Two fringe conservative conferences, interventions from future Tory leadership hopefuls and a whole raft of potential new Labour policies, the long campaign to influence the next UK Government’s manifesto began in earnest this week. It’s going to be a long and drawn-out road to the next election… whenever that might be…
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 🚨
Two organisations on the right wing of the Conservative Party held conferences at the start of this week as the policy and leadership jostling begin to ramp up ahead of the next General Election (spoiler alert… we’ve got at least a year of this to come). Future Tory leadership hopefuls set out their stalls at the Conservative Democratic Organisation’s conference in Bournemouth last weekend and the National Conservative Conference in Westminster on Monday, some might (cynically) say as they start to position themselves for a potential post-Tory Government era. Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg were two of the big names to take to the podium at Monday’s conference, in speeches focusing on traditional conservative values, immigration and identity politics, although both were interrupted by protestors. Leader of the House of Commons, and future leadership hopeful herself, Penny Mordaunt MP, fresh from coronation sword-bearing duties, highlighted in the Commons that the conferences weren’t organised “by Government or the Conservative Party”; but you can expect more of these types of interventions, both from the right wing of the Conservative Party and Labour’s Momentum-based left wing over the coming year.
The key points from the first draft of Labour’s National Policy Forum consultation proposals were leaked to the Labour List website at the end of last week, causing quite the stir / focusing minds (delete as appropriate) as the party moves towards an election footing. The comprehensive list of recommendations split across the report’s six sections include already planned pledges such as the creation of a state-owned energy company, greater support for trade unions, and the recruitment of more police officers, but also include a number of more controversial and headline-grabbing policies such as the right to flexible working from day one for all workers, votes for all 16 and 17 year olds, and the abolition of the House of Lords. The leaked policy proposals were largely overshadowed by arguments over whether EU citizens will be allowed to vote in UK elections, as Keir Starmer pledged three years ago. Whilst members of the Shadow Cabinet have been at pains to stress (correctly) that many of the policies included in the NPF’s leaked first draft won’t end up as official Labour policies ahead of the next General Election, it effectively fires the starting gun for the Labour Party manifesto writing marathon. With so many potential policies now out in the open, Starmer’s office will now face a barrage from both inside and outside his party over the next year as different interests and wings lobby to get their particular policies included.
Meanwhile, in Government, Rishi Sunak has spent much of the week abroad, leaving newly crowned Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden to face Angela Rayner in his first, typically feisty, PMQs. The Prime Minister meanwhile hosted Ukrainian President Zelenskyy at Chequers, before flying to Iceland to speak at the Council of Europe, where he warned Europe was facing “the greatest threat to democracy and the rule of law on our continent since before the Treaty of London was signed”. After Iceland, he flew to Japan (providing the official No 10 photographer the opportunity to take some great shots of Mount Fuji from the plane), where the Prime Minister signed the Hiroshima Accord, which includes agreements on ‘defence, trade and investment, science and technology collaboration, and joint work on tackling global issues like climate change.’
The Week in Stats 📉
75.9% – UK employment rate in January to March 2023, 0.2 percentage points higher than October to December 2022.
30% – The amount annual household food bills will have increased in three years by July, according to new research by the Resolution Foundation, marking a bigger jump than increases in energy bills.
£238bn – UK health expenditure in 2022, an increase in nominal terms of 0.7% from spending in 2021.
19.4 million – The number of families in the UK in 2022, an increase of just over one million families (5.7%) in the decade since 2012.
29,103 – The number of primary care professionals now working in GP practices, with the Government meeting its target of recruiting 26,000 additional staff one year early.
£162m – The amount Queen Elizabeth II's funeral and events during the period of national mourning cost the Government.
2 – The number of times the Great Clock of Westminster, which contains Big Ben, has stopped ticking this week following an £80m refurbishment.
Other Political News 📰
High food prices were the topic of conversation following the Prime Minister’s Farm to Fork Summit on Tuesday. The event saw representatives from the whole food supply chain, including farmers, producers and retailers arrive at Downing Street to identify ways that government and industry can work together to boost growth, drive innovation and improve sustainability. To go alongside this, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey made a written statement to confirm a package of support for the industry including: ensuring farmers get a fair price for their produce; unlocking innovative technologies, such as precision breeding, to strengthen food security; improving support for the horticulture industry; building on the Plan for Water announced last month; and boosting trade an export deals for British food. The Summit came at a time when food inflation is at the top of Parliament’s priorities, following ONS data suggesting it has reached 19.2%. This week saw a Westminster Hall debate and questions in Business and Trade Questions on rising food costs.
The Prime Minister announced that the UK will send hundreds of air defence missiles and armed drones to Ukraine, following President Zelenskyy’s visit to London at the beginning of the week. In a meeting between the Prime Minister and Zelenskyy, Sunak reiterated the UK’s support for Ukraine in both the short and long term and committed to using the meetings of the G7 and the Council of Europe to stress the importance of sustainable global support. Zelenskyy also called for fighter jets to be sent to Ukraine, though Sunak suggested that this “was not a straightforward thing” but that the UK would form “a key part of the coalition countries” providing the support.
Old Victorian sewage systems will benefit from a £10 billion investment to modernise the sewers. Water UK posted the announcement confirming the new National Overflows Plan created by water companies across the country, which sets out their plans for tackling sewage spills. The plan will see acceleration in the progress of the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan; more transparency to improve accountability with the introduction of independent the National Environment Data Hub; and support for new bathing rivers to protect outdoor areas of water for swimming and recreation. The announcement was issued alongside an apology from water companies, stating “More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches” adding the new plan will start to put things right.
The Renters’ (Reform) Bill was formerly introduced into Parliament on Wednesday, which would legislate to ban landlords from evicting tenants with no justification. Housing Secretary Michael Gove confirmed his hopes that the Bill will create a “fairer rental markets” to protect tenants from “rogue” landlords and strengthen rights of possession for the “good” ones. The law would also make it a legal right for tenants to request to keep a pet in their home, and make it illegal for a landlord to refuse tenancies to families with children or those in receipt of benefits. Elsewhere in the housing sector, Homes England published its five-year Strategic Plan this week, on how it intends to deliver more good quality, affordable homes and regenerate towns and cities.
A 20-year National Semiconductor Strategy was published by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. The strategy sets out how up to £1 billion will be used to boost the UK’s strength and skills in the design and development of the increasingly important semiconductors to grow the domestic supply. The announcement also confirmed that an Advisory Panel will be established to speak on behalf of the sector and provide advice and feedback.
Around the World 🌍
Turkey’s elections will go to a second round after neither candidate secured 50%. President Erdogan received 49.51% of the vote, while his main challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu polled 44.88%. However, Erdogan’s party did win a majority in parliament. The election was the first in which there was a genuine risk that President Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, might actually fail to be re-elected after the opposition formed a united front behind Kilicdaroglu. The second vote will take place on 28 May, with it widely expected that Erdogan will succeed. Turnout was a massive 89%.
Thailand’s general election produced a shock result when the reformist Move Forward party swept to become the largest party in parliament. It defeated the frontrunner Pheu Thai party and parties backed by the military to take 152 seats, ahead of Pheu Thai’s 141. The youth-led, progressive and pro-democracy Move Forward ran on a platform opposing the wide-ranging powers of Thailand’s military and royal family, and its success is seen as a public rejection of the ruling pro-military government. Move Forward and Pheu Thai have stated their intention to form a coalition.
Ecuador’s president has dissolved parliament and will rule by decree. The opposition-controlled National Assembly had been investigating President Guillermo Lasso for embezzlement and had been imminently planning an impeachment vote that would have ejected him from office. Having invoked a constitutional clause introduced in 2008 that has never been used before, he will now rule by decree for up to six months before fresh elections are held. The move is expected to trigger severe protests, but the Ecuadorian military has backed the President and warned against any violence.
Cambodia has barred the main opposition party from contesting July’s general election. Electoral authorities disqualified the Candlelight Party for apparently failing to submit the correct paperwork, meaning that Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1998, will face the election all but unopposed. In 2018, his Cambodian People’s Party won every single seat in parliament.
Elections to the European Parliament will take place from June 6-9, 2024. The dates were agreed after a failed push to amend them from Portugal, which complained it would depress Portuguese turnout due to a national holiday on 10 June.
In Parliament 🏛
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill passed its report stage in the House of Lords ahead of third reading on 22 May. A number of areas were covered during the debate including workers protections, environmental protection and food standards, sunset clauses and the powers of Ministers.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill will introduce measures to better serve victims and the public through improving victims’ experiences of the Criminal Justice System, establishing an Independent Advocate to support victims of major incidents, strengthening the parole system and restricting marriage in prisons for those under whole life orders.
The Online Safety Bill continued its committee stage in the Lords, covering subjects including the duty of service providers to manage suicide and self-harm content, reviewing complaint procedures and requiring Ofcom to issue a code of practice on violence against women and girls.
The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill passed its second reading in the Commons. The Bill will create a new regime to increase competition in digital markets by conferring powers and duties on the Competition and Markets Authority.
The Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Bill passed its second reading in the Lords. The debate focused on funding for Northern Ireland and the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Framework.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continued its committee stage in the Lords. Members speaking on day 13 put forward amendments on supporting sustainable development, ensuring environmental concerns are considered during consultations and purposes of protected landscapes.
Public access to nature and access to Psilocybin treatments were the topics of Thursday’s Backbench Business debates in the Commons.
Committee Corridor 📜
The Palace of Westminster could be destroyed by a ‘catastrophic event’ before it is ever repaired and restored, warns the Public Accounts Committee in a daunting report published this week. Progress on the Restoration and Renewal of Parliament has been ‘painfully slow’ according the Committee, with those working subject to asbestos, leaking, dropping masonry and a ‘constant risk of fire’. Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP has called for a “clear indication of the cost and timeline for getting this massive job done before it becomes too late to do so”.
Isolation, poor public transport and a lack of digital connectivity have all contributed to poor mental health in rural areas, argues the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its latest report. The Committee have called for Defra to establish a joint new rural mental health policy and delivery team with the Department of Health and Social Care, arguing that the current ‘disparate, localised way’ mental health services are delivered is not adequate.
Treat Bitcoin the same way as gambling, says the Treasury Committee in a report on cryptocurrencies that it released this week. Arguing that unbacked cryptocurrencies have (look away now Matt Hancock) ‘no intrinsic value and serve no useful social purpose’, the Committee concluded that they pose ‘significant risks to consumers’ and urged the Government to regulate it in the same way as gambling is regulated.
The PEACE PLUS Programme, together with efforts to support peace and prosperity, are all ‘welcome’, comments a House of Lords Sub Committee on Ireland/Northern Ireland in a report. The Committee did however call on the Government to provide clarity on how the Programme will operate, and as to whether the Northern Ireland Budget Statement 2022-23 will have any impact on the funding.
Key Movements 🔁
Scotland Secretary Alister Jack MP announced he would be standing down at the next General Election. It’s likely he will be appointed to the House of Lords.
Caroline Dinenage MP is the new Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, having received more votes than Damian Collins MP and Damian Green MP.
Sir Peter Bazalgette will support the work of the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Dame Angela McLean investigating the pro-innovation regulation of the creative industries.
Emir Feisal has been appointed to lead a review of the British Tourist Authority.
Mark Cheeseman has been confirmed as the Chief Executive of the Public Sector Fraud Authority, after undertaking this position on an interim basis.
Ruth Elliot and Justin Kingsford are the new Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority respectively.
Melanie Dales has been appointed Ministry of Defence Police Chief Constable.
The Department for Business and Trade has five new Non-Executive Board members – Stephen Hill, Karina McTeague, Robert Leeming, Lord Syed Kamall, and Peter Fleet.
This Week’s Polls 📊
Labour is polling a 17 point lead in Westminster voting intention if there was a General Election held tomorrow, according to Savanta’s latest poll, their highest lead since early February.
37% of the population also think Starmer would make a better Prime Minister than Rishi Sunak according to recent Savanta Polling. Rishi Sunak sat at 34% in the poll, with 29% of people responding “don’t know”.
Labour are trusted more than Conservatives on every major issue, Redfield and Wilton polling found this week, in the third of a trio of bad polls for Tory HQ. This included the NHS, housing, education, the economy, immigration and Ukraine.
2 in 3 British football fans support the use of VAR in football, Ipsos found in new polling. 3 in 4 fans thought VAR has made football refereeing decisions more accurate – with half of football fans (49%) saying the decisions made in the 2022/23 season specifically have been better than in previous seasons. Fans suggested they would be more likely to support VAR if a time limit were to be introduced to make a decision.
16% of Millennials, 22% of Gen X and 25% of Baby Boomers strongly oppose Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ), according to Deltapoll Surveys. This is compared to 11%, 7% and 12% respectively who strongly support the schemes.
The Henry Jackson Society published a report on how US-UK collaboration could answer China's 'growing political ambition'.
Onward released a research note that laid out an alternative to the UK’s hydrogen levy.
The Resolution Foundation published a report on the role of food prices in the cost of living crisis, labeled 'Food for Thought'.
The Center for Strategic & International Studies launched a report on the evolution of Cyber Operations and Capabilities.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a study of the share of adults paying higher rates of income tax (40% rate or above) since 1991.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
Speeches by any Leader of the Opposition largely take two forms – a) whip up the home crowd and drop in a major policy announcement, or b) blast the Government for incompetence and promise a better, greener future – and in the year leading up to an election, you can expect them to come thick and fast. At this stage, the opposition is very much in rhetoric mode, saving up policy announcements for closer to the election when they’ll have the most effect. And so in that vein, this week’s Déjà Vu Award goes to Keir Starmer for his speech entitled ‘Country First’ to the Progressive Britain Conference on Saturday – an almost near perfect example of speech type B, which with some minor name changes and tweaks, could easily have been delivered by Tony Blair in 1996 or David Cameron in 2009 (even down to the line on the “great failures of the last 13 years”). It’s worth a listen (and saving, for any student readers of our Weekly Briefing, for near-verbatim use in approximately 13 to 14 years’ time).
Talking of speeches, this week’s ‘Sorry, go over that one more time for me?’ Award, goes to Investment Minister Lord Johnson of Lainston, whose response to a question on support for the automotive manufacturing sector in the House of Lords on Monday, turned a little trippy, as he pushed the entrepreneurial unicorn metaphor, some might say, a little too far… “if your Lordships took a hot-air balloon up over this great nation and looked down, you would see herds of unicorns thundering across our green and pleasant land, the sunlight glinting off their horns. But if your balloon drifted over the channel to the continent, you would see single unicorns, their ribs showing, tethered to a stake and munching dry grass. Our brains are our best defence, and the facts speak for themselves”… gosh.
Let’s hope no one’s authority is questioned at next week’s Local Government Committee session in the Scottish Parliament, as the star witness will be lockdown meme legend and local council rebel, Jackie “you have no authority here” Weaver.
And finally, we conclude this week, by reminding people, that Matt Hancock is a “normal person now, not a Conservative MP, right”, as he made clear, at a Bright Blue on Wednesday. As Matt said, “it’s like… just BE normal”. Right, glad we’ve cleared that up.
Have a lovely weekend