This week in politics: Seagulls, speakers and Surrey Council
The week that was
In a major victory for the Government, MPs voted for the Government to trigger Article 50, as the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was passed by 494 to 122 votes. All amendments to the Bill were defeated, including one to safeguard the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK. The Brexit Bill will now pass to the House of Lords where it is not expected to face any serious derailment.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced a cabinet reshuffle as he once again faced trouble from party rebels this week. 52 MPs defied his three-line whip to back the Brexit Bill, which was an increase on the 47 from last week. Rebecca Long-Bailey was appointed as Shadow Business Secretary following the resignation of Clive Lewis moments before the vote. Lewis’ move intensified speculation that he will challenge Corbyn’s leadership, following rumours that Corbyn has set a date to step down as Labour leader.
The Housing White Paper was also published this week and looks to address shortfalls in the UK housing market, described to MPs as ‘broken’ by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. It includes greater incentives for build to let and a provision that will force developers to start building within two years of securing planning permission.
Elsewhere, leaked papers published in the Times suggested that the Government had divided British industries into high, medium and low priority in negotiations to leave the EU. The high priority industries include pharmaceuticals, car making and textiles industries, whereas there has been backlash from the industries deemed low priority, which includes the steel and business services sectors. In an interview with Jason Cowley in the New Statesman, May defended her evidence-based approach to politics and set out plans to be more economically interventionist and cautiously realist in foreign policy.
On the benches
Whigs and wigs
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has certainly had a hair raising week after declaring that Donald Trump would not be welcome in Westminster. Bercow has stated that Commons Clerks no longer have to wear wigs, in an effort to modernise the Chamber. This of course outraged a small number Conservative backbench MPs who love the pomp and pagentry associated with the Houses of Parliament. A number of MPs raised points of order with the condemning the move. Bercow has bald-ly stated that he will not be moved on this one…
As the EU Bill entered the Committee Stage, MPs in Westminster Hall got into a flap about a more pressing issue: ‘seagulls in coastal towns and cities’. Berwick-upon-Tweed MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, noted a constituent who had begun to conduct their own guerrilla gull war, and described ‘people wandering the streets of Berwick with firearms who really shouldn’t be doing so’. SNP MP Kirsty Blackman suggested the seagull reign of terror was worse north of the border, as according to Blackman: ‘the Aberdeen seagull is the size of a large dog, it is absolutely ginormous’. A number of Members were highly critical of the Government’s decision to scrap a study into seagulls, costing a mere £250,000.
Department for Fun
For those watching DCMS Oral Questions this week (wait, doesn’t everyone?), it was clear to see why the nickname the Department for Fun has stuck. After Philip Hollobone’s question on funding for brass bands, Jake Berry MP noted how minister Matt Hancock is ‘certainly not known for blowing his own trumpet’, to which Hancock replied that he wishes to ‘bang the drum for all the brass bands’. Following this, Shadow CMS Secretary Tom Watson praised the Government’s front bench, saying that he thinks each and everyone of them could be models at London fashion week. However, he did suggest that he doesn’t think minister Rob Wilson would be suitable!
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: Lindsay Hoyle. The Deputy Speaker showcased his authority as he clashed with the SNP Members in the Committee stage of the Brexit Bill. He came out on top in a heated argument with Alex Salmond after cutting short the speech of the SNP’s Joanna Cherry and silenced the SNP’s rendition of the EU’s anthem ‘Ode to Joy’. Hoyle is now the bookies favourite to be the next Speaker.
Bad week for: John Bercow. Speaker John Bercow has had a week of ups and downs, being both praised and denigrated by MPs from across the House for taking a stand against President Donald Trump’s strong rhetoric and divisive policies, barring him from speaking in Parliament during an upcoming scheduled visit later this year. However, the week ended sourly with Tory MP James Duddridge tabling a motion of no confidence against Bercow with a view to oust him from his position.
Tweet of the week
It’s been another tough week for the Labour Party with MPs breaking the party whip on voting in favour of triggering Article 50. Shadow BEIS Minister, army veteran and potential leadership candidate Clive Lewis MP was one of the fallen soldiers when he resigned from his post after breaking the Party’s three line whip on the matter. His much publicised angst ahead of the vote prompted Jim Waterson to tweet a photo of Lewis from his Army days with the mocking caption ‘Clive Lewis preparing for the Article 50 vote’. Lewis eventually went over the top on his own and is now, at least for the moment, in no man’s land.
‘Our aim certainly is not to punish the EU’ – EU Finance Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis speaking this week.
‘It is essential that Brexit does not affect the Good Friday Agreement, and that the people of Northern Ireland can have confidence that this will be the case.’ Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall giving evidence to the Northern Irish Affairs Select Committee this week.
‘The negotiations will not be easy and we also know we need to show a constructive and friendly approach. There is absolutely no point in having a destructive negotiation between the EU and the UK.’ Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni after meeting with Theresa May this week.
In focus: Fixing the housing market?
The government’s long awaited housing white paper was published yesterday, preceded by months of speculation and sector commentators feeding off crumbs from the table of tight-lipped ministers. At the risk of making an over-generalisation, there seems to be cautious welcome from some quarters, but frustration from many that the document doesn’t go far enough.
A difficult task
In fairness to the government, the housing issue and the sectors it affects mean that any policy announcement or set of initiatives will be met with some scepticism. It is a long-term issue for policy makers who have a short time in which to make a difference (an election cycle). Building more homes is a challenge fraught with difficulty, which governments of all political persuasions have struggled to meet.
Each housing minister (and there have been many in the past decade) faces a similar set of problems: how to meet housing needs; address concerns about development from voters; and drag up the delivery rate of the construction sector. It is not an easy task. Previous experience (the debate over NPPF) and rumours in the press suggest that more radical proposals may have been tempered by feedback from Number 10, itself concerned about the reaction of back bench Conservative MPs.
Read more of our thoughts here