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Labour Woes | Labour Wins | Recessions Part II

Keir Starmer couldn’t have had a worse start to this week – fresh off the back of Labour’s £28bn U-turn and facing yet more allegations of antisemitism in the party. But a week is long time in politics, and it’s the PM who ends the week on a new low: two by-election defeats and the financial news no one wanted. We know he’s a Swifty, but after that Superbowl half time show, we can only imagine Rishi Sunak will be pacing the Downing Street staircase with the words of Noughties pop sensation, Usher’s greatest hit in his ears…“If I'm gonna tell it then I gotta tell it all, damn near cried when I got that phone call, I'm so throwed and I don't know what to do, but to give you part two of my recessions”.


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 Labour Party faced a rather shaky start to the week, after their candidate for the upcoming Rochdale by-election Azhar Ali made comments about Israel and Jewish people. Over the weekend, it emerged that Ali had claimed Israel had ‘allowed’ the 7 October attacks, but it wasn’t until further remarks came to light on Monday evening that Labour withdrew support. He has now been suspended from the Party pending an investigation. However, since it is now too late for another candidate to be chosen, Ali will still appear as the Labour candidate on the ballot paper on 29 February, and Labour will lose a seat in which they currently have a majority of over 9,000. Other candidates running include former Labour MPs George Galloway of the Workers Party of Britain, who has campaigned against Labour’s stance on Gaza, and Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate (talk about a change of heart) who was suspended from the Labour Party back in 2015 for sending explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl. To top it all off, Labour then had to suspend a second parliamentary candidate, Graham Jones, over comments he also made about Israel.


In a reversal of fortunes, Labour overturned two big Conservative majorities to win the Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections. In Kingswood, Damien Egan was elected, after Chris Skidmore quit last month over the Government’s climate policies, in particular the issuing of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. Here, Labour overturned the Conservative’s majority of over 11,000, with a swing of 16.4%. Meanwhile in Wellingborough, the Party overturned a majority of more than 18,500, making the 28.5% swing ‘the second biggest from the Tories to Labour in an post-war by-election.’ Former London Councillor Gen Kitchen will become the new MP, beating Helen Harrison, the girlfriend of the constituency’s former Tory MP Peter Bone. He was ousted by a recall petition following his suspension from Parliament last year over bullying and sexual misconduct allegations. Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed the two victories, acknowledging that whilst there is ‘more work to do’, these results show that people are ‘crying out for change’ and it is Labour who can deliver.


In poorly-timed economic news for the Government, the Office for National Statistics gave with one hand and immediately took with the other this week. It was all roses and chocolates at the Treasury on Wednesday as food prices fell for the first time since September 2021, significantly contributing to December’s 4% inflation rate continuing into January. The Valentine’s Day love swiftly ended on Thursday however as the ONS revealed GDP fell by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2023 which, combined with -0.1% growth in 2023 Q3, plunged the UK into its second recession this decade: arguably a Thursday to end all Thursdays in Downing Street – recession and a double election loss.


Coming Up Next Week 📆


In the Commons – MPs will return from their week-long break to debate the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill and the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, with a series of Private Members’ Bills due to have their second reading on Friday. General debates will also be held on the Civil Nuclear Roadmap and on premature deaths from heart and circulatory diseases.


In the Lords – Peers are back to work after their two-day recess to debate various Bills, including the Automated Vehicles Bill, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill, and the Finance Bill.


Committee Corridor – Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee following the UK Government’s financial offer to the Stormont Executive. The Business and Trade Committee will question former Business Secretaries and Lord Harrington over how to boost UK industry and foreign direct investment, while the Environmental Audit Committee will hear from the Chair and Chief Executive of the Office for Environmental Protection to discuss the Government's progress on environment goals.


The Week in Stats 📉


0.3% - fall in GDP in Q4 of 2023, meaning the UK is officially in a recession, with GDP having decreased by 0.1% in Q3.


123.4 million – Number of people in the USA who watched the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Superbowl. This was the most watched broadcast in the USA since the 1969 Moon Landing.


31 years – number of years a typical first-time buyer in London will have to save for to raise a deposit on a home…


6.9% - increase in annual rents in London, with the national figure being 6.2%.


More or less 100% - of Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers’ constituents who opposed plans to build 2,419 dwellings on a site in the constituency.


£7m – total amount Infosys received in public sector invoices in 2023, up from £4.7m in 2022.


54,000 – people who waited over 12 hours in A&E in England in January 2024, compared to 17 people in January 2011.


4,103 – number of antisemitic incidents recorded by the Community Trust in the UK in 2023, the highest number on record.


Other Political News 📰


The state of democracy was questioned by Tory MP Tobias Ellwood this week, with pro-Palestinian protests taking place outside his family home in Dorset. Ellwood and his family were not at home when more than 60 protestors arrived, with police warning them to stay away. In response to the demonstration, Ellwood appeared on BBC Radio 4 stating the “bar of acceptable treatment” of MPs was failing, with Sunak taking to X to say “We will never let those who intimidate prevail. It's paramount MPs’ security is protected, and our democratic values upheld. Nothing is more important.”


Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron repeated calls for support for Ukraine, as he toured Europe, stopping in Bulgaria and Poland before making it to the Munich Security Conference, to make the moral case for seizing Russian state assets to pay for recovery in Ukraine. To support the case, Cameron published an article in The Hill urging the States to back a fresh package of support for Ukraine, in which he warned against demonstrating "the weakness displayed against Hitler in the 1930s", amid fears that Republicans in the House of Representatives are planning to block a bill promising aid. Clearly unfazed by the plea, a clip of Republican Congresswoman Majorie Taylor Greene emerged following the publication, in which she stated Cameron can “kiss my ass”.  


Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves MP delivered a speech following the news of recession, noting Labour’s plans for… you guessed it…. Securonomics. She criticised the Prime Minister for being out of touch and the Government for being “content” in being “managers of decline”. Stability, investment and reform were listed by Reeves as the “foundations of a plan to break free of the Tories’ vicious cycle of stagnant growth, rising taxes, and falling living standards” to repair economic security.


The Government confirmed a finance settlement of £3.3bn for the Northern Ireland Executive following its restoration. The funding includes money to tackle hospital waiting lists; enable flexibilities on debt repayment; address public sector pay; and increase the spending power of the Executive.


The ballot for Wales’ next First Minister opened today, as Education Minister Jeremy Miles and Economy Minister Vaughan Gething battle it out to become Welsh Labour’s new leader. It officially closes on 14 March with the winner expected to be announced on 16 March.


Around the World 🌍


One of Russia’s most prominent opposition figures, Alexei Navalny, died in prison in Siberia. Navalny was jailed in 2021, serving a 19 year sentence, for charges including founding and funding an extremist organisation, which he denied. He was known in Russia for campaigning against rampant corruption and was poisoned in 2020 with what was confirmed by Western authorities to be nerve agent. The reason for his death has not yet been confirmed but it is thought he collapsed after feeling unwell taking a walk.  


Pakistan’s chaotic election ended in farce after imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI party came first, despite facing intimidation and its candidates having to run as independents. The result was an embarrassment for the military, which opposes the PTI and has spearheaded its repression, and former PM Nawaz Sharif, who was expected to win the election. Sharif’s PMLN party has since agreed a deal with the third-place PPP to attempt to form a government, a move which will incense PTI supporters. PTI-linked candidates won just under 95 seats, while PMLN and PPP won 75 and 54 seats respectively.


Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto won the country’s presidential election. He won around 58% of the vote, while his two rivals received only 25% and 17% respectively. Subianto is the son-in-law of Indonesia’s former ruler Suharto, whose 32-year dictatorship ended in 1998, and is heavily implicated in human rights abuses that took place during this period. His running mate is also popular outgoing President Joko Widodo’s son, a factor which probably contributed to his victory. 


Alexander Stubbs was elected President of Finland. He secured 51.6% of the vote, clinching it from former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, who received 48.4%. Stubbs belongs to the pro-NATO and pro-European National Coalition Party and stated his support for Ukraine and Finland’s newly acquired membership of NATO in his victory speech.


Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili resigned, with reports suggesting he’ll be replaced by the chairman of his ruling Georgian Dream party. The move is also believed to be linked to Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili’s announcement of his return to frontline politics. Georgia will hold parliamentary elections in October.


Donald Trump inflamed passions and fears across Europe after he declared that he would not defend NATO member states that had not hit the 2% defence spending target, and even encouraged Russia to attack them. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned the comments "undermine all of our security" while President Joe Biden labelled them "appalling and dangerous".


The Democrats picked up another seat in the House of Representatives after former congressman Tom Suozzi won a special election in New York. The seat was left open when the House expelled Republican George Santos after he was indicted on fraud charges for lying about his personal and political career. The result reduces the Republican majority to just one.


Highlights from Parliament 🏛


The Commons… was in a short recess (campaigning-mode activated).


The Lords… laid into the controversial Safety of Rwanda Bill during its committee stage, arguing the Bill is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. In a series of speeches, Peers noted the Lords did not deem Rwanda a “safe country”, called the Bill “absurd” and the Government’s actions “the sort of behaviour that the world associates with despots”. Members of the Lords also continued their scrutiny of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, debating measures such as how the office of the Independent Public Advocate will work – set up to ensure survivors of major incidents receive help and advice.


Committee Corridor 📜


The Rwanda Bill is fundamentally incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned, as its report highlights areas of concern following detailed line by line scrutiny of the Bill. The report questions the ability of Parliament to confidently consider Rwanda a safe country, and highlights the risk to the UK’s international reputation surrounding international law. Committee Chair Joanna Cherry argued that “this Bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses” and said “if a policy is sound, it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”


Effective working across Government must be more than just a ‘nice to have’, urged the Public Accounts Committee in their new report. It calls for ‘greater clarity of reporting on cross-cutting policies’ including net zero, health and social care, and levelling up, arguing that the Treasury and the Cabinet Office need to ‘take a firm grip’ to facilitate and improve cross-government working. The report also identifies that difficulties with data sharing – due to technical issues or even to departmental unwillingness – is the main barrier to cross-government working.


Any member who has been formally charged with a serious violent or sexual offence should be temporarily excluded from the parliamentary estate via a new Standing Order, the Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee have proposed in their second report of the session. The Committee also suggested changes to the Standing Orders following the establishment of the Financial Services Regulation Committee, as well as changes to the Companion regarding statements on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which came into force on Tuesday when the Lords agreed the motion to approve the Windsor Framework Regulations 2024.


Key Movements 🔁


Gen Kitchen and Damien Egan have been elected the new Labour MPs for Wellingborough and Kingswood in by-elections this week.


Donald Cameron MSP has been appointed a Minister in the Scotland Office, having also received a Life Peerage. A number of other Peerages have been announced, including interim Chair of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee Charles Banner; the former Wycombe MP Paul Goodman; the PM's Special Adviser on Business and Investment Franck Petitgas; General Secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Worker John Hannett; and the broadcaster and former Special Adviser to Gordon Brown Ayesha Hazarika. A 27 year old public affairs officer, Carmen Smith, will become the new youngest member of the Lords after she was nominated by Plaid Cymru.


Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced she will be stepping down as the MP for Chatham & Aylesford at the next General Election.


Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy announced he would be stepping down as MP for Mid Ulster at the next General Election.


Alison Thorpe has been appointed British High Commissioner to Rwanda.


Philip Malone has been appointed British High Commissioner to Tonga.


This Week’s Polls 📊


41% of UK adults intend to vote for Labour, the lowest Labour lead since June 2023, a new Savanta poll revealed. The Labour Party dropped 5 points since January, while still holding a 12-point lead. The Conservative Party saw an increase of 2 points to 29%, and the Liberal Democrats and the SNP both gained 1 point and now sit at 11% and 3% respectively. This poll was conducted from 9 to 11 February, just following Labour’s decision to cut its £28bn green investment pledge.


54% of Britons believe the Government has done a poor job negotiating with trade unions, an Ipsos poll revealed this week. 33% believe a Labour Government would do a better job while 34% believe that there would be ‘no difference’. Meanwhile, support for strikes from healthcare workers has fallen by 5 points since August but is still supported by most of the public, with more than half supporting nurses (58%) and ambulance workers (55%).


74% of the world feels loved, according to Ipsos' new poll that marked Valentine's Day. It revealed that 85% of those in higher-income households were satisfied with their relationship with their partner compared to 78% of those in lower-income households.


7% of Britons believe nuclear weapons should be used if Russia were to use nuclear weapons on Ukrainian military targets, according to a YouGov poll. 21% responded that the West should declare war, but not use nuclear weapons, while 36% should take action ‘short of declaring war’. The responses were similar when asked if action were to be taken against American military targets, but changed if the target was the British military or the UK. Those who believed nuclear action should be taken jumped to 17% if Russia were to deploy small nuclear weapons against British forces. Meanwhile, 34% would want to declare war and 24% believe action short of declaring war should be taken.


Think-Tanking 💭


The Labour Party faced a rather shaky start to the week, after their candidate for the upcoming Rochdale by-election Azhar Ali made comments about Israel and Jewish people. Over the weekend, it emerged that Ali had claimed Israel had ‘allowed’ the 7 October attacks, but it wasn’t until further remarks came to light on Monday evening that Labour withdrew support. He has now been suspended from the Party pending an investigation. However, since it is now too late for another candidate to be chosen, Ali will still appear as the Labour candidate on the ballot paper on 29 February, and Labour will lose a seat in which they currently have a majority of over 9,000. Other candidates running include former Labour MPs George Galloway of the Workers Party of Britain, who has campaigned against Labour’s stance on Gaza, and Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate (talk about a change of heart) who was suspended from the Labour Party back in 2015 for sending explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl. To top it all off, Labour then had to suspend a second parliamentary candidate, Graham Jones, over comments he also made about Israel.


In a reversal of fortunes, Labour overturned two big Conservative majorities to win the Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections. In Kingswood, Damien Egan was elected, after Chris Skidmore quit last month over the Government’s climate policies, in particular the issuing of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. Here, Labour overturned the Conservative’s majority of over 11,000, with a swing of 16.4%. Meanwhile in Wellingborough, the Party overturned a majority of more than 18,500, making the 28.5% swing ‘the second biggest from the Tories to Labour in an post-war by-election.’ Former London Councillor Gen Kitchen will become the new MP, beating Helen Harrison, the girlfriend of the constituency’s former Tory MP Peter Bone. He was ousted by a recall petition following his suspension from Parliament last year over bullying and sexual misconduct allegations. Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed the two victories, acknowledging that whilst there is ‘more work to do’, these results show that people are ‘crying out for change’ and it is Labour who can deliver.


In poorly-timed economic news for the Government, the Office for National Statistics gave with one hand and immediately took with the other this week. It was all roses and chocolates at the Treasury on Wednesday as food prices fell for the first time since September 2021, significantly contributing to December’s 4% inflation rate continuing into January. The Valentine’s Day love swiftly ended on Thursday however as the ONS revealed GDP fell by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2023 which, combined with -0.1% growth in 2023 Q3, plunged the UK into its second recession this decade: arguably a Thursday to end all Thursdays in Downing Street – recession and a double election loss.


You’ve Got to Laugh 😂


With the Commons not sitting, the House of Lords is where the fun was this week. During a discussion on the Government’s transport plans, Baroness Taylor of Bolton seized the moment to highlight the paradox of the Network North plan reaching areas far from the North and cheekily suggested that the Minister might benefit from some basic geography lessons. Without skipping a beat, Minister Lord Davies of Gower quipped back that he proudly possessed an O-Level in Geography... which probably landed him the Transport Minister role because he had a driving license handy as well. 


A picture is worth a thousand words… but we’re not sure even that money could explain what the Chancellor is doing in this picture he posted on X. Seeking to embody the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ in his efforts to limit housebuilding in his constituency, the Chancellor is sitting with a map, a Naval Captain lookalike, all while working by torchlight (albeit the torch on his phone). Questions will inevitably be asked as to whether energy costs are now too high for even the Chancellor himself…


Valentine’s Day was on Wednesday, and the official Conservative X account got in on the action, sharing a series of rather embarrassing/gross/vomit inducing posts on the topic of the ‘Starmer Sutra’. The Conservatives labelled it as a quick guide on ‘how to hold multiple positions at the same time’, with an image of the Labour leader breakdancing/doing an upside down splits/in the shape of a U (to highlight the number of U-Turns). The fact it wasn’t even the worst thing posted on X by the Conservatives, and with Labour’s attempt at a joke with ‘Rishi’s Valentine Playlist’ falling somewhat flat, we can probably get used to lots more humour on social media as we approach the General Election.

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