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Shapps goes Commando | That's Criminal | Chi(un)ese

You Heard it Here First 🔊

August is over and politics is definitely back. If you read last week’s Weekly Roundup then you wouldn’t have been particularly surprised when Grant Shapps was appointed Ben Wallace’s replacement as Defence Secretary yesterday in a mini-reshuffle this week. His rather obvious audition via a Downing Street-signed off trip to Ukraine last week, complete with tank-backdrop-Kyiv-walkabout, seemed to have sealed the deal.

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 🚨

It’s Transfer Deadline Day and Coutinho’s been on the move, but it isn’t the Aston Villa midfielder Philippe Coutinho for once, as the Conservative MP for East Surrey Claire Coutinho has become the latest addition to Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet, as Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. The position opened up after the ever-versatile Grant Shapps was made Defence Secretary, replacing Ben Wallace who had previously announced he would be hanging up his combat boots after 4 years in the role. Elected in 2019, Coutinho had been Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, and had also previously worked as a Special Adviser in the Treasury, including to Rishi Sunak himself when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. At 38, and with a General Election expected in the next year or so, Coutinho becomes the youngest member of Cabinet - does Rishi not know you can’t win anything with kids”. Another MP from the 2019 intake, David Johnston, has taken over Coutinho’s previous Ministerial role. P.S. Remember to join the Navigate Politics Fantasy Football League by clicking here.

A flurry of Government activity took place during ‘Crime Week’, with the Government stating its intention to introduce a series of policy measures when Parliament returns. This includes: the banning of ‘zombie-style knives and machetes that have no practical use’; changes to the police dismissals process such as a finding of gross misconduct automatically resulting in a police officer’s dismissal’; and the placing of a legal expectation on judges to hand down whole life orders to those who ‘commit the most horrific types of murder’. In addition, police forces have committed to ‘pursuing all leads’ where there is a ‘reasonable chance’ a crime could be solved; and a scheme is being launched in the East and West Midlands to place an electronic tag on prison leavers at risk of abusing partners. Most notably this week, the Government announced that ‘force can be used’ to ensure criminals attend their sentencing hearings, with those who refuse to do so facing an extra 2 years in prison. The announcement follows Lucy Letby’s refusal to attend her sentencing, with the inquiry into the circumstances around the crimes she committed also having been made statutory this week.

James Cleverly became the first UK Foreign Secretary in over 5 years to visit China, where he held bilateral meetings with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. With his visit criticised by some Conservative MPs including Iain Duncan Smith, Cleverly argued that “no significant global problem…can be solved without China”, as talks were held on climate change, AI, the conflict in Ukraine, and the situation in North Korea. Cleverly is also said to have been ‘clear’ about the UK’s position on ‘China’s malign cyber activity’, as well as raising issues relating to Hong Kong, the Taiwan Strait, and Xinjiang.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

The House of Commons and House of Lords return from their Summer Recess on Monday.

The Liberal Democrats will push for the writ to be moved for the by-election in Mid Bedfordshire, with the Party hoping for the by-election itself to be held on 5 October.

Labour leader Keir Starmer may be conducting a reshuffle of his frontbench, according to reports in the media.

The Scottish Parliament is due to return on Tuesday. It last sat on 29 June.

With the fallout from the behaviour of the President of Spain’s Football Federation Luis Rubiales continuing, the Women and Equalities Committee is holding an evidence session on ‘Sexism and Inequalities in Sport’ on Wednesday, with figures from England Hockey, England Netball and the Lawn Tennis Association to give evidence.

The Energy Bill is due to complete its passage through Parliament on Wednesday, with new Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho likely to make her first appearance from the Despatch Box as a Cabinet Minister.

The Week in Stats 📉

5 – Number of Cabinet positions held by Grant Shapps in the last 12 months (Transport, Home Office, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Energy Security and Net Zero, and now Defence)

1 – Cabinet Minister in the same role they held in Boris Johnson’s first Cabinet (Scotland Secretary Alister Jack)

0 – Number of Bank Holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between now and Christmas…sorry. (Scotland has 1 to go)

5.3% – Drop in the average house price compared to August 2022 according to Nationwide, the largest annual decline since 2009.

£2,000 – Amount of compensation households and firms can now claim for power cuts due to storms, up from £700.

20,000 – Expected number of RMT Union members due to strike this Saturday, with members of the ASLEF Union also not working overtime.

300 – Wilko shops out of 400 that it is hoped will remain open if the owner of HMV is successful in his bid to buy the chain.

Other Political News 📰

House builders will no longer have to abide by EU-era nutrient neutrality laws after the Government announced it will do away with the requirement for builders to mitigate an increase in nutrient loads in new developments through buffer zones and tree planting near wetlands and rivers. To coincide with the change, Defra have announced measures to tackle pollution and expand Natural England’s Nutrient Mitigation Scheme; however the RSPB quickly responded by calling Sunak, Gove and Coffey ‘LIARS!’ in a post on X, which they later apologised for, adding that they are ‘deeply frustrated by the government’s reneging on its environmental promises’.

A 'technical issue' that affected the UK's air traffic control system’s ability to automatically process flight plans on Monday caused widespread chaos and delays across airports, with NATS announcing it had 'applied traffic flow restrictions to maintain safety' while it sought to remedy the issue. NATS later stated the issue had been fixed, although 'significant delays' continued across airports well into Tuesday, with hundreds more flights cancelled. The reason for the glitch has not yet been made public, although both NATS and the Government have ruled out rumours of a cyber-attack.

Junior doctors and consultants will take part in a joint strike for the first time later this month. Consultants are due to strike on 19 and 20 September, with junior doctors due to follow them on 20, 21 and 22 September. The two groups will then take part in further joint strikes on 2, 3 and 4 October.

104 schools and colleges in England have been told to immediately close buildings containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) after a beam collapsed at a school over the summer. Both Labour and the National Education Union have criticised the Government for announcing the closures as schools were about to return for the Autumn term and the costs involved in remedying the issues; however Schools Minister Nick Gibb has stated the Government will be picking up all remedial costs as well putting portacabins in school grounds if required.

The ULEZ expansion rollout hasn’t gone particularly swimmingly this week, after reports suggested over a quarter of all new cameras have been vandalised, including through the use of wire cutters, expandable foam and (in Bromley where over 80% of cameras have been damaged) red spray paint.

Wealth taxes are no longer Labour policy, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves told the Sunday Telegraph in an interview published last weekend, confirming the party have u-turned on previous pledges in a total departure from Corbyn-era policy, adding that Labour “don’t have any plans to increase taxes outside of what we’ve said”.

Around the World 🌍

General Brice Oligui Nguema has been named as Gabon’s transitional leader, following a coup in the country. On Wednesday, military powers announced they were taking over the country after the results of the most recent presidential election, which would have re-elected President Bongo, citing the need to defend peace and accusations of a rigged election as the reason for their decision. Bongo, who has served as President since 2009, has since released a video calling for supporters to ‘make noise’, though many took to the streets in Gabon to celebrate the end of his reign following the coup announcement. Gabon has now been suspended from the African Union and the coup has been condemned by the UN and France.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party called for a re-run of the most recent elections on Tuesday, alleging ‘blatant and gigantic fraud’ in the polls. Taking to X, (formerly Twitter), opposition leader Nelson Chamisa accused the government of stealing people’s ‘voice and vote’, concluding that there will be ‘freedom and justice’ in the country. The opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change, is currently compiling a parallel vote count based on polling station returns but has called for the poll to be void due to irregularities, such as intimidation at polling stations.

Mexico’s opposition coalition has named businesswomen Xóchitl Gálvez as their candidate for the 2024 presidential election. The selection means that Mexico now faces a high possibility of having a female president for the first time, as the frontrunner for the leftist ruling party is former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. The election is due to take place in June next year.

The date that Australians will vote to decide whether to enact an Indigenous Voice to Parliament has been named as 14 October. If approved by the referendum, the vote would recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country's constitution, and would establish a body for them to advise on laws. The topic has been one of fierce debate in the country, with yes voters believing it will make a big difference to the country’s most disadvantaged ethnic group, whilst no voters claim that it would create chaos constitutionally and divides the country on racial lines. Of the 444 previous referendums in Australia, only 8 have been successful.

At the risk of giving him yet more attention in the Around the World Section, it was announced that Donald Trump’s trial in Georgia will be livestreamed and televised, via the Fulton Country Court’s Youtube channel. The date for the hearing is still yet to be announced, but has the possibility of being next year, just as Trump is running for re-election (if a UK and US election at similar times wasn’t enough to keep up with anyway, there’s always this to watch!)

Committee Corridor 📜

Taiwan is an ‘independent country’ that possesses ‘all the qualifications for statehood’ was the most eye-catching statement in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on the Government’s ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific. The report welcomed the Tilt but warns that the Government’s ‘inability to set out clearly the long-term objectives and desired outcomes of the Tilt’ risks ‘failing to meaningfully deter threats to UK sovereignty’ from China. It included a range of recommendations such as the demand that the Government publish the unclassified version of its China Strategy; announce a ‘clear policy of zero tolerance of transnational repression’, especially from China; and encourage Japan and South Korea to join the ‘AUKUS’ alliance while the UK seeks membership of the ‘Quad’ alliance. The report marks the first time Parliament has explicitly called Taiwan an independent country.

There are 12 principle governance ‘challenges’ of AI that Government needs to grapple with, argued the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee’s latest report out this week. These include issues relating to issues relating to bias, privacy, misrepresentation, access to data and compute, the production of results, transparency and open-source issues, intellectual property and copyright, liability and responsibility for harms, employment, international coordination, and the perception that it poses an 'existential' risk to human life. The Committee also demanded that legislation to empower regulators of AI be brought forward during the next parliamentary session.

The UK’s drug laws are ‘outdated and in need of reform’ and should be ‘updated to support greater use of public health based drug interventions’, declared a Home Affairs Committee report. It recommended a ‘move away from an abstinence-only approach towards harm reduction with improved cross-working between police, health and social services’ based on a ‘new legislative and funding framework that enables practical, risk-reducing interventions’, while simultaneously encouraging law enforcement to ‘continue to do all it can to stamp out the illicit trade of controlled drugs’. It also warned that the Government’s 10-Year Drugs Strategy is ‘unlikely to have the transformative impact needed’ without a ‘significant expansion in the range and availability of health-based interventions’.

The Government must abandon plans to allow AI developers the free use of existing music, literature and works of art for the purposes of training artificial intelligence, the Culture, Media and Sports Committee pleaded in its most recent report. It warned that plans to exempt text and data mining by AI from copyright protection risks ‘reducing arts and cultural production to mere ‘inputs’ in AI development’ and ‘shows a clear lack of understanding of the needs of the UK’s creative industries’. The Committee therefore welcomed indications Ministers were reconsidering proposals and argued that the current framework ‘provides an appropriate balance between innovation and creator rights’.

Key Movements 🔁

Grant Shapps has been appointed Secretary of State for Defence, following Ben Wallace’s resignation.

Claire Coutinho has been appointed Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, replacing Grant Shapps.

David Johnston has been appointed Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, replacing Claire Coutinho.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, former Special Adviser to then Health Secretary Matt Hancock and current Chief Executive of UK Music, will join 10 Downing Street as the new Director of Strategy in September (h/t Politico London Playbook)

Amber de Botton, the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications resigned stating she had ‘decided it is the right time to move on’ (h/t Guido Fawkes). Nerissa Chesterfield, the No 10 press secretary and current Deputy Director of Communications will reportedly take over (h/t Katy Balls).

Nadine Dorries finally resigned as an MP, being appointed to the role of Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern, a role last held by, wait for it, Boris Johnson.

Ollie Whitehouse has been appointed the new Chief Technical Officer at the UK National Cyber Security Centre

Victoria Borwick has been appointed Chair of VisitEngland Advisory Board.

Mike McMahon has been appointed the new Independent Adjudicator for the Adjudicator’s Office.

Dr Martin Cheyne has been reappointed Chair of the NHS 24 Board in Scotland for a further four years.

Gabriel Straub has been appointed to the Geospatial Commission’s Board of Commissioners, which provides expert advice on the strategic direction of the Geospatial Commission.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Two-thirds of Brits believe it should be legal for a doctor to prescribe life-ending medication to those who want it, provided they are of sound mind and are terminally ill, according to new data from Ipsos. 38% of respondents also stated that it was acceptable for someone to break the law to assist someone who wanted to die, compared to 29% who believe it unacceptable.

People simultaneously support free university and alternatives to university education, according to the latest Redfield & Wilton polling. 70% of voters said they would be more likely to vote for a party that advocates for free university without tuition fees, while 62% said they would be more likely to vote for a party that seeks to create alternatives to university education.

Londoners narrowly support ULEZ expansion, suggests YouGov’s topical polling which finds that 47% support and 42% oppose the move. However, in outer London 51% oppose the expansion.

Think-Tanking 💭

Onward published a report which recommended the Government ‘reintroduce national service to tackle the UK’s growing youth crisis’ as young people are ‘unhappy, unskilled and unmoored’. It suggests an ‘opt-out’ model which would include a two-week residential programme, a community service programme over the course of six months alongside school or college, and an optional year-long civic programme. We’ll wait for that idea to catch on…

The Institute for Government published a timely report recommending a ‘more cohesive way’ to approach cabinet appointments, suggesting an alternative method by which ministerial jobs are effectively opened up for applications to all MPs.

The IFS published a report on the implications of the NHS workforce plan, which among other findings, highlighted that ‘increasing the size of the workforce so rapidly will likely require NHS wages to become more generous in real terms and – potentially – match or even exceed growth in wages in the rest of the economy’.

RUSI released a report on recent UK policy towards East Africa, which found that: attempts by UK officials to better integrate defence, international development and diplomatic work ‘have made progress’; it ‘retains a good reputation in the region for the calibre of its diplomats and development and defence experts’; and ‘Brexit did not significantly impair the UK’s operational effectiveness in the region’.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

We love an end of week awkward “stern faces all round” photos call – and this week it was the turn of Policing Minister Chris Philp, who treated us to this gem of a pic to mark his Crime Week announcement on zombie knives, surrounded by three equally stern-looking senior Police Officers (h/t Esther Webber)

We hope you have a lovely weekend

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