Issue 61: 2016 07 07: Week in Brief: UK

07 July 2016

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Party Leadership Carousel

CONSERVATIVES: In a busy week, Boris Johnson withdrew from the contest to become the next leader of the Conservative party (and thus prime minister), following the withdrawal of Michael Gove’s support for his candidature.  Mr Gove then entered the contest himself, despite having said previously that he was unsuited to the role.  Ben Wallace, Boris Johnson’s ex campaign chief who served in the whip’s office when Mr Gove was chief whip, accused Mr Gove of having been responsible for leaks and suggested that he tended to be indiscreet after drinking.

Teresa May, the Home Secretary, has emerged as the front runner in the contest, having secured 165 votes in the first ballot of Conservative MPs. There will be a further ballot to decide the two names to be voted on by the party membership.  Following the rejection of Liam Fox, who came last in the ballot, and the withdrawal of Stephen Crabb, the contenders opposing Mrs May are Andrea Leadsom (66 votes) and Michael Gove (48 votes).  Although it is impossible to tell for whom the 50 MPs who supported Messrs Fox and Crabb will vote in the second ballot, Mr Fox and Mr Crabb have both endorsed Mrs May. Mrs May attended Henley Royal Regatta on Friday.

LABOUR: The party is currently in a state of stalemate following the defeat of Mr Corbyn by 172 votes to 40 in a vote of no confidence by his parliamentary party.  The deputy leader Tom Watson (who cannot be fired by Mr Corbyn because he was elected to his position by the membership) has told him he should go; however it seems likely that Mr Corbyn would retain his position in any leadership election since this would be determined by the membership which generally supports him.

It seems likely that a large number of labour MPs will break away to form a new party.

UKIP: Nigel Farage has resigned the leadership of UKIP on the basis that he has achieved what he had set out to do.  The party’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell, hopes that his departure will provide an opportunity to develop a broader base and place less emphasis on immigration.

OTHER PARTIES: It is understood that neither the SNP nor the Liberal Democrats have any plans to change their leaders at the moment.


NEED FOR TALENT: Plans are being made to pull in personnel from all parts of the civil service and to secure the secondment of staff from professional firms in order to help the government to negotiate new trade treaties.  As a member of the EU, Britain did not negotiate its own trade treaties so that a new team will have to be pulled together.  Oliver Letwin, the cabinet office minister, is heading up the operation.

PARLIAMENTARY AUTHORITY: A group of 1000 litigants, headed by a UK citizen, Mr Dos Santos, and represented by law firm Mishcom de Reya, has begun High Court proceedings for a declaration that the giving of notice under section 50 of the Lisbon Treaty requires parliamentary authority.  Normally foreign affairs and international treaties are dealt with by the government under the Royal Prerogative so that no parliamentary approval is required.  Here, however, the matter is complicated because the giving of notice commits the country to the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 which will itself require an act of parliament.

Other Politics

LABOUR ANTI-SEMITISM: Both Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, and Jonathan Sacks, his predecessor, have criticised as anti-Semitic, a statement by Mr Corbyn that: “our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations”. Mr Corbyn’s remarks were made at the launch of an anti-Semitism report by the Labour Party. Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish Labour MP, left the launch in tears, claiming to have been insulted by a hard left activist.

CHILCOTT: The Chilcott report, published yesterday and running to more than 2.6 million words, is highly critical of the decision-making which led to the Iraq war, finding that the threat from Saddam Hussein was overstated, troops were sent into battle ill prepared and badly equipped, UK military commanders overestimated their capabilities, and that the plans for follow through were wholly inadequate.

ALBANIAN EXTRADITION: A judge has rejected claims from Albanian Saliman Barci that, if extradited to meet a double murder charge in his home country, he would be at risk from a “blood feud.”  Mr Barci has been in Britain for 14 years posing as a Kosovan refugee.  The final decision on whether he should be extradited will be made by the Home Secretary.


OZONE LAYER: According to an article in the magazine “Science”, the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic is disappearing, having been reduced by 1.7 million square miles between 2000 and 2005. The reduction is thought to be the result of the ban on the use of chlorofluorocarbons.


SOMME: Ten thousand people attended the commemoration of the battle of the Somme at Thiepval. Britain was represented by Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and David Cameron.


RAILWAYS: 341 trains a day are to be cancelled by Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates the services between London and Sussex and runs about a quarter of the total number of trains run in Britain. In the view of the Rail Maritime and Transport Workers Union, the poor figures for the region (the worst in the country, with 15.7% of trains cancelled or seriously delayed against a national average of 5.8%) arises from bad management rather than absenteeism. They suggest that Govia should be replaced by Directly Operated Railways, a company under public control.

HARD SHOULDERS: The Commons Transport Select Committee has criticised the policy of removing the hard shoulder from motorways in order to increase capacity. The Committee is concerned that all-lane running jeopardises safety, prevents emergency vehicles reaching accidents and makes it difficult for the police to pull over suspect vehicles. The Department of Transport says that all-lane running is designed to be as safe as the normal system.

CONGESTION CHARGE: The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced the introduction of a £10 per day toxicity charge for diesel cars made before 2005, which will be added to the congestion charge.  It is also proposed that, before the end of the decade, the congestion zone will be expanded to the area between the North and South Circular roads and that the toxicity charge will apply to all diesels made before 2015.

HEATHROW: The decision on Heathrow expansion has been deferred yet again on the basis that there is little point in Mr Cameron making a decision which will immediately be reconsidered by his successor.


TEACHING STRIKE: There was a 24 hour walkout on Tuesday by members of the National Union of Teachers protesting in favour of increased schools budgets.  Less than 25% of eligible members took part in the ballot to authorise the strike (a 50% turnout will be required by the Trade Union Act which comes into force later this year). 11.3% of schools were closed, 20.3% were partially closed and 63.2% opened as normal. No data is available on the remaining schools.

SATS: The publication of the SATs results for 11 year olds indicates that only 53% have achieved the target level in each of reading, writing and arithmetic, although 66% achieved it in reading, 70% in maths, 74% in writing and 72% in grammar, punctuation and spelling. The exams are harder than previously and the 100 level is above the old level 4, the previous benchmark. Teachers’ leaders and unions have criticised the way in which the tests were introduced as shambolic.


JUNIOR DOCTORS: A ballot of junior doctors has rejected the compromise agreed between the BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee and the Government, with 58% of junior doctors voting against it.  Johann Malawana, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the junior doctors, has resigned as chairman of the Committee.  It seems likely that the Government will now use their powers to impose the agreement unilaterally.

NUROFEN: An advertisement for Nurofen has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority on the basis that it made untrue claims that the drug specifically targeted head, back and joint pains. The company denied that the advertisement made such a claim.


TOP GEAR: Chris Evans has resigned his role as presenter of Top Gear after the ratings dropped to 1.9 million viewers. The audience for the last Clarkson episode was 5.8 million. Following Mr Evans departure, the programme will be compered by his co-presenter Matt LeBlanc.

BRITISH WINE: A 2105 rosé wine from the Seddlescombe Organic Vineyard in Sussex has taken the top medal at the International Organic Wine Awards, beating contenders from France, Germany, Italy and Spain.  It is understood to be the first time that a British wine has been the overall winner in an international competition.


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