Welcome to 2024, the year in which we can expect a local election, mayoral elections, police and crime commissioner elections, a General Election, a US Presidential Election, European Parliament elections, and a potential election in Ireland… take a long breath now whilst you can…
Welcome to the weekly roundup from Navigate Politics, bringing you all the top news, publications and movements from UK politics over the past seven days, ensuring you’re fully briefed on the top stories ahead of the weekend. If you know somebody who would find this briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each Friday.
Driving the Week 🚨
It’s Election Year (probably) and according to the Prime Minister it will be in the “second half” of the Year (probably), after he said it was the “working assumption”, suggesting that he will go to the public in October 2024. The comments came following weeks of speculation as to whether the General Election would be in May or October, with the PM seeking to quieten this speculation down… for a few weeks at least. The comments were met with expected frustration from opposition parties, with Sunak accused of “squatting in Downing Street” by Labour; of “clinging on to power” by the Liberal Democrats; and of “a little bit of cowardice” by the SNP. Saying he was “determined to keep delivering for the British people”, Sunak also said his Government “want to do more” and suggested future tax cuts could also be on the agenda. Although this is the firmest indication yet as to the date of the General Election, it is by no means confirmed that it will be in October 2024, with the Prime Minister leaving himself enough wriggle room to call one earlier if he wants, or even later, with 28 January 2025 the latest possible date an Election could be held.
Back to Starmer, who began 2024 with a New Year's Speech which took aim at the last 14 years of Governments led by the Conservatives, highlighting the “understandable despair of a downtrodden country”. Warning that the Conservatives would exploit “every opportunity for division”, he emphasised that “only Labour” would be able to “make a difference” and “lead Britain towards national renewal”, through the creation of a new mindset called “Mission Government” which would understand that tackling “tomorrow’s challenges today” would be at the core of “everything” they do. While no new concrete policies were announced, Starmer assured he would lead a government that would “restore standards in public life with a total crackdown on cronyism” and would end the “revolving doors between government and the companies they regulate”.
Earlier in the week, Reform UK leader Richard Tice called for a General Election, as he warned that a Labour Government would be a “disaster” (or Starmergeddon) and ruled out an electoral pact with the Conservatives. The latter comment, when coupled with a reiteration that they would be standing in every seat in England, Wales and Scotland, could have significant repercussions as and when the General Election is held, as Reform are regularly polling at around 10%. A swathe of policy announcements were also made, including: increasing the Personal Allowance to £20,000, cutting fuel duty, cutting business taxes, a “one-in, one-out” immigration policy, and scrapping the “job destroying multi trillion pound burden of Net Zero”. Not present at the event was 3rd place contestant in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! Nigel Farage, who is reportedly “still assessing” the role he will play in supporting Reform.
With the Weekly Roundup taking a week off over Christmas and the New Year, here is a Festive ICYMI of the holiday season… The Spring Budget will take place on 6 March; the Government claimed to have cleared the legacy asylum backlog, but this was disputed by their own statistics; the New Years 2024 Honours List was released, along with additional Political Honours and Liz Truss’s Resignation Honours; pint sized wine bottles will become available due to new ‘Brexit Freedoms’; Mike Freer’s constituency office was hit by an arson attack; and Dominic Cummings said he had met with the PM twice to discuss political strategy.
Coming Up Next Week 📆
Parliament returns following Christmas recess, with the Commons sitting from Monday and the Lords on Wednesday.
In the Commons – The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will have its second reading, the Finance Bill will be considered by a Committee of the Whole House, and the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill will have its third reading.
In the Lords – The Automated Vehicles Bill begins its committee stage, followed by debates on parliamentary democracy and standards in public life and on the UK’s contribution to international development, particularly in relation to the impact of climate change on developing nations.
Committee Corridor – We’re hoping it’s third time lucky for Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron who is due to appear in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday after two postponed sessions last year. He will be joined by Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCDO Philip Barton as they’re quizzed on the work of the Department.
RMT Union Tube workers are expected to strike between 7th – 12th January after members voted against the latest pay offer of 5% at the end of last year. Transport for London has said there will be “little to no service” on the London Underground during this time if the strikes go ahead.
The Week in Stats 📉
5.87% – average rate on a two-year fixed mortgage, the lowest rate in nearly 7 months.
99,000 – total number of asylum applications awaiting an initial decision, despite the Home Office suggesting that the legacy backlog has been cleared.
4.9% – rail fare rise in England from March.
£94 – amount a typical annual gas and electricity bill will go up by per household, following the implementation of Ofgem’s change in Energy Price Cap.
9.97°C – average temperature of the UK in 2023, making it the second hottest year on record, behind 2022.
£3.81m – median salary for the FTSE 100 CEOs, 109 times higher than the median salary of a full time worker, at £34,963, according to the High Pay Centre.
2700% – increase in the number of searches for ChatGPT in 2023.
18 – number of times Keir Starmer mentioned the word ‘hope’ in his speech on Thursday.
389 – number of days until the next General Election must be held.
Other Political News 📰
The Home Office announced that action to prevent most international students from bringing family members to the UK has come now into effect. International students starting courses this month will no longer be able to bring family members on all but postgraduate research courses and courses with government-funded scholarships, with the Government estimating that this will see 140,000 fewer people coming to the UK. These changes are part of a wider series of measures aimed at bringing down overall immigration figures, including increasing the salary threshold across the skilled worker routes by nearly 50% to £38,700 and preventing overseas care workers from bringing dependents.
New legal restrictions on XL Bully dogs have now come into force, as of 31 December, making it a legal requirement for all XL Bully dogs to be kept on a lead and muzzled when in public. It is also now illegal to breed, sell, advertise, gift, exchange, abandon or let them stray. The ban on owning these dogs won’t take effect until 01 February, after which owning an unregistered XL Bully will be a criminal offence. Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said, “The Prime Minister pledged to take quick and decisive action to protect the public from devastating dog attacks with measures in place by the end of 2023. We have met that pledge.”
Environment Secretary Steve Barclay announced “the biggest upgrade to UK farming schemes since leaving the EU”, to provide further support for British farmers. The updates include: around 50 new actions that farmers can get paid for (such as driving forward new agricultural technology), a 10% average increase in payments with uplifts automatically applied to existing agreements, a streamlined single application process so that farmers can apply for the Sustainable Farming Incentive and the Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier through one application, and a consultation on improving British labels.
The first of the Government’s promised National Insurance cuts are coming into force tomorrow, with the main rate of primary Class 1 National Insurance contributions dropping from 12% to 10%. The OBR have estimated that 27 million employees stand to benefit in 2024-25, with average annual gains of £304 for basic rate taxpayers.
And junior doctors in England continue to strike with the latest six-day walkout having begun on Wednesday. They are calling for a 35% wage increase, which the BMA says is “full pay restoration” to reverse fifteen years of below-inflation rises.
Around the World 🌍
South Korea’s opposition leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck but survived. He was attacked in broad daylight during a press conference by a lone wolf attacker, who has since been arrested. Lee lost the 2022 presidential election by a mere 0.73% vote difference, making it the closest presidential race in South Korean history. He is widely expected to stand in the 2027 presidential elections.
Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II announced her intention to abdicate. She made the surprise announcement in her New Year's Eve address, declaring she would step aside in favour of her son Crown Prince Frederik on 14 January 2024, the 52nd anniversary of her accession. She is the world's only ruling queen, the longest-reigning current European monarch, and the longest-serving incumbent female head of state.
Japan suffered a huge 7.6 magnitude earthquake on New Year’s Day. The death toll currently stands at approximately 100, but many more are still missing. The earthquake, the country's most powerful in 12 years, also triggered a small tsunami and multiple landslides.
Israel assassinated a senior political leader of Hamas in Lebanon, increasing the risk of the conflict’s escalation. Saleh al-Arouri, who was killed by a drone strike in Beirut, was serving as a connection between Hamas and Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese-based militia. Hezbollah’s leader had previously warned that any Israeli military action in Lebanon would result in a "powerful response" from the group, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to target Hamas’ leaders “wherever they are" in the world.
Committee Corridor 📜
The UK’s consumption of commodities leading to deforestation is unsustainable, found the most recent report from the Environmental Audit Committee. The report welcomed the recent announcement from Defra, committing to ensuring that cattle products, palm oil, soy and cocoa must be certified as ‘sustainable’ before being sold in UK markets, though expressed concern over the lack of urgency in the implementation of the regime, with no timeline for its implementation alongside other forest-risk commodities such as coffee being omitted from plans. The report calls for the Government to ensure that biodiversity considerations are more consistently applied into all its trade agreements and operations.
Sporting events must be more carefully managed and policed, so concludes the Culture, Media and Sports Committee’s most recent inquiry into safety spectator issues following disorder at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley (confusingly held in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic). The report recommends that the Government adopts the Unauthorised Entry to Football Matches Bill to ensure that practices such as attempting to gain entry to stadia through fake tickets, become a criminal offence. The report also sheds light on the ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Liverpool fans by French police at the 2022 Champions League Final, suggesting that the attitude of foreign police forces to British fans heavily impacted chaos.
DHSC should invest in centres to be used by innovators looking at bacteria-killing viruses, known as bacteriophages, warned the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee’s report into the viruses. According to the Committee, bacteriophages could be useful to combat the rising concerns in anti-microbial resistance, though the Government must establish a Good Manufacturing Practices facility to provide resources for companies who cannot afford investment on their own, before bacteriophage use can become more widespread.
Community sentences hold ‘untapped potential for keeping offenders out of prison and supporting them to avoid reoffending’, according to the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee’s latest report. It details that community sentences, contrary to public opinion, can be demanding; can succeed where short-term prison sentences fail and can be useful to ease the pressure on the 99% capacity in prisons, concluding that further investment in treatment places is required.
Key Movements 🔁
Anthony Arter has been appointed Interim Chair of The Pensions Ombudsman.
Dr Margaret Bates has been appointed Head for the UK Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging Scheme Administrator. She is currently Managing Director of the not-for-profit recycling label company OPRL, and will take up this role on secondment for up to two years.
In Liz Truss’ resignation honours list, Jackie Doyle-Price MP was conferred a Damehood and Alec Shelbrooke MP a Knighthood.
This Week’s Polls 📊
With a General Election looming, only 16% of voters want to wait until the Autumn, according to a YouGov poll conducted in October. Meanwhile, 19% want it to have happened by now, 29% said the Spring and 7% said the Summer. Get ready for an exciting year in Westminster…
Polls also suggest that Labour could win 37 ‘non-battleground’ seats, including those held on current boundaries by Government Ministers Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey and former Ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kwasi Kwarteng. The full list of seats that could be winnable for the party can be viewed here following research by Election Maps UK.
The economy remains the most common issue raised by voters but housing is up 8pts to 25% since the beginning of last year. New polling shows that immigration is also up 7pts to 39% and the economy is down 9pts, although 53% still viewed it as the most important issue facing the country.
The Resolution Foundation published a report on what 2024 might look like for living standards.
Reform published a report on the barriers to effective devolution and decentralisation in government, away from Whitehall.
Policy Exchange published a report arguing that women and girls in amateur sport are being denied fair and safe competition due to authorities adopting gender ideology.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
It’s been a gentle start back in Westminster in 2024… After the Chancellor give us the Spring Budget date just after Christmas, the PM now seems to have given us the rough election time (or so he says); so without a huge amount to end on this week, we thought we’d leave you with this glorious image from Reuters (h/t Harry Cole)… a very early contender for best caption competition of 2024.