After Energy Week and ‘Stop the Boats’ Week, well done for surviving Health Week (or entirely missing it if you’re on holiday). Without the regular hustle and bustle of Westminster, new harassment allegations or major events to derail the Government’s planned news agenda, we’ve seen three weeks in a row that have largely stayed on track. Finally, finally we are in recess…
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 🚨
The PM is back from holiday, and the Government have been largely successful in keeping their health agenda on track this week, with the Downing Street grid scoring three out of three so far in August (although not unusual for this time of year when many politicos have switched off entirely to crawl under a rock for a few weeks). Timed to coincide with a meeting of G20 Health Ministers in India, the Government have led with oft’ repeated attack lines on Labour’s record in Wales, whilst Labour have countered with stats on waiting lists, hospital beds, and ambulance delays. Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s big play has come in the launch of a consultation on proposals to add inserts into packs of cigarettes encouraging smokers to quit.
CPI inflation dropped to 6.8% in July, down from 7.9% in June and the recent high of 11.1% in October last year. The move takes the figures closer to Rishi Sunak’s target of halving inflation by the end of the year, from the 10.1% in January, making the chance of him meeting his key pledge a real possibility. The rate is still way above the Bank of England’s 2% target, but moving in the right direction, with the Bank already predicting Sunak will meet his pledge, in part due to falling gas prices driving down energy bills, and the Bank’s own measures to encourage saving and limit household borrowing through higher interest rates.
Top A-Level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland dropped again this year from their mid-pandemic highs, with far fewer students receiving the top grades as exam boards attempted to return grades to levels seen before COVID cancelled exams and teachers were forced to award students predicted grades. Due to different exam boards and the types of exams sat – with students in Wales and NI still taking AS-Levels – grades in England dropped faster than elsewhere with top results sitting closer to levels seen in 2019. Overall 27.2% grades were an A or A*, compared to 44.8% in 2021 and 36.4% in 2022, but still slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels of 25.4% in 2019. However, whilst the number of top grades might have fallen, 91% of students have been placed at their first or second choice university, a 3% rise on 2022.
The Week in Stats 📉
7.8% – rate at which wages grew in April-June 2023, the highest rate since records began in 2001.
19 – people, including former US President Donald Trump, that have been charged by prosecutors in the State of Georgia with attempting to overturn the 2020 Presidential Election.
12% – interest rates in Russia, after the rouble fell to its lowest value in 16 months.
Below 9% – rate at which rail fares in England will rise in March 2024, after the Government said they would not be rising at July’s RPI rate.
5.3% – rise in the average price paid by renters between July 2022 and July 2023.
91% – UK students placed at one of their chosen universities, with 79% placed at their first choice (h/t University Alliance)
Other Political News 📰
The blame will fall on councils if the public feel enough pubs aren’t serving alcohol during the Women’s World Cup Final on Saturday after the Government encouraged councils to fast-track applications from pubs to extend their licensing hours. A blanket extension of licensing regulations to ensure all pubs can serve alcohol in time for the 11am match would have required MPs to pass an ‘affirmative’ motion, which would have required the suspension of recess and the reconvening of Parliament. As such, the Government took the easy route and dumped the issue on local councils.
Keir Starmer returned to Scotland ahead of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, where he promptly had to deny divisions between Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and himself. Labour’s ongoing headache of the two-child benefit cap was the main issue, with Scottish Labour having stated its opposition to the policy. Labour views the by-election as a key litmus test of its popularity in Scotland, with its path back to Downing Street running straight through constituencies such as Rutherglen.
Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy penned a column in the Mirror in which he demanded the UK ‘not turn our backs on the women and girls of Afghanistan’, while Veterans’ Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer stated that while ‘we should be proud of Britain’s efforts to resettle those we owe’, there was ‘more to do’. A cross-party group of MPs wrote to the Immigration Minister demanding he do more to resettle Afghan immigrants and warning that ‘not only has delivery been slow, but the remaining places simply do not match up to the number of Afghans eligible for UK protection’.
The former Home Secretary clashed with her successor when Priti Patel accused Suella Braverman of being ‘evasive’ over plans to house asylum seekers at the Wethersfield former RAF base near her Witham constituency. She said the Government had ‘bypassed the usual planning requirements, claimed the site is temporary for emergency use only’ and had been ‘planning to use the site for five years’. Now that’s some impressive brass neck…
The Shadow Foreign Secretary undertook a five-day visit to Brazil, where he re-emphasised a future Labour Government’s plan to ramp up diplomacy by carrying out an audit of UK diplomats based around the world and boosting the number of attachés in key locations such as Brazil and India.
Three Bulgarian nationals were arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia as part of a ‘major national security investigation’. The BBC reported that the defendants, alleged to have been working for the Russian security services, were arrested in February and have been held in custody since then. Their trial will begin at the Old Bailey in January.
Around the World 🌍
Former President Donald Trump was charged in Georgia for attempting to overturn the 2020 election defeat in the State. In a 98-page document released on Monday, prosecutors have listed a total of 41 charges against Trump and 18 other defendants (such as Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows), including racketeering and conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree. Attorney General Fani Willis has said that she would like all 19 defendants to reach trial within 6 months, although this is seen as ambitious.
Latvia’s Prime Minister, Krišjānis Kariņš, announced his resignation on Monday, referencing the breaking down of relations with parts of the multi-party Government as the reason for his decision. The move comes after Kariņš announced he was going to dissolve the coalition Government on Friday, after the other two coalition parties rejected plans for a reshuffle, which led the Prime Minister to accuse them of ‘blocking work for welfare and economic growth’. Kariņš’ party is due to select a candidate for Prime Minister on Wednesday.
Another General Election in Spain has become less likely, after the Socialist party candidate, Francina Armengol, was elected as Speaker of the Lower House on Thursday after receiving support from Catalan separatist parties. The backing of the Catalan nationals, which was received in exchange of the promise of new measures promoting the use of the Catalan language in the Spanish Parliament and the creation of a committee investigating surveillance on Catalan separatists, has provided a boost for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to retain his title, though he still does not have sufficient backing to remain in power, requiring a few of the separatists to back his own candidacy in Parliament.
The results of Argentina’s primaries saw far-right Javier Milei take 30% of the vote in a surprise result. The 52 year old has been said to exploit the country’s disenchantment with traditional politics, which has failed to address the region’s economic crisis, capitalising on protest votes to finish top place in the primary elections, despite polling which suggested he would finish no higher than third place. Milei, who is former rock musician, an open Trump supporter, and declares himself an ‘anarcho-capitalist libertarian’ who wants to eliminate the central bank and replace the Argentine peso with the US dollar, will now stand for his party, La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) in the upcoming October elections, where he would need to obtain at least 45% of the votes to become victorious.
A second politician in a week has been killed in Ecuador, as Pedro Briones, a local leader of the left-wing Citizen Revolution Party was shot dead by an armed motorcyclist at his home. The news comes as violence in Ecuador continues, ahead of the snap presidential elections due to take place on Sunday.
Key Movements 🔁
The MOD needs to prepare for the effects of climate change, warns a Defence Committee report on defence and climate change. It argues that Defence needs to ‘adapt to operate across increasingly demanding climatic conditions’ or risk the capabilities of the Armed Forces being ‘eroded’, and recommends the MOD publish a more ‘in-depth, stand-alone annual review of its climate and sustainability performance’ and appoint a 'dedicated climate change director' who would ‘focus on coordinating carbon reductions across the whole of Defence’.
This Week’s Polls 📊
Tom Joseph has been nominated by the Chancellor to become a member of the Budget Responsibility Committee at the OBR.
Jo McPhail has been appointed British High Commissioner to Gabon, with her role to begin in September 2023.
Lieutenant General Roly Walker will reportedly be the next Chief of the General Staff (Head of the British Army), according to reports in the Telegraph this week.
Professor Mark Watson-Gandy was confirmed as chair of the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) for a second term.
The Social Market Foundation published a report on the case for social tariffs to support households with the cost of living and ensure access to essentials.
The IFS published a report which estimates the level of funding for key public services in each local authority area in England in 2022-23.
The Health Foundation published a paper discussing how feasible the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan commitments are on training places.
The Adam Smith Institute published a paper analysing the Social Value Act 2012 and its effects on the procurement process in the UK.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
It’s generally best that politicians stay out the limelight during national sporting events, especially when their media teams produce achingly cringe-worthy results that make us wish we’d not gone back to our desks at the end of whatever match has just been won. So kudos to Sunak and Starmer for leaving it to a light ‘What a performance’ and ‘World Cup Final here we come!’ on the social media site formally known as Twitter this week. Sadly the same cannot be said of Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, who went for the full on fist pump iPhone portrait mode pic this week, leaving himself open to endless days of inevitable and comical captions.