Buckle up, it’s been one hell of a week in politics. From a Tory Party seeking to come from behind and sneak up the inside on a Labour Party well ahead in the polls in England, to a Labour Party showing serious signs of a potentially huge SNP upset in Scotland at the next election… this week has had it all.
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 at Conservative Party Conference 🌳
Bad news for 14-year-olds hoping to one day buy a cigarette after finishing their A-Levels before travelling to Manchester on High Speed Rail… In the Prime Minister’s first, and potentially only speech to Conservative Conference as Prime Minister, he sought to live up to the Conference slogan of ‘Long-Term Decisions for a Brighter Future’ by announcing three measures that would, if implemented, have a significant impact on long-term life in the United Kingdom. After weeks of speculation (and denials that a decision had been made) the nation’s worst kept secret was finally announced, with confirmation that HS2 will now only run from London (Euston not Old Oak) to Birmingham, with the leg from the West Midlands to Manchester scrapped. The £36bn of estimated savings will instead be put into transport projects across the country (some of which have already been in place since 2014; others which have already been cancelled since Wednesday), with potholes, road improvements, and regional rail all set to benefit.
Those aged 14 years old will never be legally sold a cigarette in the UK, as the Prime Minister highlighted his desire for “more preventative care”. Legislation will be brought before Parliament to raise the smoking age by one year, every year, meaning that anybody born on or after 1 January 2009 will never be legally allowed to purchase cigarettes. The Prime Minister announced the vote in Parliament will be a free vote, meaning that there will be no Government Whip and MPs can vote on “conscience”. Citing statistics showing that 1-in-5 children have used vapes, the Prime Minister also announced measures would be brought forward on issues such as packaging, displays and disposable vapes.
A 14-year old today may also never take A-Levels, after the Prime Minister set out his intention to introduce the Advanced British Standard. With the PM’s desire to see all students study maths to 18 well publicised, this new Standard will also require all students to study “some form” of English to 18. It will bring together A-Levels and T-Levels, see students spend “at least” 195 more hours with a teacher, and ensure that the “typical” student studies 5 subjects until 18, rather than current norm of 3. To ensure there are enough teachers, those who teach key subjects in schools and further education colleges will receive “special bonuses” of up to £30,000 tax free over the first five years of their career.
Conservative Party Conference was also dominated by surprise appearances, by former Prime Ministers, former leaders of UKIP, and even the Prime Minister’s own wife. Introducing the PM, Akshata Murty gave the nation an insight into her husband’s personal side, describing him as “thoughtful…compassionate [and with] an incredible zest for life”. In a less welcome appearance for the PM, his predecessor and the shortest serving PM in history Liz Truss delved into her top hits by calling on the Conservatives to “make Britain grow again”, while also voicing support for reducing corporation tax, fracking, and to set a target to build 500,000 homes a year. Truss was speaking at an event hosted by GB News, with Nigel Farage also in attendance on behalf of the channel, leading to rumours he could rejoin the Party. With Farage a star of the show, many Conservative members couldn’t take their eyes off of him, as he was videoed singing and dancing with the former Home Secretary Priti Patel to the Frank Sinatra classic.
One man who wasn’t very welcome at Conference was Chair of the London Assembly Andrew Boff, after he was escorted out of the Conference Hall following a seemingly very brief and quiet heckle of the Home Secretary while she was delivering her speech. Boff said that there was “no such thing as gender ideology” adding that the Home Secretary’s comments were making the Conservatives “look transphobic and homophobic”. Although the Home Secretary posted that the former Leader of the London Assembly Conservatives ‘should be forgiven and let back into Conference’, it appears Boff watched Sunak’s speech from a Wetherspoons in Manchester.
New MP Alert 🌹
On Thursday night, Labour doubled their number of MPs in Scotland, after Michael Shanks won the seat from the SNP in a by-election. Turnout was typically low, at just 37.2%, and all the usual rules apply when dissecting a by-election result… however the huge 24% swing – over 20% from the SNP – shows the major inroads Labour has made into Scotland, a nation Labour historically has to do well in to return a Government in Westminster…
Coming Up Next Week 📆
The biggest Labour Party Conference in years is set to kick off this weekend, with Angela Rayner opening the conference at 1120 on Sunday for any keen-beans there early. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves is the big draw on Monday at midday, with sessions on foreign affairs, living standards and energy also taking place that day. On Tuesday Keir Starmer has his big moment in the spotlight at 1400, with sessions on policing and communities also taking place. The conference closes on Wednesday with sessions on education and health, before the traditional Red Flag brings the whole shindig to a close.
The Week in Stats 📉
£11 – The minimum amount the National Living Wage will rise to from April 2024.
17,845 – Number of votes Labour successfully secured in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, with a swing of 20.4% from the SNP.
£212bn – Worth of homes currently sitting empty across England – about 2.7% of the entire market.
£1,278 – Average advertised rents outside London which marks a new record for the 15th consecutive quarter.
£30m – The amount the Government has committed to invest in innovative tech for the NHS.
23 – Number of times Penny Mordaunt said "stand up and fight" (or a minor variation of) in her speech at Tory Conference this week.
Tory Conference Roundup 📜
It’s been a week of Cabinet podium speeches in Manchester. Here are the top lines you need to know:
Larger Silicon Valley, smaller Civil Service – Chancellor Jeremy Hunt again stated his ambitions for the UK to become the next Silicon Valley, praising the UK’s Covid recovery; announced that he was freezing the expansion of the Civil Service to save an anticipated £1bn; and confirmed plans to increase the National Living Wage to £11 an hour, whatever the recommendation from the Low Pay Commission.
Unwavering commitment to Ukraine – Foreign Sec James Cleverly highlighted the Government’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine; listed the Windsor Framework, AUKUS, the Hiroshima Accord and the Atlantic Declaration as steps forward in foreign policy, as well as the focus on the Indo-Pacific, successful CPTPP negotiations and work to conclude a trade deal with India.
“Hurricane” immigration and an armed police review – Home Sec Suella Braverman confirmed a review of the legal and operational framework in which armed police operate; compared “unprecedented mass migration” to an incoming “hurricane”; pledged to bring legal migration down to “reasonable levels”; and criticised the “dense net of international rules” such as the “misnamed Human Rights Act”.
Aid to Ukraine, AUKUS subs and Typhoons to Poland – Defence Sec Grant Shapps celebrated the UK’s provision of “billions in military aid” to Ukraine; announced a £4 billion contract to develop AUKUS submarines; acknowledged the challenge of the “rapidly expanding Chinese navy”; and announced the UK had deployed Typhoons to Poland and a battalion-sized UK Strategic Reserve Force to Kosovo.
Prison expansion, breaking the reoffending cycle, and support for women and girls – Justice Sec Alex Chalk emphasised the importance of combatting illegal migration; highlighted the largest prison expansion programme “since the Victorian era” and increased support for prison leavers to reduce reoffending; and announced the Government will legislate to suspend parental rights from those who murder their partners.
Intolerable costs, climate radicals, nuclear, solar and insulation – Energy Sec Claire Coutinho defended the reversal of Net Zero plans, stating it was needed to stop “the privileged elite” making unwanted changes and introducing “intolerable costs” for the working people; accused Labour of working “in lockstep” with Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion; assured the Nuclear Roadmap will be out in autumn; detailed plans to review planning to make it easier to install solar on industrial rooftops; and announced a further £80m in funding to insulate social housing.
AI, Regional Innovation and science without wokeism – Science Sec Michelle Donelan spent a lot of her speech attacking “the slow creak of wokeism” announcing the launch of a review into the use of sex and gender questions in scientific research; detailed a £60m ‘Regional Innovation Fund’; announced plans to increase satellite coverage for broadband in hard to reach areas; and revealed increased spending to fund additional AI scholarships places.
Energy efficient homes and new Long-Term Plan for Towns – Levelling Up Sec Michael Gove told attendees the Government’s plan for housing would deliver “attractive, affordable new homes” that were energy efficient, zero-carbon ready and built to the highest aesthetic standards; and confirmed the Long-Term Plan for Towns would regenerate communities and take action against anti-social behaviour.
More medics and changes to the constitution – Health Sec Steve Barclay announced the creation of a £30m fund to help improve patient care and tackle waiting lists; announced additional medical school training places from September, including three new medical schools; and committed to changing the NHS constitution following a consultation later in the year, “to make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients, recognising the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women”.
Brexit Brexit Brexit – Business Sec Kemi Badenoch outlined that despite every country having supply chain issues, Brexit is blamed for these issues in the UK; listed some of the benefits of Brexit, including joining the CPTPP; and reiterated that earlier in the year she announced plans to regenerate Port Talbot steelworks.
Food security and rural support – Defra Sec Therese Coffey reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to ensuring 60% of food is domestically produced; announced plans to ensure rural households and businesses get faster broadband; announced the publication of Homes England’s Rural Housing Statement; and criticised oppositions’ approach to sewage discharges.
Back to work support, benefit assessment reforms, and child support – Work and Pensions Sec Mel Stride outlined the Government’s new trial of a “far more demanding” approach to get people into work; confirmed reforms to sickness and disability benefit assessments to “take account of the modern workplace”; and announced the enforcement process against parents who refuse to pay child maintenance will be fast-tracked.
No more phones, no more strikes – Education Sec Gillian Keegan (once again) praised apprenticeships to level up education; pledged to change guidance to ban mobile phones in schools; assured the Government will provide 30 hours free childcare for working parents; and launched a consultation on a Minimum Service Level at universities amidst ongoing strikes.
Pro-car, anti-interference – Transport Sec Mark Harper insisted the Conservative Party is “pro-car”; criticised the expansion of ULEZ and other “overzealous use of traffic management measures”; criticised councils wrongly implementing 20mph zones; and announced traffic lights will be “tuned up” to ensure better traffic flow.
Harry Styles, growth sectors and advice on statues and monuments – Culture, Media and Sport Sec Lucy Frazer paid tribute to all the “talented people” in the UK (shouting out Harry Styles, Adele and Ed Sheeran); assured that the creative industries are one of the 5 high-growth sectors for the Government; criticised the Welsh Government for cutting arts spending; and confirmed new guidance on statues and monuments will be published soon, titled ‘Retain and Explain’.
Stand up and fight – House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt gave a note-less rallying-cry of a speech, repeatedly urging Tory activists to “stand up and fight”; evoked the memory of Thatcher and Churchill; criticised militant unions and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and in no way set out her early pitch to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.
Around the World 🌍
Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was ousted from the role this week when hard-right Republicans moved against him. Dissatisfied with the compromises he made to agree a spending package and keep the US Government open (and having always desired to see him gone), a core of Republicans tabled a vote of no confidence in McCarthy, which the Democrats decided to support at the last minute. Even so it was a close vote, with the House voting 216-210 to remove him. He is the first ever Speaker of the House to be removed in such a manner and leaves lawmaking in the US even more dysfunctional.
In the Senate, Laphonza Butler has been sworn in to fill Dianne Feinsten’s seat after she died last week. An abortion rights campaigner and Democrat Party strategist, Butler is the first LGBTQ+ Black woman to sit in the Senate.
Donald Trump faced yet another indictment when he was charged with fraud in a civil trial in New York. The charges allege that he, his sons and the Trump Organisation inflated the value of their properties by more than $2bn. The New York Attorney General is seeking a fine of $250m and a ban on the Trump Organisation doing businesses in New York, which could result in the sale of the now infamous Trump Tower.
A populist pro-Russia party has won Slovakia’s election, with its leader, former Prime Minister Robert Fico, pledging that his Government would “not send a single round of ammunition to Ukraine". However, his Smer-SSD party will likely end up entering coalition with a pro-European party, tempering his opposition to support for Ukraine. Fico was forced to step down as leader in 2018 following the murder of an investigative journalist.
‘Elections’ were held in Eswatini (formally Swaziland), the last absolute monarchy in Africa. Political parties are banned in the country, and the fifty-one men and eight women who were elected are mostly seen as pro-royalists and will serve principally as the King’s advisors, rather than wielding any lawmaking powers.
A pro-China candidate won presidential elections in the Maldives, defeating the incumbent pro-India president. Mohamed Muizzu, who won 54% of the vote, campaigned with the slogan "India out", despite the fact the Maldives have historically had close cultural and financial ties with India. Mr Muizzi gained support partially due to opposition to the small Indian military base that was opened in the Maldives in 2021.
India expelled two-thirds of Canada’s diplomats, reducing its total number of representatives from 62 to 21. The move escalated the row that has been raging since Canada announced it has “credible allegations” that India had been involved in the assassination of a Sikh separatist in Canada.
Key Movements 🔁
Michael Shanks has been elected the new Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West.
Stephen Welton has been named the new chair of the British Business Bank. He is the founder and former CEO and Chair of the British Growth Fund.
Rob Fletcher has been appointed the permanent CEO of Magnox Ltd, the subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority managing 12 nuclear sites and one hydroelectric plant in the UK. He has served as interim CEO since May this year.
Gavin Jones and Nicola Wood have been appointed the new Lead Commissioner and Finance Commissioner respectively, to Thurrock Council, taking over from Essex County Council. The move comes a year after the Government intervened in the running of Thurrock Council due it’s £1bn debt.
Elizabeth Armstrong, Mark Spence, Orla Sheils and Sarah Havlin have been appointed the new board members of the Labour Relations Agency, the non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy.
Max Caller has been appointed the Lead Commissioner at Birmingham City Council, after the Government intervened this week, when the Council reported its backdated equal pay liability and in-year budget deficit are larger than its available resources.
This Week’s Polls 📊
The majority of the public think the Government is doing a bad job at delivering on key pledges, according to the latest Ipsos Political Pulse, with over 70% of people polled believing that Rishi Sunak is doing a bad job at reducing NHS waiting lists.
Young people are more supportive of the ongoing rail strikes than older people, according to a Savanta poll of 2,100 people, which found 47% of 18-24 year olds support the rail strikes compared to only 25% of those aged 65 and over.
62% of those who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 would vote for them again at the next General Election, according to Deltapoll’s latest survey on voting intention. Meanwhile, 88% of Labour voters in 2019 would vote the same way again.
66% of people would like Britain to remain a Monarchy, according to an Ipsos poll, although support is weaker amongst the younger generation, with this figure dropping to 49% of 18-34s. The poll also revealed that Prince William commands higher satisfaction rates than King Charles (74% compared to 63%).
The IPPR released a publication detailing the case for a green industrial strategy. The report argues that the path to net zero is a huge economic opportunity for the country, but that this will require a coordinated, long-term public policy and substantial investment.
The IISS published a research paper which surveyed the ways in which guided weapons have been used in the Ukraine conflict, and some of the lessons that can be learned on how to effectively employ and defend against such systems.
Policy Exchange released a report on “Democratising the Internet”. It explores the UK’s opportunity to seize a major share of the rapidly growing tech sector known as Web3, aimed at decentralising the internet, and lays out recommendations for the UK Government.
Demos published a paper on inheritance taxation through the lens of the Labour Party and their core values, setting out recommendations for Labour to consider at the next General Election.
The IFS published a report discussing the temporary full-expensing policy and whether it should be made a permanent part of the corporate tax base, calling on both the Government and Labour to set out a clear long-term plan for corporation tax.
The IfG shared a publication looking at the UK’s developments in offshore wind policy from 2010-16, and how this success can inform the current Government’s net zero governance and decision making on offshore wind.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
Conference fringe events have always been the place to hear politicians at their most honest, caught off guard and straying from the party line. But occasionally some brilliantly out of context lines are heard. Hat Tip to the BBC who made a note of Housing Minister Rachel Maclean’s comments to a fringe event on reforming the UK’s rental market, at which she reportedly said “There are plenty of young people who are in the [private rented sector] who are not weed-smoking bad people, in gangs and crack dens and everything else and smashing up the neighbourhood.”
We’ve seen some absolute shockers when it comes to politicians and photoshop over the last few years… and they don’t come much worse than this week’s attempt from 10 Downing Street… except… that it wasn’t photoshopped. When the Prime Minister posted a selfie with a group of teenagers to mark the Government’s announcement on plans to effectively ban smoking, the internet jumped on it as a prime example of political photoshop gone wrong. It turns out, despite what it appears… it is a real picture, taken on a visit to Truro College earlier this year.
And finally… if you’re not one of the 6.4 million people to have seen the picture of Home Secretary Suella Braverman appearing to stand on a Guide Dog’s tail… here you go. Safe to say, the whole thing made Navigate’s four-legged chief morale officer a tad nervous…
We hope you have a lovely weekend