This week in politics: Sirs, Skepta and Spending
The week that was
As a new documentary aired on BBC this week detailing its goings on, the House of Lords delivered the Government a bloody nose during the Committee Stage of the EU withdrawal bill. Peers voted by 358 votes to 256 to amend the legislation to protect the rights of citizens from the EU currently residing in the UK. By doing so the they forced the Bill to enter parliamentary ping-pong , slightly delaying its completion.
Despite Government assurances that it would press ahead with its plans for the Bill, on Thursday Baroness Meacher told the Today Programme that as many as 30 Tory MPs may vote in support of the amendment once it returns to the Commons. If troublesome peers weren’t bad enough, Mrs May also had to deal with former PM John Major delivering a scathing attack on the Government’s ‘unreal’ vision for Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a difficult weekend at the Scottish Labour Conference. Still reeling from a lacklustre by-election performance, Corbyn stumbled through his conference speech mistakenly thanking the SNP and gave a somewhat testy interview with Sky News.
UKIP’s war with itself continued this week with Nigel Farage delivering a broadside to UKIP’s sole parliamentarian Douglas Carswell, accusing the Clacton MP of being in the Conservative Party’s pocket. Hugo Rifkind, writing in the Spectator, argues the true nature of their disagreement is a real anti-establishment man vs a fake one.
In sad news, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Father of the House of Commons and Labour MP, who will forever be remembered for describing Michael Foot’s 1983 manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history’, passed away on Sunday at the age of 86.
On the benches
Freudian Shlip? Education Minister Lord Nash accidentally referred to his department’s website as something slightly ruder, accidentally implying it wasn’t up-to-scratch. Cue stifled giggles from the noble Lords, including the Minister himself. Hansard spared his blushes and kindly amended the error.
House of Grime After performing with Ed Sheeran, releasing new albums and being nominated for multiple Brit awards, how could the past two weeks get any better for grime artists Stormzy and Skepta? By being mentioned in Hansard of course. We already know that Intelex favourite Ed Vaizey is a fan, but Conservative MP Nigel Adams revealed this week that they are also a ‘great favourite’ of Vaizey’s replacement at the Department, Matt Hancock. Perhaps along with a handover note, Vaizey provided a handover Spotify playlist?
[Strong Message Here] Part 2 Addressing Scottish Labour Party Conference over the weekend, Jeremy Corbyn got into hot water when saying ‘Well done Scottish Labour and well done our SNPs’ instead of MSPs. After making an awkward joke about the media going on to report his gaff, Corbyn then repeated the error, this time slower and more painfully. In an attempt to correct himself, Corbyn slowly spelt out ‘M.S.Ps! Labour SN…MSPs!’ On the upside, Corbyn was only able to attract half a crowd in the Conference Hall, so at least fewer people witnessed the error…every cloud.
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: The Liberal Democrats. For a party seemingly down and out in 2015, there was further indication this week of a genuine Lib Dem fightback that extended beyond a wishful Twitter hashtag. For the first time since donations records began in 2001, the Liberal Democrats reported that their quarterly donations had beaten Labour’s. Brexit has breathed new life into the Lib Dems and following their success in the Richmond Park by-election, it appears Lib Dem activists can now speak about a ‘fightback’ with a relatively straight face.
Bad week for: Nigel Farage. The former UKIP leader missed out on a knighthood, he claims, because of a lack of support from Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP. Carswell seemed unapologetic, apparently suggesting Farage get an OBE “for services to headline-writers”, and has since trolled Nigel on Twitter, tweeting ‘knight knight’, to the chagrin of Aaron Banks, who has suggested he will stand against Carswell at the next election.
Tweet of the week
‘Nobody envisaged that this would end up where it is. And a year ago, I would not say there was a voter that was on the outside that thought of a customs union on the border. I tried to warn of that, but people didn’t want to listen to it – including the Conservative politicians who should have.’ – Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on the dangers posed by a ‘hard border’ on the Island of Ireland.
‘We are not undermining the will of the people: we are the people’. Former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, in powerful defence of the 48% of the UK population who voted to leave
‘Many Europeans consider the Union as either too distant or too interfering.’ – The EU Commission White Paper on the future of Europe acknowledges the difficult balancing act it must perform if it is to prosper after Britain leaves the EU.
In focus: Budget speculation
Next Wednesday Chancellor Philip Hammond will deliver his first and final Spring Budget to the Commons. Announcing his plans to scale down the Budgetary calendar in November, Hammond set out his intention to adopt a more subdued tone to that of his predecessor, holding only one fiscal set-piece a year, in the Autumn, along with a toned-down Spring Statement.
Unlike George Osborne, no surprise measures are expected nor is it thought Hammond will use the event as a tool for political chicanery. Briefings to the media have been limited with next to no information leaked. However, based on developments over the past few months, there are some politically salient areas we can expect Hammond to address.
The Chancellor will use the Budget to tackle the current crisis around social care funding, which has had significant consequences for Theresa May’s Government due to a backlash from local authorities and NHS services trying to deal with the pressure. Hammond may announce emergency funding, in addition to other measures to address the issue in the long term including a remodelling of inheritance tax to regain funds after old people die in the form of a 10% levy on estates. It’s been suggested he will announce ‘another raid’ on pensions to curb the increasing bill for tax cuts on retirement savings.
Hammond has hinted he will use the Budget to ameliorate the effects of planned business rate rises, and introduce measures to help those worst affected by the policy. He may also raise the stamp duty threshold for first time buyers. Both measures align with May’s broader objective of helping those ‘just about managing’.
If forecasts are to be believed, Hammond could be given a £29bn windfall due to stronger than expected tax receipts and a more resilient economy, with public borrowing down on predictions. Despite this, Hammond will be looking to boost the coffers for increased spending on public services, and will be tasking departments to draw up proposals for cuts of 3-6% by 2019-20. This will be used to fund up to £1bn in “priority areas”.