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By JACK BLANCHARD
Good Wednesday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
TRUMP LOSES THE HOUSE: The Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives this morning after suburban U.S. voters punished Donald Trump at the ballot box. In the first nationwide elections since Trump’s stunning presidential victory in 2016, the Democrats reclaimed control of one of the two main branches of Congress. However a massive “blue wave” of Democrat support did not materialize, and America remains a deeply divided country this morning. The Republicans comfortably retained control of the Senate, with their rural vote holding up well, and also hung on to key governorships including in the swing state of Florida. Trump proclaimed the night a “tremendous success” for his party, which needless to say is completely untrue. But neither was it a disaster for the GOP — and right now the race for 2020 looks wide open.
Why it all matters: A Democrat-controlled House can cause big problems for Trump over the final two years of his term as president — and not just by blocking his legislative plans. With Democrats running key House committees from January you can expect to see subpoenas flying in for the president’s unpublished tax returns, for example, and a more stringent inquiry into his links with Russia. It’s a recipe for yet more partisanship and acrimony in D.C.
Head of the House: Trump called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this morning to concede defeat, her spokesman said. The result puts Pelosi on course to reclaim the speaker’s chair after eight years in the minority — making her the most powerful Democrat in the country until a presidential candidate is chosen. POLITICO’s John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade have more on her plans for a Democrat-controlled House, and the growing pressure on her to step aside for a new generation of Dems.
Speaking of 2020: The race to take on Trump is also now underway. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown fired the starting gun for the Dems with his victory speech this morning. “We will show America how we celebrate the dignity of work, how we honor organized labor and all workers — the waitress in Dayton, the office worker in Toledo, the nurse in Columbus, the mineworker in Coshocton,” Brown said in his victory speech in Columbus. “That is the message coming out of Ohio in 2018, and that is the blueprint for our nation in 2020.”
Now read this: POLITICO’s D.C. team has all the latest as results continue to roll in.
NOW BACK TO BREXIT
BEGINNING OF THE END? All the signs are that a Brexit deal is fast approaching, with the next meeting of the Cabinet expected to be a noisy rubber-stamping exercise for an outline deal. The final sticking point — how Britain can theoretically get out of its “temporary” (honest, guv) customs union with the EU — is now being addressed by the Cabinet’s new star turn Geoffrey Cox, who has made a greater impression in his first three months as attorney general than his predecessor did in the previous three years. No. 10 hopes Cox’s booming Brexiteer credentials will convince Euroskeptics that the backstop “review mechanism” being negotiated with Brussels does what it says on the tin. (The FT has a nice profile of Cox this morning). “We are not there yet, but it does now look like there is a way through,” a No. 10 source tells the Mail’s Jason Groves.
Now get ready: Significant movement is expected in the coming days. “When this happens, it will happen very quickly,” a U.K. official tells the FT’s George Parker. He hears whisper of a Cabinet meeting either Friday or Saturday — although it’s worth bearing in mind the PM is in France and Belgium on Friday for the Armistice Day memorials, and that much of the weekend will also be dominated by World War I services. However a timetable along those lines would clear the way for a whistle-stop trip to Brussels for either May or Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (or both) early next week, followed by a big Brexit summit with the EU27 to confirm the deal at the end of this month … and then a big vote in parliament in early December. A No. 10 source tells the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn: “Everyone agrees this has to be wrapped up by Christmas.”
Now take a step back: After 18 months of negotiation, Theresa May’s great diplomatic triumph looks like being … convincing the EU to let Britain stay in its customs union until a trade deal is eventually signed at some unknown point in the 2020s. Its going to need a decent PR plan to sell that.
Speaking of which … Westminster was agog last night at the leak of what looks like a rough draft of No. 10’s big PR plan for the final Brexit deal. (Read it in full here if you weren’t following the story online). It was leaked to several journalists including the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg and the Times’ Sam Coates, suggesting whoever did the dirty work *really* wanted it out there. It must have been someone with a serious grudge against the PM who wants to derail the Brexit process … which barely widens the net at all.
Is it legit? Yes, in the sense it is almost certainly real notes made either by somebody inside No. 10, or by somebody listening to somebody senior in No. 10 as they set out a rough comms strategy for Brexit. Whether that was a brainstorming session or something more concrete is far less certain. Playbook spoke to one Whitehall insider who guesses it could be a set of notes taken from Downing Street’s regular Brexit comms meeting, which takes place every Friday. DExEU officials are also present at the meeting, making the pool of those who might be responsible even larger.
Either way: It’s definitely a) out of date — as the timings are now clearly wrong … b) very presumptuous — listing world leaders, Labour politicians and policy wonks who No. 10 hope optimistically will come out and back the deal … and c) less than comprehensive — weirdly, there’s no reference to an EU summit in Brussels at all. But plenty of elements definitely have a real ring of truth.
So who wrote it? A decent source tells Playbook they guess it “definitely came out of DexEU.” Other whispers in Westminster are pointing the finger at a junior adviser inside Downing Street, who Playbook will not be naming. Who leaked it, of course, is another matter.
And whose strategy is it? Playbook’s insider says with a gulp that the phrasing and the strategy “does read a bit like Robbie” — meaning May’s director of comms Robbie Gibb. Sam Coates hears similar finger-pointing from a Brexiteer source in the Cabinet. “Despite the denials from No. 10, this has all the hallmarks of Robbie Gibb,” Coates is told. For what it’s worth, No. 10 issued the following irritated statement: “The misspelling and childish language in this document should be enough to make clear it doesn’t represent the government’s thinking. You would expect the government to have plans for all situations — to be clear, this isn’t one of them.”
What’s really annoying No. 10: They now need a whole new comms plan for when the Brexit deal is signed. Or at least one suitably rejigged to make it look a lot less like this.
Speaking of childish: Here’s Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell and David Davis’ former chief of staff Stewart Jackson — both ex Tory MPs who lost their seats in 2017 — arguing on Twitter about the final Brexit deal. And not in a nice way.
MEANWHILE IN BRUSSELS
REALITY CHECK: It’s worth reiterating that the mood music coming out of Brussels remains a lot less positive than it is here in London, certainly in terms of striking a deal within the next week. Michel Barnier was very much downplaying the imminence of any deal yesterday, and in the Telegraph today Europe Editor Peter Foster concludes Theresa May would be “wise not to assume the EU will follow her timetable.”
Today’s big meeting: EU27 ambassadors will meet for another private chat about Brexit. One decision they must make is whether to add Brexit to the draft agenda for December’s EU Council summit (h/t Adam Fleming), although that does not preclude the possibility of an emergency Brexit summit at the end of this month.
Also in Brussels today: Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who will hold talks with officials including European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans and European Parliament Deputy Secretary-General Markus Winkler. Starmer’s main aim is to issue a warning about Britain signing up to a so-called “blind Brexit” with little concrete detail on the future trading relationship with Brussels. Labour is desperate to start shifting the argument away from the (nearly agreed) withdrawal agreement and onto the (pretty thin) future relationship, in a bid to sway wavering Labour MPs who may vote for the Brexit deal. The Guardian’s Heather Stewart has more.
MEPs at war: My POLITICO colleague Florian Eder has some lovely details of a bitter email chain row between U.K. MEPs over the imminent Brexit deal. Check out his Brussels Playbook this morning for more details.
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TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: Now in recess until Monday, November 12.
SADNESS IN HER EYES: Sky News legend Kay Burley was finally captured on “Celebrity Hunted” last night after 11 days on the run around Britain. The reality TV show involves pairing up celebrities and tasking them to avoid capture by teams of skilled private detectives. There was early drama in last night’s show as Burley lost her rag with partner in crime Johnny Mercer, the MP for Plymouth Moor View, accusing him of having “f***ed off and just left me.” Mercer unwisely accused her of having a “complete meltdown,” and his clumsy attempts to make things up did not go down well. “Come on, everything’s cool. Just give me a hug,” Mercer tells Burley, trying to wrap his arms around her. “No,” Burley shoots back, pushing him away. “I’m in no mood for hugging. No, no, no, no, no, no.” Watch the clip.
Bake off: Eventually Burley was taken into hiding by a van driver working for Warburtons, the bakery … but then got grassed up to the hunters by someone else working for the firm. Outraged viewers are now discussing an online boycott of the baking giant. Mercer survives for another week.
TALK OF THE TOWN: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan will be the keynote speaker today at ‘The London Conference 2018,” organized by the Centre for London think-tank. Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan will also be giving a speech, on rising crime across the city. It comes with several papers again splashing on the knife crime epidemic gripping the country, following the death of the U.K.’s 250th stabbing victim this year.
Speaking of crime: Police Minister Nick Hurd has an interesting op-ed in the Telegraph in which he suggests some police forces now use computer algorithms to decide which crimes to investigate and which, for want of a better expression, to ignore. He says policing is at a “watershed moment” and urges forces to better explain to the public why some crimes are not investigated further. He gives a speech at the “Police Now” summit at Facebook’s London HQ later today.
PORK TALK: “Gammon” is one of the words of 2018, the Collins Dictionary announces today, presumably triggering another round of tedious debate about whether the term is racist or simply unpleasant when hurled as an insult. However it has been pipped to the post in the word-of-the-year stakes by “single-use,” in reference to the plastics clogging up world oceans. Michael Gove will be pleased. POLITICO’s Ginger Hervey has more.
MAX / POWER: A lovely moment from the Pride of Britain reception at Downing Street tweeted out by No. 10 last night. Watch the clip as young heart transplant patient Max Johnson nearly jumps out of his skin when Theresa May wanders in to say hello.
HIGH STREET PLAN: Housing and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire is in Bristol today and will make a speech launching the government’s latest high street rejuvenation project. The “Open Doors” scheme is designed to open up empty shops to community groups that offer services to the vulnerable. Communities Minister Jake Berry will be out and about this morning to sell the policy on broadcast.
What they won’t be talking about: Lots of pressure on Brokenshire this morning over his appointment of the writer and philosopher Roger Scruton to chair a new commission on housing. Labour website the Red Roar and later BuzzFeed’s Alex Wickham both published stories yesterday reminding us of some of Scruton’s more controversial writings, including musings on Hungary, George Soros, homosexuality and Islamophobia. Labour and the Lib Dems want him sacked.
FULL PARTRIDGE: Former Brexit Minister Steve Baker copies out the same inspirational quote about the “tyranny” of paying high taxes into the cover of every notebook he uses. Yes, really — here’s his Instagram post.
GAGGING CLAUSES: The Times splashes again on the use of gagging clauses by the government when hiring contractors or consultants for outside work. It says engineering company WSP was typical in being banned from creating “adverse publicity” for the prime minister or other arms of government when analyzing government buildings in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Firms hired to advise ministers on Brexit policy were bound by similar clauses. And hilariously, the investigation also reveals Chris Grayling banned 39 prisoner rehabilitation charities from causing him “adverse publicity” when he was justice secretary. Playbook is not sure the strategy has been *entirely* successful.
LEADERSHIP BID KLAXON: Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat — tipped by all and sundry as a possible future PM — is making a big speech at the Social Market Foundation today, and guess what? It’s not on foreign affairs. The Tory backbencher will “discuss the current political climate, and the need for a new approach to make our society fairer.” He will also “offer his vision for economic and social reform, and stress the need to overcome divisions exposed by the EU referendum.” No. 10 must be thrilled. Tugendhat is up at 11 a.m. — more details here.
INBOX ZERO: Fraught message arrives from one No. 10 staffer following the ongoing row among political journos over who has the most unopened emails in their inbox. (Current leader: City A.M. Deputy Editor Julian Harris with nearly 375,000.) “This inbox thing is driving me to distraction,” the official tells Playbook. “I have a rigorous policy of inbox management. I currently have five emails, three of which are unread. The idea that someone might have a number of unread emails measured in the hundreds of thousands is the stuff of nightmares.” How is this even possible?
FUN WHILE IT LASTED: David Cameron’s former director of comms Craig Oliver told a PR conference yesterday that it’s just not true his old boss fancies a Cabinet comeback. Read a tweet here from someone in the room. The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn (who penned the original story) is still not convinced — check out the tweet replies.
ANYONE FOR TENNIS? Tennis-mad Commons Speaker John Bercow has invited the world’s top eight players to a reception at Speaker’s House on Friday, the Times diary reports. So keep an eye out for Federer and co. if you’re kicking around parliament that day.
Communities Minister Jake Berry broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (6.50 a.m.) … ITV Good Morning Britain (7.20 a.m.) … TalkRADIO (7.45 a.m.).
Today Program: Michael Avenatti, U.S. attorney representing Stormy Daniels, and Republican political strategist Ron Christie (7.10 a.m.) … Jeffrey Donaldson, chief DUP whip and MP for Lagan Valley (7.15 a.m.) … U.S. Senator for Alabama Doug Jones and Marc Lotter, former Mike Pence aide (8.10) … Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer (8.30) … Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (8.40 a.m.)
Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC Radio): Former Bill Clinton adviser Laura Schwartz and Republican strategist Ash Wright (7.05 a.m.).
Also on TalkRADIO: Former British Ambassador to the United States Christopher Meyer (7.05 a.m.) … Former Republicans Overseas Vice-President Jan Halper-Hayes (8.05 a.m.) … Former Chairman of Democrats Abroad U.K. Bill Barnard (9.05 a.m.).
All Out Politics (Sky News, 10 a.m.): Republican Candidate in New York Anthony W. Arias (10.10 a.m.) … The Daily Beast’s Erin Banco and journalist Sophia Nelson (10.15 a.m. & 11.15 a.m.) … Democrat strategist Jon Summers and Republican strategist Evan Siegfried (10.30 a.m.) … Former U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal (10.45 a.m.) … U.S. political historian Allan Lichtman (11.10 a.m.) … D.C. Young Democrats Chairman Kevin Chavous and Republican strategist Jenna Ellis (11.30 a.m.) … President of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Melanie Campbell (11.45 a.m.).
Politics Live: No shows for the rest of this week, with parliament in recess.
Iain Dale in the Evening (LBC Radio): Cross-question panel (8 p.m.) with the writer Bonnie Greer … the Telegraph’s Brexit editor Dia Chakravarty … former newspaper editor Eve Pollard .. and EU commentator Nina Schick.
Peston (Live on Twitter at 8 p.m. & on ITV1 at 10.45 p.m.): Health Secretary Matt Hancock … Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry … Tory MP and Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.45 p.m. & 11.30 p.m.): Victims’ Commissioner Helen Newlove and the Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson … Sky News (10.30 p.m. & 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s associate editor Kevin Maguire and the Mail’s consultant editor Andrew Pierce.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
City A.M.: U.S. giants hungry for Brit assets.
Daily Express: Give war widows pensions they deserve.
Daily Mail (not online): Why won’t they lock up the knife thugs?
Daily Mirror: “Mummy died, Daddy has lost his job … Can I get work sweeping floors?” — Universal Credit in crisis.
Daily Star: Poppy heroes banned by health and safety goons.
Financial Times: Banks’ group accused over illegal use of customer data in Brexit vote.
i: Emergency Cabinet meeting — Ministers on standby.
Metro: Knifings peak on the way home from school.
The Daily Telegraph: Leaked plan to sell Brexit deal to Britain.
The Guardian: Change school closing times to curb stabbing, say doctors.
The Independent: Cabinet closes in on Brexit breakthrough.
The Sun: We’re on a knife edge — Lad, 16, is year’s 250th stab killing.
The Times: Criticism of May banned in Grenfell safety deal.
On the Continent: Read what the rest of Europe’s papers are saying in POLITICO’s EU press review blog here (updated daily at around 8 a.m.).
BEYOND THE M25
POLICE CUTS: Today’s front pages show again just how quickly law and order has soared up the news agenda, especially in London where knife crime is causing deep concern. There’s trouble brewing up north too, the Hull Daily Mail’s Patrick Daly reports today, with a warning from the local chief constable that every single PCSO in the force area may have to be sacked. Chief Constable Lee Freeman says the cuts will be required if ministers do not step in to plug a huge shortfall in police pensions … Expect to hear much more about this issue in the months ahead.
LIFE AFTER JUNCKER: Center-right politicians from across Europe are gathering in Helsinki today for the annual European People’s Party congress. (For those not paying attention, the EPP is the main grouping of center-right parties at EU level, and by some margin the most powerful force in Brussels.) Their task over the next two days will be to pick a candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president next year, and tonight will see a short debate between the two main challengers — German MEP Manfred Weber and former Finnish PM Alexander Stubb. Weber, a close ally of Angela Merkel, is the hot favorite to be nominated … but as POLITICO’s Arnau Busquets explains, it’s far from certain that he will go on to seize the top job.
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Westminster weather: 🌧 🌦 🌥 Lots of rain showers through the morning and over lunchtime. Hopefully clearing up a bit by late afternoon. Spells of sunshine too, and highs of 14C.
Tube strike: There will be no service on either the Central line or the Waterloo & City line today due to a 24-hour walk-out by staff. The Evening Standard has details of why they’re striking. Normal service should resume on Thursday. A planned strike on the Piccadilly line has been called off, however, and services will run as normal today, save for minor delays between Rayners Lane and Acton Town (eastbound only), due to a signal failure at South Harrow.
Sky’s the limit: One of political journalism’s biggest jobs is up for grabs after the BBC announced it has poached Sky News’ political editor Faisal Islam. After four years in the lobby, Islam will join the Beeb as economics editor in the new year. Islam was previously economics editor at Channel 4 News, and will now replace replace Kamal Ahmed in the same role at the BBC. (Ahmed is moving upstairs to join the boss class.)
On your marks: Islam’s departure will trigger an immediate bun fight to be his successor, with the early favorites being Sky’s star Sunday morning politics presenter Sophy Ridge and Islam’s recently-promoted deputy Beth Rigby. Plenty of others will be throwing their hats into the ring over the coming days too. Guido has drawn up his traditional runners and riders — and Newsnight’s Nick Watt certainly looks a good shout from that list, if he fancies it. Best of luck to all concerned.
Speaking of big jobs: The Mail reports an announcement on the new presenter of Question Time is expected within weeks — and that Today program presenter Nick Robinson is tipping Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis for the big job. “I would put my money on Emily,” said Robinson, who has also auditioned for the role. “She’s the obvious choice.”
Happy birthday to: Kettering MP Philip Hollobone … North Wiltshire MP James Gray … Tory peer and former Trade Minister Stephen Green, who turns 70 … Tory MEP John Procter.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich.
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