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Simon Says | Tough on Crime | Houthi Strikes

Westminster held its breath (albeit briefly) this week when former Cabinet Minister, BoJo and Truss supporter Simon Clarke publicly called on Rishi Sunak to resign. His outburst received short shrift from fellow Tory MPs and quickly fizzled out, but with the cracks increasingly showing, January hasn’t proved the easiest start to the year for No 10.

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 🚨

Former Cabinet Minister Simon Clarke gave his best audition for Season 3 of The Traitors this week, as he got fed up with Labour being Miles ahead in the polls, and sought to banish Rishi Sunak as both Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservatives, in an attempted act of political murder. Although on the fringe of the Tories right now, Clarke’s scathing attack, which he insists was a solo mission, will still be seen as a bit of a backstab by the PM, as Sunak was accused of basically burning the Party’s electoral hopes to Ash. Not joining Clarke’s call to remove Sunak yet was his predecessor Liz Truss, but…(Ross) Will Dry is…with the former Special Adviser to the PM saying that Sunak was going to cause a ‘decade of Labour rule’. It doesn’t look like Clarke has survived the roundtable of his fellow Tory MPs however, as numerous other senior figures came out to say Clarke wasn’t faithful and that he was simply a bit of a Charlotan. Only time will tell if the public is voting for yourself, Rishi, whether that be in May, October, or basically anytime before next January. I amn’t sure if everybody reading this will know, but the finale of Season 2 of the Traitors takes place tonight… Happy Watching.

Knife crime was on the agenda this week. Firstly, on Tuesday Labour MP Helen Hayes presented a Bill on offensive weapons, in which she called for a ban on “weapons that are being used to inflict the greatest harm,” adding “my ban would extend to all zombie and Rambo knives, machetes and ninja swords, and it would cover the sale, marketing and possession of those weapons.” The Bill is due for its second reading on 23rd February. Next up, on Wednesday Labour launched their Action Plan to cut knife crime, setting out five key proposals: (1) tough consequences for carrying a knife, (2) a targeted programme in every area to identify the young people most at risk, (3) getting knives off the streets, (4) ending the exploitation of young people, and (5) establishing a new cross-Government Coalition to End Knife Crime.  This comes as part of Labour’s mission to ‘take back our streets’, one of the Party’s five missions. And finally on Thursday, the Home Office announced that a new law will be brought in to ban zombie-style knives and machetes, under measures first announced by the Prime Minister last year. This will make it illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or transport zombie-style knives or machetes. A surrender and compensation scheme will launch in the summer, giving people in possession of these knives a chance to hand them in without legal implications, before the full ban comes into force in September.

The UK, together with the USA, carried out a second set of strikes in Yemen, in retaliation to the Houthis continuing to attack vessels in the Red Sea. Multiple targets at two military sites were hit in the operation, with the Prime Minister telling MPs that the “initial evidence” was that “all intended targets were destroyed”, noting that there had also been further evidence the first set of strikes “were effective in degrading capability and all the intended targets were destroyed”. The PM also said the UK would “not hesitate to respond again in self-defence.” The strikes were supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, with a Statement released underscoring that the strikes were ‘intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of innocent mariners’.

Your country needs you”… Lord Kitchener or General Sanders? Either way, looks like someone is keen to recruit! On Wednesday, General Sir Patrick Sanders delivered a speech at the International Armoured Vehicles 2024 Conference, in which he suggested that Britain should train a “citizen army” to be ready to fight a war on land in the future, warning that an increase in reserve forces alone “would not be enough”. Sanders has long been a vocal critic of cuts to troop numbers and military spending, but this most recent warning comes in light of the growing threat from Russia, whose ambitions, he said, are not just about seizing territory but “about defeating our system and way of life”. Meanwhile, other European countries, like Sweden and Finland, are taking steps to put their populations “on a war footing”, and other senior NATO military commanders have been calling on the alliance to ready itself for a potential conflict. In response, the Downing Street stated that any hypothetical scenarios of a future potential conflict were not helpful, and ruled out any move towards a conscription model for the Army.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

In the Commons – The Media Bill, which aims to promote public service broadcaster and UK-produced content, will complete its journey through the Commons on Tuesday. The Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill will also undergo its second reading; and Thursday will see debates on mining communities and freedom and democracy in Iran. 

In the Lords – The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will begin its journey through the Lords on Monday, unsurprisingly accompanied by a Liberal Democrat motion to reject the Bill. Thursday and Friday will see debates on the UK’s industrial strategy and Holocaust Memorial Day 2024.

On Committee Corridor – Home Secretary James Cleverly MP will face a grilling from the Home Affairs Committee; Welsh First Minister hopeful Vaughan Gething will discuss the Welsh steel industry with the Welsh Affairs Committee in his capacity as Economy Minister; and Energy Security and Net Zero Minister Graham Stuart MP will defend the achievements of COP28 before the Environmental Audit Committee.

The Week in Stats 📉

£10,200 – amount that the average person in the UK is poorer by since 2010, compared to if the economy had grown at pre-2010 trends, according to analysis from Centre for Cities.

18% – 2019 Conservative voters planning to defect to Reform, according to Redfield & Wilton’s latest poll.

0.3 hours – amount average weekly hours worked have fallen by since 2019.

14,000 – families stuck waiting on Liverpool’s housing register, with the cost of temporary accommodation rising from £250,000 to £19 million over the last 3 years.

– months left of Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool manager (no comment).

Other Political News 📰

The Foreign Secretary urged leaders to work with the UK to achieve a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, visiting Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Qatar and Turkey this week. On Wednesday, David Cameron said that he was working with partners to help build a plan, which would require Hamas to agree to the release of all hostages, and was pressing the cases of British and dual nationals through as many diplomatic channels possible. He also announced that the UK and Qatar are working together to get more aid into Gaza, with the first joint consignment containing 17 tonnes of family sized tents.   

Cabinet Office Minister John Glen set out his long-term priorities to modernise the Civil Service, with new measures to strengthen public sector delivery. He said this could be achieved by unlocking the potential of new technologies such as AI; discovering new ways of working by streamlining and simplifying how Government operates; and leveraging workforce potential by addressing problems of talent attraction, retention and churn through a smaller, skilled workforce that is better rewarded. He also highlighted new line management standards, underpinned by reviewing staff performance management across Government; and made clear that he believes face-to-face working and making full use of Government offices are the right way to deliver for the taxpayer and develop new talent.

A £600m support package was announced for councils across England, in addition to the funding outlined at the provisional settlement. The support package will primarily see an additional £500m added to social care budgets, a key concern raised by councils. All councils will also see an increase in Core Spending Power of at least 4% through the Funding Guarantee before any local choices on council tax, efficiencies or reserves – an increase from the 3% announced at the provisional settlement.

Major reforms to help boost audience confidence in the BBC’s impartiality and complaints system were outlined by the Government, as it published the first Mid-Term Review. It recommends greater independent scrutiny of complaints handling; improving transparency for commercial media organisations; extending Ofcom oversight over more BBC online services; better reflecting diverse views and opinions in decision-making; and improving engagement with underserved audience groups. Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said that “these changes will better set up the BBC to ask difficult questions of itself, and make sure Ofcom can continue to hold the broadcaster to account”.

Fake reviews, hidden fees and shop labelling will be targeted ‘head on’ to clamp down on unfair trading practices, the Department for Business and Trade has announced. Following a consultation into consumer transparency and as part of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill currently going through Parliament, the Department will officially add fake reviews to a list of banned practices; outlaw dripped fees that are unavoidable for consumers; and ensure that businesses provide clearer labelling for prices on supermarket shelves.

Singapore became the second country to ratify the UK’s membership to the CPTPP after Japan late last year. Under the deal, over 99% of UK goods exports to CPTPP countries will face zero tariffs, including British whisky and cars. Accession will also upgrade the UK-Singapore bilateral relationship, providing opportunities to deepen participation in each other’s supply chains, diversify trade, grow investment into both economies, and collaborate on shared priorities. Entry into force is expected in the second half of 2024 once the UK and the CPTPP parties have finished their legislative processes.

Around the World 🌍

The race to be the Republican Candidate continued this week, as Ron DeSantis announced on Sunday he was dropping out of the race, putting his backing behind Donald Trump. Announcing his decision on X (formerly Twitter) DeSantis released an almost 5 minute long video explaining that he “can’t ask supporters to spend more of their time and donate their resources, if we don’t have a clear path to victory.” He continued that whilst he has disagreed with Trump in the past he is “superior to the current incumbent Joe Biden”, pledging to support the Republican candidate, of which Trump is the most obvious choice. He also simultaneously criticised Nikki Haley for representing “a repackaged form of warmed over corporatism”.

The focus shifted to New Hampshire where the Primaries continued, which again saw Trump victorious over the only other major challenger Haley, who had invested a lot of time and money into winning the State. The next major showdown between the two will be on 24 February when South Carolina holds its primary, the State that Haley was Governor of for 6 years, but a highly conservative state, expected to think favourably of Trump.

Germany’s far Right AfD party came under fire after it was revealed that senior politicians from the Party held meetings where mass deportation was discussed. The meeting, which was exposed in a report by Correctiv, supposedly focused on ‘re-migration’, consisting of the removal of asylum seekers, ‘non-assimilated’ people and those with ‘non-German’ backgrounds, even if they have citizenship rights. The report sparked mass rallies across the country, including in Berlin, Cologne, Hamberg and Frankfurt, with estimates saying there were 300,000 demonstrators across the country. In bad timing for the Party, the protests came just days before Germany’s constitutional court ruled that right-wing extremist party Die Heimat should be barred from receiving further state funding and tax breaks, due to its ethno-nationalist stance making it unconstitutional and anti-democratic,  effectively wiping the Party’s funds. Following the decision, there have been some calls for a similar thing to happen to the AfD, though this is not as simple, due in part to the size and diversity of the party (making it hard to rule that the whole Party is anti-democratic), alongside fears that this may play into their narrative that they are being victimised by mainstream society.

Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he will stand down from Parliament next month to join the private sector. Morrison, who saw the country through the Pandemic, stated that ‘the time has come for me to return to private life’, as he looks forward to being ‘more active within the Church’ and looks for corporate roles.

President Erdogan signed off Sweden’s NATO ratification on Thursday, following a vote in the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday. It now means that Hungary is the only country to oppose Sweden’s accession to the alliance.

Protests broke out in Argentina, demonstrating against President Milei’s proposed cuts to labour rights and economic reforms, mainly focused on deregulation. The protest was accompanied by a 12 hour strike, affecting public transport, flights and other services in Buenos Aires. Thousands of protestors gathered in front of the country’s Congress, shouting against the austerity plans and labelling Milei a traitor. The country’s inflation rate remains over 200%.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, to enable the Government to grant licenses to search and bore for and get offshore petroleum, passed its second reading without amendment on Monday but faced criticism from both opposition and Government benches including COP26 President Alok Sharma, who argued the Bill would not advance the Government’s pledge to transition away from fossil fuels. The Bill now continues to its committee stage.

After the latest attempt to get the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again failed, MPs swiftly debated all stages of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill on Wednesday, retrospectively extending the Executive formation period to 8th February 2024 to give politicians more time to restart the Executive. Leader of the DUP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson used his speech to criticise those in his own party blocking the return to power-sharing, in what feels like a potential turning point since Stormont last successfully sat in March 2022.

With legislation again scarce, time on the green benches was filled debating children not in school, the UK’s steel industry, the situation in the Red Sea and Holocaust Memorial Day.

On the red benches this week, the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill passed its third reading and has been sent to the Commons for debate, the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill held its report stage, and the Victims and Prisoners Bill began its committee stage.

Committee Corridor 📜

The Foreign Secretary should take questions from MPs at the Bar of the House of Commons at the end of the chamber, recommended the Procedure Committee’s report on Commons scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords. It declared that MPs should have an official means of scrutinising Lord Cameron, who cannot appear behind the despatch box as it is reserved for MPs, in the Commons. The Committee also reiterated its ‘preference’ that ‘Secretaries of State should sit in the Commons’; and stated that proposals for scrutinising the Foreign Secretary in a committee room or Westminster Hall were ‘not practical’ as not enough MPs would be able to attend.

‘A girl in South Sudan will more likely die in childbirth than finish school’ was the sobering headline of the International Development Committee’s report on the FCDO’s approach to sexual and reproductive health. The Committee furiously criticised the ‘devastating impact’ of the UK slashing aid spending on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), warning it had the ‘deepest impact on the most marginalised, particularly women and girls and people with disabilities’. It called on the FCDO to ensure all SRHR programmes are accessible to all; create a dedicated budget for people with disabilities; commit to defined spending levels on the development of health personnel in low-and-middle-income countries; and provide age-appropriate sex education.

Support with the cost of living is leaving rural Scottish communities out in the cold declared a report from the Scottish Affairs Committee. It argued that such communities were paying a ‘rural premium’ for energy, food and transport, with rising costs in each of these sectors ‘disproportionately’ affecting them. It warned that some schemes ‘prioritised administrative ease to accelerate funds getting to people rather than specifically targeting financial support for those who need it most’ and called for the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to agree consistent definitions of food poverty and establish more effective collaboration to overcome transport infrastructure challenges.

The Government’s ‘inaccurate and delayed’ balance sheet ‘harms transparency’, criticised the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) 2020–21. It stated that the Accounts, which provide ‘the most comprehensive view available of how Government uses taxpayer’s money’, were of ‘decreasing usefulness and reliability to Parliament, local government, and the public due to its tardy publication and the patchy information it contains’. In particular, it highlighted how the Government had ‘no clear plan for tracking ongoing COVID costs or evaluating COVID schemes in the longer term’ and demanded the Treasury ‘be more proactive in collecting the data required to complete the WGA’.

The Business and Trade Committee should become the lead for strategic export controls, according to a joint report from the Business and Trade, Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees on the role of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC). It argued that the Government 'appears to treat accountability to CAEC as secondary to accountability to individual select committees' and therefore concluded that 'more fundamental changes are required in the approach to scrutiny of strategic export controls', including that the Committees on Arms Export Controls should no longer sit separately. The Defence Committee demurred, arguing there was ‘an ongoing requirement for a cross-committee model that offers balanced scrutiny, but one that focuses more on export control decision’.

Key Movements 🔁

17 Senior Business Figures will form the UK’s first AI Opportunity Forum, to be overseen by the Technology Secretary and the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser on Business and Investment. The business figures include the CEO of Microsoft UK, the MD of Google UK and Ireland, the CEO of GSK and the Group CEOs of Tesco and Barclays.

Adam Hawksbee has been named as the interim Chair of the Towns Unit. He will continue in his role as Deputy Director of the Think Tank Onward…

Martin Jones has been appointed the Chief Inspector of Probation, and will take up the role on 1 March 2024.

Sir Oliver Heald announced he would be standing down as an MP at the next General Election, having served in the House of Commons for 32 years.

This Week’s Polls 📊

33% of Britons believe Labour Leader Keir Starmer would be the best Prime Minister, with a YouGov poll finding that only 18% believe Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would be best. Starmer’s score has not fluctuated since Sunak took office (34%), meanwhile, Sunak’s score has dropped 12% and is now three points away from where his predecessor, Liz Truss, was before she ended her premiership in 2022. Looking ahead to the General Election, another YouGov poll showed that 47% of Britons intend to vote Labour, while 20% intend to vote Conservative, with Reform UK only 7 points behind the Conservative Party, with 13%.

6 in 10 Britons believe Britain is moving in the wrong direction, according to a new Ipsos poll showing that 16% think that things are going in the right direction. The poll also showed that 54% believe that Brexit had a negative impact on the country, and, similarly to the YouGov poll, 43% revealed they are likely to vote Labour in the next election, which includes 21% of 2019 Conservative voters.

Think-Tanking 💭

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report on the ethnic diversity of NHS doctors and a report on the constraints and trade-offs for the next government, arguing the current Government is leaving a thorny inheritance for whoever is in office after this year’s general election.

The Resolution Foundation published a report looking at the UK’s regional services trade over time, with the UK being the second largest services exporter in the world.

Onward published a report looking at how to unlock philanthropy in the UK.

The Institute for Government published the 11th edition of its Whitehall Monitor – the annual, data-based assessment of the UK civil service, how it has changed and performed over the past year, and its priorities for the future.

Reform published a report on the ‘State of the State’, looking at the challenges facing an incoming government, and a citizen’s view of what matters and how government is performing.

Demos published a report on AI and the coming revolution in political communications, and a report modelling the economic impact of breast cancer to the UK.

The IPPR published a report investigating how Scotland looks after its elderly citizens.

Policy Exchange published a report on the UK’s industrial policy, warning the Government against entering into a subsidy race with other industrial nations.

The Fabian Society published a report looking at Labour’s key battlegrounds at the next election.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

The biggest threat to the Special Relationship since the heinous acts of the 1773 Boston Tea Party (and some minor war that apparently took place a couple of years later), played out this week. You’ll have almost certainly seen it already this week, but we had to share it anyway as the perfect example of highly dangerous yet lighthearted and successful diplomacy in action. We are of course referring to the US Embassy in London leaping in to save the Special Relationship from almost certain doom in the form of a press release disagreeing with some Yank scientist who dared to suggest we should put a pinch of salt in our tea. To quote King George from the musical sensation that is Hamilton: “You cry in your tea, which your hurl in the sea, when you see me go by”. Well if it’s got salt in it… too bl**dy right.


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