Press play to listen to this article
By ALEX WICKHAM
Send tips here | Subscribe for free | Listen to Playbook and view in your browser
Good Monday morning. It is one hell of a news day.
SUV, PPE, WTF: There is general bewilderment Stateside at the images of U.S. President Donald Trump — who still has COVID-19 — waving to supporters outside the Walter Reed Medical Center from his armored SUV alongside a PPE-clad driver and several secret service agents.
THE BACKLASH: Dr. James P. Phillips, a doctor at Walter Reed, tweeted: “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity. That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID-19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding.”
WHAT TRUMP SAYS: In a video from hospital, the president said he wanted to give the “great patriots” supporting him a “little surprise.” He also talked about learning from the virus: “It’s been a very interesting journey — I learned a lot about COVID-19. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school. And I get it. And I understand it. And it’s a very interesting thing, and I’m going to be letting you know about it.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Trump’s physicians yesterday painted a conflicting picture of his health. They acknowledged he is ill enough to have needed oxygen and steroid treatments, but also said they might let him go home to the White House on Monday. Whether he does or doesn’t is the main question of the day.
Meanwhile … Democrat candidate Joe Biden tested negative again overnight.
**A message from Diageo: Pubs, bars and restaurants across the U.K. need urgent help. With winter approaching and the latest restrictions in place, businesses now face the prospect of laying off staff or closing altogether. Through Raising the Bar, we’re doing all we can to support the hospitality sector through the winter. Find out how we can help here.**
DRIVING THE DAY
YESTERDAY’S UK CORONAVIRUS STATS: 22,961 new cases, ⬆️ 10,089 on Saturday … 33 deaths, ⬇️ 16 on Saturday.
COMPUTER SAYS OH NO: Health Secretary Matt Hancock will come to the Commons this afternoon to make a statement on last night’s astonishing admission by Public Health England that a “technical issue” meant nearly 16,000 positive coronavirus cases weren’t registered on its data system between September 25 and October 2. Playbook is told Hancock will be up in the House around 3.30 p.m.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The problem occurred when test result data from labs wasn’t successfully transferred onto the actual dashboards that report the numbers. PHE says some files containing positive test results — unbelievably — exceeded the maximum file size that can be loaded onto their central system, and so they were missed. It’s now splitting the large files into two so it doesn’t happen again. Seriously.
HOW THAT LOOKS: Most of the missed cases happened during the last three days of the mess-up. On September 30, the official figure given was 7,108 positive results, but another 3,049 were missing. On October 1, they originally reported 6,914 cases, but 4,133 more weren’t counted. On October 2, the original figure given was 6,968, though another 4,786 cases were missed.
IN OTHER WORDS: Brief hopes within Downing Street and the department of health last week that the “rule of six” might be working and that cases were starting to flatten have been royally dashed. But the 10,000-plus jump on the previous day’s figures isn’t a reflection of the true rate of new infections either.
WHY THIS MATTERS: It isn’t just a stats error. The real problem is that the 16,000 missing positive cases were not contact traced, meaning a dangerous potential for carriers to have spread the virus further as NHS Test and Trace races to go through the backlog. Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth says: “This is just shambolic.” Hancock is in for a kicking in parliament later.
WORLD-BEATING LATEST: A blame game is already brewing between Tory peer Dido Harding’s Test and Trace and PHE. Some in Whitehall are pointing the finger straight at their favorite PHE punching bag, with one official telling Playbook: “This is another sad example that PHE is not fit for purpose and needs genuine root and branch reform. If we are honest, everything they have touched in the last nine months has turned to complete sh*t.” But PHE says it’s Test and Trace’s fault. A PHE official tells Sky’s Rowland Manthorpe: “We report the data when they send it. We didn’t get it.” There will be a lot more on this to come today — all under the subtext of PHE’s imminent abolition, to be replaced by a new public health body run by … Dido Harding.
NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE: “Manchester’s COVID rate is likely to ‘easily’ top 500 cases/100k due to this backlog issue,” Jen Williams of the Manchester Evening News reports. And ITV’s Robert Peston adds that “the North West, North East and Yorkshire seem to be seeing worsening rates of infection relative to the rest of the country — even though they are subject to tighter behavioral restrictions and already suffer from greater viral prevalence.”
QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK: Why do cases seem to be spiraling out of control in the North? Why do the local lockdowns not appear to be working? Will No. 10 take further measures there?
CODE RED: The Guardian’s Jess Elgot and Heather Stewart have got the receipts on the worst-kept secret in Whitehall: The government is planning a three-tier local lockdown system for England. Documents leaked to the paper show potential harsher restrictions in the worst-affected areas, including the closure of pubs and a ban on all social contact outside household groups. An indicator of what could be coming to areas of the North if cases continue to rise.
GOING VIRAL: Gallows humor among special advisers over the weekend, who shared over WhatsApp this viral graphic parodying a “Government COVID-19 law generator” where you use the month you were born, your mother’s birthday and the first letter of your surname to come up with a ridiculous joke corona restriction.
WHAT’S THE REST OF EUROPE DOING? Ireland is facing the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, with indoor gatherings set to be banned and hospitality reduced to takeaway only … Paris has been placed on France’s “maximum alert level,” meaning bars in the city will be forced to close for two weeks from Tuesday … Italy will impose new national restrictions this week, likely to include the limiting of social gatherings and the mandating of masks outdoors, but not a full country-wide lockdown … Meanwhile, both Germany and Spain implemented new restrictions last week following rising cases, with the former announcing restrictions on the size of gatherings nationwide and the latter partially locking down Madrid.
IN OTHER MAJOR NEWS: A gut-punch from the FT’s Anna Gross and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe: Less than half the U.K. population will actually be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Kate Bingham, the head of the government’s vaccine task force, tells the paper that vaccinating everyone in Britain is “not going to happen,” adding: “We just need to vaccinate everyone at risk.” That is, er, not exactly the rhetoric we’ve been getting from ministers.
SO WHO WILL GET IT? Bingham explains that only around 30 million Brits will be vaccinated. “People keep talking about ‘time to vaccinate the whole population,’ but that is misguided. There’s going to be no vaccination of people under 18. It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable.” Her words are being backed by the government this morning. A Whitehall official says: “Kate and the task force are doing an amazing job supporting vaccine development and purchasing candidates.”
HERE ARE THE DETAILS: The official points Playbook to the latest advice from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which lists those likely to be offered the vaccine in order of priority: 1) Older adults resident in a care home and care home workers … 2) Those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers … 3) Those 75 years of age and over … 4) Those 70 years of age and over … 5) Those 65 years of age and over … 6) High-risk adults under 65 years of age … 7) Moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age … 8) All those 60 years of age and over … 9) All those 55 years of age and over … 10) All those 50 years of age and over … 11) The rest of the population.
THAT MEANS: If you’re under 50 and you thought you might be liberated by a vaccine in six months or so, you’re probably gonna have to wait a lot longer. Joy.
TORY ZOOM CONFERENCE
RISHI’S BIG DAY: Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his virtual Tory conference speech at 11.50 a.m. According to the pre-briefed extracts, Sunak will: commit himself to “a single priority” to “create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can” … admit “the pain” of knowing he can’t protect every job “only grows with each passing day” … acknowledge “difficult trade-offs and decisions” during the pandemic … and pay a “heartfelt tribute” to the prime minister. Sunak has given an interview to good cop Harry Cole and bad cop Matt Dathan in the Sun — Playbook gives you the top lines …
TOP LINE 1: Sunak “repeatedly” told the Sun he finds the controversial 10 p.m. pub and restaurant curfew “frustrating.”He said: “Is it frustrating, right? Everyone is very frustrated and exhausted and tired about all of this.”
TOP LINE 2: After Boris Johnson yesterday appeared to suggest the chancellor’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme might have helped spread the virus, Sunak insisted he had no regrets: “No, no, no, no, definitely not. We had an industry that I care deeply about because of employment. It’s over 2 million people.”
TOP LINE 3: But he moved to dispel rumors of a rift between himself and the PM, praising Johnson as “extraordinary.”
TOP LINE 4: Sunak had what appears to be a slap down for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Cabinet “doves” led by Hancock: “I don’t think it’s wrong for people to want to strive for normality and I don’t think it’s wrong for the government to want that for people.”
TOP LINE 5: Asked about his “Dishy Rishi” Westminster pin-up status, the chancellor said: “Hopefully that’s not what people are focusing on,” but added that anything that makes him more “accessible as an individual” helps him sell his economic message.
AFTER THE SPEECH: iNHouse will be hosting Sunak in conversation at 12.15 p.m. in the “virtual Lounge.” People can submit questions once they join the session. All of iNHouse’s event chairs this year are women: asking the questions will be Caroline Wheeler, Esther Webber and Kate McCann, among others.
WHAT LABOUR’S SAYING: Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds warns this morning that nearly 1 million people living under local lockdowns face a “jobs cliff edge” when the furlough scheme ends in a few weeks’ time. Analysis by Labour claims 490,000 people still on furlough are now living under localized restrictions and another 480,000 are living in towns or cities on the national watch list. They say that means thousands of people living in the North and Midlands now risk losing their jobs, including 43,000 people in Birmingham, 19,400 across Durham and 11,500 in Bolton.
WHAT YOU MISSED THIS WEEKEND: Viewers on Saturday struggled to watch Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove say he wants to move civil service jobs out of London … Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab admitted he feared the PM could have died from COVID … Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross attacked his party colleagues in the government for forgetting that “unionism is in [the party’s] DNA” … and on Sunday Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would overhaul the “fundamentally broken” asylum system.
**Register today to POLITICO’s Spotlight on securing digital infrastructures happening during the Aspen Institute Romania’s Bucharest Forum 2020 on October 15 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. CEST. Join our panel of experts as they will explore how Europe is faring on securing its critical infrastructure and what can be improved.**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
MORNING COFFEY: Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey has the morning broadcast round for the government, where she is likely to be grilled on the PHE mess but will nonetheless do her best to announce the launch of her new JETS scheme — that’s “Job Entry Targeted Support” — aimed at getting recently unemployed people back to work. Coffey has given an interview to Delphine Strauss and George Parker in the FT where she says: “I want to make sure people keep a roof over their heads” this winter.
IN PARLIAMENT: Oral questions for Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick at 2.30 p.m., where he will likely be asked about this George Grylls Times story today: “A housing development in Boris Johnson’s constituency has had its planning permission blocked after he said he opposed the scheme.” Jenrick also has an interview in today’s Guardian where he says the looming economic crisis keeps him awake at night … Then it’s the Hancock statement at 3.30 p.m. … Then it’s the second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, which critics say permit British spies to use torture. Then they’re voting on the October recess.
GRIMES DOESN’T PAY: “The chairman of the election watchdog will be made to stand down under pressure from Conservatives over its failed attempt to give itself more powers,” the Times‘ Eleni Courea reports. “Sir John Holmes, who chairs the Electoral Commission, is understood to have been told by MPs that he cannot extend his term for another four years.”
GREAT TALE … from the Guardian’s Alex Hern, who says the House of Commons’ Twitter account has been banned from tweeting the results of votes after Tory MPs complained it was breaking impartiality rules when one tweet went viral.
COMMITTEE CORRIDOR: Three ministerial appearances on committee corridor this afternoon to choose from, most interestingly at the Commons European scrutiny committee. Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt will answer questions on the work of the joint committee and the Internal Market Bill, in a must-watch for Brexit ultras (2.30 p.m.) … Starting at the same time, Defense Ministers Annabel Goldie and Johnny Mercer will take questions on the Overseas Operations Bill in front of the joint committee on human rights.
IN THE LORDS: The government’s post-Brexit immigration bill is facing multiple defeats in the Lords today, with peers demanding greater safeguards for EU children in care and unaccompanied refugees. The Indy’s Ashley Cowburn has the story.
SPEAKING OF BREXIT: What actually happens if there is no deal with the EU? POLITICO’s crack team has all the answers.
NOT IN WESTMINSTER, BUT: Despite the tense diplomatic tensions with Beijing over Hong Kong and 5G, Chinese leader Xi Jinping looks to have done Boris Johnson a huge (and perhaps unintended) favor by pledging China will become carbon neutral by 2060, POLITICO’s Karl Mathiesen and Charlie Cooper report.
RUPERT 💙 RISHI: Playbook hears 89-year-old News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch was in town recently to meet the next generation of Conservative Cabinet ministers. “Uncle Rupe” had separate drinks with a host of Tory rising stars, and is said to have been most impressed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. And just like that, Sunak’s conference interview today splashes the Sun.
MAIL PRIDE: Daily Mail Editor Geordie Grieg has also been hosting Cabinet ministers recently, but with less happy results. One who had lunch with him tells Playbook that Grieg spent the whole time loudly laying into Boris Johnson and Downing Street, making the hour rather awkward. The minister then told the story to their Cabinet colleagues, who revealed the same thing had happened to them.
UNHERD, UNFED: Drama between Freddie Sayers’ UnHerd and Westminster foodies over the website’s decision to buy up the much-loved Pickles cafe on Old Queen Street as its new office. Pickles, as seen in “The Thick Of It,” was especially popular with Tory campaign boss Isaac Levido and co during the election, not to mention the Spectator staff a few doors down. Now it’ll be producing filler of a different kind.
PLEASE, NO MOORE: Robbie Gibb has emerged as a surprise frontrunner to be new BBC chairman, the Telegraph’s Chris Hope reports. How long before that one goes the same way as that genius Charles Moore briefing from last week.
JOY ABOUNDS … in the Express newsroom this morning after Donald Trump inexplicably tweeted out a link to its write-up of a favorable poll last night. “Even when recovering in hospital from a nasty bout of coronavirus, the president knows to read his Express,” one hack there texts implausibly.
FAREWELL: BBC Political Correspondent Ross Hawkins is leaving after 19 years, Playbook hears, to join PR outfit Hawthorn Advisors. Ex-Today Editor Sarah Sands works there, as does former Johnson adviser Guto Harri. Ker-ching.
HELLO AGAIN: Lobby veteran Rob Hutton is back, having joined the Critic as its sketchwriter. Here’s his latest.
YAS QUEEN: In a message marking the start of Journalism Matters Week, the queen has pointedly praised “the established news media” for its work during the coronavirus, in sharp contrast to up-and-coming digital publications and social media. Don’t tell Harry.
CHANGE IS COMING: Following Tom Bower’s latest lurid biography serialized in the Mail on Sunday, the PM has earned sympathy from an unlucky source. A Jeremy Corbyn-era Labour adviser, who themselves had to deal with a blistering Bower book about their own leader, tells Playbook: “Maybe us and Boris can team up to write a biography of Tom Bower and see how he likes it.”
BEYOND THE M25
Merkel vs. the internet: Three years after Germany controversially introduced one of the toughest rulebooks in any Western democracy on what is and isn’t OK to say online, POLITICO’s Janosch Delcker looks at how the big experiment has played out. The balancing act of cleaning up the internet while protecting free speech is a difficult one, and there are plenty of lessons to learn from Germany’s NetzDG.
Un-herding: Sweden did not attempt to reach herd immunity to the coronavirus, the country’s ambassador to the U.K. has claimed. In an interview with Times Radio, Torbjörn Sohlström said herd immunity was “not part of the strategy” and the government was instead focused on reaching sustainable solutions without damaging the economy. He also admitted that capital Stockholm had failed to protect its weak and elderly. Sweden famously pursued a strategy of letting its citizens make their own day-to-day decisions rather than locking down, only issuing limited guidance on social distancing and hand washing. It now ranks fourth in the EU for total infections per million citizens. Full story from POLITICO’s Thibault Larger.
Here’s the pope: Pope Francis warned against “aggressive” nationalism and the “magic theories” of market capitalism in the third encyclical — the remarkably long letter addressed to all Catholics — of his papacy on Sunday. He also spoke of a “growing loss” of history and increasing isolation, expanding on familiar themes he has spoken of before. You can read the full 45,000 word document here — or if you’re short of time the Guardian has a more concise summary.
**A message from Diageo: Pubs and bars play an essential role in bringing people together to socialize and celebrate. They also sustain a million jobs in the U.K. For many young people, they provide a first foot on the employment ladder. However, with winter approaching and the latest restrictions in place, the future recovery of this vital sector is now in serious danger. Over the summer, venues have gone to great lengths to ensure they are safe and secure for people to visit. Through our Raising the Bar program we have already provided 14,000 PPE kits and over 8,000 recycled takeaway kits to registered venues across the U.K. More needs to be done however. It is now crucial that we and the Government support local pubs and bars to ensure jobs are saved and livelihoods protected. If there is a local near you that could benefit from our Raising the Bar program, find out more here.**
Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey broadcast round: Times Radio (7.07 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … Today program (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.10 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.30 a.m.) … LBC Radio (8.50 a.m.).
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (6.50 a.m.) … Today program (7.15 a.m.) … Sky News (7.35 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley at Breakfast (Sky News): “Trump Nation” author Tim O’Brien (7.05 a.m.) … Former Tory leader Michael Howard (8.20 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Deputy Mayor of London Victoria Borwick (7.05 a.m.) … Former Deputy Chief Executive of the Border Agency David Wood (8.05 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast show: Crossbench peer Ken Macdonald (7.40 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Tory MP Desmond Swayne (7.20 a.m.) … Competere CEO Shanker Singham (7.45 a.m.) … Former U.K. Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer (8.05 a.m.) … Former NHS Trust Chairman Roy Lilley (9.05 a.m.) … Tory MP Alicia Kearns (9.25 a.m.) … Former MP Norman Baker (9.47 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two, 12.15 p.m.): Commons Brexit committee Chairman Hilary Benn … Tory MP Harriet Baldwin … Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley … The Guardian’s Helen Pidd … Reform think tank Director Charlotte Pickles.
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.40 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Author John Kampfner and the Spectator’s Katy Balls … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m): Crossbench peer Claire Fox and broadcaster Steve Richards.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Brexit gives U.K. freedom to fast-track wonder drugs.
Daily Mail: Fiasco over COVID count.
Daily Mirror: Horror at the movies — 127 cinemas close.
Daily Star: I’m a celebrrrity get me out of here!
Financial Times: Vaccinating all of U.K. ‘not going to happen’ warns task force head.
Huffpost U.K.: ‘Alarming’ — U.K. records 22,921 COVID cases in second huge daily jump.
i: Trump — I’ll be back soon.
Metro: Hero woman cop is knifed.
The Daily Telegraph: COVID cases ‘lost’ in test and trace blunder.
The Guardian: Revealed — plan for three-tier lockdown regime in England.
The Independent: Patel urged to halt arrests of ‘exploited migrants.’
The Times: Criminals get shorter sentences in ‘COVID bonus.’
Westminster weather: ☁️☁️☁️ Cloudy and breezy. Highs of 17C in the late afternoon.
Travel: Lots of service adjustments. Check for the latest travel advice on the TfL website.
Happy birthday to: Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi … Today program presenter Nick Robinson … Crossbench peer Adair Turner … Labour peer Richard Rosser … Former No. 10 aide Jessica Seldon … Nick Bowes, Sadiq Khan’s director of policy… Good Morning Britain producer Kieron Clarke.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, research assistant Andrew McDonald and producer Ali Walker.
SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | EU Confidential | Sunday Crunch | EU Influence | AI: Decoded | D.C. Playbook | All our POLITICO Pro policy morning newsletters