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History Repeating | Smoke and Mirrors | So Menzies Questions

Conflict in Israel, a smoking ban and yet more allegations of sleaze… Lily Allen’s back on the airwaves, low-rise jeans are back in fashion and the PM’s under continued pressure to step down… It’s 2006 all over again.


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 🚨


Parliament resumed on Monday in the shadow of Iran’s attack on Israel, which saw the RAF support Israel and the USA in shooting down over 300 drones and missiles over Israel and Jordan. In a solemn statement before the Commons, the Prime Minister stressed the UK’s ironclad support for Israel’s defence, while declaring he wanted to see “calmer heads prevail”. He also held a (delayed) call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Foreign Secretary David Cameron touched down in Israel to emphasise the message of de-escalation. Reports emerged on Friday that an Israeli missile struck Iran on Thursday night in retaliation, leaving world leaders at the G7 meeting in Italy scrambling to return the dispute to diplomatic channels. Iran’s attack, which was in retaliation for Israel’s bombing of its consulate in Syria, was its first ever direct strike against Israel and opens a dangerous new chapter in Middle Eastern history.


The Tobacco and Vapes Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday. The Bill, which will ban anyone born after 2009 from ever buying cigarettes,  passed by 383 votes to 67, with 195 MPs abstaining. Of the 67 who voted against the Bill, 57 were Conservative, with many of them previously (and currently) holding very senior positions including: former Prime Minister Liz Truss, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Cabinet Office Minister Alex Burghart, Communities Minister Lee Rowley, and Culture Minister Julia Lopez. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also expressed criticism during a trip to Canada last week, stating "When the party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars, donnez-moi un break as they say in Quebec, it's just mad.”


Yet another bizarre and eye-roll inducing story of sleaze came out of Westminster this week,  when The Times published revelations Conservative MP Mark Menzies had called a 78 year old former campaign manager in his constituency at 3.15am last December to demand she provide £5,000 to pay off men who had locked him in a flat. The higher sum of £6,500 was paid by a member of his staff the following morning and then reimbursed from campaign donations, whilst Mr Menzies is reported to have spent even more money from campaign donations on private medical expenses. Meanwhile, Angela Rayner is under investigation by Greater Manchester Police over allegations she broke electoral law; and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband has been rearrested and charged in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the party.


Coming Up Next Week 📆


The Commons… MPs will debate the Football Governance Bill, the Renters (Reform) Bill, and various Private Members’ Bills. The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will also continue its passage through Parliament as it faces “ping-pong” between the Commons and Lords. General debates will be held on hospice funding, the use of single-use plastics, and a food poverty strategy.


The Lords… Peers will debate the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill, the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill, the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and the Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill.


Committee Corridor – Local Government Minister Simon Hoare MP will be giving evidence at the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee for its inquiry into the Office for Local Government. Two Former Scotland Secretaries, Alistair Carmichael MP and David Mundell MP, will be giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee for its inquiry into Intergovernmental relations: 25 years since the Scotland Act 1998.


The Week in Stats 📉


0 – number of times our new Net Zero Minister Justin Tomlinson MP used the words ‘net zero’ in Parliament (prior to his appointment)


6,000 – number of people to have crossed the English Channel in small boats since the start of the year


100 – number of MPs to have announced they wont be standing at the next election, after Tim Loughton joined the growing group


9 – number of Tory MPs who need to stand down for the number to equal the 72 who stood down in 1997


89/1 – Odds being offered by bookies on Liz Truss becoming Conservative Party leader again, after she refused to rule out running again in an interview this week


52 – Number of Conservative MPs needed to trigger a confidence vote in Rishi Sunak, after Mark Menzies lost the whip this week


3.2% – CPI inflation in the 12 months to March, down from 3.4% in February.


Other Political News 📰


Rishi Sunak has pledged to end the UK’s “sick note culture” which he said has resulted in a significant rise in people being unnecessarily written off work and “parked” on welfare. In a speech on Friday, he announced a review of the fit note system to move responsibility away from GPs and onto specialist work and health professionals. He argued “unemployment support should be a safety net, never a choice”, and announced new rules to remove benefits from those who are deemed fit to work but a year later have not complied with conditions set by their work coach.


Jeremy Hunt spent this week wooing the IMF and foreign investors in New York, in a visit in which he insisted “the plan is working, and we’re turning a corner”. Highlighting falling inflation and repeating his attack on Labour that “Angela Rayner and the unions are planning 70 new job regulations”, he argued the Conservatives are far better at managing the economy than Labour (although given the current state of the polls, it feels like this may all be too little too late). Meanwhile, Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey echoed some of Jeremy Hunt’s comments in a speech in Washington, arguing that the UK was now in a “pronounced period” of disinflation, predicted a further decline in next month’s inflation figures and argued the UK is “pretty much on track”, according to the latest figures.


The Scottish Government angered climate campaigners by accepting that Scotland’s climate target to cut emissions by 75% by 2030 is “out of reach”. In a statement to Parliament, Màiri McAllan – Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy – agreed with the Committee on Climate Change who delivered the blow in a report back in March. She announced a series of new measures including the replacement of annual emissions reduction targets with carbon budgets, work to quadruple the number of electric vehicle chargepoints across Scotland, a pilot scheme with Scottish farms to establish appropriate uptake of methane-suppressing feed products, and a consultation on carbon land tax on the largest estates. The Scottish Greens, who are in a power-sharing agreement with the SNP, stated they were “angry and disappointed” with the announcement but welcomed some changes to move towards realistic action on the environment.


Keir Starmer announced plans to spend £1.8bn over five years on upgrading port infrastructure in the UK, as part of Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan. The party has said the investment will help encourage ‘billions of pounds more of private sector investment into UK ports, harbours and energy industry at our coasts’, and responds to concerns UK ports bosses have raised ‘about the Conservative government’s lack of investment in infrastructure, which will strangle the capacity to deliver ambitious targets for renewable energy, in particular offshore wind’.


The Government will boost 'economic defences against threats to the British economic model', Deputy PM Oliver Dowden argued in a speech to Chatham House this week. This will include the launch of a dedicated analytical team to deepen understanding of potential risks of outward investment in sensitive sectors; the launch of a consultation on improvements to export controls on emerging technologies; and steps to ‘deliver more efficient and transparent decision-making for business.’ He also used his speech to note China’s “acts of economic coercion” and Russia’s actions “driving up the price of gas”; noting that the UK needs to “tighten our controls over the routes by which the UK plugs into the global economy but in a way that allows investment and trade to flow as freely as possible.”


Liz Truss launched her book, Ten Years to Save the West. (Editor’s note: We’ve moved this section to You’ve Got to Laugh)


Around the World 🌍


Donald Trump’s first criminal trial kicked off in New York, with the prosecution’s first hurdle being the selection of 12 independent jurors to judge the former president. He is charged with falsifying business records to cover up hush-money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels. The full jury was sworn in on Friday and opening statements could come as soon as Monday.


Meanwhile, in Congress, Republicans finally proposed a new military aid package for Ukraine. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson proposed an approach which would break apart the Senate’s $95bn foreign aid bill for separate votes on the components relating to Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific, which will increase the chances of aid reaching Ukraine. However, the move produced a furious response from hard-right Republicans, who have threatened to derail the Bill and oust him from office.


The police attempted to shut down the National Conservatism Conference in Brussels. A ban issued by the mayor on public security grounds led to the police closing the event on its first day, before a court ruled that the ban violated the right to peaceful assembly. Nigel Farage, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French far-right politician Eric Zemmour all attended the conference, and the attempted shutdown was condemned across the political spectrum.


Croatia’s general election proved inconclusive, with the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) emerging as the largest party but without a majority. HDZ won 61 seats in the 151-seat parliament, the coalition led by Social Democratic party took 42 seats, and the right-wing Homeland Movement came third with 14, potentially leaving it as kingmaker. However, two smaller liberal and green parties took 21 seats between them, further complicating future negotiations.


India has begun voting in what will likely prove one of the largest democratic exercises in history, as nearly one billion people are eligible to go to the polls. Voting will take place over six weeks, with different regions voting on various days. The result will be announced on 4 June.


Highlights from Parliament 🏛


In the Commons – the Finance (No. 2) Bill had its second reading, as did the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which passed by 383 votes to 67. Conservative MPs were given a free vote and 57 of them (along with 7 DUP MPs, George Galloway and Lee Anderson) voted to oppose the Bill, including senior Government figures like the Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch. On Wednesday, MPs also overturned the Lords’ attempts to dilute the Rwanda Bill, with the PM’s spokesperson saying “we are not considering concessions”. Ping pong continues…


In the Lords – Peers considered the Commons Amendments to the Rwanda Bill on Tuesday, adding four amendments (which were swiftly overturned in the Commons), and put forward even more amendments on Wednesday, with the Commons expected to consider these next Monday.  Also in the Lords, the Litigation Funding (Enforceability) Bill had its second reading, the Victims and Prisoners Bill reached report stage, and both the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill continued their committee stages.


Committee Corridor 📜


A new select committee should be established to consider “sound financial practice and value for money” in sensitive areas which are outside the remit of the statutory Intelligence and Security Committee. The recommendation, from a Public Accounts Committee report includes oversight of defence nuclear enterprise and the UK's Special Forces.


The BBC lacks a clear plan to successfully deliver £700m of benefits outside London, the Public Accounts Committee argues in its second report of the week. The report finds that the BBC’s move of this spending is being taken forward without a clear plan, with concerns around the risks and impact of changes made to their Across the UK programme.


The Government’s approach to extreme weather challenges lacks leadership and urgency – that’s the conclusion reached by the Public Accounts Committee in a bumper week of reports even by their standards. The report argues that the roles different organisations, companies and the voluntary sector should play in the Government’s ‘whole of society’ approach to extreme weather challenges have not been clarified, leading to uncertainty about what actions to take.


Key Movements 🔁


Following the resignation of Graham Stuart MP as Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero last Friday, Justin Tomlinson MP was appointed as his replacement. Mims Davies MP was promoted to Minister of State in the Department for Work and Pensions; and Andrew Mitchell MP was given the honorific title of Deputy Foreign Secretary.


Mark Menzies MP has lost the Conservative Whip, following reports he misused campaign funds to pay for healthcare, and to pay off ‘bad people’ who had detained him overnight in a flat.


Tim Loughton MP announced he would not be standing in the next General Election. He has been the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham since 1997.


Richard Horne has been appointed as the new CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre and GCHQ Board member.


David Williams has been named as the first ever Chief Technology Officer of the British Army.


Jessica Pulay will become Chief Executive Officer of the UK Debt Management Office in June, replacing Robert Stheeman.


Vanessa Blake was appointed interim Chief Executive of the UK Hydrographic Office, with recruitment for a permanent Chief Executive to follow in due course.


Lawrie Haynes has been named as Interim Chair of Sellafield Ltd.


Roderick Drummond has been appointed HM Ambassador to Tunisia.


This Week’s Polls 📊


Rishi Sunak’s satisfaction has fallen to the joint worst ever Ipsos rating for a Conservative or Labour leader, on par with John Mayor in 1994 and Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. The latest Ipsos Political Monitor put voting intention at 44% for Labour and 19% for the Conservatives, and revealed that 84% of people are dissatisfied with the way the Government is running the country, with only 16% satisfied (and 75% dissatisfied) with the job Rishi Sunak is doing as Prime Minister. Yet, the public seem lukewarm on the prospect of either main party changing their leader before the next election, as 37% agree and 33% disagree that the Conservatives should change their leader before the next election – compared to 55% agreeing when Boris Johnson was PM in May 2022.


Labour is now more trusted than the Conservatives on national security and defence, according to a Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll, which found that 34% of voters trust the Labour Party more on this compared to 23% who trust the Tories more (and 21% trust neither party). The poll also revealed that British voters believe the UK is currently spending too little on defence, and 53% want to see increased defence spending amid fears of conflict with Russia and China.


Think-Tanking 💭


The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a working paper on labour market inequality and the changing life cycle profile of male and female wages, a working paper on interpreting cohort profiles of lifecycle earnings volatility, and a working paper on parental beliefs, perceived health risks, and time investment in children.


The Resolution Foundation published a briefing note assessing where Universal Credit’s long roll-out has left the benefit system and the country.


RUSI published a paper on the requirements for the command and control of the UK's ground-based air defence and a paper on assuring the tactical sustainment of land forces on the modern battlefield.


Reform published a report on delivering a mission-led government.


The Fabian Society published a report on a strategy to tackle poverty before the state pension age.


Policy Exchange published a report on human rights and the rule of law and a report on the Iranian threat to the UK.


You’ve Got to Laugh 😂


Now back to the most important event of the week – Liz Truss launching her book, Ten Years to Save the West. Along with the book came a media tour with some, let’s just say, interesting moments… We’ve narrowed it down to our Top Three Truss Things:


In Third Place is her appearance on LBC with Iain Dale, where she was asked if she would stand for Conservative leader again in the future, she said “it’s never wise to rule anything out in politics, is it?” Maybe one day Truss will be able to add to the 49 days she spent at No.10 Downing Street… or more likely she won’t.


In Second Place is her first appearance in the House of Commons this year, when she voiced her opposition to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. But the speech was not just about the Bill, it also included criticism of Labour MPs for preventing her Private Members’ Bill from being debated the other week, attacking them for talking about… Ferrets.


The Winning Moment, and it could hardly be anything else, was when the former PM appeared on Fox News to show off her book, well to try and show off her book. After being introduced by the host, Truss lifted up the book, only it was upside down and the wrong way round. We highly recommend a watch.

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