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Sunak’s big gamble

“We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that it’s the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” [President Thomas Whitmore in 1996 cult movie Independence Day NOT Rishi Sunak to Tory candidates...]

Election Roundup Specials ❎

Next week we’ll be launching the first of our Election Roundups – looking at some of the key candidates likely to be elected in July, the makeup of the next Parliament, the big policy commitments made so far and the highlights and lowlights of the first week’s campaign – drawing on the industry leading research we’ll slowly be revealing over the next six weeks. 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 wait is over as Rishi Sunak called an early UK General Election for Thursday 4 July. In his rain-soaked speech outside Downing Street on Wednesday, Sunak attempted to block out Labour’s 1997 Things Can Only Get Better (or in his case wetter) election anthem being blared in the background, as he: reflected on his legacy as Chancellor during the COVID pandemic; discussed the unstable international environment; declared that “economic stability is the bedrock of any success”; and listed what he considered his Government’s successes, such as putting energy security over "environmental dogma" and increasing defence spending. The surprise move overturned expectations of an Autumn election, with Cabinet Ministers including Esther McVey questioning Sunak’s timing. According to reports, the July date has been a ‘slow burn’ for Sunak, with the improved economic outlook coupled with a fear the public have stopped listening said to be the deciding factors. The announcement means that Parliament will be prorogued today, marking the end of a parliamentary session, and dissolution will take place on 30 May. As a result, there’s only a few hours left for Bills to be passed before all the attention turns to election campaigns, with the Renters (Reform) Bill, Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the Football Governance Bill among the Bills that have been dropped. Following the election, Parliament will convene on Tuesday 9 July for the election of the Speaker and swearing-in of members, and the State Opening of Parliament and King’s Speech will take place on Wednesday 17 July.

Keir Starmer launched Labour’s General Election campaign in Gillingham on Thursday, declaring that voters had the power to “end the chaos, turn the page, and rebuild Britain” and calling it “absolutely unforgivable” that the Government was leaving office with living standards lower than when it entered. Keir reminded voters of Labour’s five missions to change Britain, as well as the Party’s first steps to build towards these missions, including cutting NHS waiting times, setting up Great British Energy, recruiting 6,500 new teachers and delivering economy stability.

And so the scramble to select candidates is on, with the major parties still some way off completing their PPC lists. According to candidacy guru Michael Crick’s update earlier today, the Conservatives still have 191 seats to select candidates, 26 of which they currently hold, and Labour still have 81 seats, 9 of which they already hold and 59 of which they are ‘very unlikely’ to win. Jeremy Corbyn announced today that he will run as an independent in his constituency of Islington North, news that is sure to give Keir Starmer a headache given his countless attempts to distance himself from Corbyn since he was elected leader. Questions are swirling too as to Diane Abbott’s candidacy, with her yet to be given back the Labour Whip as she continues to be subject to an incredibly long and slow investigation. Meanwhile, the resignations are beginning to roll in, mostly from Conservative MPs (shocker), including Rail Minister Huw Merriman, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Employment Minister Jo Churchill, with more expected over the coming days. And, whilst one former PM – Theresa May – is calling it a day... being unceremoniously ousted from No. 10 hasn't stopped former Liz Truss giving it another shot, as she confirmed she'll be hoping to carry the neo-Con torch back into Westminster in July.

The Week in Stats 📉

2.3% – The latest annual inflation rate, which fell from 3.2% in March and is the lowest rate since July 2021.

£20.5bn – The difference between public sector spending and income in April 2024, according to the ONS.  

£14.6m – The amount the US embassy owes in Congestion Charge payments to TfL, with the total debt among embassies amounting to £143,527,113.

2 – The current position the song, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, holds on iTunes.

119 – Number of MPs who have confirmed they won’t be standing in the next General Election (at the time of writing) – with 76 being Conservative.

41 – days until the General Election!

Other Political News 📰

Inflation dropped to 2.3% - the lowest annual rate since July 2021, and down from the recent high of 11.1% in October 2022. The Bank of England base rate still remains at 5.25%, the highest rate in 16 years, with mortgage holders hoping it will be cut in June.

Victims of the contaminated blood scandal, were offered a “wholehearted and unequivocal apology” by the Prime Minister on Monday following the publication of the Langstaff Report which showed a “decades-long moral failure at the heart of our national life”. A compensation scheme, that may be as high as £10bn, is being set up, with interim payments of £210,000 due to be made over the summer. Some victims, who were infected with HIV and hepatitis, will receive more than £2m.

Figen Murray, campaigner for Martyn’s Law, met with Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer this week after walking the 200 miles from Manchester to Downing Street to raise awareness for the proposed legislation, seven years after the Manchester Arena bombing. The Home Office has said the new Bill – which will require certain premises and events to increase their preparedness for and protection from a terrorist attack, and has cross party support – is in the final stages of drafting.

NATO member minimum Defence spending should increase to 2.5% - that’s the message Defence Secretary Grant Shapps delivered in a speech to the London Defence Conference on Wednesday, now that the Government has committed to increase defence spending to the amount by 2030. Labour are yet to announce they will match the figure. All eyes on the manifestos due out in the next few weeks.

The Energy Price cap will fall by 7% in July, Ofgem announced on Friday. For an average household paying by direct debit for dual fuel this equates to £1,568, a drop of £122 over the course of a year. Labour have vowed to cut fuel bills by setting up Great British Energy and through further investment in renewables.

AI work coach tools are set to be rolled out in Jobcentres across the UK, after the Work and Pensions Secretary announced a new nationwide campaign to link jobseekers and employers and fill vacancies… which stands at almost 900,000 – down from its recent record high of 1.3 million in mid-2022.

‘Extreme political activists are targeting core elements of Britain’s democracy’ – that’s the conclusion reached by Lord Walney – the former Labour MP John Woodcock – in his report for the Government on protecting democracy in the UK from coercion. His report, which includes warnings of ‘the damage that can be done to society by the extreme far left’, has unsurprisingly been seized upon by those on the far-left as a “threat to democracy” and advocating a “police state”.

Around the World 🌍

Iran’s President and Foreign Secretary died in a helicopter crash in what appears to be a freak accident, caused in part by heavy fog. Six people, including President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian died when their helicopter crashed in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. The deaths are not expected to substantially influence Iran’s political trajectory, due to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holding the true political power. However, Raisi had been tipped as Khamenei’s successor.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, on charges of war crimes committed in Gaza and crimes against humanity on 7 October respectively. Netanyahu called it “a political outrage”, and the USA suggested it might place sanctions on the ICC. The news followed reports that members of Israel’s cross-party war cabinet had vowed to quit unless Netanyahu set a post-war plan for Gaza.

Spain, Norway and Ireland announced they would recognise a Palestinian state, declaring it was a vital step towards establishing peace in the region. Israel responded with fury, arguing it proved that ‘terrorism pays’ and recalling its ambassadors to all three countries. It means that over 140 of the 193 member nations of the UN now recognise Palestine and increases the number of European countries doing so to 12. 

South Africa is gearing up for its general election on 29 May, which could potentially see the ruling ANC lose its majority for the first time since Nelson Mandela led it to victory in the first post-apartheid election in 1994. The ANC is still expected to win the most votes, but could lose its majority. All eyes will then be on the Marxist EFF, which could hold the keys to power.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Commons kicked off the week with business as usual, although some eagle-eyed parliament watchers may have raised their eyebrows at the lack of legislation due for consideration. Aside from multiple statements on the infected blood scandal, the Commons debated Ukraine and various motions, including on the Holocaust Memorial Bill. The tempo couldn’t have changed more abruptly on Thursday, as the Government scrambled to achieve some legislative finality in the ‘wash-up’ period. This saw the conclusion of the Finance Bill, Victims and Prisoners Bill, Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, Media Bill and the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, most of which bounced between the Commons and the Lords. The legislative and timetabling chaos did, however, provide wannabe Conservative leader House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt plenty of time to shine as she announced the rapid-fire business, perhaps not the best for a Prime Minister attempting to run a ‘presidential’ general election campaign…

Committee Corridor 📜

The Ministry of Justice lacks an understanding of the costs and benefits of its legal aid reforms, according to a Public Accounts Committee report scrutinising value for money from legal aid. It expresses ‘deep concerns’ about the MoJ’s and the Legal Aid Agency’s ‘lack of curiosity on the impact of decreasing numbers of providers on people’s access to legal aid, despite evidence which suggests access is getting more difficult.’

Decades-long fights for justice remain a risk without a broad ‘duty of candour’, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned. Its report calls on the Government to go further in improving how the state responds to major tragedies, including stronger measures to require openness from public bodies, and more support for victims’ families to overcome an imbalance in legal support.

Ministers need to investigate why eligible people are not on the learning disability register, so argues the Women and Equalities Committee’s new report. It warns that people with a learning disability and autistic people face significant health inequalities, including an ‘unacceptable level of premature and avoidable deaths’ and that overall outcomes ‘still fall below acceptable standards.’

Disabled people encounter ‘unnecessary and severe barriers’ to accessing suitable housing in England, according to a report by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. The inquiry found ‘little evidence’ that DLUHC is treating disabled people’s needs as a priority in housing policy, pressing for more accessible homes.

Grid connections and storage issues must be addressed to decarbonise the economy, so finds the Environmental Audit Committee. Its report concludes that many planned renewable energy projects are being hampered by persistent problems accessing the electricity grid, suggesting the Government and Ofgem should actively monitor and streamline initiatives designed to deliver grid connections faster.

Financial education should be expanded in primary and secondary schools is the main takeaway from an Education Committee report. It also recommends encouraging schools to appoint financial education coordinators and improving access to quality learning materials to give pupils the ‘knowledge to make decisions with their money.’ 

The Census should not be abandoned until the Government addresses long-standing failures around data-sharing, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has concluded. Its report says that the volume and variety of data generated within the UK has ‘exploded in scale’ over recent years and the UK has ‘failed to bring its disparate datasets together to enrich its public evidence base.’

Key Movements 🔁

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, Employment Minister Jo Churchill, Rail Minister Huw Merriman, Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee Chair Greg Clark, Labour MPs Holly Lynch, Kevan Jones and Yvonne Fovargue, Conservative MPs John Redwood, Craig Mackinlay, David Evennett, Michael Ellis and James Grundy and Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew announced that they would not be seeking re-election on July 4.

Matt Hancock and Bob Stewart both had the Conservative whip returned, although they are both standing down regardless.

Sir Robert Francis was appointed as the interim chair of the Infected Blood Compensation Authority.

Giles Enticknap has been appointed British High Commissioner to Botswana.

Heather Baily has been reinstated in her role as Chair of the Security Industry Authority for a further 2 years.

This Week’s Polls 📊

The main General Election issues for the public are the NHS, economy, and immigration, according to the May 2024 Ipsos Index. 35% of those asked viewed the NHS as one of the biggest concerns facing the nation, while 29% mentioned inflation. With Nigel Farage confirming he would be helping Reform during the campaign, a notable 27% of people cited immigration as a main issue.

The Prime Minister did the right thing in call the Election, finds a snap poll from YouGov. While the decision was reportedly met with disdain and annoyance amongst his Conservative MPs, 61% of people surveyed said calling an Election was correct, with just 11% saying it was the wrong thing to do.

Think-Tanking 💭

Onward published a report warning of the possible risks Labour’s ‘Growth and Skills Levy’ could have on the number of apprenticeships.

The Institute for Government published a report urging the next government to take a preventative approach to public services.

The Centre for European Reform published a report arguing that the EU’s new asylum rules are unlikely to make the current system more humane or effective, and called for the Union to ‘rethink’ its approach to co-operation with third counties and shift its focus on migration control.

The Centre for Policy Studies published a report arguing that British tech firms are being held back by ‘outdated approaches to regulation and heavy-handed red tape’.

The Adam Smith Institute publish a report arguing that Other Tobacco Products (OTP) have not been properly considered by policy makers in the Government’s proposed Generational Ban and called for the Government to hold back on a ban of OTPs until a review of the bill is considered.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Where on earth do we start this week… if you take one thing away from the announcement on Wednesday… it’s that the appetite for election memes we saw in 2019 has not faded, and that the Westminster bubble have been waiting four and half years for this moment. Whether it’s the fake Labour graphic firing its way around the internet on Tuesday morning that Rishi Sunak had defected to Labour, to the classic and much used ‘Rick Astley for Prime Minister’ poster first seen years ago – you may need to mute certain politically-minded WhatsApp groups over the next 6 weeks if you’re to get through this one having done any work at all. Given our data show this is the section most readers immediately scroll to, you can be sure we’ll roundup some of the best clips and memes every Friday for the next 6 weeks. You’re welcome.

Unsurprisingly the PM was the butt of most jokes this week, with his bizarre decision to deliver the announcement whilst getting progressively sopping wet leading to some great memes. Hats off to the TUC for their getting out the blocks quickly. Sunak’s gaff asking whether a brewery in South Wales was looking forward to getting people in to watch the Euros this summer (which Wales didn’t qualify for), and a visit to where the Titanic was built (prompting “sinking ship” questions) kickstarted what will undoubtedly be a cringe-riddled campaign on all sides.

And finally, before we get into full election mode, we thought you’d enjoy a couple of other contributions from opposite ends of the political spectrum punted out into the ether of the internet before everyone’s summer plans were dramatically changed on Wednesday. Firstly came Stella Creasy’s montage of celebrity pairings, from Thelma and Louise to Bert and Ernie, in her job advert recruiting for a “sidekick” (Parliamentary and Campaigns Manager)… full credit for eye-catching originality to be fair. However first place for Tweet Of The Week (did we spell that correctly?...) has to go to Lee Anderson for his bizarre dog whistle – which so far has received over 4 million views – asking how long before “some highly educated expert” calls his Full English Breakfast (pictured) “racist”… very odd indeed.


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