This week in politics: Repeals, resignations and reshuffles
What the parties said
Theresa May launched the Conservative Party Conference by announcing that Article 50 will be triggered by April 2017. May also proposed legislation to bring an end to the authority of EU law in the United Kingdom; the so-called ‘great repeal bill’ will convert all EU law into British while at the same time repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. May signalled an end to the last decade of monetary policy, hinting that she would move away from quantitative easing as a means of stabilising the economy. Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, faced fire from all sides when she suggested that companies would have to declare the number of foreign workers at their business, intended to boost the British workforce, a proposal from which she later retreated.
The Labour Party was surprisingly reticent during the Conservative Party Conference, with few ripostes to Government minister’s keynote speeches. That silence was broken on Thursday when Jeremy Corbyn announced his latest cabinet reshuffle, bringing Shami Chakrabati in to her first shadow cabinet position and ending Rosie Winterton’s long tenure as Chief Whip. On Friday, papers were abuzz with suggestions Tony Blair may make a return to frontline politics.
UKIP’s Diane James MEP resigned as party leader after a stonking 18 days in the position, stating it had already ‘become clear’ she did not have the full support of MEP colleagues. The week ended in an ugly manor for UKIP with Stephen Woolfe MEP hospitalised with head injuries following a fracas with the Mike Hookem.
What the papers said
Alex Massie argues in his piece for CapX that this week’s Tory Party Conference offers the clearest signal yet that new Prime Minister Theresa May is looking to adopt a different approach and style of Government to her predecessors. With some trepidation, he says May’s determination to crackdown on immigration suggests the Government will be pursuing a closed Brexit, putting an end to ‘an era of extraordinary openness’.
In a piece for the Telegraph, William Hague, criticises the idea of it being a binary choice between agreeing either a hard or soft Brexit, suggesting Theresa May should adopt a pragmatic approach to negotiations. Despite outlining his own support for continued single market access, he suggests a deal to include work permits for EU nationals in order to find a happy medium.
James Kirkup for the Telegraph compares May to US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump this week, criticising her stance on immigration as outlined during the Conservative Party Conference. In deciding to move ahead with a more traditionally right wing position, Kirkup argues May is allowing herself to be too heavily influenced by the feelings of voters once disenfranchised by Labour and susceptible to UKIP and that in the long run, this could prove dangerous.
On the benches
Corbyn goes on holiday
While the Conservatives were in Birmingham this week, Leader of the Official Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has been enjoying his hobbies. This week, Corbyn has found the time to tour the North: walking Hadrian’s Wall, buying his wife an upcycled woollen wrap, and attending a concert by Lukas Drinkwater and Ange Hardy. Oh, and reshuffle his Shadow Cabinet.
What would a trip to a party conference be without the mandatory perusing of the clobber being flogged by the party in question? The Conservatives, ever industrious, had seemingly countless reams of gubbins for sale. Intelex’s favourite was the multiple tea towels of ‘Our Maggie’ reminding us all ‘Don’t just hope for a better life. Vote for one.’ Ten quid please.
Soubry makes herself a nuisance over Europe
Ardent Remain supporter, Anna Soubry, seemed determined at this week’s Conservative Party Conference to give the Government as much of a headache as possible over Brexit. You would be forgiven for thinking the former Minister had just found her political calling, with the recent vote being the sole topic Soubry seemed interested to discuss when cornered by camera crews on the Conference floor. Now on the backbenches, Soubry is holding nothing back, criticising May’s plans to invoke Article 50 by March 2017, whilst saying she was ‘fed up with the nonsense about immigration’ at a Bright Blue fringe event.
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: The Birmingham economy. If it wasn’t enough that Theresa May’s government has declared that her Government will focus on developing all parts of England, and not just the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, Conservative Party Conference has provided an estimated £17 million boost to the local economy. Not bad for a 4 day event.
Bad week for: ‘left wing human rights lawyers’ this week as they were referenced in the Prime Minister’s keynote speech to Conservative conference as ‘haranguing and harassing’ the UK’s ‘brave’ soldiers. Theresa May vowed to ‘never again allow’ human rights lawyers to bring forward lawsuits against military personnel engaged in overseas combat. To cheers from the audience Theresa May also committed that the Government will continue to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. The segment of the speech was condemned from the left, however, we assume that was rather the point.
There was some confused messaging on financial services sector and Brexit this week. Bloomberg and the Evening Standard painted an alarming portrait for the sector post Brexit, while the Financial Times received briefings seeking to assuage any fears.
Theresa May pledged to invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017 setting the stage for Britain to leave the EU by mid-2019.
Janen Ganesh of the Financial Times wrote that May would be defined by Brexit, regardless of her domestic policies.
Tweet of the week
It wasn’t so long ago that Michael Gove was Justice Secretary, one of the leading lights in the Leave campaign and, briefly, a leadership candidate for the Conservative Party. This week he was spotted far from the maddening crowds at Birmingham and instead was wandering the streets of Kensington, book under his arm.
How the mighty have fallen….
In Focus: Theresa May’s John Lewis Britain
If John Lewis ran the country, it would probably fit the description of Britain set out by the Prime Minister in her conference speech on Wednesday. Efficient, fair, a mutual but certainly not the co-op, slightly old fashioned in outlook but with nods to modernity. A place where middle England feels comfortable but not smug.
The traditional Tory appeals to business, wealth creators and enterprise were there – just – but balanced by criticism of the “actions of a few tarring the reputations of the many”. Applaud success but celebrate citizenship as well.
The speech had marked differences to Cameron or Thatcher. More like John Major in tone, her vision of fairness and opportunity for everyone regardless of background was buttressed by some distinctly untraditional ideas including workers on boards. Like all successful leaders, she gave a speech crafted to appeal to her various factions – right and left, liberals and conservatives, little Englanders and internationalists. She talked frequently of the need to make life better for the ‘working class’, a term rarely used today in political discourse even by Corbynites, and claimed the NHS and Clement Attlee as part of her one nation appeal. Her defence of her proposal to end the ban on selective grammar schools was clothed in Blairite language of ‘why should choice only be for the rich?’
Her commitment to industrial policy – emphatically not picking winners but “identifying the industries that are of strategic value to our economy and supporting and promoting them through policies on trade, tax, infrastructure, skills, training, and research and development” – marks a return to the post-2008 Mandelson approach, continued by Coalition Business Secretary Vince Cable but retired by the more Thatcherite-inclined Sajid David before May moved him to manage Communities and Local Government .
And her speech hinted at why, despite supporting Remain in the referendum, the tone of the whole conference has been so strongly pro-Brexit when she said “too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.”
Business has been very much on the defensive in Birmingham this week. Boris Johnson’s dismissal of the ‘gloomadon-poppers’ was seen by many as an attack on the City, business organisations and the Treasury and was echoed in many of the speeches and fringe events. Many business people attending the conference were shocked at the strength of hard Brexit sentiment and suspicion of business