London Playbook: No harms done — Blowin’ in the wind — Change on China – POLITICO Europe

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By ELENI COUREA
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Good Tuesday morning. This is Eleni Courea. Emilio Casalicchio is writing Playbook for the rest of the week.
WHAT’S REALLY DRIVING THE DAY: England and Wales face off at 7 p.m. tonight in the World Cup’s own Battle of Britain. England’s goalless draw against the U.S. on Friday and Wales’ loss against Iran have left this group wide open (sort of, anyway) — England will qualify for the knockout stages as long as they avoid a four-goal defeat, while Wales need to win to have any chance of getting through. Watch it live on the BBC.
Getting photo-op ready: Rishi Sunak will be watching the match from Downing Street alongside school pupils from England and Wales.
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DAY OF COMPROMISES: Ministers will try to square the circle on online harms today by stripping out the controversial clause to ban “legal but harmful” content online, as the PM redoubles efforts to square a different circle on onshore wind farms.
No harms done: As Rishi Sunak chairs a meeting of his Cabinet this morning, Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, will unveil updates to the Online Safety Bill — that landmark piece of legislation which feels like it has been discussed, delayed and amended by the Tories since the dawn of time.
Tune in: Donelan is on the morning broadcast round. She will be on the Today program at 8.10 a.m.
What’s being announced: The revamped bill — which splashes the Times and Telegraph — would make social media companies explain how they will ban children under the age of 13, and issue them with huge fines if they fail to do so.  
More controversially … Ministers have ditched plans for restrictions on “legal but harmful” content in a victory for campaigners who argued that these threatened free speech (or in Kemi Badenoch’s words, “legislated for hurt feelings”). Instead, adults will be given the option to filter out such content from their feeds. In an article for the Telegraph today Donelan says the now-removed clauses “violated the rights of adults to choose what legal speech they say and see.”
Uh oh: Former culture sec Nadine Dorries — who championed the bill in its previous form — told the House mag’s Tali Fraser a couple of weeks ago that ministers should prepare “one mother of a massive fight” with female Tory MPs if the bill was watered down, and added for good measure: “Michelle has been in the job five minutes and does not understand enough about it.” 
Uh oh 2: David Davis has told the BBC that he, for one, is happy those clauses have been stripped out but still has “serious worries” about how the bill could “undermine end-to-end encryption” by permitting governments to order companies to access private messages.
Worth noting: Opposition from Dorries and Davies will have been expected — and DCMS will be hopeful it has done better than DLUHC in teeing up support among backbenchers for its policy. An ally of Donelan said she had met with MPs across the party and was hosting round tables today with relevant groups.
The question is Will she become the culture secretary who finally gets this mammoth piece of legislation over the line? The idea is to make it law before the summer recess, but there have been doubts for a while whether that can happen. Whitehall sources tell the Mail’s Jason Groves that the legislation could run out of time in the Lords and that even if it does pass, it would take 18 months to fully come into effect. Meanwhile, a former minister tells the FT: “There is no appetite within the government to quietly get rid of the bill, but there is a danger that the bill runs out of road by accident. There will be a big backlash outside of parliament and within it if we have left online safety unregulated.”
BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND: Meanwhile, efforts to reach some sort of understanding with MPs on onshore wind farms continue. The PM seems pretty ambivalent about it all but has found himself caught between warring factions (including, unhelpfully, within his own Cabinet). The Times reports Tory whips have been ringing round to find out where MPs stand on the issue before Sunak settles on a position.
U-turn imminent: Pretty much everyone expects a government climbdown of some kind after Shapps used Monday morning’s broadcast round to say onshore wind projects would be allowed “where communities are in favor of it,” and pretended this was Sunak’s policy all along. A No. 10 source stressed to Playbook that there had been no U-turn and that the amendment to lift the ban was being considered like any other.  
Unfortunately: The faintest hint that Downing Street was preparing to cave set off a rearguard action by veteran backbencher John Hayes, who told the i’s Arj Singh he was gathering signatures in favor of the ban (a bit like you would to save a local leisure center) and warned the PM against looking “weak.”
This might help: The Guardian says Labour has submitted its own separate amendment. Simon Clarke, who is leading the Tory rebellion, will be hopeful that this focuses minds given he argues Labour is less bothered about securing local consent for onshore wind projects. Wendy Morton is the latest Tory to join the rebellion.
What this tells us: All this is likely to renew concerns among some MPs that Sunak is held back by indecisiveness. As the Times’ Chris Smyth puts it in an analysis full of great lines: “Giving in to rebels always risks looking weak, but not knowing which group of rebels to give in to risks looking absurd.” (The Mail’s leader effectively tells him to get a grip.) One MP told Playbook that the PM was “consistently bad at basic politics but underlying that he’s vulnerable because he has no mandate” — and the only way to fix that was by demonstrating basic competence over tricky issues such as small boats.
On that note: All asylum seekers from “safe” countries will be fast-tracked for removal under New Labour era-inspired plans drawn up by Suella Braverman, the Times’ Matt Dathan reports. The home sec is looking to resurrect a “white list” of countries including Albania from where asylum claims are generally considered unfounded.
Meanwhile, in Germany: In a new effort to attract talented foreign workers to the country, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced plans to reform Germany’s immigration system and citizenship laws on Monday, reports POLITICO’s Gabriel Rinaldi.
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CHANGE ON CHINA: Sunak used an address to the swanky lord mayor’s banquet last night to set out his government’s stance toward China, at a time when the country has been rocked by anti-lockdown protests bigger than anything seen since Tiananmen Square. In a few carefully worded paragraphs, the PM opened the door to more engagement while declaring the “golden era” of relations over.
What they ate: Guests at the Guildhall including Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt tucked into wild mushroom tortellini and truffled celeriac puree to begin with, then Dover sole with samphire and caviar butter sauce, followed by aged beef filet with potatoes dauphinoise and finally a blackberry, pear and ginger crumble with hedgerow ice cream. Now that’s a real dinner.  
What he said: The “golden era” language caught headlines (as No. 10 would have wanted) but masked the nuanced position that Sunak set out somewhere on the spectrum between David Cameron and George Osborne’s open-arms approach and Liz Truss’ intractably hardline stance. Sunak warned that the challenge posed by China “grows more acute” and rejected the “naïve idea” that trading with its government would lead to social and political reform in the country.  
What he meant: But the PM stressed that “we cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs — to global economic stability or issues like climate change. The U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and many others understand this too. So together we’ll manage this sharpening competition, including with diplomacy and engagement.” His language on China is intended to reflect that of Joe Biden’s National Security Council — but the most significant aspect of it is that it throws the door open to more engagement and dialogue with Beijing, which the PM argues is essential on matters of security, human rights and climate change.
Backlash: As Playbook readers will know by now, Sunak’s softening stance (both in comparison to Truss’ and his own words during the summer) has set off alarm bells among China hawks. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith wrote for the Express last night accusing Sunak of 1930s-style appeasement. IPAC’s Luke de Pulford told Playbook that “Pragmatism (read: compromise) in pursuit of economic interests isn’t new. It’s the busted foreign policy Britain PLC has pursued for decades, most notably under Osborne’s doomed Golden Era. And guess who’s back in the Treasury? Nothing to see here. The golden era is dead, long live the golden era.” All eyes now on what form this new strategy will take and what updates will be worked into the government’s integrated review next year.
Coming battle: The Spectator’s James Heale reports that Tower Hamlets councillors will decide on Thursday whether to approve proposals to build the largest Chinese Embassy in the world on the site of the old Royal Mint — and that there is pressure on Michael Gove to call in the application for a review.
The bigger picture: POLITICO Europe’s Editor-in-Chief Jamil Anderlini, who spent two decades reporting on China, writes that almost all protests he witnessed during that time involved isolated or localized grievances and were brutally repressed. “So it was astonishing to hear people openly calling for democracy, the end of party rule and the toppling of Xi at the weekend,” he writes. “Something has definitely changed in the mood of the Chinese nation and it does not bode well for Xi or the CCP. This is not just pent-up frustration from three years of COVID lockdowns and a moribund economy. It is the consequence of a decade of steadily worsening repression, following two decades (the 1990s and 2000s) of relative loosening.”
ALL CHANGE PLEASE: More musical chairs at LOTO as the Labour Party gets its duck in a row before the next election nears. Playbook can reveal that Rav Athwal has been appointed the party’s director of policy, charged with putting together its manifesto (a task he inherits from Claire Ainsley).
On the up: Athwal has been promoted from his position as Labour’s head of economic policy, where he worked on economics and climate. He was a Treasury civil servant before that. A Labour official said: “Rav has done a great job of supporting Keir, Rachel [Reeves] and Jonny [Reynolds] in developing our pro-business, pro-growth agenda. This appointment underlines that Labour plans to fight the election on the economy.”
Heading out: Ainsley, who has been working on having a Labour manifesto ready in case of a snap election, will be leaving her role to join the Progressive Policy Institute (a U.S. think tank, though she will remain based in York). Ainsley stepped back as Labour’s executive director of policy earlier this year, telling Starmer she wanted to spend more time in York with her young children. At the PPI she will lead a new UK-U.S. initiative on the political renewal of the center-left.
Now hiring: The party is on the hunt for a chief of staff following the departure of Sam White, and would favor an ex-civil servant.
POLICY KLAXON: Jonathan Ashworth is unveiling Labour’s policy to tackle economic activity with Jobcentre reform and devolved employment support at the Work Foundation at 2 p.m. He gave an interview to the FT’s George Parker setting out the plans.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Does David Miliband fancy a return to British politics? He certainly didn’t rule one out when asked on LBC yesterday. Pressed by Andrew Marr on whether he might stand for parliament in 2024, Miliband said: “That’s not been decided. That’s not done.”
As a result: There might be a little more interest than anticipated in Miliband’s speech to Chatham House at lunchtime today. He’s up at 1 p.m. and will be in conversation with Bronwen Maddox.
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NO POISONED CHALICE TAKERS: Several candidates have turned down the opportunity to advise the PM on ethics, the Guardian’s Jess Elgot reports. A source close to the process tells her candidates think it could be “reputationally damaging” that Rishi Sunak is not offering them enhanced powers to launch their own investigations. Best for Britain has set up a page for people to send elaborate parody applications for the job.
STREETS AHEAD: West Midlands Tory Mayor Andy Street dares to broach the matter of renegotiating better Brexit terms in an interview with Francis Elliott in the i after acknowledging it had hit the regional economy. “Seeking better trade terms with the EU is no different to what we are trying to do with countries around the world. But any discussion of any relationship with Europe we end up with almost a Pavlovian reaction,” Street says. “That has got to stop.”
HOPE FOR HANCOCK: Senior government figures believe there is a path for Matt Hancock to resume his political career, the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith reports in a story that no doubt Hancock will be reading very closely this morning. BRS makes the point that every Tory MP will count in upcoming crunch votes and Hancock is a Sunak loyalist (though currently stripped of the whip). It sounds like he’ll have to win over his local association first — a West Suffolk source tells the Times’ Geri Scott that “there would appear to be effectively no support for him to remain as a MP.”
CLASS WAR: The Mail goes for Labour’s policy to charge VAT on private school fees (which are currently exempt from the tax) for the second day in a row. Today’s splash warns that up to 200 private schools could be forced to close as a result.
FIRE BRIGADES SCANDAL: Opposition parties are calling for a national inquiry into London’s fire brigades, in the wake of Nazir Afzal’s damning report into the culture of the service. Home Office Minister Chris Philp told MPs yesterday he would raise the issue with the appropriate body but did not commit to an inquiry. Afzal’s report, which was released last Friday, found that misogyny, racism and bullying is rife in London’s fire services. The Guardian’s Rajeev Syal has more.
WHAT THE ERG ARE READING: Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó hit out at Brussels for seeking what he called “Brexit revenge” in Northern Ireland protocol talks with the U.K. rather than constructive discussions, the Express’ David Maddox reports.
Reminder: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has been locked in a clash with Brussels over accusations of democratic backsliding, with the EU withholding billions in funds from Budapest until it implements rule-of-law reforms.
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with BEIS questions, followed by any UQs or statements … Labour MP Marsha De Cordova has a ten minute rule bill on introducing a national eye health strategy … and then the main business will see MPs move through the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill which will delay the calling of a new Stormont election.
COMMITTEE CORRIDOR: Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis will be giving evidence on misinformation at the DCMS committee (10 a.m.) … A panel of young people will be giving views on careers advice in schools at the education committee (10 a.m.) … The EFRA committee will be looking at the threat to supply of Christmas turkeys (2.30 p.m.) … The international development committee hears from women involved in sourcing and delivering aid to Ukraine (2.30 p.m.) … and Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey has a grilling at the Lords economic affairs committee (3 p.m.). Full list here.
HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 2.30 p.m. with questions on Russian drone attacks on Ukraine, providing more support to people affected by rape and legal recognition for humanist marriages … and then the main business will be a debate on the Autumn Statement.
NATO MEETING TODAY: NATO ministers of foreign affairs begin their two-day meeting in Bucharest today, with the agenda expected to include how to better support Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s war. In an interview with POLITICO’s Lili Bayer late Monday, Kyiv’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country can’t win on the battlefield in the longer term unless NATO countries invest in making more weapons. Read Lili’s story here.
FEELING GREEN: POLITICO’s Sustainable Future Week kicks off today with a star-studded line up of green policymakers past and present. Speakers include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol, Spanish Minister Teresa Ribera and Carlos Moreno, evangelist for the 15-minute city concept. Register here to attend online.
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Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan broadcast round: GB News (6.50 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.05 a.m.) … Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.).
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth: Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … GB News (8.20 a.m.) …
Good Morning Britain: Tech Minister Paul Scully (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley: Former Chief of the General Staff Richard Dannatt (8.20 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Hancock SpAd Richard Sloggett (8.20 a.m.) … Green peer Jenny Jones (9.10 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Tory MP Bob Seely (8.05 a.m.) … Universities U.K. Chief Executive Vivienne Stern (8.20 a.m.) … Head of the Anti-Corruption and Abuse Command in the Met Commander James Harman (8.35 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.45 p.m.): Tory MP Ben Bradley … Plaid MP Liz Saville Roberts … The Observer’s Sonia Sodha … CapX’s Alys Denby.
Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Alba MP Neale Hanvey … Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee … Die Welt correspondent Stefanie Bolzen.
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): i columnist Ian Dunt and the Spectator’s Katy Balls … Times Radio (10.30 p.m.): Former Tory SpAd Mo Hussein and pollster Joe Twyman … talk TV (10.20 p.m.): Labour’s Jess Phillips and Tory MP Bim Afolami.
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.):
Daily Express: NHS pays out millions to treat patients abroad.
Daily Mail: Keir’s class war threat to 200 private schools.
Daily Mirror: Pride and passion.
Daily Star: C’mon!
Financial Times: Lagarde says ECB ‘not done’ raising rates despite signs of easing inflation.
HuffPostUK: Sunak — ‘Golden era’ with China over.
i: Tory rebellion on wind farms new threat to PM’s authority.
Metro: Russia’s shame.
PoliticsHome: All the MPs standing down at the next general election.
POLITICO UK: Sunak vows to engage with China but consigns ‘golden era’ to the history books.
The Daily Telegraph: Social media fines for child accounts.
The Guardian: Sunak warning over China as Xi continues crackdown on protest.
The Sun: Do or dai.
The Times: Social media firms told to protect young or pay price.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Cloudy with light winds. Highs of 9C.
NEW GIG: Jamie Williams, formerly of Hanbury, has started as a media adviser to Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed.
NEW GIG 2: Former FT journo Kiran Stacey has started as a political correspondent at the Guardian this week.
SPOTTED: At the launch of Seb Payne’s book “The Fall of Boris Johnson” at the Travellers Club in Pall Mall … the ex-PM’s sister Rachel Johnson … CCHQ’s Isaac Levido … broadcasters Emily Maitlis and Michael Portillo … shadow Cabinet ministers Jonathan Reynolds, Bridget Phillipson and Wes Streeting … hacks Fraser Nelson, Katy Balls, George Parker, Janine Gibson, Iain Martin, Stephen Bush, Harry Cole, Janice Turner, Henry Zeffman, James Ball, Charlotte Ivers, Jim Pickard, Marie Le Conte, Jim Waterson, Jess Brammar, James Marriott, Madeline Grant, James Heale, Luke McGee and Caroline Daniel … SpAd James Price… MP Richard Holden EU spinner Federico Bianchi … and many more.
Also spotted: At the British Curry Awards at Evolution in Battersea Park … Former Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling … His rival in the constituency of Epsom, True and Fair leader Gina Miller … Tech Minister Paul Scully, who was mistakenly introduced as Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman (“As minister for London, 32 other boroughs are available”) … The Mirror’s Dan Bloom and Mikey Smith … broadcasters Emily Carver and Patrick Christys … Angela Rayner’s chief of staff Nick Parrott … Former GMB political officer Lisa Johnson … Former Vince Cable spinner Mark Leftly … Former England international goalkeeper David Seaman … Powerscourt political director Simon Petar … and Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins, who was narrowly outbid in an auction for a signed photo of Winston Churchill that went for £50,100.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Tory peer and former Leader of the House of Lords Natalie Evans … Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue … Former DfE Permanent Secretary Jonathan Slater … Former NHS England Chairman Malcolm Grant … Former Westminster Council leader Shirley Porter … Former IPSO Chairman Alan Moses … Scottish Tory MSP Alexander Stewart … No. 10 head of operations Lisa Lovering.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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