Three by-elections, two-child cap controversy, and one large chunk of legislation becoming law… the last week of the House of Commons before the Summer Recess certainly hasn’t been a quiet one, as both the Prime Minister and Labour leader have faced difficulties of their own. As always, we’ve got it covered below, and don’t worry, MPs might be going on their Summer Holidays but we’re not, this Roundup will be continuing throughout the Summer and beyond. Lucky you.
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 Conservatives lost 2-1 rather than the expected 3-0 in this week’s by-elections, as they narrowly held onto the former Prime Minister’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip by 495 votes, while losing Selby and Ainsty to Labour and Somerton and Frome to the Liberal Democrats. With swings of 23.7% and 29% in the seats they lost, it wasn’t all good news for the Prime Minister, but he has avoided being the first Prime Minister to lose three by-elections in a day since Harold Wilson in 1968. The new MPs are Councillor Steve Tuckwell in Uxbridge, former Labour staffer Keir Mather in Selby (who at 25 becomes the youngest MP in Parliament), and Councillor Sarah Dyke in Somerton. Many are putting the Conservatives victory in Uxbridge down to the upcoming expansion of the ULEZ to outer London, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arguing that the win showed the next election was not a “done deal” for the Labour Party.
ULEZ wasn’t the only policy splitting the Labour Party this week, as Keir Starmer came under internal pressure after confirming that a Labour Government wouldn’t scrap the 2-child benefit cap, which his Deputy Angela Rayner had previously labelled ‘obscene and inhumane’. Estimated by the Child Poverty Action Group to cost £1.3bn a year, while bringing 250,000 children out of poverty, members of the Shadow Cabinet have said scrapping it would constitute an ‘unfunded spending commitment.’ This weekend also sees Labour’s National Policy Forum meet to finalise the content of six policy documents that will be sent to Labour’s Conference in October, with this an ‘important staging post’ in the production of the next Manifesto.
With the House of Commons entering its Summer Recess yesterday, a number of Bills were granted Royal Assent, so we thought we’d give you a brief overview of what this all constitutes, though not all the measures in the Acts will be implemented immediately. We have: the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act, which will require employers to consider and discuss requests from employees for flexible working; the Child Support (Enforcement) Act, which introduces tougher sanctions on parents who fail to pay child maintenance; the Social Housing (Regulation) Act, which strengthens powers to tackle failing social landlords and support tenants living in unsafe homes; the Illegal Migration Act, which aims to tackle those coming into the UK on small boats; the Electronic Trade Documents Act, which aims to remove legal impediments to producing documents in electronic form; the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, which will require a minimum level of service to be operated in certain services during strike action; and the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act, which aims to restrict the theft and re-sale of equipment and tolls used by tradespeople and agricultural and other businesses.
The Week in Stats 📉
November 7 – Date the King’s Speech will be held
0 – The number of tube strikes due to be held next week, after the RMT, ASLEF and Unite unions called off strikes following last-minute talks.
7.9% – The inflation rate in the 12 months to June 2023, down from 8.7% the month prior.
£18.5bn – The amount the Government borrowed in June 2023, less than the £21.1bn expected by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
£286k – The average UK house price following a 1.9% increase in the 12 months to May.
5.1% – The amount private rental prices rose by in June, with the highest annual percentage change in the West Midlands (5.4%) and the lowest in the North East (4.4%).
12 – Number of leaks related to the glass atrium roof on Portcullis House, with MPs forced to leave last week after a ceiling panel collapsed.
Other Political News 📰
Ben Wallace declared that he would ‘stand down’ as Defence Secretary at the Cabinet reshuffle, which is expected before Parliament returns in September. He insisted he had made the decision due to the stress the job had taken on himself and his family, although recent breaking of Cabinet collective responsibility and the fact his constituency is set to be eliminated at the next election could also be contributory factors. He added he would not seek re-election. In what he said would be his “last appearances” in Parliament as Defence Secretary, he presented the updated Defence Command Paper and joined the Prime Minister in apologising to LGBT armed forces veterans who were affected by the 1967-2000 ban of homosexuality in the Armed Forces.
‘Great British Nuclear’, the body which will oversee the ‘rapid expansion of new nuclear power plants in the UK’, was launched. Nuclear-related firms were invited to register their interest to ‘participate in a competition to secure funding support to develop their products’, and the Government reiterated its commitment to the ‘mega projects of Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C’. It is hoped Great British Nuclear will help to fulfil the Government’s ambition of providing a quarter of the UK’s electricity from homegrown nuclear energy by 2050.
The Department for Education announced a crackdown on ‘rip-off degrees’, measured by the metric of ‘high drop-out rates and poor employment prospects’. It declared this was for the good of taxpayers, ‘who make a huge investment in higher education and are liable for billions of pounds in unrecovered tuition fees’, and students, one in five of whom ‘would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university’. Under the plans, the Office for Students will be asked to limit the number of students universities can recruit onto courses that are ‘failing to deliver good outcomes for students’. We assume PPE at Oxford won’t be on the list.
The row over Nigel Farage’s bank account rumbled on, after he published a document from a meeting of Coutts' wealth reputational risk committee which declared that his views were ‘at odds’ with its position as an ‘inclusive organisation’. The Treasury subsequently announced new measures to protect the ‘freedom of expression’ of banking customers, under which banks will be ‘forced to explain and delay any decision to close an account’. The Managing Director of Natwest (which owns Coutts) apologised to Mr Farage.
Chloe Smith completed her tenure as interim Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary when Michelle Donelan returned from maternity leave. Donelan is only the second Cabinet minister to have taken maternity leave, after then-Attorney General Suella Braverman took six months off in 2021. Prior to this, Ministers had to resign from their posts to take time off to give birth, which is frankly shocking.
Around the World 🌍
US solider Travis King remains in North Korea after he ran across the border area on Tuesday. The White House has had no response in its attempts to contact Pyongyang to secure his release, as the US and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang tends to negotiate on behalf of the US, however its staff are not in the country due to pandemic restrictions. There is hope that a low-ranking soldier would have little bargaining value and may just be released but his intentions for wilfully crossing remain unclear. This issue comes as tensions rise, as North Korea also reportedly fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea in what appeared to be a statement of defiance as the United States deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades.
Controversial Spanish snap elections are due to occur this Sunday. While it is unusual for Spain to hold an election so late in the summer especially as temperatures in many parts of Spain have reached 40C and up to 10 million Spaniards are on holiday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called the vote in response to a dismal performance at the May local elections. Projections show that neither the socialist party or their main rivals the Popular Party led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo are likely to win enough votes to govern on their own, with sexual consent, LGBTQ rights, nationalism and the economy set to be the deciding issues. General elections have also reignited the calls for independence from Catalonia and have led to many in the country believing it will mark a pivotal moment in whether the relationship between Catalonia and Madrid improves or flares up once again.
Tunisia and the EU have signed a £90m immigration deal as the country has become the main departure point for immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to mainland Europe. The funding included in the deal aims to help Tunisia stop smuggling, strengthen its borders and return migrants but also outlines a plan to boost Tunisia's economic growth through greater cooperation on a green energy transition, education, research and innovation. The EU has received scrutiny over the deal due to recent violent attacks against Black immigrants in Tunisia; Tunisian President Saied’s comments that immigrants were a “criminal enterprise hatched at the beginning of this century to change the demographic composition of Tunisia”; and increasing concerns over authoritarianism in the country.
100 year-old former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a surprise trip to visit Chinese president Xi Jinping this week. Their meeting at Diaoyutai comes amidst a number of visits by other top US officials as the US seeks to defrost ties with China. Meeting at Diaoyutai also held significance as that is where, half a century ago, Kissinger met Chinese officials in a secret visit to kick-start the normalisation of US-China ties. Chinese statements on his meetings with top diplomat Wang Yi and Defence Minister Li Shangfu stressed the need for respect, co-operation and "peaceful co-existence" between the US and China going forwards.
Ethiopians once again have access to social media networks and messaging services after a five-month ban intended to quash anti-Government protests ended. Facebook, Telegram, TikTok and YouTube were blocked on 11 February after anti-Government protests broke out. The Ethiopian authorities have cut off or restricted access to the internet or to certain platforms on several occasions in recent years, most notably during the 2015 protests and during the violent unrest in Tigray. In response to these bans, Amnesty International and non-profit Centre for Advancement of Rights and Democracy emphasised not only the limit on freedom of expression but also the projected $140m GDP loss.
In Parliament 🏛
The Online Safety Bill completed its report stage in the House of Lords, passing amendments that could be used to force tech firms to scan encrypted messages for child abuse images. The third reading of the Bill is scheduled for 6 September.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continued its report stage in the Lords, discussing the Infrastructure Levy, environmental protections and development corporations. A fifth day of report stage is scheduled for 4 September.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill was sent to the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments. The Commons disagreed with a number of amendments and returned the Bill to the Lords for further consideration.
MPs held the Sir David Amess summer adjournment debate on Thursday to consider matters to be raised before rising for Summer Recess. Topics included local government finances, social care and transport infrastructure.
A number of Westminster Hall debates were held this week, covering the cost of living and the private rented sector, accessibility of radiotherapy, Universal Credit deductions and on planning and solar farms.
Love Island 💘🏝
We’ve seen seven solid days of grafting, gaffs and quarrels in the islanders’ 5* Mediterranean Alcatraz, topped off with a visit from another A-list celeb, this time in the form of popstar Rita Ora.
In a week of wonderful clarity for Mitch, he finally decided he liked new bombshell Ella B, no wait sorry Casa Amor hook-up Abi, no hang-on – Ella B, no, no it’s Abi, ok fine, definitely Ella B… before finding himself in the bottom three after failing to convince the public of his new-found love for the bombshell.
Dream couple Whitney and Lochan were announced as the public’s favourite couple in an early first reveal for the show, leaving tongues wagging and setting villa besties Ella (Ella A?) and Whit up for an inevitable clash. After the public voted off newbie Josh and Amber (who inexplicably lasted three weeks), Kady and Ouzy were also sent packing by Whitney and Lochan who decided to save Mitch and Ella B to let their love grow or something (translation: for the drama).
In a set-back for another early couple, Zach spent the week grafting after inexplicably choosing Kady for the first part of his Snog, Marry, Pie challenge, much to Molly’s bafflement and rage; however in a move that has absolutely, one hundred percent, no way sir, nothing to do with the final coming up, Tyrique emerged a changed man from his constant bickering with Ella and, through the medium of chocolate covered strawberries, told her he loved her.
However, not all is well in paradise. As we move into the show’s final week, tensions continue to grow between Abi and Mitch, Ella and Whit, and Scott and Ty… Get ready to roll the tapes.
Committee Corridor 📜
An estimated 1.2 million people are on the waiting list for community mental health services, with 1/3rd of people not having access to the support they need found the Public Accounts Committee’s most recent report on improving NHS mental health services. It concludes that rising demand for mental health services, particularly in young people, has continued to outstrip provision despite the workforce increasing by 22% since 2016. The report raises concern that the NHS’ focus on reducing backlogs for physical health may mean that mental health is overlooked.
Seaside towns have still not been enabled to fully realise their potential according to the Lords Liaison Committee’s follow up report. The inquiry heard of the need for more support and investment for seaside towns, which see a ‘persistent sense of disconnection’, after slow progress. It calls for a coastal communities strategy ensuring cross-departmental work on issues such as transport, digital connectivity, education and health and wellbeing.
Tree planting targets are ‘extremely unlikely’ to be met before the 2025 deadline according to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report into the contribution of forestry and timber sectors to biodiversity and net zero goals. The report calls for an increase in a range of tree species, through an integrated, single and holistic strategy, with concerted action in both the public and private sectors, to deliver the UK’s nature reforestation and net zero goals.
‘Multiple successive reviews have not yet fixed’ the UK’s ‘broken’ defence procurement system found the Defence Committee this week. The report calls for a system which ‘places a much greater value on time, promotes a sense of urgency rather than institutional lethargy, and prevents endless ‘requirements creep’ by our own military’, alongside a greater emphasis on improving skills such as developing apprenticeships for the future workforce.
The Government should do more to support the elderly and disabled into work according to the most recent report from the Work and Pensions Committee. The report looked at the Government’s plan for jobs and employment support calling for the Government to expand its eligibility criteria for support programmes; pilot a US Jobs Plus programme for a more person centred approach; devolve power to local authorities and to support the self-employed with a replacement to the New Enterprise Allowance.
Key Movements 🔁
Michelle Donelan returned as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology following a break for her maternity leave, taking over from Chloe Smith MP who acted as interim Secretary.
London Assembly Member Susan Hall was chosen as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, beating Moz Hossain with 57% of the votes.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced he will be standing down as an MP at the next general election, and will stand down as Defence Secretary at the next cabinet reshuffle.
Mayor of the North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll resigned from the Labour Party and will continue to serve as an Independent Mayor, stating he has ‘no choice’ given Labour leader Keir Starmer’s decision to ‘bar him from running as North East Mayor, despite being incumbent Mayor.’ Kim McGuinness, currently Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has been selected as Labour’s candidate.
The SNP’s Phillippa Whitford became the eighth of the party to announce she is stepping down at the next general election.
Keir Mather became the new Baby of the House, after been elected as MP for Selby and Ainsty, at aged just 25.
Steve Tuckwell and Sarah Dyke were elected as the MPs for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Somerton and Frome respectively.
Chris Walters, Ofwat’s Senior Director, was appointed to the Ofwat Board, where he will lead processes that set the price, service and incentive package for water companies from 20255-2030.
Deborah Taylor was named as the new Chair of the Criminal Legal Aid Advisory Board for an 18 month term.
Emran Mian joined the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology as the Director General of Digital, Technology and Telecoms, as he leaves the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Four of Boris Johnson’s life peerage recommendations, Lord Gascoigne, Lord Kempsell, Lord Bailey of Paddington and Lord Ranger of Northwood were formally introduced into the House of Lords. Johnson’s former SpAd Charlotte Owen and Mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen will be introduced on Monday.
This Week’s Polls 📊
The Cost-of-Living continues to dominate peoples’ thinking, finds the latest poll from Ipsos this week. 39% of people say it is an important issue, while a further 30% cite the economy. Other areas people raised as an issue include healthcare (33%), immigration (21%), housing (15%), education (13%) and climate change (12%).
What do Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer most stand for? Not a lot, according to a poll from Redfield and Wilton. A plurality of 26% of voters answered that the Prime Minister didn’t have a policy they most associated with him or that they didn’t know, while the corresponding figure for the Labour leader was 38%.
Levelling Up is still not happening fast enough, says another poll from Redfield and Wilton released this week. 40% of respondents disapprove of the Government’s performance, while 24% voiced their approval. The figure is worse for Red Wall voters, with 46% disapproving and just 18% approving. Labour also holds a 13 percentage point lead over the Conservatives on the most trusted Party on the issue.
The Prime Minister’s approval rating is the lowest since he entered Office, finds YouGov’s latest favourability tracker, as his rating has dropped from -34 in late June to -40. 65% of Britons have an unfavourable view of Sunak, compared to 25% who view him favourably.
And finally, the question that everybody’s been asking this week, Barbie or Oppenheimer? Luckily YouGov have the answer for us with a poll they conducted a few weeks ago. 36% of respondents favoured the film about a key figure in the development of the nuclear bomb, while just 9% chose the film about a doll. 10% said ‘Both’… we wonder how many of those will be doing the ‘Barbieheimer’ Double Bill.
The Resolution Foundation published a report on the impact of higher interest rates on wealth distribution in the UK, which argues that a ‘higher-rates world’ would support middle-income families to ‘afford their own home and provide for a comfortable retirement’, while in a ‘lower-rates world’, household wealth would be ‘dominated by inheritances’.
Onward released a report on energy infrastructure and community support, advocating for a Green Energy Covenant which would ‘ensure nationally beneficial developments are tied directly to local investment, and [would] give power to communities to decide what community benefits are invested in.’
The Institute for Government published a report providing options on how to ‘strengthen the UK’s constitution and governing institutions’, including to give the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests the power to open their own investigations.
The Henry Jackson Society published two reports this week, on Islamist Anti-Blasphemy Action in the UK; and on the UK’s failure to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. Policy Exchange also published a report on British Strategy and Iran, advocating for the UK’s policy objectives to include ‘maintaining freedom of access to and movement through the Middle East’s maritime chokepoints’.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a paper on the digital age and competition, criticising the ‘big is bad’ mantra that it argues is ‘now influencing competition policy’.
The IPPR published a report titled ‘The Public Sector needs a real pay rise’, highlighting that even a 6% pay rise for the average public sector worker would still leave them £1,400 worse off a year compared to before COVID-19.
The IPPR also released a paper on food security, arguing that the UK Government needs to ‘step up and bring forward an industrial strategy for food and farming’.
You’ve Got to Laugh 😂
With Susan Hall named as the Conservative candidate for the next London Mayoral election, here is a throwback to December 2022 when Hall clashed with the Chair of the London Assembly Onkar Sahota over the incredibly controversial topic of…. Christmas. While saying she was “just about to be nice, would you not like to listen to me being nice, it’s quite unique you know”, the Chair told Hall that she was “out of time, and out of place” in her attempt to wish London Mayor Sadiq Khan a “very happy Christmas with his family”. We could have another 9ish months of this…
A post-Lib Dem by-election victory You’ve Got to Laugh section would not be complete without a video of Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, and he has not disappointed us today. With a comically large fake match, Davey had a countdown, lit a fake cannon and ‘wooed’ as confetti exploded into the air to celebrate Sarah Dyke becoming the new MP for Somerton and Frome. We’ll leave it to you to judge where it ranks amongst other famous Davey moments, including having a literal door, knocking down a blue wall, bursting a giant bubble, and driving a tractor.
Speaker, Postman, Cat Enthusiast, Lindsay Hoyle does it all, as he took a spin this week in the Royal Mail’s latest zero-emission van. With his cat Jess Attlee, Hoyle saw the efforts being made to improve the environmental footprint of Parliament, with a staggering 750,000 letters send to MPs in Westminster from their constituents each year. Looks like some people like letters more than Andrew Bridgen…
We hope you have a lovely weekend