This Week in Politics
This Week in Politics: Having your cake and eating it
What the parties said
The Government released its consultation on corporate governance reform, which proposes introducing binding shareholder votes in remuneration packages and more transparency publishing data on the ratio between workers and bosses. Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk blocked May’s proposition to negotiate an interim deal guaranteeing UK and EU citizens living abroad reciprocal residency rights, with Merkel saying she would only consider negotiating a deal once Article 50 has been triggered. The comment prompted 80 Brexit MPs to write to Brussels, with Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer urging the Government to offer reciprocal rights of remain for both EU and UK expats.
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry appeared on the Andrew Marr show over the weekend, during which she was unable to give a definitive answer on Labour’s stance on immigration whilst refusing to rule out a second referendum on EU membership. Following the death of Fidel Castro, it was announced that Thornberry rather than leader Jeremy Corbyn, would attend the funeral.
Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats scored a surprise victory over Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election last night with candidate Sarah Olney winning the seat with a majority of 1,872. Paul Nuttall MEP was elected the new leader of UKIP promising to unite his party, hold the Government’s feet to the fire on Brexit and target Labour’s northern heartlands.
What the papers said
Senior Political Correspondent at Sky News Beth Rigby analysed Labour’s woes on immigration this week, in an article which highlighted the continuing struggle the party has had with the issue. Rigby highlights a note, given by pollster James Morris to Ed Miliband, former Labour leader, six years ago on how ‘Labour is seen as having consistently ignored English people’s views on immigration.’ The fact that this still remains true, despite the Party having lost the General Election last year as well as being on the losing side in the EU Referendum, shows that the party’s problems don’t show much sign of stopping.
Continuing with the current plight of the Labour Party, Owen Jones argued this week that the party is on ‘life support.’ Jones warned against the rise of UKIP, who he describes as being successfully able to capitalise on issues which Labour are currently struggling to address. Jones goes on to say how Labour is out of touch with voters on immigration and that it cannot simply fall back on the NHS as its go-to strong point anymore.
Moving away from Labour and on to Brexit, Stephen Bush gave the Prime Minister some advice this week in the New Statesmen, warning her against putting too much weight into talks with Angela Merkel and recognising the importance of the other 26 EU leaders. Bush highlighted that the majority of British expats living in the EU are in Spain, whilst the bulk of European nationals living in Britain are Eastern European. Bush underlines the point that ‘Merkel is powerful, but Berlin can’t negotiate on behalf of Madrid, or Warsaw, or Prague.’
On the benches
Cut Zac some slacks
Zac Goldsmith has long campaigned to reduce the number of cars on London’s roads, which leads one to wonder whether his own vehicle was acting of its own volition when it managed to shred the independent candidate’s trousers on his way to the final debate before the Richmond Park by-election. Goldsmith, unharmed save for a graze of the skin, was clipped by the car while campaigning and accepted later that trousers can be ‘troublesome things in politics’…indeed.
Inside the Westminster Bubble
The House of Lords this week debated the Autumn Statement. Leading the debate for the Government was party grandee Lord Young of Cookham who has served in John Major’s Government and as Leader of the House for Cameron during the Coalition years. Lord Young noted many of his peers in the Lords had been his adversaries in the Commons over twenty years ago. He also noted the young researcher at the time who helped him craft some of his more partisan verbal attacks on the opposition is the now entirely non-partisan Speaker of the House John Bercow. Like the less partisan House of Lords Bercow himself has clearly mellowed with age.
The heir to Blair is…Blair.
This week there has been a lot of talk about Tony Blair. The SNP tabled a motion to investigate Blair over the war in Iraq – however this lost by 369 votes. Blair made headlines again by announcing a sort-of return to politics, by creating a new institute for centre-ground politics which he has said is in response to growing concerns about the global forces of right and left wing populism. Maybe the Blair years aren’t over after all?
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: Ed Balls. Despite his departure from Strictly last weekend, Balls’ comic success on the show has seen him waltz firmly back in the public eye. The former Chancellor is undergoing somewhat of a revival, following the lows of losing Morley and Outwood to Conservative Andrea Jenkyns last year. Balls has built on previous success on Great British Bake Off to strut and jive his way down the Strictly red carpet and win the hearts of many a viewer. In a week of political comebacks, what are the cha-cha-chances Balls will be next?
Bad week for: Zac Goldsmith. A bad week for Zac Goldsmith is, when you really think about it, an understatement of the highest order. It has been a terrible week for Goldsmith, who, only 5 weeks ago, resigned in protest against the expansion of Heathrow, sparking a by-election from which he expected to emerge victorious. He was to be the people’s champion, returned to Parliament with a fresh, and very specific, mandate to fight the third runway. Instead the pro-EU constituents of Richmond Park rejected the millionaire Brexiteer handing a stunning win to the Liberal Democrat’s Sarah Olney. This was not a ‘referendum on Heathrow’ it was a ‘by election on Brexit’ and Goldsmith, already damaged from his controversial mayoral campaign, lost – and lost badly. His gamble, or stunt depending on your perspective, failed spectacularly.
Britain could pay into the EU budget in exchange for access to the single market, David Davis told MPs this week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week blocked an attempt by Theresa May to bring forward a deal on the rights on ex-pats.
The Brexit Secretary will make his first appearance before the Brexit Select Committee on 14th December.
Tweet of the week
It’s been a tough year for pollsters of all stripes. First they were split on whether or not Brexit would occur with the official pollsters for the Remain camp final eve of poll being off by over 10 percentage points and then their American counterparts in America called it wrong with the election of Donald Trump.
So it was firmly tongue in cheek that this week James Millar spotted another opportunity to kick the pollsters while they were down. Retweeting Ben Page of IPSOS MORI, who said in an upcoming poll that doctors were no longer the most trusted profession, Millar chipped in with the cheeky quip that it would surely be the polling industry who were most trusted……
In Focus: By-election boost to Remainer confidence as Government softens Brexit line
2016 has lost none of its capacity for springing political surprises with the Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney overturning a Tory majority of 23,000 to take the RIchmond Park by-election last night.
The by-election was triggered by Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s ill-advised commitment at the last election to resign in the event of the Government backing a new runway at nearby Heathrow. But with all candidates opposed to the airport expansion, the debate focused on the position of a strongly pro-Brexit Zac Goldsmith in a constituency which had overwhelmingly backed Remain.
It is important not to overstate the significance of by-elections. The Tories’ small majority has been cut but this in itself is unlikely to cause particular problems for the Government. The outcome is likely to be psychological, boosting the confidence of the Remainers, particularly in the Conservative party, to argue against the hard form of Brexit favoured by the Tory diehards.
The signs even before the by-election result were that the Government is moving in the direction of a softer exit anyway. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, made two significant clarifications yesterday which revealed a little more of the Government’s intentions. In the Commons, he said that Government would consider continuing to make payments into EU funds in return for access to the single market. This statement, which was later endorsed both by Number 10 and by the Chancellor, is significant because ministers have to date refused to say whether they wanted to remain part of the single market. This shows that the Prime Minister is supporting a tilt in the balance within the Cabinet firmly in the direction of a softer Brexit.
And in a further sign of Cabinet pragmatism, the Brexit Secretary told Welsh business leaders that although Brexit would mean government control of immigration and the ending of free movement, this would not be done “in a way that is contrary to the national and economic interest”. He went on to say that “no one wants to see labour shortages in key sectors”.
Yesterday’s statements are significant because David Davis’s strong pro-Brexit past had led many to assume he would be a hardliner in the Cabinet discussions against the more pragmatic Philip Hammond. But for some time, Number 10 has been privately praising Davis for his pragmatic and collegiate approach compared to the more erratic and unpredictable Liam Fox. The Prime Minister is slowly crystallising the Government’s negotiating position but is doing so slowly and deliberatively in a way which builds consensus in Cabinet. She knows that anything short of a hard break in March 2019 will be seen by the hard core fundamentalists as betrayal but hopes to limit outright opposition to a small hardcore group. Yesterday’s by-election result showing that Remainers still have some electoral clout will not be unhelpful in that process