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A Reformed Man | May Be Not | No Gove Lost

Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform on Monday and hyped up rumours a string of further Tory backbenchers were considering the same made for a difficult start to the week in Downing Street; fuelling May election rumours. The PM has finally ruled out a 2nd May election, as all of Westminster breathed a collective sigh of relief ahead of the weekend. Expect this pattern to repeat itself every week until hot podium guy finally emerges from the famous black door later this year.

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 🚨

There will NOT BE a General Election on 2nd May 2024, according to the Prime Minister, who confirmed this during an interview with ITV News West Country. The news was greeted with criticism from Opposition Parties, with Labour telling the PM to “name the date” and sharing an image of Sunak in a chicken outfit. The Liberal Democrats, who have their Spring Conference this weekend, accused the PM of “running scared” and called it a “Zombie Government”.

The other focus of attention in Westminster this week was Tory donor Frank Hester, after The Guardian reported comments he made about Diane Abbott in 2019,  stating that the Labour MP made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”. After the comments came to light on Monday, it took the Government an entire day to admit that the comments were “racist”, having initially sent ministers out on the Tuesday morning media round to say that the remarks were “inappropriate” but not “race-based”… Cut to 1830 that evening when the Prime Minister’s spokesperson finally admitted that “the comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong”. It should be noted that whilst Downing Street held its line throughout Tuesday, it was actually Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch who outflanked the PM earlier in the day and said that the comments were indeed “racist” (note the timestamp). There have been calls from Labour and the Lib Dems for the Conservative Party to return Hester’s £10 million donation; meanwhile, the Tories seem desperate to insist Hester’s apology should be accepted and that “we must move on”. Perhaps also worth noting then that whilst Hester apologised for being “rude”, he did not actually apologise for being racist and/or using racist language. Diane Abbott responded to the remarks, saying that she was “upset but not surprised”; she also criticised all parties, including Labour, for not doing enough to stand up against racism. And as the PM and Labour Leader went back and forth over these comments at PMQs, you might have noticed Diane Abbott standing up to try and speak – 46 times – without success.

Michael Gove unveiled the Government’s new extremism definition, under which certain groups will be blocked from Government funding and meeting officials. Under the new definition, extremism is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: (1) negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; (2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK's system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or (3) intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).” This will apply to, but not criminalise, groups that promote such ideologies, and comes in light of what Gove termed a “surge” in extremism since the Israel-Gaza war. The new definition has been criticised by Conservatives, including Robert Jenrick who claimed “it does not go far enough to tackle the real extremists, and it does not do enough to protect the non-extremists who are simply expressing contrarian views.” It has also been accused of targeting Muslims, with the Head of the Muslim Council of Britain stating that this new definition would lead to the “unfair targeting of Muslim communities.” So far, Gove has named five groups that will be assessed against the new definition, two of which he has described as “Islamist” and the other two as promoting “Neo-Nazi ideology”. The Government may be reflecting on this clip from Question Time last night in which no one in the audience was prepared to admit they supported the plans…

Reform have their first MP! and no, it’s not Nigel Farage, but instead former Conservative Party Vice Chair Lee Anderson after he finally did what everybody expected he’d do and defected. Unveiled at a Press Conference on Monday morning, Anderson said “all I want is my country back” and that he would be speaking out “on behalf of the millions of people up and down the country” who support Reform, with the Party polling at about 10%. The MP for Ashfield, who had previously supported calls for defecting MPs to have a by-election, said he would not be doing so as it would be “pretty reckless for me to suggest a by-election when we could have a general election in May”.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

As MPs move into another week of fevered rumour about the date of the election, here’s what’s coming up in Westminster next week…

In the Commons – The Safety of Rwanda Bil returns from the Lords on Monday, riddled with amendments for the Government to swiftly remove, and the Trade (CPTPP) Bill goes through its remaining stages on Tuesday. The big business of the week comes on Wednesday with the second reading of the Post Office (Horizon System) Bill – to quash the convictions of those wrongly convicted of stealing from the Post Office, en masse. On Thursday, recent select committee reports on armed forces readiness and defence equipment, as well as food security are debated on the floor of the House.

In the Lords – the Spring Budget will be debated on Monday, and debates will be held throughout the week on the UK’s accession to the CPTPP, local government finances and the use of “sportswashing” by countries to cover up human rights abuses. Lords have already put in time on Wednesday to consider changes MPs make to the Safety of Rwanda Bill… with a number of peers expected to re-table the amendments that will be removed in the Commons on Monday.

On Committee Corridor – Jeremy Hunt is up before the Lords Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Defence Procurement Minister James Cartlidge, Homelessness Minister Felicity Buchan, Apprenticeships Minister Robert Halfon, Courts Minister Mike Freer and Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie all face questions from their relevant committees, before Justice Secretary Alex Chalk faces the Lords Constitution Committee. The big external session of the week takes places on Wednesday morning when the CEOs of Lloyds, Barclays, Santander and NatWest all face questions from the Treasury Committee.

The new leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister of Wales will be announced this Saturday. Either Jeremy Miles or Vaughan Gething will take over from Mark Drakeford and announce their new Cabinet soon after.

The Week in Stats 📉

4 – The number of ministers (including the Defence Secretary) who this week have called for a rise in defence spending, potentially as high as 3%.

7 hours and 9 minutes – The length of the average sitting day in this Parliament, the lowest since 1997.

5.5% – The amount MP salaries will increase by from April.

Over 12,500 – The number of hate crimes prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service in the year to September 2023.

£3,000 – The amount asylum seekers could be offered to voluntarily move to Rwanda.

26,899 – The number of applications to the Civil Service Fast Stream in 2023, a fall from 64,697 in 2020.

21% – The proportion of adults who were a victim of fraud between 2021 and 2023, according to a survey across 15 countries by the Social Market Foundation.

62 – The number of Conservative MPs set to stand down at the next election.

Other Political News 📰

A plan to ‘futureproof the country’s long-term energy security’ was unveiled, with the Government committing to support the building of new gas power stations ‘to maintain a safe and reliable energy source for days when the weather forecast doesn’t power up renewables’. It claimed ‘the need for continued unabated gas generation into the 2030s as a back-up to ensure energy security and reduce costs has been recognised by the Climate Change Committee’ and ‘keeps the UK on track to meet its net zero targets’. In a speech at Chatham House, Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho warned that “without gas backing up renewables, we face the genuine prospect of blackouts”. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister also underlined the need for gas generation in the immediate term to meet rising demand, describing it as the ‘insurance policy Britain needs to protect our energy security.’

New action to take down fraudsters was agreed at the first Global Fraud Summit in London, hosted by Home Secretary James Cleverly. During a series of meetings with senior ministers from the G7, Five Eyes, Singapore and South Korea, Cleverly discussed the threats posed by organised crime groups, and how global law enforcement can address it. A communiqué which sets out a 4-point framework to combat fraud together was subsequently agreed by international leaders, pledging to enhance law enforcement cooperation, improve victim support and bolster intelligence sharing.

Thousands more people across the UK will train and gain qualifications in future tech like AI, following the announcement of a new package to upskill the country. Addressing the Maths Summit on Tuesday, Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan set out plans to ‘revolutionise the UK’s skill-base in key industries’, in which she announced over £1bn to train more than 4,000 students across the UK in 65 Centres for Doctoral Training, including work at Bristol University to take advantage of developments in digital chemistry to help develop new drugs, such as antibiotics and cancer treatments.

The UK launched trade talks with Turkey on a modernised deal, replacing the current agreement that was largely negotiated in the 1990s. The new trade deal will focus on the UK’s strengths in services, which make up 80% of GDP. The Department for Business and Trade stated that Turkey presents ‘significant opportunities for British businesses, particularly in transport, engineering, financial services, manufacturing and tech’, with the first round of negotiations due to take place in the summer.

Texas became the eighth US state to sign a trade pact with the UK, bringing the combined GDP of UK-US state level deals to £5.3 trillion – a quarter of US GDP. The pact comes just four months on from signing the UK-Florida MoU and aims to help make it quicker, easier and cheaper for UK and Texas firms to do business by tackling trade barriers, growing investment and driving commerce, benefitting key sectors such as energy, life sciences and professional services.

Around the World 🌍

History is set to repeat itself, as Trump and Biden are confirmed to go head to head again in the US election later this year. The pair both passed the threshold for delegates this week, after winning a series of primaries on Tuesday. Nominations will be made official in the summer at the party conventions.

Elsewhere in the land of American politics, the House of Representatives passed a Bill that could ban the use of TikTok in America, by 352 votes to 65. The Bill, if passed, would require the Bejing-owned and Cayman Island-registered company ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to sell the app to a US firm, or face it be banned from app stores in the US. The Bill now heads to the Senate to be voted on, though President Biden has already indicated his support for it.

Haiti’s Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, announced he is to step down once a suitable transition council is installed, following rising pressure and violence from street gangs. Henry took control of the country, on a supposedly interim basis, in July 2021 after the assassination of his predecessor, Jovenel Moise, but has been seen by many in the country as corrupt and illegitimate due to repeated failures at holding new elections. Henry is currently in Puerto Rico after being prevented from returning home by armed gangs.

Senegal’s Opposition Leader, Ousmane Sonko, and the Presidential candidate he is backing, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, have been released from prison, weeks before the election is due to be held in the country, on 24 March, following an amnesty announced by the President. Mr Faye is one of the favourites for the election, having been detained without trial last April, on charges which include inciting insurrection. Sonko is forbidden to run in the election.  

Portugal’s centre-right secured a narrow victory in the country’s election, as the Democratic Alliance (made up of the Social Democratic Party and two smaller conservative parties) secured around 29% of the vote, narrowly beating the Socialist Party by just 2 seats in its 230 seat Assembly. Far right party, Chenga, increased its share of the vote, polling at around 18%, demonstrating the right-ward shift in politics. It remains unclear if Alliance leader, Luis Montenegro, can rule without the support of the Chenga Party, though he has refused to negotiate any deal with Chenga, condemning their leader, André Ventura, as xenophobic and racist.

The European Parliament approved the world’s first framework for constraining the risks of AI, with lawmakers insisting that the Act will make the technology more ‘human-centric’. The Act is based on AI’s capacity to harm society, separating the technology into three categories: technology that causes a ‘clear risk to fundamental rights’, such as things that involve the processing of biometric data, which will be banned; high risk technology, like that used in critical infrastructure and healthcare, which will have to apply to strict rules; and low risk services, such as spam filters, which will face light regulation. It is expected the Act will be approved by the Council and become law within weeks.

Polls have opened in the Russian Elections, as President Putin is set to win another 6 years in office, without any credible opposition, following the death of the most prominent opposition figure, Alex Navalny. Voting will last three days, closing at 8pm on Sunday.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Commons continued debating the Budget on Monday and Tuesday, which subsequently passed on Wednesday. Thursday saw an Estimates Day debate, where MPs focused their attention on the Department for Education’s spending on SEND provision and the Home Office’s spending on asylum and migration. Business and Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake gave a statement to provide an update on the Post Office Legislation and DLUHC Secretary Michael Gove delivered a statement on the Government’s new definition of extremism. Concluding the week, various Private Members’ Bills had their second readings. 

The Lords had a productive legislative week, with the Safety of Rwanda Bill having had its third reading, passing back to the Commons next week with amendments. The Digital Markets, Competition a Consumers Bill had two days of its report stage, and the Victims and Prisoners Bill continued its committee stage. The House had various debates on topics including: the importance of strengthening and safeguarding the union of the UK, the regulation of new broadcasting companies, and on the housing needs of young people.

Committee Corridor 📜

Businesses and the Government need to do more to ensure the needs of disabled customers are considered from the outset when designing products and services, the Women & Equalities Committee concluded in its report published on Wednesday.

The Government must do more to monitor the financial resilience of sectors and companies, so it is well placed to respond in case of the failure of a strategically important company or key supplier, so warned the Public Accounts Committee in its first report of two out this week.

The Government must act fast to ensure that energy storage technologies can scale up in time to play a vital role in decarbonising the electricity system and ensuring energy security by 2035, the Lords Science & Tech Committee warned in their most recent report.

Councils have been able to spend just a fraction of the Government’s promised Levelling Up funding, the Public Accounts Committee revealed in report two of the week. Just over 10% of the funds provided to reduce inequality under the Levelling Up agenda actually spent so far.

Key Movements 🔁

James Heappey MP announced he will be stepping down as Armed Forces Minister at the end of the month, and as an MP at the election.

Brandon Lewis MP also announced he will be stepping down as an MP at the election.

Lee Anderson MP joined Reform UK.

Will Quince MP has been appointed to conduct a review into public sector food procurement.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin has had his role as Chief of the Defence Staff extended until Autumn 2025.

Alex Ellis has been appointed HM Ambassador to Spain and Andorra.

Former MP Guto Bebb has been appointed Interim Chair of S4C.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Labour leads the Conservative Party by 18%, according to Redfield and Wilton’s polling update, a 1% drop on the previous week. The Conservatives remain just 10% ahead of Reform, which sits on 14%. Opinium gives Labour a 16% lead, while Savanta has them on 15%.

Despite her apparently dodgy photoshopping skills and recent disappearing act, Kate Middleton remains the public’s most liked member of the Royal Family, according to Ipsos’ polling. 38% of respondents said she was their favourite, followed by Prince William (36%) and ‘any of the King’s grandchildren’ (27%). Prince Andrew languished at the bottom with 2%.

40% of passengers believe British railways don’t provide good value for money to passengers, Ipsos also found. 37% stated that rail services cannot be relied upon and 49% said they had delayed making decisions about whether to travel by train in the last year due to concerns about whether services would run.

Brits believe both Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes during the conflict according to YouGov’s latest findings on the topic. 67% of respondents said they believed Israel had committed war crimes, while 72% said the same for Hamas.

Think-Tanking 💭

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a paper as part of study evaluating and pricing health insurance in lower-income countries.

The Resolution Foundation published a report on the impact of personal tax and benefit changes since 2010 on pensioner families.

RUSI published a report on the trade in Russian enriched uranium.

The Institute for Government published the final report by its Commission into the Centre of Government, which found that No.10, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury are not capable of meeting the challenges facing the UK in the 2020s and beyond.

The Institute for Government also published a report looking at how the UK can better manage a rapidly changing environment, arguing the Government should make managing climate change a priority.

The Henry Jackson Society published a report arguing that ahead of the sham Russian Presidential election this weekend, Western nations should denounce Putin’s legitimacy.

Policy Exchange published a report on how, by taking lessons from history, countries can achieve an economic transformation.

The IPPR published a report on the role of employability in tackling poverty and a report on the future of hyperlocal governance in England

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Reform UK’s branding team may have gone too far at Lee Anderson’s press conference following his defection to the Party. The conference saw a host of funny moments, but you wouldn’t be able to tell Anderson’s frustration… because the Union flag blocked his face while he was speaking. Don’t worry though, no one was laughing... Except The Sun Political editor Harry Cole… who Anderson called out during his opening remarks (behind the flag), snapping, “is that you, Harry, laughing?”


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