,000.

But but but … The proportion of estates paying has been “relatively flat” since 2017. The number of estates paying did rise by 4,000 or 17 percent, but that’s “likely” because deaths rose generally as COVID hit.

SAFETY FIRST: Onerous anti-terror regulations would place a “significant and disproportionate burden” on smaller venues and put them at risk of closure without making a difference to public safety, a Home Affairs Committee report says.

MEANWHILE IN COVID: The Guardian investigations team has highlighted a £20 million-plus COVID “VIP lane” contract with a recruitment firm, from which it says the government may not recover a penny.

BITTER PILL: The U.K. is at risk of losing its position as a global vaccination leader without addressing uptake and clinical trials bureaucracy, a Health and Social Care Committee report declares.

COURT OF DISAPPROVAL: Campaigners have won a court order that says the Home Office must now assess trafficking victims who have a criminal record before denying them support, writes the Guardian.

PARLIAMENT: In recess.

NOT SEXIST! Tory London mayoral candidate Susan Hall has declined to say *that* Standard front page was sexist in her first interview since it happened. But she tells the Spectator’s James Heale: “I thought: I won’t put that picture on Tinder. Can you imagine waking up next to that? No, no. But they’ll throw lots at me and they always will. I’ve got very thick skin.”

SEXIST! Hall does however say her Labour rival Sadiq Khan is a “sexist misogynist” for the way he sacked Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick last year.

KNOCKED BACK: The free-market IEA think tank has “reviewed the academic literature” and found advertising bans have no significant effect on demand for alcohol. The Express writes it up as the “SNP humiliated.”


CITIZENS UNITED: Anyone born outside an independent Scotland will be entitled to dual citizenship if at least one of their parents is Scottish — like the Irish system, First Minister Humza Yousaf will announce at a 9.40 a.m. round table. The story splashes the National. Now all he needs is, er, an independent Scotland.

A fellow citizen speaks: SNP MSP Fergus Ewing told the Holyrood Sources podcast Yousaf should “detach” himself from the SNP’s agreement with the Greens and the party is “toxic.” It’s all going terribly well.

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