What the parties said
A week of firsts for Theresa May’s new Government; on Monday she delivered her first statement to the House of Commons as Prime Minister, calling on MPs to support the Government’s policy of replacing nuclear submarines to carry Trident missiles. On Tuesday May chaired the first meeting of her new cabinet, reiterating to ministers her call for the Government to operate in the interests of working people, and not ‘just the privileged few’. Wednesday saw May trounce Corbyn in her first PMQs before jetting off to the continent for an amicable meeting with Angela Merkel in which she addressed her rather enchanted counterpart in German. May finished things off with un peu plus tendu meeting with French President, Francois Hollande on Thursday, in which the French premiere took a slightly more hurried stance on the start of Brexit negotiations.
The contest for who will challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership reached its conclusion this week as Angela Eagle dropped out of the contest. Following a private ballot of MPs on Tuesday, Eagle announced she would be backing former shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith ‘with all her might and enthusiasm’. Corbyn launched his own leadership campaign on Thursday, arguing the Party had become stronger under his leadership much to the chagrin of number of his own MPs. Corbyn added insult to injury when he announced that there would be a full and open selection process for every constituency Labour Party after the boundary review concludes in 2018. A record number of people have signed up to take part in the contest, paying the £25 to become an affiliated Labour supporter.
Nick Clegg returned as close to the frontline of politics that being a Liberal Democrat MP will allow you to go this week, assuming the role of Liberal Democrat spokesperson. He pledged to hold the Government’s Brexit negotiations to account, between intermittent appearances in music videos (see below).
What the papers said
Janan Ganesh published a piece in the FT on the new Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Ganesh asserts that there may be more to the ‘accountant’ than realised at first glance, noting his ability to ‘shape-shift’ in order to survive. He stresses that we don’t really know what Hammond might do in the role because Hammond has never left any clues as to what if any ideology motivates his achievements. The first glance of what ‘Hammondism’ will be like, Ganesh asserts, will become clear once he reveals what model of Brexit he prefers and how much he insists upon it.
The FT also reported on the back in fashion Industrial Strategy, noting that she has already implied a change in the rules governing mergers and acquisitions with her expressed view that ‘a proper industrial strategy should be capable of stepping in’ to defend key sectors. Issuing a warning to the approach, the letter written by former Editor of the FT Geoff Owen comments that there is ‘little evidence’ that the revival of industrial strategy in recent years has improved performance. He stressed that ‘no quick wins’ can be expected from industrial strategy and urged the Government to stick to generating a business environment to which foreign investment is attracted.
Elsewhere, Nick Cohen has bemoaned the state of the Labour Party. In a piece that pulls no punches, Cohen goes for the jugular of Corbyn’s spin-doctor Seamus Milne, stating he could not do a better job of keeping Labour out of power ‘if rogue MI5 agents had groomed him at Winchester College, signed him up at Oxford University and instructed him to infiltrate and destroy the Labour party.’ Cohen asserts that Corbyn and his allies will speak at length at what they dislike, but say very little on what their plans are, and labels Corbynism ‘vacuus leftism.’ He concludes that ‘if Corbyn does not go, and Labour does not change, it is inevitable that the whiff of violence will be replaced by the stench of its death.’
On the benches
Angela Eagle loves her porridge
Angela Eagle’s campaign for Labour leadership never really took off. Every time she attempted to launch her campaign she was overshadowed by other, more exciting events. As a result, no matter what she did, she never seemed to get the campaign off the ground. None of this was helped by her stilted media performances. It was all summed up in an interview this week with Sky when Eagle inadvertently shouted out the word porridge. Eagle and the team at Sky had been doing some sound testing before her interview but the newsdesk cut to the interview more quickly than she imagined and poor Eagle managed to begin her interview not with some rousing words about saving the Labour Party but instead told us all what she had for breakfast. This eagle didn’t even get a chance to fly too close to the sun.
Andrew Bailey’s charm was turned up to the max during his appearance in front of the Treasury Select Committee earlier this week to give evidence on his appointment as Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. Relaxed and jovial throughout, his charisma was evident from the get go and appreciated by members from across the political spectrum. Such was so, Bailey even managed to appease the usually stern Committee Chair, Andrew Tyrie, shooting him a wink before answering Chris Philip’s question on the refusal of commercial property funds to issue redemption.
You just can’t escape Pokemon Go
In a week where Pokemon Go has dominated both sides of the Atlantic, it seems even British politics is not safe from the newest craze. Labour MP Anna Turley tabled a Parliamentary Question to DCMS this week asking about incidents of trespassing by players of Pokemon Go in cemeteries and religious sites. Well, it’s clear someone isn’t a true Pokemon master…
Failure to launch. This week Jeremy Corbyn launched his Labour leadership campaign and Twitter was full of disparaging remarks from Labour MPs.
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: Theresa May. After taking the Prime Ministerial reins last week, Theresa May began her first full week in the job with a thumping victory on a key pillar of national security with the Trident vote on Monday. She followed this by chairing her first Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, before giving a performance at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in which she was widely felt to have eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn. Albeit helped by some weak questioning and a couple of deliveries asking to be hit for six, May gave a cutting performance, perhaps most damningly saying she hoped to face Corbyn for many years to come. On Wednesday afternoon she flew to Berlin, where she surprised her host Chancellor Angela Merkel by beginning their conversation in German, in a meeting which appeared a success as Merkel agreed the UK is right to pause to formulate a negotiating position before invoking Article 50. May got a less positive reaction from resident Francois Hollande of France, who is less keen on any delay. Antagonising the French, however, is unlikely to do May’s high approval ratings in the UK a great deal of harm.
Bad week for: John McDonnell. John McDonnell has had a hard time this week, although many would argue it was as a result of his own doing. McDonnell has faced a backlash after describing fellow Labour MPs as ‘f***ing useless’, being forced to apologise on national television and admitting he had let himself and Jeremy Corbyn down. McDonnell also had an awkward time on Wednesday, when he led an Opposition Day debate on the Charter for Budget Responsibility and not one of his backbench MPs showed up.
Tweet of the week
Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson this week had quite the spat on Twitter about the building of warships in Scotland. The argument went back and forth for quite a while with each accusing the other of outright dishonesty. The argument ended on rather a nice note though with both leaders saying that they should enjoy their holidays. Quite amicable really, considering they are polar opposites politically and have fundamentally different views of where Scotland should stand in the United Kingdom.
Theresa May traveled to Germany and France this week and, inevitably, Brexit dominated discussions with the countries respective leaders Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande. The French President indicated that the ‘sooner’ May triggers Article 50, ‘the better’. May has stated that she won;t be pushed into triggering Article 50 until at least early next year. This week’s in focus looks at the extremely sensitive issue of Britain formally leaving the European Union:
The article 50 decision
The decision to trigger article 50 – the legal route out of the EU – is a monumental step, the point at which Britain opens the exit door and loses control of the process. Unless the UK enters that process with a very clear position and some signal that agreement with the EU is likely to be reached within two years, then it would be risky in the extreme to invoke the legal mechanism. For that reason the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will think very carefully before turning the handle.
Hence while Theresa May has been clear about the overall direction which Britain must follow in the wake of the referendum, she has been much more cautious when discussing the timetable. During Wednesday’s joint press conference with Angela Merkel she said “All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations and the United Kingdom will not invoke article 50 until our objectives are clear. That is why I have said already that this will not happen before the end of this year. I understand this timescale will not please everyone but I think it is important to provide clarity on that now.”
Importantly for May, the German Chancellor endorsed that approach, saying “it is absolutely necessary to have a certain time to prepare for” Brexit. But that is not the position of many other European leaders including the French President, who wants Britain to quickly commence the withdrawal process. Nor is it necessarily the position of key figures inside her Cabinet. David Davis and Liam Fox are much more bullish on invoking article 50, saying it should happen in early 2017 to pave the way for Brexit by 2019. But even by early next year the situation may be far from clear.
EU leaders, including Merkel, are resolute that there shall be no prior talks on alternative arrangements before the formal withdrawal process is started – otherwise they fear other member states will attempt similar negotiations. That could cause delay and division, which will intensify political pressure. The decision on when article 50 is invoked looks likely to be one of the most significant flashpoints in the life of the May Government.