Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP: I’ve been the underdog all my life, but I have the ideas and the energy to take Labour forward

When I saw the results of the last election, it broke my heart. I saw a door close on a whole generation of children growing up in difficult circumstances, just as I did, but who’ll never get the same life chances that I eventually enjoyed under a Labour Government. It also lit a fire in the pit of my belly to do something about it. That’s why I decided to run for Deputy Leader. The door I saw close doesn’t have to stay shut forever, but to re-open it, we need a Labour Government.

Working as an A&E doctor on the front line of our NHS, means I see a snapshot of our society in technicolour. Here, everything is on show and it’s clear to me how people are suffering. Growing up poor and cold while my single mum worked three jobs to support me and my brother, taught me the reality of daily life for people across the UK. My mother always told me that there were people worse off than us. I have never forgotten that; it drove me to fight to become a doctor, despite failing my A-Levels first time around because things were difficult at home, and it spurred me on to work as a humanitarian doctor in conflict zones across the world.

The Labour Party changed my life and the lives of so many others. It’s incredibly sad then to see the party in a critical condition. This is no accident, but the result of a chronic failure to address symptoms that were visible for all to see. We shouldn’t have ignored the warning signs in Scotland, and now we’ve paid the price in northern England, across the midlands and in Wales. The Labour Party has to start listening, with humility, not put words into people’s mouths. Only by listening can we begin to heal.

I truly believe I’m the candidate for Deputy Leader with the best ideas to take Labour forward. I have listened to our local Councillors, candidates and activists and, based on their feedback, I’ve put together my ‘Grassroots Revival’ plan to suggest ways we could campaign more effectively, to win. I’ve talked about my ideas to overhaul our broken social care system, based on my own experiences both as a doctor and as a daughter with a father found bruised, bloodied and unconscious in a care home. I’ve signed up to the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ Ten Pledges for dealing with antisemitism within Labour, and I’ve published my own pledges as well to ensure our response to this awful stain on our party is as robust as possible. As a humanitarian doctor, I’m committed to internationalism and the relationship the UK has with the rest of the world – this must lead our policy making going forward, during these uncertain times. I’ve also committed to making myself fully accountable to the membership, by pledging to hold a confidence vote in myself after one year of being Deputy Leader, so the membership can decide whether they’re happy that I’m fulfilling my promises to them.

Those ideas are connecting with the membership of our Labour Party, which is why polls show support for me growing faster than all the other candidates. I know I’m the underdog in this campaign, I have been all my life, but I believe I have the ideas and the energy to take Labour forward together with our members – that’s why I’m standing to be the next Deputy Leader.

Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan is a candidate for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and MP for Tooting.

What to expect from Rishi Sunak’s first Budget?

The first Budget for 16 months will be delivered on Wednesday 11 March by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has only been in the post for three weeks. Sunak’s appointment swiftly followed the resignation from Government of Sajid Javid in the recent reshuffle, when he chose to walk away rather than sign up to a new joint Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street team, which would have involved firing his team of advisers.

With a previous Budget set for November 2019 cancelled due to the parliamentary hiatus over Brexit and the subsequent General Election, this Budget, as well as being delivered by a newly appointed Chancellor, is also set to be dominated by the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, which is predicted to escalate into a global pandemic.

Civil Service World reported that the Chancellor was ‘being forced to rewrite next week’s Budget to take account of the likely economic effect of the Covid-19 outbreak.’ This is expected to include additional cash for the NHS and other public services. It might also include a tax holiday for businesses that will be widely affected by any economic downturn due to the virus.

Travel and commuting restrictions, reduced imports from overseas, including the far east where the virus originated, and a self-exclusion plan that might have to come into force, would all have a significant effect on the UK economy and the Treasury is being asked to step up and make guarantees to businesses and citizens.

The Budget is also expected to formalise the Conservative manifesto pledge to raise the threshold at which people start paying National Insurance Contributions (NICs) by more than 10% to £9,500. If confirmed at this rate, a typical employee will save around £104 in 2020/21, while self-employed individuals, who pay a lower rate, will have £78 cut from their bill, according to Government figures.

A key aim of this Government’s mission is to ‘level up’ spending across Britain and to reduce regional disparity through increased spending and better infrastructure, not least in the former Labour heartland seats that the Conservatives won in 2019 and now seek to retain at the next election.

One likely way to find extra cash is to scrap Entrepreneurs’ relief. This tax relief brought in by Labour in 2008 and subsequently extended by George Osborne, allows business owners when they sell their company to pay capital gains tax at a reduced rate of 10% rather than the usual rate of 20%, which applies to gains up to £10m.

The Sun reports that this could have serious effects on SMEs including retailers selling a shop for £150,000 who would lose £15,000 if the plans go ahead. The proposal is apparently unpopular with some backbench MPs and The Sun quotes national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Mike Cherry, who said: ‘Scrapping entrepreneurs’ relief would destroy the retirements of thousands of business owners. The Conservative manifesto committed this Government to reviewing and reforming this incentive, not scrapping it entirely. The Conservatives should keep their promises – it’s a question of trust.’

The FSB spokesperson suggests a compromise: ‘Keep the relief for the first £1m of a business sale and scale it back at the top end. Doing so would save the Treasury more than £1bn and maintain a vital incentive which encourages entrepreneurs to start up, hire and invest.’

In a dig at the authors of the likely policy to scrap the relief entirely he adds: ‘A lot of entrepreneurs see their business as their retirement plan. They don’t have the gold-plated pensions enjoyed by Treasury civil servants.’

Mike Cherry also said that small business confidence has already suffered a slump over the past 18 months and this proposal risks making a bad situation worse for small businesses, and risks losing them to other more welcoming tax jurisdictions.

The Financial Times reports (£) that Sunak could use the Budget to end the freeze on fuel duty which has been in place since 2010 or at least start by removing the £2.4bn subsidy for ‘red diesel’. This is used by off-road vehicles and machinery and would demonstrate that the Treasury is prepared to use the tax system to encourage a move away from fossil fuels.

A Daily Telegraph pre-Budget analysis predicts that ‘Changes to tax, pensions, housing and social care’ are all set to be included. It also speculates that additional funding for adult social care could be included as well as measures to increase the roll out of high-speed broadband and reduce single-use plastics.

Changes to pension contributions have been suggested as an idea alongside a wealth or ‘mansion tax’, but it is understood that Rishi Sunak took these proposals off the table when he became Chancellor. A scheme to cut the cost of buying a home for key workers and first-time buyers would perhaps prove more popular nationally to ensure that renters can buy a home in their area at a reduced rate.

As with many across the country and especially public affairs professionals, we will watch with interest on Wednesday as with previous Budgets, to see if this newbie Chancellor has a rabbit to pull out of his hat in terms of a key announcement that will get everyone talking and, unlike the pasty tax or caravan tax of the George Osborne era, won’t unravel as soon as the journalists and financial experts crunch the numbers in detail.


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2020: An exciting time to be in Public Affairs

Dr Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans. Following our recent event, where Stuart was a panelist, he has written his thoughts on the new political landscape.

The Conservative Party’s significant win in the General Election has changed the political landscape. With this change should come a reassessment of Public Affairs activity. What should those in Public Affairs now be thinking about?

With a majority now in place, the normal business of Government can resume. Instead of being utterly fixated on Brexit, new policies can be developed that consider the challenges facing the country. Public Affairs can help engage with Government in the development of these new policies.

Getting organisations and people involved is important but critically across Public Affairs we have to keep a watch on what the Government wants to achieve. The current priorities for this Government are ‘levelling-up’, addressing climate change (through COP 26) and preparing for life outside the EU.

But we also need to keep an eye on the delivery aspects for voters. Why?  Because timescales become critically important. The Government really needs to show what it has achieved by the time of the next election. Of course, all governments have that requirement, but Boris really believes in infrastructure and that can take a long time to deliver. So how do they show what they have achieved if the infrastructure hasn’t yet been built? How do they ensure that the ‘red wall’ of former Labour seats in the North remains nothing more than a memory?

If Boris is to keep those seats in former Labour voting areas, then the Government also needs to continue to speak about those issues that have traditionally been seen as Labour strengths – such as the NHS and education. But also maintain their strength in their own core areas – Brexit and the economy. The paper by the British Psychological Society on making better policy provided some useful insight into these issues.

I can also hear echoes of Tony Blair here as well. He went onto areas of Conservative strength and owned them for Labour. ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was a direct play for the traditionally Conservative area of law and order.

Labour’s great failure this time, apart from its leadership, was to take their own ‘core’ issues for granted.

So it is all very good tracking, as Labour and Corbyn did in the Pulsar survey, really well on social media but it did not turn into votes. Again, the same survey showed an association between each party and particular issues. The Conservatives made sure they controlled the agenda on the top issues – Brexit, the NHS (increased spending to neutralise Labour) and the economy.

Therefore, our Public Affairs work has to reflect the reality of a majority Government and, as I blogged about recently, that means everything from taking the House of Lords seriously to looking at developing long-term relationships and champions, thinking about public campaigns and, of course, the new No 10/No 11 super department. That also means being aware of how best to engage with our audiences and not relying just on any exciting social media channels. As the Vuelio report, The Politics of Social Media, confirmed, there remains a key role for face-to-face meetings with MPs.

It’s an exciting time to be in Public Affairs!

You can read Dr Stuart Thomson’s blog here. He tweets @redpolitics. More information about his new book on reputation management can be seen here.

Wera Hobhouse MP: Heathrow decision was a landmark victory for climate campaigners

Yesterday was a historic day for the climate campaigners.

The Court of Appeal has taken the climate emergency into account and made it a key part of its decision to stop the expansion of Heathrow.

The Government now has a choice: they can continue with business as usual, appealing the Court of Appeal decision and continuing to push for infrastructure that will ultimately stop them reaching their climate targets; or they could use this as a wake-up call and start legislating for climate action now.

Achieving net-zero involves cutting emissions across all sectors to almost zero and offsetting the remaining emissions by planting forests and investing in carbon capture technology.

This is a daunting task and the sooner we start the better chance we have of avoiding widespread environmental chaos that will define the lives of future generations.

We are living through a climate emergency.

Yesterday’s decision, against the expansion of Heathrow Airport, is a victory.

Now is the time to be cutting our emissions, not adding infrastructure that will cause them to skyrocket.

It is a victory for the thousands of local campaigners who have spent years protesting the expansion. It shows communities, across the country, that people power can make the difference. The Liberal Democrats has been backing these campaigns from the very beginning, supporting grassroots action to make today’s decision possible.

For far too long the Government has been committed to Heathrow expansion, with no consideration of the impact on our carbon footprint and the local environment.

This Government’s own target – to reach a net zero by 2050 – is not compatible with airport expansion. Whether that be expansion of Heathrow Airport or Bristol.

Flying long haul, in 2020, requires fossil fuels. As a result, flying always comes with a carbon cost. Research into cleaner fuels is important and yet green alternatives will not be replacing oil-based aviation fuel anytime soon.

Flying is a positive part of life in a globalised world, but we have an obligation to not to expand an industry that is contributing to the climate crisis.

And it is because of this that my party opposes airport expansion.

If Boris Johnson makes the wrong choice now, he may well have to lie down in front of the bulldozers and the wider impact on our climate will be catastrophic.

I will be urging the Government to respect the Court of Appeal decision and to use this moment as a turning point, investing in substantive climate action now.

We can help – The Liberal Democrats are the only party to have a detailed plan to reach net zero, including a sector by sector roadmap.

This decision was a landmark victory for climate campaigners. For the sake of future generations, let’s make tomorrow an even better one.

Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Climate Emergency, Energy and the Environment & MP for Bath.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order, which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

 

2020: The new political landscape

Vuelio’s first political event of 2020 was attended by 60 public affairs and comms professionals and saw a insightful discussion of the current political landscape, following the recent general election victory that saw the Conservatives rewarded with the largest House of Commons majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

Gavin Freeguard, programme director for digital, data and transparency at the Institute for Government, reflected that 2019 was a significant year in British politics with more MPs changing their party allegiance than any time since 1886 as well as a change in Prime Minister in July as Theresa May was succeeded by Boris Johnson and numerous lost Brexit votes, prorogation of parliament overturned by the Supreme Court and then the General Election itself after MPs eventually agreed to support one by the two thirds majority still required under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Gavin added that a more settled political landscape would be widely seen as a positive change following a tumultuous few years. He said that the importance of data would be significant in the years ahead and public perception of this would vary depending if it was for public benefit to society or whether personal data was being used to target messaging to voters, which is likely to be far less popular.

Giles Kenningham, a former head of Press at Number 10 Downing Street and the founder of Trafalgar Strategy, explained that the circumstances of the 2019 election were not going to be repeated so it was a one-off election that Boris Johnson’s campaign team used to great effect. A significant public desire to ‘get Brexit done’ was crucial but will be settled by the next election and the substantial anti Jeremy Corbyn sentiment in much of the country including in Labour’s heartlands will also not be repeated once Labour elects its new leader. Giles acknowledged the front runner, Keir Starmer, could have a ‘Kinnock effect’ on the Labour party, not winning power outright but getting the party in a better shape to be able to win in 10 years’ time

He described 2020 as a ‘brave new world’ and added that the Government has a brief window now that it doesn’t need to let the 24-hour news media dictate the pace of political events. He added that if the PM failed to agree an EU trade deal by the end of 2020 and left the transition period on WTO rules, that it would be ‘problematic’ for the Government and for Boris Johnson himself: ‘there are reputational issues there’.

Dr Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans said it was reassuring for the public affairs sector that the UK now has a Government ‘that can-do stuff’. He argued that despite claims that the election winning Conservative manifesto was light on policy detail, he said there was actually a significant amount for the Government to deliver on given the tight timeframes on things like infrastructure before the Government will need to head back to the polls in 2024.

Saskia Perriard-Abdoh, psychological government programme lead at the British Psychological Society said that a lot of assumptions held by individual voters about why they vote the way they do were challenged in the 2019 election, which saw the political chess board completely reset. She urged campaigners to engage with policymakers as people, given how much people move from role to role within Government. She also added that the Government has a very short window of three to four years before voters will revert to being less engaged and ‘go back to thinking politics and policy is not for them’.

Speakers also engaged in a lively Q&A with the audience, covering social media, campaigning and the change in representation of the ‘red wall’ of northern, midlands and Welsh constituencies, which largely fell to the Conservatives in the General election.

Baroness Bennett: The plastics pollution crisis is pushing our fragile planet to the limit

We are – finally – recognising that there is no such thing as throwing something ‘away’ on our poor choked planet. Every bit of waste has to go somewhere.

Globally, most of the eight billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s is still in existence – in our drinking water, our soils, our animals and our air. Even in our beer.

Last year in the UK, a group of supermarkets and other stores announced with much fanfare that within the next seven years they are planning to cut out non-recyclable plastic packaging.

That is seven more years of producing something that won’t ever disappear, but this was far more positive than the Government proclaiming that it will ban unnecessary single-use plastic by 2042.

There’s a crucial point to make about both the voluntary ban and the Government announcement: ‘recyclable’ doesn’t mean an object is going to be recycled and who defines what is and isn’t ‘necessary’?

Our plastics recycling facilities are already groaning with over-supply of recyclables from the impact of the Chinese decision to stop importing most plastic waste for recycling there.

At the consumer end, households are struggling with a hugely variety of different schemes with different rules: if you move house there’s a good chance you’ll have to learn a new system. Live in a flat in Wandsworth and you are expected to put your recycling into a large single-use plastic bag. Really?

How much better if an unnecessary item isn’t produced at all. That more than 40 per cent of the plastic produced goes into single-use packaging is shocking, even before you consider the fact that the world total is more than 300 million tonnes each year.

After massive public pressure, the Government is supposed to be introducing a bottle deposit scheme, for plastic and other bottles, although we’re still waiting for actual action, and there’s always going to be significant numbers that escape the net.

Pub and café chains are rushing to promise to get rid of plastic straws, and there’s now some decent discounts on coffee in some places if you bring your own cup. Some are also calling for a ban on single-use sachets – sauce, vinegar, sugar etc.

I will happily applaud all of this, but huge amounts of parliamentary time could be taken up passing limited, fiddly legislation that has to define and restrict specific categories of table condiments, or focus on plastic straws or stirrers, a tiny fraction of our plastics pollution.

The logical way to approach this is to start at the other end. Let’s begin with a ban on all single-use plastic – that would cover everything you could think of and then some – single-use cups, sandwich wrappers and those really annoying almost unopenable hard plastic frames around toothbrushes.

Then you could make exceptions for items that are actually necessary – wrappings to keep medical equipment sterile, maybe some packaging for meat products, wherever a genuine case of need could be made.

This could be a model for further action. The plastics pollution crisis is just one of the ways in which we are butting up against the limits of this fragile planet.

Ensuring that resources are used only sparingly, and well, is a model that we need in all aspects of our economy.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Natalie Bennett) was leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2012 to 2016.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order, which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

UK Boundaries

Lord Rennard: 650 or 600 MPs in the next House of Commons?

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard writes that the Government still seems uncertain about whether or not to bring before Parliament plans to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. He adds that doing so may cause infighting amongst Conservative MPs, as well as objections about the fairness of the methodology for boundary reviews introduced in the coalition period.

The answer to my written question in the House of Lords about Government plans for the re-organisation of parliamentary constituency boundaries suggests that it is still thinking about what to do. In September 2018, the four Boundary Commissions submitted their final reports. The relevant legislation (the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011) requires the Government to lay the reports before Parliament for approval ‘as soon as may be’. Nearly 18 months later, there is still no sign of them.

Prior to the December general election, the Government was clearly worried about obtaining a majority for an Order to bring in the new boundaries. But with a comfortable majority of 80 in the Commons, the question now is if it is thinking again about the principle of reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Many of the 365 Conservative MPs elected in December may not relish having to scramble for the reduced number of seats that would be available.

If the current proposals are approved, it will benefit the Conservatives overall. But in some parts of the country, three Conservative MPs may find themselves in competition for selection for perhaps two of the newly proposed constituencies, and in other places two Conservative MPs may be competing for the same seat. For example, the new Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire), could find himself competing with the former Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), for the proposed new seat of Mid and South Pembrokeshire.

Few Conservative MPs seemed to realise that supporting the coalition’s 2011 proposals for changing the way that boundaries are drawn up would mean subjecting themselves to a fundamental re-organisation every five years. The extremely tight restriction on the quota (5%) by which constituency electorates can diverge from the average means that a small change in one constituency’s boundaries could trigger major changes to all the others in the region. Under the new scheme, the new boundaries would only become known in the fourth year of a five-year parliament, thereby handicapping both MPs and candidates who seriously ‘nursed’ their constituencies.

One of the purported justifications for cutting the number of MPs to 600 was the claim that previous Boundary Commissions had led to an ever-increasing number of MPs. But this is not the case. The number of MPs in 1945 was 640, rose to 659 in 1997 and went back down to 650 in 2010. More significantly, the increase in the number of MPs since 1945 (1.6%) has not kept pace with the growth of the electorate since then (43.2%).

An MP elected in 1945 represented just under 52,000 electors. An MP elected last December will have on average over 73,000 electors calling on their services. Over the last 75 years, expectations of what they should do for their constituents have also risen greatly. There are also many people expecting MPs to represent them who are not on the electoral registers. Levels of electoral registration were thought to be very high (around 90%) when plans for changing the methodology for reviewing the boundaries was announced in 2011. But the Cabinet Office’s subsequent research showed that it was nearer 80%. There may, therefore, be six million people entitled to be on the electoral registers, but who are not included on them. This makes the current intake of MPs responsible, on average, for around 83,000 adults who are UK citizens, as well as anyone else who may seek their assistance.

Seven years ago, I caused a storm by acting with others to block the boundary re-organisation proposals of 2013. I argued that electoral registration was far less thorough than we had been led to believe, and that reducing the number of MPs needed to be matched by reducing the number of Ministers and beginning elections to a reformed House of Lords. Otherwise the powers of the executive relative to that of the legislature would be increased disproportionately. It is also fair to say that stopping the boundary review benefitted my party by about three or four seats in each of the last three general elections (a significant proportion now that our numbers in the Commons have been greatly reduced).

It is generally agreed that MPs should generally represent roughly the same number of electors. But we should now be looking again at the best way of achieving this and considering carefully the recommendations in the report of the Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform from 2015. Its proposals would mean more sensible, and more stable, constituency boundaries in future. Keeping with 650 MPs would also minimise disruption, which before 2011 was always an aim in boundary reviews.

Lord Rennard is a Liberal Democrat Peer and former Chief Executive of his party.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blogPoint of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Tackling the North-South divide with better transport infrastructure

Investing in the UK’s transport infrastructure to reduce regional economic disparities across the country is a key Government priority now we have formally left the European Union, and are negotiating our future trading relationship with the bloc before the end of 2020.

In the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives pledged to build the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme and well as invest £29bn in strategic roads, including £1bn to boost the UK’s electric car charging network.

The Government postponed a decision to approve or scrap the High Speed 2 rail project, instead waiting for the Oakervee Review to report its findings into the project.

The Prime Minister has been under pressure from both sides on this issue of a new high-speed railway from London to Birmingham and then onward to the North East, Scotland and the North West. While initial budgets in 2015 costed the project at £55 billion, leaked information from the as yet unpublished Oakervee Review report suggests this cost has risen to more than £107 billion.

One inescapable fact of the 2019 election is Labour’s red wall of heartland seats falling to the Conservatives. Across the Midlands, the North of England, North Wales and the North East, the Prime Minister is only too aware he has a brief honeymoon period to repay the trust placed in him by lifelong Labour voters, many of whom voted Conservative for the first time.

Among the new intake of Conservative MPs, several have spoken out against the HS2 project including Simon Jupp, the MP for East Devon, who has become a member of the Transport Select Committee and intends to highlight the need for investment in the South West: ‘I can’t back HS2 when the main and branch railway lines in Devon simply are not fit for purpose’.

Richard Holden, the MP for North West Durham has said his preference is to reconnect his area with the rail network, and not to prioritise HS2 or further rail infrastructure in London or the South East: ‘Consett and the surrounding area is one of the largest population centres in England without a rail line, despite having four rail lines there as recently as the 1960s. I will be campaigning for a feasibility study to reconnect our area to the growth centres of the North East’.

These MPs will note the Government’s promise to open up as many branch rail lines as possible following closures in the 1960s, though the cost of this is likely to be significant.

Whether or not the Northern vote was actually in favour of ‘Getting Brexit done’, the Conservative Government has a chance to deliver for these northern communities or face handing these seats back to Labour in 2024 if the Opposition’s fortunes are reversed under their new leader, who will be announced on 4 April.

A video released by the Conservatives showing a northern working-class voter meeting Boris Johnson and speaking about some of the reasons why he voted Tory for the first time has been widely viewed on social media. The PM says every time he meets newly elected Conservative MPs, he tells them: ‘This is on loan, this is conditional. We have to repay the trust of the electorate’.

Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, is hailed by Conservatives as a modern Conservative municipal leader and was managing director of John Lewis from 2007 to 2016 before winning the West Midlands Mayoralty in 2017 by a wafer-thin majority of 3,776 votes out of over 523,000 cast.

He will be heavily banking on the first stage of HS2 getting the green light and a formal decision by Cabinet and the PM is expected to be made within weeks. Street is not just constrained by HS2 though and has recently pledged a joined up approach to passenger transport across his Birmingham and the Black Country.  Andy Street incidentally faces a tough re-election battle on 7 May when his Labour opponent, announced yesterday, will be former Cabinet Minister and Birmingham MP Liam Byrne.

Further examples of how this Government intends to improve regional transport include Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ recent decision to strip Northern Rail of its franchise after a catalogue of delays and cancellations in recent years when he said: ‘People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that.’

The move means that services will be operated by an arms-length Government-owned company.

This follows the January announcement by the Government that it would intervene to save the UK regional airline Flybe by postponing a payment of Air Passenger Duty, rumoured to be £100 million. The main reason behind the intervention is thought to be that the airline connects remote parts of the UK including in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the South West, as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

These recent decisions certainly show that the Government is prepared to think outside of the London and South East mindset that can often overshadow infrastructure decisions and also show that the Prime Minister recognises he needs to deliver on his promises to voters in the North and midlands. He knows he needs to improve their lives for the better and fast. Making sure the trains run on time would surely be a welcome start.

Mike Wood MP: Government must continue to support British brewing and pubs in the Budget

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group – an enviable task I know – I have this week secured an important debate in Parliament covering beer and pubs. This debate is particularly timely with the Budget fast approaching on 11 March.

Beer in the UK is a home-grown manufacturing success story, represented in all parts of the UK. 80% of the beer that is brewed by this country’s fantastic brewers is consumed here. Beer and pubs support almost 900,000 jobs and the sector provides £23bn in value to the economy.

The numbers are impressive but there’s so much more to beer and pubs than figures alone. The great British pub is one of our most loved national institutions and the heart of so many communities. Over 15 million of us go to the pub once a week. The pub has evolved and adapted with the times, but they remain a gathering place, sometimes referred to as ‘the original social network’. Often though they are now much more – the local post office, the local greengrocer, the local library and much more besides.

The link between beer and pubs is inextricable. Seven in ten of the alcoholic drinks sold in pubs are beers. A thriving brewing sector is intimately entwined with successful local pubs. It might not be Dry January any more, but it’s still worth highlighting that not only are pubs the home of responsible drinking, but beer is also on average the lowest-strength alcoholic drink available at the bar, with an increasingly wide range of zero alcohol alternatives too.

Supporting beer and pubs might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an undeniable fact that the British pubs sit under an onerous tax burden. Every pub pays an average of £142,000 a year in taxes and one pound in every three spent in pubs goes on tax. Happily, successive Conservative Governments have taken action to limit the impact of beer duty on pubs. Since abolishing the hated beer duty escalator in 2013, Conservative Governments have cut and frozen beer duty; saving pubgoers millions of pounds.

This action is extremely welcome, but beer duty remains high, especially when compared to our beer-brewing European neighbours. Duty here is, for example, eleven times higher than it is in Germany. Britain pays 40% of all the beer duty paid in the EU, but we drink only 12% of the beer. So, while Conservative Governments have backed this great British industry, there is more that can be done.

What’s more, taking action to limit beer duty increases would send a positive signal to the 250,000 supporters of the Long Live the Local petition, not to mention the 25,000 individual pubs who are backing the campaign. Although a cut or freeze in beer duty is in theory a cost to HM Treasury, evidence suggests that keeping costs down for brewers and consumers actually leads to more money going into Government coffers. To give a recent example – excise revenue from beer is up £250 million compared to forecasts since 2017/18, thanks to the boost to beer and pubs following freezes in duty in the 2017 and 2018 Budgets.

Of course, it’s not just beer duty that presents issues for pubs – the business rates system continues to present challenges. The recently announced extension of the pub-specific relief, knocking £1,000 of the bill off pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 will help a huge number of premises, as will the 50% reduction in business rates bills for certain businesses. But for pubs the burden of business rates remains particularly acute – pubs account for 2.8% of all business rates, despite only accounting for 0.5% of rate-paying business turnover. That amounts to an overpayment of £500m every single year.

I hope the Government will hear the messages of gratitude for actions taken in the past, but also of the need for continued support to ensure that brewing and pubs remain viable for many years to come.

 

Mike Wood is the Conservative MP for Dudley South & Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blogPoint of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Holly Lynch MP: Tax bills are driving our most experienced cops out of policing

When senior doctors started to reduce their working hours in significant numbers, in response to changes in tax paid on their pensions, what would otherwise be a niche and complicated pensions issue, suddenly became a general election focus with the Prime Minister wading in, promising to fix it. 
 
New lower thresholds (unadjusted for inflation since 2014) when public sector workers start to pay tax on their pension contributions have seen higher earners across the public sector receiving staggering tax bills. As a result of having crossed either their annual or lifetime allowances, doctors are reducing their hours, or simply retiring, impacting on the NHS’s readiness to respond to annual winter pressures, forcing the Government to intervene.  
 
While the Government has found a temporary sticking plaster on this issue with a view to finding a longer-term solution for clinicians, the same problem extends right across the public sector, not least to policing.  
 
With 21,000 fewer officers and 600 police stations closed since 2010, policing has been hammered in recent years. We’re already seeing record numbers voluntarily leaving policing. So if the Government is to have any hope of delivering its uplift in policing numbers without chronic growing pains, it needs to hold onto every last bit of experience and leadership it can. 
 
The Superintendent ranks and above are likely to breach the annual allowance if an officer has more than 20 years’ service, due to the structuring of police pensions in the last 10 years of an officers’ service, which is unique to Police pensions. Senior Superintendents and all ranks above, will breach the annual allowance by ordinary pension growth alone, without there even being any pay rises.  
 
Superintendent, Chief Superintendent, Assistant Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and Chief Constable ranks have the potential to routinely breach the allowance, with some senior officers unbelievably receiving yearly tax bills that are greater than their annual salary. 
 
In a letter to the Chair of the Police Pensions Scheme Advisory Board sent just in the last few days, the Policing Minister argues that while he is open to reform of pensions in policing, their case ‘does not demonstrate evidence of recruitment and retention problems and a resulting impact on operational service delivery.’ 
 
Unlike doctors, police officers cannot reduce their hours or withdraw their service to mitigate the impact of such tax bills, so it is much harder to demonstrate the impact on the public, and I suspect the Minister fully understands that. 
 
Research undertaken by the National Police Chiefs Council shows that applications for Chief Officer jobs are reducing, as is the tenure served in those roles. My own force, West Yorkshire Police, had just one applicant apply on the previous two occasions they needed to fill the post of Chief Constable and Northumbria Police has recently had to open recruitment three times to recruit a Chief Constable. 
 
While there will be a variety of reasons for this, the Police Superintendents’ Association conducted a survey in 2018 that revealed that almost four in ten of their members said pension issues were increasing their intention to leave, with 56% of respondents attributing this specifically to the annual allowance. 
 
The Treasury is conducting a review in to this issue with a view to shaping the next Budget on 11 March, so I have asked the Policing Minister to look specially at how these perverse tax disincentives can be reformed, not least because it would seem Police Forces themselves are paying these tax bills for individuals, who are reimbursed by the Home Office, who are reimbursed by the Treasury, in order to square-off contributions to HMRC. 
 
In order to pay the money back in the long term, officers are realistically having to hand significant chucks of their pensions back upon retirement, in order to settle all the accumulated Annual Allowance taxes. There must be a better way of structuring police pensions to avoid this financial merry-go-round, by simply giving senior police officers parity with the solutions offered to NHS consultants.  
 
Police pensions need to be much clearer for both officers themselves and the public purse, but more importantly ensuring that we do not haemorrhage experience and leadership within policing at a time when we can least afford it. 
 
Holly Lynch is the Labour MP for Halifax.  
 
This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics. 

PRCA welcomes Government endorsement of its Public Affairs Code

The PRCA has welcomed the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists’ endorsement of its Public Affairs Code in its latest guidance, following an industry-wide consultation.

The Registrar accepted the PRCA’s central recommendation that the majority of industry codes of conduct declared on the statutory register were not relevant; and announced what amounts to a clampdown on companies’ own self-enforced codes.

In his commentary that ‘the current codes of conduct produced by the PRCA’s Public Affairs Board for members are relevant’, the Registrar, Harry Rich singled out the PRCA’s Code as the only one endorsed without reservation.

The new guidance notes:

A relevant code of conduct must go beyond setting out general, good professional behaviour and must contain provisions that are of particular relevance to the way that consultant lobbying activity is carried out.

A relevant code must also include oversight or control by an external process or membership body.

A code of conduct that is written for individuals can be declared by an organisation only if every employee subscribes to that code.

PRCA Director General, Francis Ingham MPRCA, said: ‘We welcome the Registrar’s confidence in the PRCA Public Affairs Code. It is already the gold standard of ethical public affairs practice, and this guidance promotes its status even further, as the only Code endorsed in all circumstances as ‘relevant’.

Ingham added: ‘We are also delighted that the Registrar agrees with us that industry codes should apply to entire consultancies, rather than to just a handful of individuals within the organisation – often a blatant attempt to workaround the spirit of the lobbying legislation. This change will support public trust in lobbying by enabling members of the public to distinguish between the organisations that subscribe to ethical standards and those that do not.’

‘There is now a clear challenge to the small minority of the industry who choose not to be held accountable to the highest standards. As of March 31, they will no longer be able to hide behind irrelevant or self-enforced Codes. They will therefore have to choose between observing the mainstream standards of the industry or making public their choice to be unregulated and unaccountable’ the PRCA’s Director General added.

The new guidance will be in place from July 2020 and all registrants must make changes to their internal process by 31st March 2020 to reflect the updated guidance.

Any organisation must join the Register if they conduct the business of consultant lobbying as defined by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 or for more information contact the PRCA.

Pulsar Social Primary Index shows Sanders pulling ahead of rivals

Bernie Sanders is surging, and not just in the opinion polls. Audience interest in the Vermont Senator has exploded in the last few weeks, amid controversies involving fellow candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

An endorsement by internet personality Joe Rogan has further boosted Sanders according to a new index developed by Vuelio’s sister brand, audience intelligence company Pulsar.

As the Iowa Caucus approaches on 3 February, Sanders has been driving not only the largest volume of conversations on social media over the past few weeks (13 – 26 January, 2.6m posts mentioned Sanders; more than those of the next two candidates combined – Warren and Joe Biden, both at 1.2m) but the conversation relating to Sanders is also displaying the highest velocity (a measure of how much conversation each candidate is able to create within a given hour).

‘Our index shows Sanders riding a big wave of buzz, which is consistent with movements in the polls and prediction markets’, said Marc Geffen, VP of Research and US Strategy at Pulsar. ‘In the last two weeks, the endorsement from Joe Rogan and provocative comments from Hillary Clinton have clearly activated the Sanders audience, driving both high velocity and relatively low volatility compared to the other candidates. These factors signal that the buzz around Sanders can grow at an extremely fast clip and sustain’.

Hillary Clinton failed to confirm if she would endorse Sanders if he went on to win the Democratic nomination and added: ‘Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician’.

She has been criticised for reopening a divide within the Democratic party that arguably led to her being defeated as the party’s first female Presidential candidate, which paved the way for the election of President Trump.

Pulsar’s virality model – traditionally used by Pulsar to measure consumer trends, as well as film and gaming releases – takes into account five different factors, including: how much buzz has a candidate generated in the most recent period; how much momentum has this candidate recently acquired; how much buzz can this candidate drive in a given hour; whether the conversation about this candidate is stable and consistent, or highly variable; and to what extent is the buzz about this candidate maintaining high volumes over time.

In terms of total volumes, both Warren and Sanders saw a huge growth on the eve of the 14 January CNN Debate and the ensuing controversy about Sanders’ alleged remarks.

‘We observe an interesting pattern in that, over the full period we’ve been measuring, the buzz around Sanders and Warren seem to move in tandem. More than any other pair of candidates, these two seem tethered to one another in the public’s eye’, said Geffen.

Sanders however, has managed to sustain those volumes further during the second half of January both in terms of virality and interest in search data, thanks also in part to the ‘endorsement’ from Internet personality Joe Rogan, and his strong performance in polls that have put him ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden in Iowa.

While Elizabeth Warren has also had her fair share of attention, receiving endorsements from both the New York Times and the Des Moines Register (a leading Iowa daily), it has not translated into a comparable social buzz, with Biden overtaking her in terms of raw volumes over the last week.

Audience interest in other candidates has also shifted. Amy Klobuchar, boosted by a New York Times endorsement (jointly with Warren), has overtaken Buttigieg in terms of virality. However, interest in her appears less consistent or ‘streaky’, dependent on big buzz moments that do not necessarily sustain interest. ‘Steadier’ candidates such as Andrew Yang on the other hand, have been able to drive very consistent virality week on week, remaining in the top five by volume of social buzz.

Pulsar is the leading AI-powered audience intelligence platform. Combining conversational and behavioural signals from the world’s leading digital destinations, Pulsar helps brands understand their audiences better and create messages that matter to them. 

Hannah Bardell MP: We must focus on fair, transparent and environmentally responsible trade

I recognise the huge importance that International Trade has for businesses and families across the UK, but for many people a Select Committee can seem remote from their everyday working and family lives.

Parliament and its inner workings must be more accessible and representative, so as Chair I would very much like to take the Committee around the UK to hear from businesses, industry and communities in as many constituencies as possible.

I will also welcome ideas and feedback from colleagues and I plan to hold internal surgeries on a regular basis to meet with members and discuss the issues in their constituencies, effectively crowdsourcing topics for investigation and discussion in committee, taking a wider approach to ensure the committee is addressing priorities for the people and holding public engagement sessions in schools and organisations around the UK.

I also believe there are significant opportunities to raise the profile of the Committee and work much more closely with colleagues in the devolved nations. Good work is being done by talented individuals across the UK and we would be remiss if we were to ignore opportunities and best practise from elsewhere.

At the outset, I would develop a clear communications plan and strategic roadmap for raising the profile of the Committee and its work, including providing bespoke information on the work the committee is doing tailored to different sectors and areas and work with the education services of all the Parliaments in the UK to deliver an engagement strategy.

Building on the outstanding reports and existing work of the Committee to ensure all reports are complete, I would ensure a focus on fair, transparent and environmentally responsible trade. Diversity in trade is essential so I will ensure that the Committee focuses on both goods and service sectors and investigate how the UK Government and its agencies are supporting SMEs and minority groups to trade internationally.

I am very interested in inter-generational trade and I would like to see the Committee looking at different demographics, whether young people or silver entrepreneurs are engaged in trade and how we can do more to support them.

In keeping with my approach to making the Committee more representative and transparent, I will produce a regular newsletter from the committee to members and external organisations and stakeholders to share our work and raise the profile of the committee.

As founder and chair of the All Party Group on Deaths Abroad and Consular Services I’ve proven that, with no secretariat or staff other than my constituency team, I’ve been a very proactive and determined chair that has made sure families from many constituencies have been represented and supported to give evidence.

Aside from my work in TV and politics I’ve spent a number of years out of politics, working first for the US Dept of State advising on trade, business and political policy and then three years in the energy sector. In both roles I worked internationally and have seen first-hand how important international trade policy and relations are.

I have led on Trade policy for the SNP, working with a broad range of international trade bodies and organisations. My team and I built strong relationships with key individuals and organisations and I would relish the opportunity to further develop those as Chair of the Committee.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

MPs to elect new Select Committee Chairs this week

The role of Select Committees within Parliament is significant, given the important duties they undertake to oversee government departments and policy implementation.

They have regular inquiries leading to significant and newsworthy reports and are widely respected both across Parliament and outside it. They also conduct visits out to the regions and nations of the UK or overseas, depending on their remit, and frequently engage with businesses, charities, community groups or trade unions.

Crucially, although the Committee Chair’s party is decided by ‘the usual channels’ of party whips, behind closed doors and in proportion to the make-up of the House of Commons at the 2019 General Election, the Chairs themselves are nominated and elected by MPs of all parties.

All MPs can vote in the Select Committee Chair elections that take place on Wednesday, 29 January.

As the Parliament Guide to Select Committees says: ‘House of Commons Select Committees are largely concerned with examining the work of government departments. Committees in the House of Lords concentrate on six main areas: Europe, science, economics, communications, the UK constitution and international relations.’

The House of Commons Select Committees must contain 11 MPs as members, which again tend to broadly represent the make up of the House of Commons, thereby guaranteeing a majority of Conservative MPs on each Committee.

The result of the ‘usual channels’ discussions were announced in early January as the Parly political journalism project reported, with the large Government majority meaning that the Conservatives will chair three more committees than the previous 2017 to 2019 Parliament: ‘Big government majority means Tories get three more than in the last parliament. They have taken @CommonsSTC from Lib Dems, @CommonsTrans and @CommonsEAC from Labour. SNP retain their two.’

On 9 January, the Conservative, Labour and SNP leaders tabled a motion splitting the position of chair of each select committee between them, after advice from the Speaker. This motion was agreed to by MPs on 16 January. It splits the committees as follows:

  • Defence: Conservative
  • Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Conservative
  • Education: Conservative
  • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Conservative
  • Foreign Affairs: Conservative
  • Health and Social Care: Conservative
  • Justice: Conservative
  • Northern Ireland Affairs: Conservative
  • Science and Technology: Conservative
  • Transport: Conservative
  • Treasury: Conservative
  • Welsh Affairs: Conservative
  • Women and Equalities: Conservative
  • Environmental Audit: Conservative
  • Procedure: Conservative
  • Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs: Conservative

 

  • Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Labour
  • Home Affairs: Labour
  • Housing, Communities and Local Government: Labour
  • International Development: Labour
  • Work and Pensions: Labour
  • Exiting the European Union: Labour
  • Petitions: Labour
  • Public Accounts: Labour
  • Standards: Labour
  • International Trade: Scottish National Party
  • Scottish Affairs: Scottish National Party

 

The Backbench Business Committee must be chaired by a non-Government MP, while the chair of the Liaison Committee (which is made up of the chairs of other committees) is elected by its members.

Nominations for Select Committee Chairs close at 4pm on Monday 27 January and only contested positions will lead to a formal election between the different candidates. Candidates who are unopposed will be elected automatically.

A report by the Intelligence and Security Committee on alleged Russian interference in UK elections was heavily discussed during the recent general election, as the Government postponed the report’s publication. Whilst this Committee is not a formal Select Committee, it is elected differently as its members are drawn from both Houses of Parliament and its Chair is elected by its members.

The Committee has a ‘statutory responsibility for oversight of the UK Intelligence Community’ and it too will shortly have a new Chair, as previous Chair Dominic Grieve was not re-elected in the General Election, having left the Conservative Party and failing to be re-elected as an Independent.

To use a prominent example the previous Chair of the DCMS Select Committee and one of the candidates standing for re-election this week, Damian Collins regularly speaks our on relevant issues such as the future of the BBC, which he says needs to ‘needs to both deliver value for license fee payers and meet the challenge of the new platforms like Netflix’ and on keeping children safe online. He also attended the launch event for Vuelio’s ‘The Politics of Social Media’ report, where he warned that social media was ‘coarsening the public debate’ and potentially posed ‘a threat to our democracy—and we should not accept it’.

Vuelio has put together a briefing on the election of Select Committee Chairs which is available here.

Reject the ‘perennial prophets of doom’ or embrace ‘real zero’ emissions?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) taking place in Davos, Switzerland is dominated by discussions about new global trade deals and reducing the impact of climate change. The annual gathering first established in 1971 and formalized in 1974, sees 3,000 of the world’s richest and most powerful people gather in the Swiss resort to discuss global affairs affecting business and the economy.

Observers have been encouraged that the Forum is at last tackling environmental issues, with 17-year-old climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg giving a keynote address.

Her speech, as reported by the New York Times, was critical of distant net zero carbon reduction targets: ‘We don’t need a low carbon economy. We don’t need to lower emissions. Our emissions have to stop if we are to have a chance to stay below the 1.5-degree target. And, until we have the technologies that at scale can put our emissions to minus, then we must forget about net zero. We need real zero.’

She repeated her warning to the political generation of today to take real action or to face their children knowing that an opportunity to change course on emissions had been missed: ‘Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.’

Sky News’ Economics Editor Ed Conway reported that Thunberg will later be meeting the Prince of Wales, who is also attending and speaking at the WEF on climate change. Clarence House has issued a tweet confirming the meeting.

Perennial prophets of doom
President Trump’s message seemed to be directed at Greta Thunberg despite not directly naming her: ‘This is not a time for pessimism. This is a time for optimism. To embrace the possibilities of tomorrow, we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.

‘They want to see us do badly, but we don’t let that happen. They predicted an overpopulation crisis in the 1960s, mass starvation in the 70s and an end of oil in the 1990s. These alarmists always demand the same thing: absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives. We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country or eradicate our liberty.’

Donald Trump’s presence at the Forum is interesting given Boris Johnson issued a ban to his ministers from attending this year’s summit, not wanting to be part of the global elite as his re-elected Government sets about delivering Brexit and levelling up spending across the entire country. Only Chancellor Sajid Javid has been allowed to attend and he was mocked by a CNBC journalist for doing so: ‘Thank you very much for coming, and drinking champagne with billionaires here at the World Economic Forum’.

Trade deals
Despite doubts that the UK can achieve a trade deal with the EU before the end of 2020, Javid said he recognised the narrow window to conduct the trade negotiations, but that nonetheless the Government would not commence formal trade discussions with the US government on a trade deal until an EU trade deal was in place: ‘I have held a number of discussions with European colleagues and there is a strong belief on both sides that it can be done. Both sides recognise that it’s a tight timetable, a lot needs to be done. It can be done, and it can be done for both goods where we want to see zero tariffs and zero quotas, and also services’.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was disappointed to learn that the UK Government was prioritising an EU trade deal over one with the US but seemed confident one could also be agreed in 2020: ‘We are very much looking forward to a new trade agreement this year with the UK, it’s a big priority for us.’

Javid said of the UK’s ambition to conclude a trade deal with the US as well, ideally before the US election later this year: ‘A trade agreement between the sixth largest economy in the world and the largest economy in the world could benefit all consumers in terms of jobs and prices. It’s hugely important.’

Whether the UK can achieve these two major trade deals within the next 12 months is unclear, but what is expected is that the agreements will be conducted in phases and that an initial agreement will be completed this year, with the rest of the detailed negotiations conducted gradually over the years ahead.

Labour leader and deputy contests move to second stage as hustings begin

As nominations for the Labour party leadership closed this week, five candidates made it through to the next round of nominations, and a further five candidates will contest the deputy leadership vacated by Tom Watson. The party has arranged a series of hustings starting in Liverpool on Saturday 18 January.

The next stage in the contest, with a deadline of 14 February, requires candidates for both leader and deputy, to secure the backing of 5% of local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) or at least three affiliates – two of which must be unions. This Twitter account is keeping track of CLP nominations and of the first nine, Keir Starmer has six nominations and Rebecca Long-Bailey has three.

So far the country’s largest union, Unison has backed Keir Starmer, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has backed Lisa Nandy and the Bakers Union has backed Rebecca Long-Bailey. Of the affiliated organisations, environmental organisation SERA (formerly the Socialist Environment and Resources Association) has endorsed Keir Starmer, with further announcements from other organisations expected over the coming weeks leading up to the mid-February deadline.

Shadow Treasury minister Clive Lewis withdrew from the contest shortly before nominations closed, though he had put forward a radical manifesto that included supporting a second Scottish Independence referendum ‘if the Scottish people want one’ and pledging to set up ‘democratic Assemblies for the English regions, with real powers and budgets’.

Sir Keir Starmer is the clear favourite in terms of nominations from the party’s MPs and MEPs with 89 out of 203 MPs nominating him.

Shadow BEIS Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has received the backing of the Momentum grassroots campaigning organisation and has been dubbed the ‘continuity Corbyn candidate’, though she received only 33 MP nominations. The Momentum online poll of members was overwhelmingly in favour of Rebecca Long-Bailey but oddly she was the only candidate offered with 70.42% voting in favour of endorsing her and 52% endorsing Angela Rayner for deputy leader. Just over 7,000 members of the organisation took part in the ballot with many presumably boycotting it due to only being offered one option. Ms Long-Bailey launches her campaign in Manchester this evening.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy received 31 MP nominations with Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry both receiving 23 nominations from their colleagues.

Emily Thornberry launches her campaign in Guildford today. Having first won her Islington South seat in 2005, she is the only candidate who was actually in the House of Commons when Labour was last in Government. She will say in her launch speech: ‘I’m standing to lead our party, because I want to be the woman, and I know I can be the woman, who stands up and leads the fightback against Boris Johnson.’

Whilst starting from a low base in terms of support in terms of early polling and MP nominations, Jess Phillips has built a big name recognition for herself through various interviews and TV appearances as well as her campaigning on education cuts and violence against women. She has said in a letter to party members: ‘The way to begin is to tell the truth. No more pussyfooting or pretending – we have to provide a version of the future that fills our hearts while being rooted in fact’. Her campaign slogan is ‘Speak Truth, win power’.

Keir Starmer launched his campaign in Manchester and has already generated a lot of attention with a video setting out his background as a lawyer taking on a wide range of pro bono work for trade unions, and environmental or human rights campaigns. He rose to national prominence as Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service from 2008 to 2013.

Lisa Nandy has already made a foreign policy focused speech this week with a passionate defence of free movement and ‘the opportunities and benefits it brings’, but added that ‘this would have required recognising it has flaws, and not dismissing concerns as simply racist anti-immigrant sentiment.’

She also was critical of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement and has indicated that the UK should refuse to sign off on a US-UK trade deal until this is rectified, adding: ‘We must use trade to support climate action, not hamper it’. She is the first of the five candidates to face a grilling from Andrew Neil on his BBC show.

An article on HuffPost claims that Nandy’s team has a ‘preferential strategy’, taking into account the AV voting system used in the contest, to appeal for second preferences from Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry supporters, which would bolster her tally if those candidates drop out at earlier stages.

As in the previous two contests won by Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016, non-Labour members have been able to sign up as registered supporters over a two-day period this week. In what could be a blow to the Rebecca Long-Bailey campaign seeking to build on the previous Corbyn surges in supporters of 180,000, only 14,700 paid the £25 to take part in this contest.

All eyes will turn now to the contest itself and whether the turnout of members, affiliated union members and registered supporters reaches the high turnouts of 76.3% in 2015 and 77.6% in 2016 when 422,871 and 506,438 respectively took part in the contests.

The Deputy leader candidates who all achieved the 22 MP nomination threshold are Angela Rayner on 88 nominations, Ian Murray on 34, Dawn Butler on 29, Rosena Allin-Khan on 23 and Richard Burgon on 22.

The results will be announced at a special conference on Saturday 4 April.

Catherine West MP: Parliament has sent its solidarity to Australia. Now we must act.

This is a guest post from Catherine West, the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and a former member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

For the past few weeks we have all witnessed the horrific images in Australia; vast swathes of precious fauna and natural habitat burnt to a crisp, with both animals and people losing their homes and, sadly, in many cases, their lives. Bush fires are not a new occurrence for Australia, but the sheer scale and ferocity of these fires, the huge impact on lives, and the global interest in them, is unprecedented and a warning sign of things to come.

At the first sitting of Parliament of this new decade, a decade likely to be dominated by climate change, the Speakers of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – working together with members from all parties – sent their heartfelt solidarity to our colleagues in the Australian Parliament, and of course to the Australian people, who continue to suffer appallingly. We also sent our thanks to the fire fighters who continue to put their lives on the line to prevent the fires from taking even more lives, and their bravery deserves universal praise.

Although these sentiments by both Houses were welcomed by Members of all parties, we cannot sit idly by and rest on our laurels. In the coming decade it will be Parliaments, not executive governments, that will have the responsibility to ensure we don’t forget the horrors of this bushfire season and keeps the climate firmly on the agenda, regardless of the changing political weather and competing priorities of governments which come and go.

With the beginning of a new decade, we do have a real chance to make progress and prevent the scenes in Australia from happening again – while we still have time to do so. It is easily forgotten by many, but unless we take action over the next ten years to have a just transition to a zero-carbon economy it may be too late to prevent further climate collapse.

If we don’t, then people across the globe will continue to suffer as scenes like those in Australia, with disasters becoming more common and more widespread. It’s already clear that disasters are spreading, and we shouldn’t treat the Australian fires as an isolated incident. We are only a few weeks into 2020, but already we are arguably seeing one of the worst years for the climate in generations, with famine and drought in Zambia and floods in Indonesia, as well as the burning of Australia. These events should be treated as a wake-up call that we need to take collective action, and we need to do so now.

Climate change is not confined to national borders, and decisions that we take here in Westminster has a direct impact on the future of the global climate, not just our own. We can move forward from this, and work with governments across the globe to tackle the climate crisis and put a stop to the disasters. With the UK Parliament being the first in the world to declare a Climate Emergency, and the UK hosting the COP26 Climate Summit in November, there is a real chance for us to become world leaders in tackling the climate crisis and preventing further disasters.

The events in Australia demonstrate what awaits us if we fail to do so.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy makers and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

UK Government

Private Members’ Bill ballot: The 20 successful backbenchers

20 lucky backbench MPs won the parliamentary lottery today in the Private Members’ Bill ballot.

Their numbers were drawn by Parliament’s new principal Deputy Speaker, Dame Eleanor Laing, who is also known as the Chairman of Ways and Means.

The MPs will have the opportunity to introduce their chosen Bill initially on Wednesday 5 February and then will have priority in terms of parliamentary debating time on 13 sitting Fridays during this session of parliament.

Parliament’s Guide to Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) sets the context for how they operate:

‘As with other public bills their purpose is to change the law as it applies to the general population. A minority of Private Members’ Bills become law but, by creating publicity around an issue, they may affect legislation indirectly’.

The Hansard Society’s Guide to PMBs also explains that these new Bills must not increase Government spending or alter the tax system:

‘The primary purpose of a PMB cannot be to create a new tax or increase Government spending; these are permitted only as secondary effects. And a PMB cannot be used to duplicate a decision that has already been made by the House of Commons earlier in the session.’

In the previous session of parliament, nine of those MPs saw their Bills pass into law and become Acts of Parliament:

For MPs drawn towards the end of the list, they should still get the opportunity to raise their issue in the House of Commons, and to further their campaigning objectives.

Labour MP Jim McMahon is an example of this with his ultimately unsuccessful campaign to reduce the voting age to 16 in the previous parliament.

The successful 20 MPs drawn in today’s ballot were:

  1. 1. Mike Amesbury
  2. 2. Darren Jones
  3. 3. Anna McMorrin
  4. 4. Laura Trott
  5. 5. Chris Loder
  6. 6. Paula Barker
  7. 7. Philip Dunne
  8. 8. Dame Cheryl Gillan
  9. 9. Mark Francois
  10. 10. Dr Ben Spencer
  11. 11. Bim Afolami
  12. 12. Dr Philippa Whitford
  13. 13. Peter Grant
  14. 14. Alex Cunningham
  15. 15. Mary Kelly Foy
  16. 16. Andrew Mitchell
  17. 17. Bill Wiggin
  18. 18. Kate Osamor
  19. 19. Simon Fell
  20. 20. Carol Monaghan

Leading charities and campaigning organisations will be busily contacting MPs on this list to ensure they are briefed on various burning issues, now that they have a unique opportunity to put them right.

The House of Commons Library advises: ‘With limited time available for the consideration of PMBs, generally only bills with Government and cross-party support are successful’.

The arcane parliamentary conventions around PMBs also mean that no formal speaking time limits apply, and this often sees Bill being ‘talked out’ or filibustered due to lack of sufficient parliamentary time on a sitting Friday.

Controversially, MPs who do not support a Bill for whatever reason merely need to shout ‘object’ at the appropriate time to halt its progress through parliament. This famously happened to a Bill in the previous session to ban ‘upskirting’ after a major campaign by activist Gina Martin, who was herself targeted in this way at a music festival.

After Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope blocked the initial PMB, this issue was later taken up by the Government which brought forward its own Bill that came into force in April 2019.

Gina Martin and the Ministry of Justice received the 2019 Cause-Led Campaign award at our own Vuelio Online Influencer Awards for this ‘exceptional’ campaign. The award judges said that: ‘Gina proved her role as a trusted and authentic influencer who used her profile to make positive change happen on an issue that had been damaging to women across the UK.’

New MP Briefing: Education

While Brexit and the tensions in the Middle East are likely to dominate the next few weeks in the House of Commons, the focus will also be on domestic policy for the first time since before the 2016 referendum. 

While the UK’s future relationship with the EU and agreeing a trade deal in the short time frame of the next 12 months will be challenging, the 80seat Conservative majority means the Government can at last move on to the domestic legislation that Boris Johnson has championed since taking office in July 2019. 

With the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher achieved in 1987, and with Conservative MPs elected across the north of England and north Wales for the first time, it is clear that the Government will now ensure that key public services are better resourced. 

Education funding is likely to be a factor in this increased public spending given Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised to ‘level up school funding’.  

The Prime Minister’s speech in Downing Street the day after the election victory spoke of ‘providing better schools’ alongside a plan to deliver ‘better infrastructure, better education, better technology 

The Queen’s Speech, which was summarised by the Vuelio Political Monitoring team, set out the Government’s plans to give schools ‘a multi-billion-pound boost, investing a total of £14 billion more over three years’. This increase is in addition to an extra £4.5 billion for teacher’s pensions. 

Increases in spending for this sector mean that by 2022-23, the core school’s budget will be £7.1 billion higher than it is currently. Teachers’ starting salaries will also be increased to £30,000 nationally by September 2022. 

The Government has also pledged to renew its focus on further and technical education, providing £400 million for 16-19-year-old education, and investing in preparation for the roll out of T levels before the courses start in September 2020. The Queen’s Speech also pledged to invest an additional £3 billion in a ‘National Skills Fund’ over the course of the Parliament and to establish 20 new Institutes of Technology, offering higher technical education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

As the public affairs community, education campaigners and politicos get to know the intake of 140 new MPs and 15 former MPs returning to the Commons who served before the 2017 General Election, the Vuelio political team has profiled 19 MPs with a background in education. 

The Briefing includes Jonathan Gullis, the new Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, who was previously a secondary school teacher in Birmingham and a trade union representative for the NASUWT, and Labour’s new Cynon Valley MP Beth Winter, who was a communications officer for the University and College Union (UCU) Wales

It also includes Edward Timpson, the former Minister of State for Children and Families from 2015 to 2017, who returns to the House of Commons having lost his former constituency in 2017 to Labour. 

The Briefing also profiles Conservative MP Laura Trott, a former head of family and education policy at 10 Downing Street. She has pledged to campaign for a new boy’s grammar school for her Sevenoaks constituency, which was previously represented by the former Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon.

Get in touch with the Vuelio Political Team if you have any question regarding these briefings or if we can help your organisation get to know the 2019 intake of MPs better.  

New MP briefing: Health

As 140 newly elected MPs return to Westminster this week, the Vuelio Political team has been getting to know the new intake for our clients and stakeholders. 

Aside from Brexit, which is clearly going to dominate this session of parliament as the UK formally leaves the EU by 31 January and begins trade negotiations, it is clear from the 19 December Queen’s Speech that domestic policy will also feature much more in the coming months. 

The NHS, and ensuring it is adequately funded going forward, was a major issue of the General Election and this also featured heavily in the Queen’s Speech.  

Vuelio has written profiles for the 17 MPs who have a background in healthincluding two Conservative MPs who served in the House of Commons previously but were defeated by Labour in 2017: Amanda Solloway and Jason McCartney.  

The NHS legislation set to be debated in this parliament, which was also listed in the Vuelio Queen’s Speech Summaryincludes an NHS Funding Bill, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill and the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill. The Conservative Party election manifesto and subsequent Queen’s Speech also included sections on mental health reforms and social care reform, after the latter issue dominated the previous 2017 general election and was a factor that deprived the then Prime Minister Theresa May of the party’s majority.  

Boris Johnson’s manifesto and Queen’s Speech sought to achieve ‘Cross party consensus on long-term plan for social care reform’ and as well as promising an additional ‘£1 billion for adult and children’s social care in every year of this Parliament’, the only stipulation listed was that ‘Government will ensure that nobody needing care will be forced to sell their home to pay for it’. 

With such a high number of new MPs elected, the Vuelio Briefing will be useful for public affairs professionals, campaigners and politicos wishing to get up to speed on the new House of Commons, especially those with an interest or background in health. This includes the new Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Dr Kieran Mullan, who is an NHS A&E doctor and was involved in local campaigns to secure additional funding for Crewe’s Leighton Hospital. The new Labour MP for Enfield North, Feryal Clark, has a local government background in health, as the Cabinet member for health, social care, leisure and parks on Hackney Council. She was also a Deputy Mayor of Hackney and her brief included responsibility for adult social care, older people strategy, health devolution and integrated commissioning and mental health. 

The new Lib Dem MP for Twickenham, Munira Wilson, succeeded the party’s former leader Sir Vince Cable, and she now has the largest majority of the party’s 11 MPs. Her previous role was Corporate Affairs Director for a science and technology company, focused on Brexit and health policy issues, and she has also worked within health and children’s charities. The Briefing also includes newly elected SNP MP Dave Doogan, who held the Health and Social Care brief when he was leader of the opposition on Perth and Kinross Council. 

The Vuelio Briefing on MPs with a background in Education will be published later this week. 

Get in touch with the Vuelio Political Team if you have any question regarding these briefings or if we can help your organisation get to know the 2019 intake of MPs better.