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Adam Boulton: Sunak’s by-election nightmare, Starmer’s Rochdale headache, and why a May election is a distinct possibility… | Politics News

This week’s two by-elections had something for everyone – except Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives.

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has now broken into the record books with six by-election gains from the Conservatives, beating New Labour’s performance in the run-up to the 1997 Election.

Reform UK got more than 10% of the votes in both constituencies.

The Liberal Democrats lost two deposits, with less than 5% of votes cast each time. But even they have something to celebrate, according to one polling analyst.

Peter Kellner argues that their four by-election victories over the Tories since 2019 show that they are much better at concentrating their vote than they used to be – when they regularly clocked up 10% plus support across the country with nothing to show for it.

Reform could be falling into a similar trap with significant minority support spread nationwide, enough to damage the Conservatives without a sniff of winning a seat.

Damien Egan reacts as he is surrounded by his supporters, after he won the Kingswood Parliamentary by-election, at Kingswood Park.
Pic: Reuters
Image:
Damien Egan won the Kingswood by-election for Labour.
Pic: Reuters

Labour Party candidate Gen Kitchen celebrates with Labour MP for Chesterfield Toby Perkins after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election at the Kettering Leisure Village, Northamptonshire.
Image:
Labour’s Gen Kitchen celebrates after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election. Pic: PA

No wonder Nigel Farage is talking about “uniting the centre-right vote” of Conservatives and Reform, without committing himself personally to fight in the approaching general election.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has taken up the call for the two right-wing groupings to come together.

Conservative MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns has leapt on the by-election defeats in Kingswood and Wellingborough to renew her call for Sunak to be replaced.

The prime minister must be wondering why his MPs keep inflicting damage on their party through their own behaviour.

All six of Labour’s by-election gains were precipitated by voluntary or forced resignations by Conservative MPs.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts to by-election results
Image:
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts to last week’s by-election results

The tables will be turned in the next by-election in just 10 days’ time, when Labour is defending the constituency of Rochdale in Lancashire and the party is certain to be the victim of a technical knock-out because it no longer has a candidate.

Starmer’s discomfort in Rochdale and the continued agony of political death by many by-election cuts explain why there is growing speculation that the prime minister may call the general election sooner rather than later in the year, as he has suggested.

Rochdale is an unholy mess for Labour, which exposes one of the most painful divisions in the party.

Labour has held the seat since 2005. Tony Lloyd, who died last month, held it in 2019 with more than half the votes cast.

In its haste to make the best of a sure thing, Labour rushed to hold the vote to find a replacement MP.

Azhar Ali, a local council big wig, was chosen quickly as the Labour candidate. Too quickly, it turns out.

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali (left), is joined by Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham in Rochdale town centre as he launches his campaign for the up-coming Rochdale by-election, triggered by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd. Picture date: Wednesday February 7, 2024.
Image:
Labour’s former candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali. Pic: PA

The Mail on Sunday and then The Daily Mail exposed comments about the Israel-Gaza conflict which he had made at Labour gatherings, in clear violation of party policy.

Ali had embraced conspiracy theories that Israel allowed the 7 October attacks to happen and made accusations about Jewish influence in the media.

He later issued an “unreserved” apology, saying the comments were “deeply offensive, ignorant, and false”.

After an agonising weekend when Labour leaders tried to keep Ali as their official candidate, he was cut loose along with the candidate in neighbouring Hyndburn for similar comments.

It is easy to see why Starmer was reluctant to act. Nominations for the Rochdale by-election had closed.

Labour was stuck with Ali on the ballot paper as their candidate, come what may. It was too late to select a substitute.

Labour must sit it out for the remainder of the campaign, as Ali presses on as an independent. If he wins, he will not receive the Labour whip.

This will automatically exclude him from being the Labour candidate at the approaching general election.

The party leadership could then impose Paul Waugh as the Labour candidate.

In a move which surprised many, Waugh gave up a career as a top political journalist to stand for selection in this by-election – unsuccessfully as it turned out.

This awkward outcome is probably the best that Labour can hope for.

Two controversial ex-Labour MPs are also standing in the by-election.

Simon Danczuk won Rochdale for Labour in 2010 and then 2015. But he was suspended from the party shortly afterwards for sexting a 17-year-old girl. This time, Danczuk is standing for Reform UK.

The candidacy of George Galloway is of much greater concern.

File photo dated 02/07/21 of George Galloway who has said he is confident a judge will hear his legal challenge against the Batley and Spen by-election result, despite the initial deadline for challenging his defeat having now passed. Issue date: Friday August 6, 2021.
Image:
George Galloway. File pic: PA

Since his first election in 1987, Galloway has been an MP in four constituencies: Glasgow Hillhead/Kelvin for Labour, and Bethnal Green & Bow, and Bradford West, for the Respect Party.

Galloway is pugnacious and articulate, and he specialises in fighting highly charged by-elections.

He is highly litigious and willing to take on his critics. He takes a close interest in the Middle East and is pro-Palestinian.

There have been allegations of antisemitism against him – claims he has strongly denied and even once labelled “outrageous”.

Roughly a third of the population in Rochdale has a Muslim background. As Ali’s comments showed, the Israel-Gaza conflict has already inflamed passions.

Opinion polls show that a clear majority of the British public does not take sides in the current conflict.

Of the remainder, around 20% each sympathise with Israel and the Palestinians. But the balance among Labour activists favours the Palestinians.

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Starmer: ‘People want change’

Rooting out the antisemitism which characterised Labour during Jeremy Corbyn’s far-left leadership is one of Starmer’s signal achievements.

Rough justice has meant that figures such as Corbyn, Diane Abbott and now Ali have been kicked out of the party.

But tensions have mounted as Israel’s high-casualty counteroffensive continues.

Read more from Sky News:
Scottish Labour unanimously backs immediate ceasefire in Gaza
Ukrainians offered 18-month visa extension to stay in UK

In the past, Labour has benefitted from strong support in British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. In a handful of constituencies, this has been decisive.

Starmer is not pleasing many in his party by lining its Middle East policy up close to the government’s own position.

The Conservatives certainly are not going to give him any credit for backing them up.

Even without the divisive return of Galloway, Conservatives are already saying that the developments in Rochdale reveal that it is the same old Labour Party underneath, for all the changes supposedly wrought by Starmer.

Rochdale means chronic by-election pain for Starmer. There is no end to agony in sight for Sunak either.

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How Labour’s latest row unfolded

There is another by-election in the offing in Lancashire in the marginal constituency of Blackpool South

The Commons Standards Committee has recommended a potentially by-election-triggering 35-day suspension for the Conservative MP Scott Benton over lobbying and corruption allegations.

Voters do not like by-elections in grubby circumstances. They are inclined to punish the incumbent, but the reputation of all politics takes a hit.

The excuses Sunak gave this weekend for the Tory defeats in Kingswood and Wellingborough do not stand up.

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With the general election imminent, these were not “midterm by-elections”. Nor was turnout exceptionally low for such contests. The exception was the massive scale of the drop in the Conservative vote.

The quickest way to make it stop would be to call that general election.

In the past few days, keen observers report an upsurge in activity by those involved in running the Tory campaign.

While Starmer is mired in Rochdale, a giveaway budget on 6 March as the springboard to a May election must remain a distinct possibility – before it gets any worse.

Rishi Sunak’s path to Rwanda plan success just got harder – again – after symbolic Lords defeat | Politics News

If anyone doubted the strength of opposition to Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda policy in the House of Lords, there shouldn’t be any doubt now.

Peers voted by a pretty hefty majority of 43 – 214 votes to 171 – for a motion to delay ratification of the government’s Rwanda treaty until safeguards have been implemented.

An unusual move? Certainly. House of Lords veterans believe it’s the first and only time the Lords have voted against ratifying an international treaty. Shows how cross they are!

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The motion was proposed by Lord Peter Goldsmith. Remember him? He was Tony Blair’s attorney general from 2001 until 2007, a period that included his legal advice on the 2003 Iraq war.

There were cheers on the opposition benches in the Lords when Labour‘s chief whip, the burly figure of Lord Roy Kennedy, read out the result of the vote with barely concealed glee.

But the big significance of this government defeat is that it spells trouble when peers start debating the Rwanda bill and then vote on amendments at the report stage in early March.

This was an ominous warning for the prime minister. It shows that a majority of their lordships don’t like the Rwanda policy one bit.

When the bill got its first reading last Thursday, there was laughter and a shout of “shame” from one peer.

This debate, lasting nearly four hours, was mostly polite and good-tempered, as Lords debates usually are. But it all got a bit heated and tetchy at the end as tempers frayed and insults were hurled across the chamber.

Labour’s spokesman Lord Vernon Coaker, a former MP who was a minister under Gordon Brown, bitterly attacked Mr Sunak for his news conference last Thursday when he urged the Lords to “accept the will of the people”.

Read more:
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What happens next after Sunak challenge?
Rwanda bill passes final commons hurdle

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Sunak warns Lords over Rwanda Bill

That prompted Lord Andrew Sharpe of Epsom, a Tory businessman ennobled by Boris Johnson in 2020, to accuse Labour of attempting to wreck the Rwanda bill, even though this vote was on the treaty, not the bill.

A furious Lord Goldsmith then rose and said he resented that claim. It was, he said, a debate on the report of the all-party International Agreements Committee, which he chairs, and the report had been unanimous.

Ironically, the majority against the government, 43, was virtually identical to the government majority of 43 at the Rwanda bill’s second reading in December and its third reading last week.

Ultimately, the government will get the Rwanda bill through the Lords, after parliamentary “ping pong” between the Lords and the Commons, no doubt.

But this vote suggests that the Lords have the ability to frustrate and delay its progress.

So did the prime minister’s “will of the people” news conference last Thursday backfire? Almost certainly.

Judging by Lord Coaker’s criticism, it appears to have antagonised peers and hardened their opposition to the Rwanda policy.

Will the government simply ignore the call for safeguards? Possibly, although the immediate reaction was that ministers would respond with a statement to address the issues raised.

Downing Street is still insisting that flights to Rwanda will take off “in the spring”. That’s pretty vague.

And this Lords defeat, even if it’s only symbolic, has made the government’s task harder. Again.

Sunak’s Braverman dilemma: What’s more important – being right or being strong? | Politics News

Until the formal confirmation of a reshuffle, we won’t know for sure whether Rishi Sunak intends to oust his home secretary Suella Braverman on a charge, effectively, of disobedience.

We do know, however, it has been discussed. And we don’t know the resolution yet. One Whitehall source put the odds as high as 90% on Sunday afternoon that it would be a Monday reshuffle, although – despite the punchy prediction – we really don’t know.

But what we are sure about is the arguments behind, rehearsed at the top of government for and against.

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First, the case for sacking her. Sunak has spent months having to respond to Braverman’s language. Despite being the most socially conservative prime minister possibly since Margaret Thatcher, the punchier language of his home secretary has endlessly left Number 10 in a dilemma.

Whether it was the “hurricane” of migrants, the “lifestyle choice” to be homeless or the criticism of police bias, she makes it look like he is dancing to her tune. There’s a growing worry among some Tory MPs that he must endlessly respond to her, rather than looking strong and having his own view dominate.

The fact they agree on most policy issues may actually put Braverman in a weaker position. On most home affairs topics, the PM agrees on the substance, with the two apparent exceptions being the extent of legal migration the country should allow, and what should happen in the event the government loses the Supreme Court judgment on Wednesday.

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There are signs she wants immediate action to override the European Convention on Human Rights – perhaps a pre-election bill; Sunak would be slower, mindful such a move would blow up the Windsor framework he negotiated that normalised relations with the EU. Again a further reason for ditching her now: fail to act at the start of this week and on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court verdict on the Rwanda policy is released, she may resign anyway if they disagree.

The next reason for dismissal would be the jeopardy done to the working relationship with the police, who she accused of bias in The Times article.

Politics latest: Braverman hits out at ‘sick’ and ‘clearly criminal chants’

The leaked WhatsApp conversation between Tory MPs to Sky News on Friday revealed the depth of division over this specific point – some saw it tantamount to a challenge to democracy; others a necessity for ensuring sensible policing. However it is certainly unusual and unprecedented and for Sunak, far from on brand to have a minister doing such a thing.

Then there is the charge of insubordination. Few members of the public would care about the internal governance process to clear an article for publication – almost no one noticed that the home secretary published words that were not authorised by Number 10. However by sacking her for disobedience by publishing The Times article that Number 10 objected to, rather than the content itself – which the Met themselves said made policing more difficult – they can attempt to avoid accusations that Braverman was simply too tough a home secretary for this PM.

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However, there is also a credible case for keeping Braverman as home secretary. There are anecdotal signs that among the voters that matter – 2019 Tory voters who have drifted away – Braverman is a draw. There’s a view that you cannot be too tough on law and order, even if – as Tory MPs Danny Kruger and John Hayes would argue – this means criticism of the police.

Some think it mad to act before the Rwanda decision on Wednesday. If this goes the government’s way and the Supreme Court gives the green light, then Sunak and Braverman are united, and coupled with the likely success on meeting the PM’s inflation goal, the sense of trouble could disappear within days.

Talk of resignations if she goes

Then there is the question about how much Tory turmoil Sunak would have to endure. There’s talk of resignations if she goes, and setting himself for a conflict with the right is a challenging dynamic at this stage of the electoral cycle.

We have already had a flavour: some MPs inclined to back Braverman are already attacking chief whip Simon Hart suggesting he’s out of touch with the party and the party chairman Greg Hands for not understanding the realignment in politics – Cameron-style big tent politics is dead, they claim. Some MPs sympathetic to her even believe Sunak is “jealous” of her ability to communicate. Do you want all this amplified through a megaphone?

That is the dynamic Sunak must weigh up. What is more important – being right (on the issues) or being strong (with his team). The civil service is ready for a reshuffle – the packs to brief new ministers were prepared on Tuesday night and Wednesday last week, even before this latest cycle of tumult developed. The grid is free-ish on Monday and Wednesday. But the decision is Sunak’s alone. Which way will he go?

Rishi Sunak’s speech to Conservative conference fell flat with public, poll suggests | Politics News

Rishi Sunak’s speech at the Conservative Party conference fell flat with the British public, a new poll suggests.

During his speech, the prime minister confirmed his long-rumoured decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester and announced plans to introduce some of the strictest smoking laws in the world.

New polling for Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge by Find Out Now suggested the speech went down poorly among the public – if they even bothered to tune in at all.

Politics latest: Video causes confusion about when HS2 decision was actually made

Sunak speech

Reaction to Mr Sunak’s decision to scrap HS2 beyond the West Midlands was more mixed among the public, though a majority of Conservative members said they believed it was the right decision.

HS2 announcement

Mr Sunak’s announcement of his intention to raise the legal smoking age by one year every year – meaning a 14-year-old today will never be able to buy a cigarette – garnered far more support.

Smoking age change

Asked to rate how well Mr Sunak was doing in his job as prime minister, the majority said they thought he was doing “badly”.

Do you think Rishi Sunak is doing well, or badly, in his job as prime minister?

The public’s feelings about the Conservative Party itself also appeared tepid.

How do you feel about the Conservative Party?

When asked who they would prefer to be Tory leader, half of Conservative members picked Mr Sunak.

Who would you prefer to be the leader of the Conservative party?

In second place behind the prime minister was Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Privy Council, while Nigel Farage, the former UKIP and Brexit Party leader, came in third place.

Boris Johnson verdict is a hammer blow to Rishi Sunak’s hopes of maintaining a fragile peace in the Tory civil war | Politics News

In the end, it was excoriating, damning and unanimous: Boris Johnson was found not only to have deliberately misled the House of Commons over events in Number 10 during COVID lockdowns, but had attacked the fabric of our democracy itself by seeking to undermine the committee and investigation.

The conclusion of the 14-month privileges committee inquiry was brutal, as was the recommended sanction: a 90-day suspension from the Commons for “repeated contempt” and revoking his parliamentary pass.

It was tougher than even some of Mr Johnson’s harshest critics had anticipated, as the original charge sheet of misleading the House on multiple occasions was added to through the investigation – with further sanctions made for breaching confidence by disclosing the findings of the report and “being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee”.

“The attack on a committee carrying out its remit from the democratically elected House itself amounts to an attack on our democratic institution,” said the report.

What does it change? For his enemies, it proves he is a wrong ‘un, a liar and unfit for high office. They will see this report as the final punctuation mark for his chequered political career.

Politics Hub: Johnson misled parliament on multiple occasions – latest developments

For his supporters, the level of sanction is proof of the “overreach” – to quote one ally – of a committee that set out to defenestrate a political powerhouse whom opponents wanted to destroy. They argue that the chair should have recused herself, and the process was a sham. For them, the die was cast way before this report was even out.

Is a comeback possible for Johnson?

The biggest question – the answer to which will take time to unfold – is whether the conclusions of this investigation are so damning that it effectively kills off any hope of a political comeback for the former prime minister. What is clear in the early aftermath is that his allies will seek to undermine this report in order to keep the possibility of political revival for Mr Johnson alive.

It is equally clear that this report’s publication in no way brings an end to the divisions it has once again exposed and exacerbated in a Tory party that ploughed through three prime ministers in seven weeks last autumn.

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Boris Johnson ‘is not defeated’

You only have to look at how Mr Johnson and his allies have reacted to both the investigation and the publication of the report today to see Rishi Sunak’s fragile peace deal on the benches becoming unstuck.

Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House, clearly alluded to these tensions in the chamber when she announced there would be a free vote on the report on Monday.

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She told colleagues that while it was a “painful and sad” process, they should read the report and make their own judgement. And in a not-so-subtle nod to the tensions, with Tory MPs reeling at the prospect of formally voting to sanction the leader who helped deliver them their seats back in the 2019 election, Ms Mordaunt said this: “All of us must do what we think right, all must leave us alone to do so.”

But MPs are not being left alone. There is pressure from Johnson-backing colleagues and likely also their own Conservative associations about whether the party should condemn Boris Johnson as this cross-party committee has done.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, holds a copy of the House of Commons Committee of Privileges report into whether former prime minister Boris Johnson misled Parliament
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Jacob Rees-Mogg holds a copy of the House of Commons Committee of Privileges report

The recently knighted former minister Sir Simon Clarke – a beneficiary of Johnson’s honours list – tweeting even as Ms Mordaunt was on her feet that he was “amazed at the harshness of today’s report by the privileges committee. I believed Boris before and I believe him today. This punishment is absolutely extraordinary to the point of sheer vindictiveness, and I will vote against his report on Monday”.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, another ally also knighted by his old friend Mr Johnson, told me the 90-day suspension was “extraordinary” and “shows that the report is deliberately trying to do damage to Boris Johnson. It is way beyond a judicial sanction”. He too will vote against the report on Monday, which also happens to be Mr Johnson’s 59th birthday.

An unedifying moment

It will be an unedifying moment for the party as the Conservative “Boris haters”, as Sir Jacob calls them, line up to support the privileges committee and another group of his supporters back the former PM. He will want to see a show of support – a key thing to watch on Monday is how Conservatives choose to vote.

What is clear from all of this, be it the Mr Johnson attacks on fellow Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin, who sits on the privileges committee or the howls of rage from Mr Johnson supporters over his treatment, is that Mr Sunak simply doesn’t have a strong enough grip on the party to stop the infighting and perform the reset he needs.

Mr Johnson might be quitting parliament, but the current prime minister still has two by-elections to fight because of it before the summer recess and one later in the year as Nadine Dorries opts to delay her resignation to prolong the pain for Mr Sunak.

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Key findings from Boris Johnson report

What about his long-term political career? Mr Johnson’s old ally Sir Jacob certainly doesn’t think the former prime minister is done for, telling me that much depends on the judgement people come to and that there are plenty out there still in the Johnson camp. He thinks there is a route back for Mr Johnson – although he not this side of an election.

“I think many people will look at 90 days and will think that that is simply too harsh, too aggressive, and shows what the committee was really trying to do. I think this will generate sympathy for him. But he is still a popular national figure. He still has a connection with voters that most politicians would give their eyeteeth for,” says Sir Jacob.

Read more:
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Boris Johnson: What the former PM told the privileges committee about partygate

Jumping before he was pushed, the fury that Mr Johnson unleashed on Friday night when he announced he was going to quit as an MP having seen a confidential copy of the report, is now so much clearer.

The account of his conduct levelled at him by the committee would have almost certainly resulted in Mr Johnson’s suspension from parliament and a possible by-election in his constituency. So, he quits “for now”, leaving the possibility that he might want to return.

For him, this report was “intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”. Whether it succeeds in killing off his political career is another matter. He might have been rejected by parliament, but this is a populist who has built his brand on being able to connect with the public and the grassroots in the Conservative Party. We’ve had the privileges committee’s verdict of the former PM. We’ve yet to have theirs.

Sir James Dyson claims Rishi Sunak’s science superpower pledge is hot air | Politics News

Billionaire businessman Sir James Dyson has issued fresh criticism of the prime minister, claiming his pledge to turn the UK into a science and technology superpower is a “mere political slogan”.

The founder and chief engineer of the multinational technology company Dyson also complained – in a letter to The Times – that he has still not met Rishi Sunak, despite being a major entrepreneur in the UK.

“Ministers talk hubristically of Britain becoming a ‘science and technology superpower’ but their woeful policies diminish this to a mere political slogan,” he wrote.

“In the UK, Dyson now faces rocketing corporation tax (wiping out any tax credits for research and development)… and a crippling shortage of qualified engineers.”

Read more:
James Dyson says growth is ‘a dirty word’ for Rishi Sunak’s government

Jeremy Hunt plans for UK to become a ‘science superpower’
Rishi Sunak vows to make UK ‘science superpower’

Mr Sunak’s ambition of turning the UK into a science superpower post-Brexit has been central to his premiership. A key part of this was the creation of a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

In January, Sir James accused the government of having a “short-sighted” approach to business, warning the prime minister that growth should not be seen as a “dirty word”.

A government spokesperson said that the UK is open for business as an “innovation nation”.

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Can the UK become a ‘science superpower’?

“We boast the biggest tech sector in Europe, reaching a combined market value of £1trn in 2022, we have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7, and we have world-leading strengths in science and R&D – backed by our £20bn R&D target and introduction of policies like full-expensing,” they said.

“This will spur stronger growth, better jobs and bold new discoveries, bringing together the key technologies of tomorrow like quantum and AI, into a dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology for the first time.”

During Jeremy Hunt’s autumn budget, the UK’s science and technology sector survived a much feared spending cut – but those in the field warned that the government will need to do more to realise the UK’s potential as a “science superpower”.

Labour to turn fire on Rishi Sunak’s ‘failings’ over cost of living crisis in ad campaign blitz | Politics News

Labour will continue with its controversial attacks on Rishi Sunak by turning attention to government “failures” over the cost of living crisis.

The Labour leader has described the prime minister as the “chief architect of choices prioritising the wealthiest” as both parties gear up for the local elections next month.

In a letter to his shadow cabinet, Sir Keir Starmer said voters “must know that Rishi Sunak’s fingerprints are all over their struggling household budgets”.

In the memo, seen by Sky News, the Labour leader wrote: “With 24 days left until polling day we must continue to focus relentlessly on exposing the failures of 13 years of this divided and weak Conservative government and demonstrate how we would deliver for working people across the country.”

He added: “Rishi Sunak is the chief architect of choices prioritising the wealthiest and of the government’s failure to get a grip of the economy and get growth going.”

He accused Mr Sunak of “supplying the touchpaper for another Conservative government to blow up the economy” as chancellor and then continuing in No 10 to “make choices which loaded the costs on to working people”.

Sir Keir’s intervention comes after Labour came under fire for a series of adverts which critics have branded “gutter politics”.

The first ad, which was issued on Thursday, read: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.”

Labour Party Tweet on  Rishi Sunak's record on gun crime
Image:
Labour Party Tweet on Rishi Sunak’s record on gun crime

It cited data from the Ministry of Justice showing that 4,500 adults convicted of sex acts on children avoided a prison sentence since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

Despite the ensuing backlash that came from across the political spectrum, Labour issued a second tweet which accused Mr Sunak of being soft on gun grime and a third which suggested he didn’t think thieves should be punished.

Labour officials have been bullish over the weekend about the effectiveness of their ads, with briefings suggesting they would intensify their efforts despite the criticism.

One Labour source told Sky News: “It’s mission accomplished – we’ve dominated the news agenda and started a serious conversation about the Tories appalling record on crime.”

And in his letter to his top team, Sir Keir said the focus of their local election campaigning should move from crime to the cost of living.

Read more:
Labour takes inspiration from Australia with Sunak attack ads – but they need more to pull off a proper ousting
Labour tweets second attack ad against Rishi Sunak despite ‘gutter politics’ row

The Labour leader also reiterated directly to his colleagues that he “makes no apologies at all” for the ads despite the backlash.

In an article for the Daily Mail, Sir Keir said he “stand[s] by every word Labour has said on the subject, no matter how squeamish it might make some feel”.

Labour is hoping to reap the benefits of a depressed economy in the 4 May local elections in England, as the Tories continue to struggle in the polls.

However, a new voting intention poll by Redfield and Wilton Strategies showed that Labour is on 44%, a decrease of 1% since last week, while the Conservatives are on 30%, an increase of 2%.

It marks Labour’s narrowest lead over the Tories since Mr Sunak became prime minister in October.

On Tuesday Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves will highlight the party’s pledge to help more first-time buyers on to the housing ladder on a campaign visit to Brighton.

New analysis from the party shows that first-time buyers face a nearly £500 per month hike in mortgage bills in the wake of Liz Truss’s ill-fated mini-budget and interest rate rises.

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment.

Rishi Sunak’s family ‘reminded of rules’ by police after dog filmed without lead in Hyde Park | Politics News

Rishi Sunak’s family have been “reminded of the rules” by police after their dog was filmed without a lead on in London’s Hyde Park.

A video shared on social media appeared to show the prime minister’s labrador retriever roaming freely near a lake in the park.

The clip showed a notice board which said: “Dogs must be kept on leads”, before showing Mr Sunak and what appeared to be his wife putting the pet, named Nova, on a leash.

It was shared by a TikTok user who wrote: “Lol, as if Rishi Sunak put his dog on the lead when he saw me filming the sign saying dogs must be on a lead.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “We are aware of a video showing a dog being walked off the lead in Hyde Park.

“An officer, who was present at the time, spoke to a woman and reminded her of the rules. The dog was put back on the lead.”

31/10/2022. London, United Kingdom. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty buy poppies, and a special 'poppy' dog collar for their pet Labrador Nova, from representatives of the Royal British Legion outside 10 Downing Street. Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street
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Mr Sunak and his wife Akshata pictured with their dog in Downing Street. File pic

The Royal Parks website says dogs are welcome in all its parks “although there are some places where they are not allowed or must be kept on a lead”.

It says: “These are clearly indicated within each park and are usually ecologically sensitive sites, deer parks, children’s play areas, restaurants, cafes and some sports areas.”

Downing Street said it would not be commenting on the footage.

A spokesman for the prime minister told reporters: “I’m not going to be commenting on the filming of the prime minister’s family and private individuals.

“You can see the video, it speaks for itself.”

Pressed on whether Mr Sunak would be apologising for breaching the park’s rules, the spokesman replied: “As I say, I’m not going to comment on the video which you’ve seen.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, kept company by his red Labrador retriever puppy Nova, works on his budget speech. Pic: HM Treasury/Flickr
Image:
Pic: HM Treasury/Flickr

The Met said it would have no further involvement in the matter.

It is not the first time Mr Sunak has been contacted by police.

Earlier this year, the prime minister was fined for not wearing a seatbelt while filming a clip on Instagram to promote his levelling-up funding.

Downing Street apologised at the time, saying he “fully accepts this was a mistake”.

Mr Sunak has also been fined by the Met Police for breaking lockdown rules.

He and Mr Johnson were handed fixed penalty notices over a birthday held in Downing Street for the former prime minister when curbs were in place in June 2020.

Cabinet reshuffle: Greg Hands replaces Zahawi as Conservative Party chairman as Sunak’s first reshuffle begins, Sky News understands | Politics News

Greg Hands has replaced Nadhim Zahawi as Conservative Party chairman as Rishi Sunak begins the first reshuffle of his cabinet, Sky News understands.

Mr Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham, takes over the role that will involve leading the Tories through the next election, which they are currently set to lose to Labour.

His appointment comes just over a week after former chair Mr Zahawi was sacked over the handling of his tax affairs.

Sky News also understands business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Grant Shapps will be made energy security secretary in a newly created department dedicated to energy.

And former Tory leadership contender Kemi Badenoch is to be moved from international trade secretary to business and trade secretary, taking over part of the job Mr Shapps leaves vacant and maintaining her previous role.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan is understood to be moving to what Sky News believes will be the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology.

Who is Greg Hands?

Mr Hands is well-liked by fellow Tories and has been an MP since 2005, first in Hammersmith and Fulham, then Chelsea and Fulham since its creation in 2010.

Seen as a steady pair of hands, he has remained as a minister for the most part of the past eight years after first serving in David Cameron’s cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury.

A staunch remainer, he was demoted by Theresa May to a junior minister at the Department for International Trade then was also made Minister for London.

He resigned in 2018 over his opposition to Heathrow’s third runway but Boris Johnson returned him to trade policy minister before promoting him to business, energy and clean growth minister.

Liz Truss made him trade policy minister days before she stepped down and Mr Sunak kept him on.

The New York and UK state-school educated politician joined the Conservative Party as a student at Cambridge before spending eight years as a banker in London and New York.

A polyglot who speaks five European languages, Mr Hands’ gained his campaigning experience fairly early on in his political career when he had to fight for the newly formed Chelsea and Fulham seat after his constituency was split in two.

As a Tory councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham before becoming an MP, he built up a formidable reputation as a local campaigner, with an impressive knowledge for knowing local people’s names and issues they stood for, Conservative Home reported in 2014.

As party chairman, he will be in charge of helping the Tories fight the next election, which at the moment they are predicted to lose to Labour.

He also served as a whip then deputy chief whip under Mr Cameron so has experience in coordinating his fellow MPs – an essential to fight the next election.

Is Rishi Sunak’s five-point plan enough to turn the tide for the Tories? | Politics News

A term coined by Franklin D Roosevelt, “the first 100 days” has taken on a symbolic significance for political leaders as a benchmark to measure the early successes of a president – or, in our case, a prime minister.

But for Rishi Sunak, it has taken 71 days for the new PM to even set out a serious domestic policy speech, finally on Wednesday laying down his five priorities for his time at Number 10.

And what he has come up with misses the mark when it comes to grasping the nettle of the crisis Britain is now in.

PM accused of being ‘detached from reality’ by nursing union – politics latest

For this is a prime minister facing the worst strikes since the 1980s, as nurses, rail workers, paramedics, postal workers, border staff and other public sector employees, all walk out over pay.

The NHS is, according to many health leaders, facing the worst crisis in its history.

The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimates that 300 to 500 people a week are dying as a result of delays to emergency care – a figure challenged by NHS England.

People are struggling to see a GP and worrying about whether an ambulance will turn up in time if they have to dial 999.

And the rail network is crippled by rolling strikes.

Yet in his keynote speech, the prime minister had few answers to the issue of ending rail strikes or settling with nurses.

Instead, he set out a five-point plan on which the public should judge him – pledges to halve inflation, grow the economy, get national debt falling, cut NHS waiting lists and pass laws to stop small boat crossings

He told the public he was not going to be one of those politicians who “promise the earth and then fail to deliver” (in an apparent dig at his two predecessors) and would focus on what he identified were the people’s priorities – the high cost of living, NHS waiting times and illegal migration.

And he should be confident he can deliver, given that pretty much all of his five pledges are already in train.

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Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby asks the prime minister: ‘How are you different to your predecessors?’

His economic pledges – halving inflation, growing the economy, getting national debt falling – look very simple to meet given that these are targets economists expect to happen too.

Inflation is expected to halve from its 11% high this year, while some forecasters expect the economy to be growing by the end of 2023.

As for reducing public debt, the prime minister has set this out as a medium-term goal, so it’s already baked into his plans.

When it comes to cutting NHS lists – latest figures have those waiting for treatment in England at 7.2 million – NHS England has already set out a plan of reducing wait times over several years, with the prime minister repeating the promise to get waiting times falling without setting out fresh targets.

Under current plans, waits of longer than a year for elective care are to be eliminated by March 2025, while the ambition is that 95% of patients needing a diagnostic test receive it within six weeks by the same deadline.

If he sticks to this plan, Mr Sunak could claim success without the country necessarily feeling it.

And his final pledge, to pass laws to stop small boat crossings, has already been announced by the PM.

Last month, Mr Sunak promised new legislation to tackle small boat crossings as a record near 46,000 people crossing the channel on small boats in 2022.

His plan is to bring in new legislation that would bar anyone entering the UK illegally the right to remain in the UK.

So if the pledge is to pass laws to stop small boat crossings, he’ll deliver it.

But how effective the government will be in actually stopping the crossings or returning people to their countries of origins remains to be seen, given that many people will come from countries to which they cannot be returned. This could prove a pledge that is hardest to deliver.

Is it enough?

Mr Sunak ended his speech saying he’d only make promises on what he can deliver and will deliver on what he’s promised. And by that yardstick, he’ll probably be able to claim success.

But the reality of what the country is experiencing right now is far removed from his five-point plan.

And with the Conservatives still 20 points behind in the polls, the bigger question for this government and the Tory party is whether what Mr Sunak is offering is anywhere near enough to turn the tide.