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Starmer's Small Steps I Sunak's Security I Red-Elph Redemption

Although we still don’t know when polling day will be, the General Election campaign unofficially began in earnest this week, with both the Prime Minister and Labour leader setting out their stalls and giving us big hints on what they’re wanting to fight the General Election over. With a severe lack of legislation for MPs to discuss, at least there’s something going on to keep everyone busy…

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 🚨

Keir Starmer and the Labour Party hit General Election campaign mode this week, unveiling its ‘First Steps for Change’, with six policies set out that are intended to build towards the more ambitious ‘National Missions’ announced last year. The six steps are: (1) delivering economic stability; (2) cutting NHS waiting times; (3) establishing a Border Security Command; (4) establishing Great British Energy; (5) cracking down on anti-social behaviour; and (6) hiring 6,500 extra teachers. Flanked by his Shadow Cabinet on a stage in Essex, Starmer outlined that it was a plan that they could “take to every doorstep, across the country”, and would help them argue that “decline is not inevitable” and that “politics can make a difference”, while criticising the Government for presiding over “14 years of failure”. The speech was also notable for the things that were omitted, with not a single mention of the words ‘environment’, ‘climate change’ or ‘defence’, while ‘housing’ received only a passing reference.

Sunak delivered a speech on Monday, focusing national security, in which he began by discussing the ongoing threat from unrest around the world such as the conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and the threat from countries like China and Russia, alongside more broader threats from technology and AI. So far, so good, on the national security front, although in his thirty minute speech, under the premise of security, Sunak used the time to: discuss gender activists and cancel culture; repeat the benefits of Brexit for trading; pay tribute to UK innovation including in offshore wind; discuss reforms to the welfare system; state that the Government has improved standards in schools and legislated for equal marriage; highlight figures on economic growth; reference the flagship Rwanda scheme; discuss skills reform and levelling-up; repeat that the Government have cut National Insurance; reiterate his ambitions to create a smoke-free generation and discuss reforms to the NHS. All of which, Sunak claimed, are ways in which he will “create a secure future”.

After the commotion of last week’s defection, Elphicke again made headlines this week, as the Opposition benches managed to defeat a Government-led motion concerning MPs being banned from the Parliamentary estate if they have been charged for sexual assault. Dissatisfied with the lack of extremity of the motion, Labour MP Jess Phillips and Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain tabled an amendment which called for all MPs arrested on suspicion of sexual assault to be banned, passing by 170-169 on a free vote. Given the one vote difference in the division, and as redemption for Starmer after his decision to allow the former-ERG member into his Party, it is likely that Natalie Elphicke’s vote made all the difference in pushing through the amendment, with Conservative aides admitting that it would have been highly unlikely of the Dover MP to vote for a Labour-Lib Dem amendment when she sat on the Tory benches just last week. Perhaps more telling is the number of Conservative MPs who made use of the non-whipped vote, with 166 Tories abstaining, and key figures including Theresa May and Ministers Luke Hall and Justin Tomlinson siding with the Opposition, alongside… err… Safeguarding Minister Laura Farris. 

Coming Up Next Week 📆

In the Commons – the Holocaust Memorial Bill will complete its remaining stages, while the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will continue ping-pong. There will also be debates on Ukraine, UK arms exports to Israel, allergy guidance for schools and potholes, before Parliament breaks for Whitsun recess following the conclusion of business on Thursday.

In the Lords – the Media Bill will continue its committee stage and the Victims and Prisoners Bill will continue report stage. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary will face oral questions on topics including arms exports to Israel, Russian sanctions, working with the South African Government and addressing conflict-induced food insecurity.

On Committee Corridor – Food and Farming Minister Mark Spencer will be quizzed on the UK’s food and supply chain during the EFRA Committee’s final evidence session on ‘Fairness in the food supply chain’; Schools Minister Damian Hinds will give oral evidence at the Education Committee’s inquiry on music hubs; Economic Security Minister Alan Mak and Development Minister Andrew Mitchell will face questions on Israel arms exports policy; Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron will give evidence on the UK’s new relationship with the EU; and Environment Minister Lord Benyon and Treasury Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton will be questioned on Government plans to mobilise private finance for natural capital.

The Week in Stats 📉

2% – growth in real wages over the last year, according to new analysis by the Resolution Foundation.

346 – average number of Written Parliamentary Questions tabled per day during the 2022-23 Parliamentary session according to new analysis… the highest number since before 2010 (one for the political geeks in our readership)

£31,600 – amount Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething will donate to the Labour Party from his leadership campaign fund.

11% - proportion of secondary schools with an effective phone ban, according to Policy Exchange.

£82bn – amount Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed said Labour’s ‘Great British Energy’ could cost (he later insisted he misspoke, and that the actual figure is £8.3bn)

£27.1 million – total allegedly spent on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion across 95 civil service organisations in the 2022-23 financial year, according to ‘Minister for Common Sense’ Esther McVey.

50.5 – the rate of homelessness per 10,000 people in the UK in 2023, the highest rate in the developed world.

136.5% - increase in severely absent pupils from schools since before the pandemic, according to the Centre for Social Justice’s termly analysis

Other Political News 📰

The Chancellor hinted at another possible National Insurance cut before the General Election. In a speech criticising Labour’s economic plans, Jeremy Hunt defended the UK’s record tax levels, which he said were necessary to cover the costs of protecting the public from the pandemic and soaring energy bills; claimed taxes would increase under a Labour Government to plug a “£38bn black hole” in their economic plans; and suggested the Government would cut National Insurance again in the Autumn, stating “if we can afford to go further to responsibly reduce the double tax on work this Autumn, that is what I will do”. He also published a document on Labour’s tax rises, detailing the Government’s latest costings of the party’s proposed policies.

25 new policy announcements were unveiled as part of the Government’s Smarter Regulation Programme, which seeks to ‘re-energise regulatory reform, capitalise on the benefits of Brexit, and promote growth in every corner of the economy’. Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said it is estimated that Government reforms will reduce the burden on business by up to £1bn or 50 million hours per year by ‘cutting unnecessary bureaucracy and form filling’, with announcements including: a consultation on proposals to abolish the legal framework for European Works Councils; a consultation on proposals on an alternative model for UK REACH; proposals to modernise the restrictive rules on gaming machines in a boost for bingo halls, casinos and arcades; a consultation that builds on current Covid easements to simplify how the sale of alcohol is licensed for consumption in pavement areas next to pubs and bars; and an international vehicles standard. A white paper ‘to improve the UK’s regulatory landscape and encourage innovation, investment and economic growth’ was also published.

A blueprint to boost the UK’s food security was launched as Rishi Sunak hosted the second Farm to Fork Summit at Downing Street. Sunak told the Summit that the UK needs to reduce its reliance on overseas fruit and vegetables and back British producers, highlighting the publication of the first UK Food Security Index to ensure the Government and sector is resilient to unexpected shocks to the market and extreme weather. He also announced: a Horticulture Resilience and Growth Offer, which will replace the retained EU scheme; a £72m fund to the Endemics Diseases Scheme; a £22m infrastructure grant for laying hens; and new regulations to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products, with Richard Thompson appointed as the new supply chain adjudicator.

The co-operation deal between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru has ended, after Plaid leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said he had “deep concern” about certain matters, including donations made to First Minister Vaughan Gething during the leadership campaign. It’s been a difficult week for Gething, after he sacked a Minster for allegedly leaking text messages to the media, and he now faces having to rely on other parties in the Senedd to get legislation through.

Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney set out his ambitions for Scotland’s economy, arguing that ‘poor decision-making at UK level, typified by Brexit and immigration policy, means the Scottish Government must work even harder with its limited powers to help businesses and workers thrive.’ He stated that he was determined to bring hope and optimism and will “go all out” to encourage economic investment, explaining that policy-making will be governed by moderate left of centre, progressive values; a partnership approach with unions and business; a focus on actions; and problem-solving based on evidence.

A Conservative Minister broke expenses rules by using public resources to produce ‘overtly political’ material for the party, according to a report by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The report confirmed that Pensions Minister Paul Maynard has paid back £1,367 for using a state-of-the-art printer, which it said should have been used for constituency work rather than campaign material. It also found Maynard had under-reported the use of his constituency office by his local Conservative Party association, with Labour calling for him to be removed from his Government role.

Around the World 🌍

Slovakia’s Prime Minister was shot in an assassination attempt. Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot five times on Wednesday and is currently in a ‘critical but stable condition’ in hospital. Fico was elected in October (having already served as prime minister from 2006-10 and 2012-18) and has faced heated opposition for his moves to suspend support for Ukraine, influence the media and abolish the office that investigates corruption.

Putin fired his long-serving Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has been in the role since 2012. He replaced him with Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, an economist who has little military experience, suggesting Putin may be seeking to align the war effort with the economy. The move coincided with Russian forces opening a new front in Ukraine as they attempt to seize Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv. Shoigu was moved to Secretary of the Security Council.

Putin has also undertaken a visit to China, where he and Xi Jinping discussed the war in Ukraine, conflicts in the Middle East, and cooperation on economics and defence. Ironically, Putin declared that their “cooperation in global affairs today is one of the main stabilising factors in the global arena”.

Georgia’s parliament passed the controversial ‘foreign agent’ law, leading to huge protests as opponents fear it could be used to suppress dissent. The protests turned violent, with one leading figure ending up in hospital after being beaten by police. The UK called on Georgia to scrap the law, and it was also the topic of an Urgent Question in Parliament on Wednesday.

Spain’s ruling socialists succeeded in Catalan regional elections, while pro-independence parties fared badly. It means that pro-independence parties now no longer control the Parliament, with support for independence dropping from 49% in 2017 to 42%. The Spanish Government will view the results as a vindication of its controversial amnesty law, which pardoned those involved in Catalan’s bid for secession in 2017.

Singapore’s long-serving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stepped down, handing over power to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong. Having ruled since 2004, he was Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister and is the son of the country’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. He was also the world’s highest paid state leader, receiving an annual salary of almost $3m between 2008-12.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Commons heard various Urgent Questions on topics relating to Parc prison, the ongoing negotiations on the WHO Pandemic Agreement, and the situation in Ukraine and Georgia. It also had a Ministerial Statement on the Government’s new guidance on age limits for RSHE being taught in schools. There was one Government Bill before MPs, the Criminal Justice Bill, following the news that the Home Office planned to introduce amendments that would remove the clause that would criminalise rough sleeping. A series of Private Members’ Bills completed their passage through the Commons today, including on school attendance, licensing hours, and pensions for those with terminal illnesses.  

The Lords considered the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill as it had its second reading, while the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill had its third. The Schools (Mental Health Professionals) Bill was in committee stage, with Peers ending the week considering Private Members’ Bills at various stages.

Committee Corridor 📜

There is no evidence of widespread abuse on the graduate route, so found the Migration Advisory Committee in their report out this week. It recommended the Government retain the graduate route in its current form, and establish a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents.

A new levy on arena tickets and a cut in VAT are urgently needed to stem the tide of grassroots music venue closures across the country, say MPs in a report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who heard about the “crisis of closures and soaring costs” hitting small local venues. The Committee also urged the industry to ensure the levy cost is not passed on to music fans.

The Government must invest in programmes to boost teacher recruitment, training and retention argued the Education Committee. Their new report revealed that the Department for Education has severely missed targets for recruiting teachers in key subjects, and highlighted challenges in retention with behaviour, better pay and flexibility in other sectors and workload cited as key reasons for teachers leaving the profession.

A record high in the number of WPQs that have been tabled per sitting day was revealed in the Procedure Committee’s recent report on Written Parliamentary Questions monitoring in the last Parliamentary Session (2022-23). It found an average of 346 WPQs were tabled per sitting day, up 4% from last year; there was also a 3% increase in timely responses.

The Conduct Committee published a report on the conduct of Lord Ranger of Northwood, which found that he had breached the prohibition in paragraph 19 of the Code of Conduct on bulling and harassment. It recommended he be suspended for three weeks.

Key Movements 🔁

Welsh Government Social Partnership Minister Hannah Blythyn was fired, reportedly due to leaking text messages to the media. Sarah Murphy was appointed her replacement.

General Sharon Nesmith has been appointed Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, succeeding General Gwyn Jenkins. She will begin the role next month.

Julian Glover, Nick Folland and Baroness Kate Rock have been appointed to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs board.

Marianne Young has been appointed British High Commissioner to Tanzania.

Sally Duckworth has been appointed as Chair of the Department for Business and Trade’s Technical Advisory Committee.

Richard Thompson has been appointed the Agricultural Supply Chain Adjudicator.

Jenny Stewart has been appointed interim Chief Executive of the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

This Week’s Polls 📊

53% of the UK public believe that the standard of the NHS will get worse over the next year, according to a new survey from Ipsos. The survey found that, if funding for the NHS isn’t increased, 60% would prefer for the Government to prioritise access to community-based services such as GPs or NHS dentists, while 30% would prefer access hospital care. 

4 in 10 Britons support increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, according to a new Ipsos poll. The poll found that 42% of people supported the increase to defence spending, while 22% opposed it. Support for the increase was found to be higher among those who voted Conservative in the last election, with 65% to support it. Meanwhile among Labour, 28% of voters supported the increase.

29% of Britons believe that schools should not teach about changing gender identities, according to a recent YouGov poll. As the Government publishes new guidance that imposes age limits on when RSHE content is taught in schools, the survey shows that support for what should be taught in school varies across topics, with 93% of Britons believing schools should teach basic facts of conception and birth, while 60% believe that the topic of people being non-binary or identify as a gender other than male or female should be taught.

Think-Tanking 💭

The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report on the past and future of UK health spending.

The Resolution Foundation published a report on how the inflation surge following COVID and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reshaped the British economy.

Chatham House published a research paper setting out three foreign policy priorities for the next UK Government.

The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report on debanking and the economic and social consequences of anti-money laundering regulation.

Policy Exchange published a report on sectoral collective bargaining and its implications for business and taxpayers.

The IPPR published a report on the just transition for workers in the energy sector; and a report on the case for building green manufacturing in the UK.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Daytime TV viewers were surprised when none other than the Prime Minister himself popped up on Loose Women on Thursday. The PM, who said it was one of the “more intimidating” things he had to do, was asked why he “hated pensioners” and questioned on child poverty, while also confirming he would be staying on as an MP were the Conservatives to lose the General Election. You can watch his whole appearance on the show here.

Sticking with the Prime Minister well sort of. A Sunak-look-a-like suffered from the resemblance he kind of has to the PM, getting egged by someone who allegedly mistook him for Sunak. The doppelgänger said his job opportunities had been increasing, but this week showed copycat fame has its downsides. h/t to Christian Calgie from the Express for the yolk to end this week’s roundup.


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