International events have dominated the news agenda this week with Donald Trump’s sinister looking mugshot and footage of Prigozhin’s downed jet plastered all over the internet. As the penultimate week of recess draws to a close, MPs and the world of Westminster has just one week left of meditation, self-reflection and the last of the August-sun, before it all kicks off again. Enjoy the peace while it lasts…
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 sentencing of Lucy Letby for the murder of seven babies and attempts to kill a further six dominated media coverage at the beginning of the week. In the political arena, the Government have had two battles on their hands with regards to the harrowing case. Debate over whether the planned inquiry into what happened at the Countess of Chester Hospital should be on a statutory or non-statutory footing erupted almost as soon as the Government announced last week that a non-statutory inquiry will take place. Whilst non-statutory inquiries are more flexible, statutory inquiries under the Inquiries Act 2005 have more powers, including to summon witnesses. Ministers have also been forced onto the backfoot to explain why laws to force convicted criminals to attend their sentencing have not yet been brought in, after Letby declined to attend, over a year after Rishi Sunak first pledged to force them to.
GCSE results out this Thursday followed a similar pattern to A-Level results published last Thursday, with both pass rates and the number of top grades falling. Grades are now much closer to the results attained before the Covid pandemic, during which teachers were forced to allocate predicted grades to students in place of exams. Results fell faster in England than Wales and Northern Ireland due to different exam boards and marking policies; however most notable was the growing regional north-south divide, which saw 28.4% of all grades in London given a 7/A or higher, compared to 17.6% in the North East of England. The results have also reignited debate over independent schools, where 90.1% of GCSEs were marked at 4 or above, compared to 68.1% at secondary comprehensive schools.
The Energy Price Cap will fall again in the final three months of 2023, after Ofgem reduced the cap by £151 to £1,923. The cap hovered around the £1,200 mark from its inception in January 2019, until early 2022, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent energy prices skyrocketing. The cap shot up to as high as £4,279 in the first quarter of this year; although a £40bn Government intervention kept the price of average household bills at approximately £2,500. However, whilst the reduction will be welcome, the price still remains over 50% higher than two years ago; with Labour’s Shadow Climate and Net Zero Strategy Secretary Ed Miliband criticising the ‘scandalous Tory cost of living crisis’, and the Opposition repeating their pledge to bring in a ‘proper windfall tax on oil and gas giants’ as well as the creation of a new state-owned GB Energy.
The Week in Stats 📉
£1,285 – the average mortgage monthly repayment according to Zoopla, £122 more expansive than the average monthly rent payment.
22.4% – the percentage of 7-9 grades awarded on GCSE results day on Thursday, with 70.33% being above a 4 (standard pass level)
754,271 – the number of patient pathways on the NHS Wales waiting list in June, the second highest recorded number on record.
Over £800,000 – the recorded loss made by the SNP last year, after its membership and income dropped.
67,870 – the number of asylum cases remaining for the Home Office to process, meaning they will now need to process 11,311 a month to meet its target of clearing the backlog by the end of the year.
£30.6m – the amount the Conservative Party received in donations and other funding in 2022.
Other Political News 📰
Good financial news for the 75 or so MPs who have already said they won’t stand in the next General Election, after it was revealed this week that they will receive four months of funding after they step down. The decision, made by IPSA and which doesn’t need to be approved by Parliament, doubles the payment for those who lose their seats at a General Election, while it also widens the eligibility for payment to those who voluntarily stand down. The funding is aimed at supporting ex-MPs to close down their offices and manage the departure of their staff, with MPs also eligible for a separate ‘loss of office’ payment, which is more similar to a redundancy package and is weighted based on time served as an MP.
More Politics, More Money, with Labour the highest spending political party in 2022, outspending the Conservatives £44.5m to £33.06m. The figures, which were released by the Electoral Commission, show that Labour had a surplus of £2.7m, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Green Party all recording losses. As the Lib Dems said their deficit was partly down to having to cancel their Party Conference last year due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, all parties will be hoping to strengthen their coffers over the next couple of months, with the 2023 Conference season starting on Saturday 23 September in Bournemouth, with the Lib Dems.
Iconic in the 1940s, Iconic in the 2020s? Bletchley Park will once again be at the forefront of modern technology after the UK Government announced it will be the location for the UK AI Safety Summit due to take place on 1-2 November 2023. The home of the Enigma codebreaking in World War II will welcome international governments, leading AI companies, and experts in research, with talks to take place on the safe development and use of AI, the challenges associated with it, and how internationally coordinated action can mitigate the risks involved. The Prime Minister’s representatives for the Summit, Matt Clifford and Jonathan Black, will work to rally leading AI nations and experts ahead of the Summit to ensure that the event results in an ‘agreed set of rapid, targeted measures for furthering safety in global AI use.’
Record numbers of people are waiting for a decision on their asylum claims, as the latest statistics from the Home Office showed that, as of the end of June 2023, over 175,000 people were awaiting to hear if they would be granted asylum, an increase of 44% since the end of June 2022. In addition, the number of people coming into the UK on work visas has increased by 63% over the last year, while the number of study visas issued also increased by 34%.
Around the World 🌍
What might become one of the most famous mugshots in history was taken when Donald Trump surrendered himself to Fulton County Jail in Georgia on charges of attempting to overturn the state's 2020 election results. Trump swiftly paid his $200,000 bail and departed the jail, describing the charges as a "a travesty of justice". 18 other defendants involved in the Trump campaign also surrendered themselves in Georgia on similar charges, including former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Following the affair Trump posted on his X (formerly Twitter) account for the first time since 8 January 2021, declaring he would ‘never surrender’.
The leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is believed dead after his private jet ‘crashed’ outside Moscow. Although he was initially reported as dead, reports soon became confused as rumours spread that he may not have been on the jet. However, after nearly 24 hours President Putin paid tribute to him as a "talented person" who "made serious mistakes in life", and the USA confirmed its belief that he was dead. It marks a dramatic end to the saga which begun when Prigozhin lead a mutiny against Putin’s rule two months ago and demonstrates the Russian state’s mafia-like willingness to use extreme violence against its enemies.
A political drama has gripped Thailand after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a titan of Thai politics, suddenly returned from a self-imposed 15-year exile in an attempt to regain power. Having fled the country after being toppled in a military coup in 2006, his return coincided with his Pheu Thai party, which came second in the recent election, striking a controversial deal with military-aligned parties to form a government as a means of blocking the reformist Move Forward party from power. Shinawatra was promptly arrested when he landed in Bangkok, having been convicted of corruption following his fall from power, although as part of his party’s deal with the military it is unlikely he will serve time in prison. However, he has since been transferred to hospital following a bout of illness.
Centre-left anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arevalo won Guatemala’s presidential election, despite a failed attempt from prosecutors to suspend his party following the first round of voting. He defeated his opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, in the runoff to win 58% of the vote. The incumbent president posted to congratulate him and celebrate the relatively peaceful election and orderly transition of power.
Ecuador’s election will go to a runoff in October between leftist Luisa Gonzalez and centre-right candidate Daniel Noboa. Gonzalez received 33% of the vote in the first round, while Noboa got 24%. Assassinated candidate Fernando Villavicencio, whose name still appeared on the ballot paper and was represented by his deputy, received 16% of the vote. Turnout was an impressive 82% and voting was reportedly peaceful.
The BRICS club announced it would expand its membership during its summit in South Africa. Comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the group was once considered an alignment of influential developing nations but has since transformed into a club broadly opposed to the Western-dominated world order (although they have little else in common). South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would be admitted in January, despite the fact that criteria for membership of the bloc doesn’t yet exist.
Cambodia’s dictator, Hun Sen, passed power over to his son, Hun Manet, following the country’s sham election. Hun Manet qualified for the job after winning a seat in the election, despite the fact there was virtually no official opposition. Hun Sen, a former guerilla fighter, ruled Cambodia since 1985 and has declared that he will remain in politics for at least another decade.
Key Movements 🔁
Murray Foote has been appointed the new Chief Executive of the SNP, replacing Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell who stepped down from the role in March amid a row over the party's membership numbers. Foote was previously the SNP Head of Communications and also resigned in March.
Declan Collier has been reappointed Chair of the Office of Rail and Road for a second term.
Anne Macro has been appointed British High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea.
Shahpur Kabraji has been appointed a Trustee of The Natural History Museum Board.
Robert Wilson has been reappointed a member of the board of the Consumer Council for Water.
This Week’s Polls 📊
52% of Londoners have a unfavorable view of Mayor Sadiq Khan according to YouGov’s latest poll. However, with a 40% favorable rating, Khan is still ahead in the polls compared to Tory Candidate Susan Hall (with a 21% favorable rating, whilst 57% voted they do not know their opinion of her), and potential Independent candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, who was only viewed favorably by 33% of the public.
Labour have gained four points in Red Wall seats according to data from Redfield and Wilton. Most recent figures suggest that 87% of those who voted Labour in the 2019 election would remain loyal to the Party, compared to the 57% of Conservative party voters remaining loyal to the Tories.
One quarter of Britons do not think university is worth it for young people, says Ipsos’ latest poll, with issues such as student debt and the lack of necessity to get a good job listed as the highest causes of concern.
The IFS released a report setting out 10 key facts about UK tax and public finance policy that it states ‘will underpin the choices faced by governments in coming decades.’ It contends that practically every tax in the UK is in need of ‘serious reform’, as many are detrimentally impacting on how much people work, business investment, and the allocation of time and resources.
Demos published a briefing paper, together with the Centre for Ageing Better, that argued there is a £10bn economic opportunity in having a ‘home improvement policy that provides safe, energy efficient homes for a growing and ageing population.’
The Resolution Foundation released a short piece on Britain’s ‘energy bill crisis’, warning that despite a lowering of the Energy Price Cap, many households will be facing higher energy bills this winter than last, due to the ending of Government support.
The Institute of Economic Affairs published a paper entitled ‘Transgender ideology: A new threat to liberal values’, predicting that a Labour Government would introduce new ‘hate speech’ legislation that would have ‘serious implications for freedom of speech’.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
Perfect irony didn't exist… until this week, when it turned out a safety upgrade was needed at the opening of the new Transpennine Route Upgrade Safety Training Centre as Rail Minister Huw Merriman’s plaque unveiling didn’t quite go to plan… watch here.
And the award for the most obvious audition for Defence Secretary goes to Grant Shapps. After Ben Wallace announced in July that he will step down as Defence Secretary at the next reshuffle, it is unsurprising that a number of ministers have been throwing their hat into the ring, none less so than the current Energy Security & Net Zero Secretary, who was pictured walking through Kyiv in front of a tank on the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day this week. Read into that what you will.