A brief spout of torrential rain accompanied the WHO’s announcement this afternoon that the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a global health emergency, three years and three months since the outbreak. As the crowds gather down The Mall, here’s hoping that the weather forecasts for tomorrow are way off the mark…
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
Local Elections took place across England on Thursday and marked the first election to require electors to show photo ID, with the Electoral Commission reporting some people were "regrettably unable to vote". Despite Labour criticism of the shift, at the time of writing, the results show Labour and the Lib Dems making gains at the expense of the Conservatives, with the Tories losing control of more than 20 councils so far. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has called the results “ground-breaking" whilst Labour’s Keir Starmer has suggested it showed his party is on course to win the next general election. Rishi Sunak has called the results disappointing but insisted the Conservative Party was still making progress in "key election battlegrounds". The Greens also saw their first ever outright majority on an English council as they gained control of the previous Conservative stronghold Suffolk Council.
Despite Labour's relative electoral success this week, the party’s Leader Keir Starmer has proved less popular with students this week as he called for Labour to "move on" from the commitment to cut or scrap university tuition fees. In an interview with the BBC, he agreed that the current system was “unfair” and “doesn’t really work” for students or for universities but argued that the country was in a "different financial situation" from when he first maintained the commitment in his 2020 bid for the Labour leadership and revealed that the party was now looking at other options. SNP Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn took a jab at the move during PMQs when he asked if the Prime Minister intended to take the credit for convincing the leader of the Labour party to abandon the promise as David Cameron had done with then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in 2010.
The lead up to King Charles’ coronation has dominated the political agenda for much of the week. With 2,200 people in Westminster Abbey, 100 heads of state, and five coronation dishes, Charles will become King of 15 countries this Saturday. While no one is complaining about the extra day off, there has been rumblings of anti-monarchy protests and commonwealth succession, with Security Minister Tom Tugendhat suggesting groups would be allowed to protest at the coronation, despite the new Public Order Act banning "serious disruption". Protestors won’t be alone though as hundreds of world representatives flock to London to celebrate the coronation. These include the First Lady of the US Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Roberta Metsola, German and Italian ceremonial presidents Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Sergio Mattarella, Chinese vice-president Han Zheng, Scottish and Welsh First Ministers Humza Yousaf and Mark Drakeford and in a first for the republicans, Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill alongside other foreign royals and prime ministers Anthony Albanese of Australia, Chris Hipkins of New Zealand, and Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan.
The Week in Stats 📉
13.3 billion – COVID-19 vaccinations administered world-wide over the past three years
9.6% - Conservative MPs who have announced they wont be re-standing at the next General Election
£350m – State pension underpayments to 1.3 million pensioners in the last financial year
91% - RMT Union members across 14 train operators who have voted to back further strike action
£239k – How much Boris Johnson was paid for a lecture in Lagos, Nigeria in March
16 – Years the SNP have been in Government in Scotland this week, since their 2007 win.
2450 – People evacuated by the UK on 30 flights from Sudan over 10 days
8058 – Council seats up for election in England this week, across 230 councils
24 – Number of hours Donald Trump has said it would take him to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Other Political News
12 months after her report into ‘Partygate’, Sue Gray has hit the headlines again this week, after Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden informed Parliament that Gray did not ‘make representations’ to the Cabinet Office investigation into when she first discussed plans with the Labour Party to become Keir Starmer’s Chief of Staff. Dowden also said he was ‘unable…to provide further information’ into her departure from the Civil Service, while Starmer himself expressed confidence that no rules were broken. Sam Coates at Sky News later reported that discussions began in October 2022, after her Partygate report concluded, but while the Privileges Committee was investigating Boris Johnson. The (very busy) Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) is also investigating her appointment, and they will make the final judgement and recommend how long Gray should wait before taking up the role with Labour.
The UK Government concluded its evacuation operation in Sudan, with 2,450 people evacuated via Wadi Saeedna airfield and Port Sudan during the 8-day, multi-route operation. 1,200 people from other nations, including the USA, Ireland, Germany and Australia, were supported to evacuate by the UK, with the UK’s being the ‘longest and largest evacuation of any Western nation’. £5m of life saving aid will also be delivered by the UK to people fleeing the violence in Sudan, with the UK working in ‘close coordination’ with international organisations to push for safe access for humanitarian workers. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK was “continuing to push for a permanent end to the conflict”, assuring that they “remain focused on supporting those who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.
Fraud will be reduced by 10% on 2019 levels by 2025, if the Government’s Fraud Strategy, published this week, achieves its aims. Fraud accounts for over 40% of crime in the UK but receives under 1% of police resources, with the Strategy including: £30m investment in a ‘state-of-the-art’ reporting centre; the launch of a new National Fraud Squad with 400 roles; the banning of cold calls on all financial products; and the outlawing of ‘SIM farms’, which allow criminals to send texts to thousands of people at the same time. Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlined the three key strands to the Strategy – efforts to bring more fraudsters to justice; Government and industry to work in partnership to stop fraud attempts; and the empowering of people to recognise, avoid and report fraud.
Martyn’s Law took a step forward this week, with the publication of draft legislation setting out the requirements that venues and other organisations will have to meet to ‘ensure public safety’. Named after Martyn Hett, who was killed in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, the legislation will introduce a tiered system for venues, depending on their capacity and the event taking place, to make sure they’re prepared for, and ready to respond to an attack. Martyn’s mother, Figen Murray, said that it was an “important step forward to a safer country”, emphasising that it is “now critical this Bill is passed into law as quickly as possible and in the strongest form possible”.
While politicians in England spent the week campaigning and looking at potholes, the Welsh Government published two significant strategies focusing on manufacturing and cyber. On manufacturing, the priorities set out by the Welsh Government are to: decarbonise the sector; develop the conditions to attract key manufacturing companies to Wales; identify the leadership and workforce skills needed; and to mobilise business support for Welsh manufacturers. The four priorities on cyber are related to: security and resilience; the economy; skills; and to build on the success of Wales’ cyber eco-system.
Around the World
Two drones hit the Kremlin early on Wednesday morning, opening a series of accusations and speculations over who was responsible for the attack. The official statement from the Kremlin suggests that Ukraine is to blame, in an attempt to target President Putin. However, this is seemingly unlikely, as President Putin’s main residence lies 20km away from the building, and the Russian state TV Channel 1 claimed that the drones in question were not capable of widespread damage and were for show purposes only. On Thursday, a Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri S. Peskov, also pointed the finger at the US, stating that the “decisions about such actions and terrorist attacks are not made in Kyiv but in Washington.” Both the White House and President Zelenskyy have denied involvement in the attack, leaving questions over who sent them to remain open.
Paraguay’s ruling conservative Colorado Party took victory in this week’s Presidential election, beating the centre-left and right wing rivals. The new President, Santiago Pena, managed to win almost 43% of the votes, benefitting from a split opposition, allowing him the required 15 point lead. The results mean that Paraguay will continue to recognise Taiwan as an independent state, with main contender, left-wing Efrain Alegre, campaigning to cut ties and align with China. Following the vote, protests have emerged in the country, with runners up making accusations of corruption and demanding a manual recount of votes.
The final officer involved in the George Floyd case was convicted in Minneapolis on Monday. Tou Thao, who was responsible for holding bystanders back at the time of the crime, has been charged with aiding and abetting manslaughter. His trial brings to a close the cases in the George Floyd death, with his sentencing scheduled for 8 August.
Violence broke out on the Gaza strip on Tuesday, following the death of a Palestinian hunger striker in an Israeli jail. Khader Adnan, who had previously been on hunger strike four times, died after an 87-day strike, which he started after being detained in the occupied West Bank. The death was a catalyst for further violence in the region, as Palestinian forces sent rockets into Israel, which was met with retaliation from the Israeli side. Both sides have now agreed to a ceasefire, with the help of negotiations from Egypt, Qatar and the UN. No deaths were recorded.
More protests arose in France for May Day celebrations, injuring over 100 police officers, and seeing almost 300 more people arrested. The French Interior Ministry estimated that there were 782,000 demonstrators, though unions claim that the figure could be up to three times that amount.
Speaking of May Day, the Cuban Government was forced to cancel its traditional May Day parade due to fuel shortages, in the first time since the 1959 revolution that celebrations have been cancelled for economic reasons (the parade had been cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021). Cuba are allegedly only receiving 2/3rd of the fuel they need, with contractual obligations failing from other countries and a lack of facilities on the island to process low-grade oil.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords this week. Members speaking on day twelve put forward amendments covering a range of subjects, including compulsory purchase powers and guidance for local authorities on the appointment of Chief Planning Officers.
The Online Safety Bill also continued its committee stage in the Lords which covered subjects such as requiring user-to-user services to eliminate identified risks to children from their platforms, and ensuring regulated services uphold children’s rights per the UK’s obligations as a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill returned to the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments and returns to the Lords next week as part of the ongoing Parliamentary ping-pong.
Westminster Hall debates on Marine Protected Areas, youth vaping, child poverty and funding for major infrastructure projects were held before Parliament went into recess on Thursday. Debates on restoring public confidence in the police and the UK’s changing role in the world and implications for foreign policy were also held in the Lords Grand Committee.
Rebuilding trust between the UK and EU must be a shared priority, the Lords European Affairs Committee has argued in a new report. Following an inquiry into the state of the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU, the report notes that ‘during the first two years since the TCA came into force, the political relationship was characterised by tension and mistrust.’ However, the report welcomes the ‘change in mood around UK-EU relations since autumn 2022, and especially since the Windsor Framework was concluded’.
More non-compliant taxpayers will escape paying their fair share of tax, so warns a report from the Public Accounts Committee. The report found that tax revenue directly attributable to HMRC compliance work fell as a proportion of tax revenue from an average of 5.2% before the pandemic to 4.2% in 2021-22, the lowest level since 2011-12. This equates to a loss of £9bn of compliance yield collected over the two years (2020-21 and 2021-22) compared to pre-pandemic. Chair Meg Hillier stated that “we cannot and must not arrive at a situation in the UK where it is easier to cheat the tax system than it is to comply with it”.
Government ambition on nuclear energy must be translated into action, the Welsh Affairs Committee has emphasised in a report. The report highlights that over the course of the Committee’s inquiry, both the Energy Minister and interim-Chair of Great British Nuclear referenced Wylfa as being an ideal site for a new nuclear power station but warns that ‘major obstacles remain before Wylfa could be home to a gigawatt-scale nuclear power station’.
‘Back-office’ functions are costing the taxpayer over £500m a year, according to a Public Accounts Committee report. The report outlines that all government departments need a range of corporate functions to support their operations and people, with central government attempting to share more of these ‘back-office’ services across Whitehall departments over the last two decades to cut costs and improve efficiency. However, the report repeats previous warnings that ‘the longer it takes for government to get on-top of the situation, the greater the impact will be on the effective functioning of government and on the ongoing cost to the taxpayer’.
Madeleine Alessandri has been appointed Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, replacing Simon Gass who is stepping down after four years in the role. She is currently Permanent Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office and has previously served as the UK’s Deputy National Security Adviser.
Jo Shanmugalingam has been appointed the new Second Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport. She is currently Director General at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
Dipesh Shah announced he will be stepping down as Chair of National Highways after three years in the role. The Department for Transport are due to begin the recruit process shortly.
Matthew Offord MP has become the latest MP to announce he is not standing at the next General Election, taking the total number of Tory MPs who have announced they wont be standing, to 34 – just under 10% of the parliamentary party.
Chloe Smith MP took over as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, covering for Michelle Donelan MP who has gone on maternity leave.
Harjinder Kang has been appointed HM Trade Commissioner to South Asia and Deputy High Commissioner for Western India.
This Week’s Polls
90% of teachers have a negative view of Ofsted, a poll by YouGov revealed this week, with just 7% holding a favourable opinion of the school inspection body. The Department for Education doesn’t fare much better, with 81% of teachers having an unfavourable view of it, and 69% holding a negative view of Secretary of State Gillian Keegan MP.
Prince William tops the poll of most popular royals, with 61% of Brits viewing him positively, according to a Sky News/Ipsos poll out this week on the eve of the Coronation. Princess Anne and the Princess of Wales aren’t far behind, each receiving 59% of support, with King Charles III on 52%. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on 27% and 25% respectively, whilst bringing up the rear is Prince Andrew with a sweat-inducing 11%.
36% of Conservative Councillors are dissatisfied with the direction the country is going in, according to a Savanta poll out this week (no one tell them which party is in Government…). This number unsurprisingly leaps to 92% amongst Labour Councillors.
Labour’s lead stands at just 2% in the Blue Wall, according to Redfield and Wilton’s latest poll out this week. Labour retains leads in the Blue Wall on both the economy and the NHS, but loses its advantage on immigration, where the Conservative Party now leads by one point.
Onward, who celebrated their fifth birthday in style this week with a visit from the PM, published a report on AI in the UK and a report on its Social Fabric Index.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a paper on elite education and the role of school networks.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies published a paper on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by the US in Iran and the Gulf.
The Institute for Government published a report on preparing a shadow ministerial team for office.
Policy Exchange published a compendium from its Biology Matters Project.
You’ve Got to Laugh
It’s that time of year again when half of Britain does its civic duty… and takes a photo of their dog at a polling station. It was another good year, but the awards for our favourites go to the Rev Richard Coles, whose dog Daisy looks a little terrified at the prospect of democracy in action this year, Guide Dogs, for getting the #guidedogsatpollingstations going, these two handsome labs, proud of their European pet passports, and 10 Downing Street’s very own Larry the Cat for his poem to accompany the Liverpool Echo’s Liam Thorp’s two dogs having a scuffle outside his local polling station.
We hope you enjoy the coronation celebrations over the weekend; and to our readers in government and the press with a very busy Saturday ahead of you… best of luck!