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Sunak’s Labour Pains | A Scottish Coronation

As the early results of this week’s local and regional elections flood in, it’s safe to say the Conservative Party did not have an ideal night on Thursday. As senior MPs on all sides are dispatched to the broadcast studios for a second night of spin, we bring you the latest from another action-packed and at times bizarre week in politics…

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 Conservative Party is seeing major losses in this week’s local elections, so far having lost hundreds of council seats to Labour, the Lib Dems, the Green Party and independents across the country, as well as seeing Labour win the York and North Yorkshire Mayoral election – covering the PM’s Richmond constituency. Despite the “grim results for Sunak” (as described by the BBC), which the Prime Minister himself called “obviously disappointing”, staff in Tory HQ breathed a single short sigh of relief this afternoon as Ben Houchen was re-elected Tees Valley Mayor albeit with a significantly reduced majority. Labour unsurprisingly won the Blackpool South by-election on the night, but the 26% swing – the third biggest swing from Conservative to Labour in post-war by-election history – left the Conservatives narrowly ahead of Reform and puts another layer of pressure on Sunak, just as Nigel Farage seems set to make a return to frontline politics… All eyes will be on the West Midlands and London when results are announced tomorrow to see whether Andy Street will remain in office, and whether Sadiq Khan really did have anything to fear from Susan Hall.

Humza Yousaf’s spectacular miscalculation of how hacked off the Scottish Green Party would be after he unceremoniously booted them out of the power sharing agreement signed under Nicola Sturgeon, ended his career as First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader in dramatic and swift style on Monday, when he announced his resignation. Whether he simply didn’t expect to face such ire, or whether he/his advisors forgot MSPs could table a vote of no confidence specifically in him is still unclear. Either way, due to the parliamentary numbers, his fate ended up, rather ironically, in the hands of his former Cabinet colleague and leadership rival, Ash Regan – whose defection to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party in October 2023 Yousaf described as “no great loss” (#awks). Rather than negotiate with Regan, Yousaf chose to resign, sparking a new battle for the leadership of the troubled SNP. This very quickly fizzled out again when Yousaf’s other former leadership rival Kate Forbes announced she would not run and will instead support former Deputy First Minister and leader of the SNP in the early 00s, John Swinney – who will now almost certainly become leader by coronation on Monday.

The first illegal migrant to leave the UK for Rwanda under the Government’s Stop the Boats scheme, flew to Kigali on a commercial flight on Monday, with £3k in his pocket. The voluntary scheme is separate to the Government’s forced reallocation programme, under which 800 Immigration Enforcement Officers were involved in detaining an unknown number of migrants this week, ahead of planned deportation flights due to start in July. The Irish Government turned down an “offer” by Rishi Sunak this week to join the UK’s Rwanda deportation scheme after claims hundreds of migrants are travelling to Northern Ireland and across the open border into the Republic of Ireland to avoid deportation to Rwanda.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

In the Commons – MPs will return to the Chamber on Tuesday following the May Bank Holiday for Treasury Questions with the Chancellor and a general debate on defence. The Finance (No. 2) Bill will be debated by a Committee of the whole House, with Backbench Business debates on miners and mining communities and the BBC mid-term Charter Review.

In the Lords – It’s a busier week for Peers with committee stage scrutiny of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, Foetal Sentience Committee Bill, and the Media Bill; report stage of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill; and consideration of Commons amendments to the Automated Vehicles Bill. A number of Private Members’ Bills including the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill and the Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill will also be debated on Friday.

On Committee Corridor – The Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research will quiz Government Ministers on the UK’s presence in Antarctica, in light of tensions with Russia and the impact of climate change; Public Health Minister Andrea Leadsom will give evidence to the House of Lords Food, Diet and Obesity Committee; and the Lords Financial Services Regulation Committee will hold its first public evidence session on the FCA and PRA’s secondary competitiveness and growth objective.

The Bank of England will also announce its latest interest rate decision on Thursday 9 May.

The Week in Stats 📉

>275 – Conservative Councillors who have lost their seats at the time this email was sent.

53.6% – Ben Houchen’s vote share to hold his position as Mayor of the Tees Valley – a 19.1 percentage point drop on the last election.

6 – by-elections won by Labour this Parliament on a swing of more than 20%.

2 – number of people who were Conservative MPs at the time legislation to introduce Voter ID was passed that were publicly affected by the new rules yesterday – Tom Hunt MP and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Both were eventually able to cast their ballot.

23% – major dwelling applications approved by the local authority in Mole Valley, the lowest proportion in England. 

61,300 – net mortgage approvals in March 2024, the highest since September 2022.

Other Political News 📰

David Cameron visited Ukraine on Thursday, where he met President Zelenskyy and announced the UK’s latest support package to Ukraine will include ‘the provision of precision-guided bombs, and air defence missiles and equipment for 100 mobile air defence teams’ to enable Ukraine to shoot down Russian drones and missiles. Speaking in Kyiv he also gave his support for Ukraine’s military to use British weapons to strike targets inside Russia, stating “let's be absolutely clear, Russia has launched an attack into Ukraine and Ukraine absolutely has the right to strike back at Russia.”

Keir Starmer “put shoplifters on notice” in an address to the Usdaw Union's annual meeting in Blackpool on Tuesday. Echoing the first part of Tony Blair’s ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ mantra from 27 years ago, he told delegates “You might get away with this under a weak Tory government, but if Labour takes power we won’t stand by while crime takes over our streets”. He used his speech to reaffirm policy pledges that Labour will put “thirteen thousand extra neighbourhood police on the beat”, “scrap the Shoplifter’s Charter”, and “legislate to make sure assaulting and abusing shopworkers is a standalone criminal offence”.

Former Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter MP defected from the Conservatives to Labour last weekend. The Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP is standing down at the next election but will sit as a Labour MP until then, arguing that he “found it increasingly difficult to look my NHS colleagues in the eye, my patients in the eye, and my constituents in the eye with good conscience." Keir Starmer made the most of his defection, having Labour’s newest MP sit directly behind him during PMQs.

MPs debated assisted dying in the Westminster Hall following the presentation of a petition with over 200,000 signatures, after broadcaster Dame Esther Rantzen revealed earlier this year that she has joined Dignitas following a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. The debate saw Labour confirm its position that it would allow Parliamentary time for the policy to be debated and voted on when in Government.

New border rules came into force on Tuesday meaning agri-food products from the UK will now be checked. As part of the implementation of the Border Target Operating Model, products now labelled as a medium threat to biosecurity will be subject to physical checks, testing for pests and diseases, which will be invoiced to the importers by the ports. Debates on the topic in the Chamber this week raised concerns that the new checks will increase burdens for businesses and prices for consumers, though Government officials have claimed the new system will see changes in food prices to rise just 0.2% over the next three years.

Around the World 🌍

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared he would stay in post, having announced last week he was considering stepping down after a court opened a corruption inquiry into his wife. He had denounced the accusations as a harassment campaign by right-wing media, and it had been widely expected that he would choose to step down.

Police cracked down on pro-Palestine protest camps across American college campuses, which began to spring up two weeks ago. 2,000 people were arrested nationwide, and violence was particularly bad at the University of California, Los Angeles, when pro-Israel activists clashed with the protestors. Protest camps have now been erected in nearly 140 colleges across at least 45 states.

Protests also rocked Georgia (the country, not the US state) as protestors denounced a ‘foreign agent’ bill currently making its way through parliament. The Government insists that the bill will boost transparency of foreign funding, but opponents argue it could be used to crush dissent in a manner similar to that in neighbouring Russia. Police fired water cannons and tear gas for two nights in a row, and there were accusations of police brutality.

Turkey has suspended all trade with Israel due to the ‘worsening humanitarian tragedy’ in Gaza. It declared that the measures would remain in place until Israel permitted an ‘uninterrupted and sufficient flow’ of aid into the territory. Despite historically having a relatively close relationship with Israel, Turkey has increasingly turned away from it over recent years and has instead become one of Hamas’ chief financial backers.  

MPs in the Solomon Islands selected a pro-China candidate as their prime minister, with Jeremiah Manele beating his opponent 31-18. The country held a general election in April, but it is up to lawmakers to elect the prime minister. The result means the Solomon Islands will remain diplomatically close to China, with which it has a defence and security pact.

Togo voted in parliamentary elections following the passing of legislation which would move the country to a parliamentary system and give lawmakers the power to elect the president. The opposition has denounced the move as a means of allowing President Faure Gnassingbe, who has been in office since 2005, to prolong his rule, and the vote has been delayed twice due to backlash.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Commons completed its scrutiny of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill this week, and it now passed through to the House of Lords. The Bill will overturn convictions related to the Post Office Horizon scandal, but it does not provide for compensation. MPs also sent the Automated Vehicles Bill back to the Lords, with amendments added, and rejected amendments the Lords had inserted to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

The Lords finished the committee stage of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill (after four days), and continued its consideration of the Victims and Prisoners Bill. Peers also undertook debates on child poverty, EU imports and exports, the Bank of England, and homecare medicines services.

Committee Corridor 📜

The lobbying of Ministers through WhatsApp should adhere to the same disclosure standards as in-person meetings, according to a new report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. PACAC called for greater transparency when informal lobbying takes place over non-corporate communication channels (NCCC) and for the use of NCCCs to be blocked on official devices.

The UK’s Small Island Developing States Strategy lacks ‘concrete commitments or measurable objectives’, according to a report published by the International Development Committee. It called for the UK to use its senior roles and influence in the global financial institutions to “improve SIDS access to climate finance”.

Key Movements 🔁

Humza Yousaf resigned as Scottish First Minister and SNP leader on Monday, following his decision to dismantle the power-sharing arrangement with the Scottish Greens last week, and the subsequent tabling of a no-confidence vote in his leadership. He will stay on as First Minister until a successor has been chosen, with that person looking likely to be John Swinney.

Dan Poulter MP has defected from the Conservatives to Labour, accusing his former party of no longer valuing public services.

Chris Webb has been elected the new MP for Blackpool South, following yesterday’s by-election. His victory saw a 26% swing from the Tories to Labour.

Andrew McMurray has been chosen as the new South Down Alliance MLA, following Patrick Brown’s resignation.

Nigel Railton has been appointed as the interim Chair of the Post Office.

Dr Paul Golby CBE has been confirmed as the first chair of the National Energy System Operator.

Richard Oliver stood down as Director of the Labour Party and will be replaced by Sheila Murphy, the former North West regional director.

Professor Penney Lewis has been reappointed as Commissioner of the Law Commission of England and Wales.

As the election results continue to roll in, these are the Mayors who have been announced so far: Conservative Ben Houchen was re-elected in Tees Valley, Labour’s Kim McGuiness won in the North East, Labour’s David Skaith was elected for York and North Yorkshire, and Labour’s Claire Ward won the first mayoral election for the East Midlands.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Despite speculation over her tax affairs, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner’s favourability  rating remains unchanged, according to a recent Ipsos poll. Rayner’s favourability between March and April remained the same, with 25% of respondents having a favourable opinion compared to 37% who are unfavourable. Among the Labour Shadow Cabinet, she is joint most popular among Labour voters, and joint least popular among Conservatives. Rayner’s favourability score come in second among leading UK politicians, with Labour Leader Keir Stamer coming in first and Rishi Sunak in fifth.

14% of Britons were still unaware of the UK’s Voter ID rules, according to a YouGov poll. While awareness of the rules has risen to 86%, there were noticeable differences of awareness between nations and generations. While 12% of people in England were unaware of the new rules, this figure rose to 34% in Scotland. Similarly, young people were less aware of the new rules than older people, with 30% of 18-24 year olds reporting that they were unaware compared to 7% of over-65s.

Support for ULEZ in London has grown as 50% of Londoners support the existence of the scheme while 31% oppose it, according to a recent poll from Redfield & Wilton Strategies. Support is up 6 points since September, when the scheme was expanded to the boroughs of outer London. Support for the scheme still remains lower than it was last June when 58% of voters supported it, but general support for expansion has risen by two points since September.

The economy remains the most important issue facing Britain today, according to a new Ipsos poll, with the topic raised by 34% of Britons. The NHS and healthcare came in second, followed by inflation, immigration, housing, and poverty. 

Think-Tanking 💭

The IPPR published a paper exploring why and how the next government will need to be innovative in seeking to renew government for the 2020s.

Reform published a report arguing that the Government needs to take radical steps to address the imbalance of performance in the civil service.

Onward published a paper on ‘A Conservative Economy’ which calls for an active industrial strategy to rebuild Britain’s manufacturing base, boost exports and make it less reliant on overseas ownership.

Policy Exchange published a report looking at the case for a smartphone ban in schools.

The Adam Smith Institute published a paper warning that London’s nightlife is in crisis, calling for cuts to VAT and beer duty, an expansion of the Night Tube and for the paid position of the Night Tsar to be scrapped.

The IISS published a paper on the rise of Turkiye’s defence industry and a paper on missile proliferation and control in the Asia-Pacific region.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Boris Johnson was turned away from the polling station yesterday after he forgot to bring photo ID, a new rule which was introduced by… you guessed it, Boris Johnson! Don’t worry though, he did return to vote with ID later and luckily for everyone wondering, his spokesperson confirmed that he did indeed vote Conservative. Turns out Boris wasn’t the only one who had issues with the new voter ID rules, however, after Conservative MP Tom Hunt discovered that he didn’t have an appropriate ID on Wednesday evening. ITV’s Harry Horton managed to get hold of a Whatsapp screenshot of Tom Hunt asking local members in his constituency to act as his ‘emergency proxy’.

Some say that sports and politics shouldn’t mix, but former England bowler Monty Panesar put the media in a spin after he crossed the boundary and was revealed to be making a run for Parliament and standing in Ealing Southall for the Workers Party at the next General Election. The ex-cricketer will be looking to pick up some Broad support and to Cook up a storm, although time will tell if his Prior career is a hinderance or a boost to his chances. But if his appearance on Times Radio is anything to go by, it seems unlikely Panesar will be another ex-cricketer in Parliament, with (Lord) Ian Botham already in (the) Lords.


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