Political happenings in the coming month
Despite a relatively quiet Queen’s Speech, if you thought a week was a long time in politics, June may be an interesting month…
Investigatory Powers Bill
On the legislation side, the Investigatory Powers Bill returns to the Commons today (6 June) after being ‘carried over’ from the previous session. While the public at large will likely be more focused on welfare issues and the economy, support from within the Government’s own benches is not universal. Stephen McPartland MP has argued that the Bill ‘provides too many organisations with too many intrusive powers. For example, we are giving the Food Standards Agency and Gambling Commission the same powers as the police and security services to monitor what websites have been visited.’
Subject to a running battle with privacy campaigners, the Bill includes changes to powers available to law enforcement and security agencies, as well as the retention of people’s browsing history. Some measures continue to come in for criticism, but there have been concessions from the Government as a result of pre-legislative scrutiny, such as stronger safeguards and a commitment to work closely with industry to develop implementation plans. Nonetheless, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham MP has called for further changes, including around protecting journalistic sources.
Today will see a Programme Motion and then the start of the Report Stage, with the Third Reading already slated for Tuesday. After that, the Bill will move to the House of Lords. While the Government still doesn’t have a working majority there, will its concessions be enough to see it through?
Something about Europe
Yes, Europe. You may have seen something about it on the news. The impending 23 June referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union has never been far away from our TV screens, radios, mobile devices, or newspapers.
While some pollsters (but not all) put the ‘Brexit’ and ‘Bremain’ camps neck and neck, at the time of writing the bookies still had shorter odds for the latter. And on the subject of making money – aside from Vote Leave’s £50 million Champion’s League contest – then you may be interested in reports that hedge funds have commissioned private exit polls to get ahead in currency trading before the official result.
If the media coverage of the campaigns is anything to go by, then the numbers do matter. Whether it is claims about how much UK taxpayer money goes to Brussels, or how much the economy may or may not suffer if the vote goes Brexit, numbers and pounds have featured as prominently, if not more so, as the more philosophical arguments about independence, stability or culture.
In fact, voters have been bombarded by so many statistics that some third parties have called foul, with the UK Statistics Authority criticising claims on Brexit campaign literature, and the Treasury Committee attacking both sides for ‘lurid claims and counter-claims’ which it argues are confusing the public and ‘impoverishing political debate’.
So if you’re suffering from statistic and election fatigue and wished it was all over already, some light relief might come in the form of YouGov’s poll of how people think British fictional characters might vote (the Vicar of Dibley tops the ‘In’ list, while Jim Royale from the Royle Family would vote ‘Out’, allegedly). If however you’re not suffering from statistic and election fatigue and can’t get enough, then click here for further details on a Weber Shandwick Brexit breakfast event on 8 June. There will be croissants.
Ok, so this one’s technically happening in July, but I was told this blog post needed a sexier title. And it’s fair to say that the political positioning has already begun and is likely to continue ahead of the 6 July publication of the Chilcot Report – the culmination of the seven-year inquiry into the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath.
At more than two million words, this blog post isn’t going to join the ranks of speculation as to what may or may not be in the report, but while the Conservative Party themselves supported the invasion in 2003 – unlike the current Labour leader – Chilcot is still likely to provide the Prime Minister with ample ammunition to attack the Opposition and the legacy of some of the Labour Party’s most senior figures.
Despite Team Corbyn’s criticism of the invasion and those deemed responsible, and its popular appeal to the anti-war grassroots, it will nonetheless be in the uncomfortable position of trying to distance itself from decisions taken by the only Labour leader to have won a general election since 1974. The SNP will likely try to attack both past and current governments, but after the divisive issue of Europe, Cameron will likely be keen to make the most of the opportunity to turn up the heat on the Labour benches before the recess.
But before MPs start enjoying West Country cream teas or heading further afield, a few will be keeping an eye on the rumbling story of election expenses, which follows an investigation by Channel 4 into whether parties properly declared campaign spending for the general election as well as three by-elections.
A number of police forces are now investigating whether election law was broken. Devon and Cornwall Police have brought in an outside force, given potential links with their new Police and Crime Commissioner, who was previously the Conservative’s election agent for Torbay.
In some of the constituencies affected the difference between first and second place in last year’s election was only a few thousand (or a few hundred in the three cases of Bury North, Weaver Vale and Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport). It is too early to say whether any of the investigations might lead to by-elections being called, but while these are currently too few seats to change the Government, the Conservatives won’t be keen on seeing any reduction to their slim majority of 17.
Combined with the fallout from the EU referendum and Chilcot publication, by the time we come to Parliament rising on 21 July, both the main parties will be ready for the summer.