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2023 in UK Politics

It has been a very busy year in UK politics… a year of reshuffles, resets, and revolts.


A quick recap


January 

  • The UK Government published Minimum Service Levels 2023 for the Bill for public services when they try and strike.

  • The UK Government announced they will block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (Scotland) because of concerns about UK equality laws.


February 

  • The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a Cabinet Reshuffle. 

  • West Lancashire by-election: Labour hold the seat. 

  • Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP. 

  • Keir Starmer outlines his five key issues: higher economic growth, clean energy, improving the NHS, reforming the justice system, and raising education standards. 

  • Sunak and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland called the Windsor Framework. 


March

  • The Commons Select Committee of Privileges finds that former PM Boris Johnson may have deliberately misled Parliament over Partygate. 

  • Home Secretary Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Migration Bill.

  • The Birmingham to Crewe leg of HS2 is delayed by two years to save costs. 

  • Jeremy Hunt presents the 2023 budget. 

  • TikTok is banned from ministers' and other employees' devices within the UK political systems due to security concerns about China in 

  • Humza Yousaf becomes the Leader of the SNP. 


April

  • The UK Government announces plans to use the barge Bibby Stockholm to house 500 male migrants. 

  • Dominic Rabb resigns after a report finds he acted in a bullying manner with civil servants. 


May

  • The 2023 Local Elections are held and there are significant losses for the Conservatives whilst Labour and the Lib Dems gain control of some Councils. 

  • Boris Johnson is referred to the police again by The Cabinet Office after more accusations of rule-breaking during COVID-19. 


June

  • The Atlantic Declaration is announced which will strengthen economic ties between the UK and the US. 

  • Four Conservative MPs stand down, Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries,  Nigel Adams, and David Warburton.

  • A report by MPs concluded that Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament over 'Partygate.' 

  • Rwanda Asylum Plan is deemed unlawful in a three-judge decision. 


July 

  • UK Government loses a High Court bid to prevent the COVID-19 Inquiry from seeing Boris Johnson’s diaries and WhatsApp messages. 

  • The parliament's complaints system is told to improve after some misconduct allegations by MPs are brought forward. 

  • MPs overturn the 20 changes made in the House of Lords to the Illegal Migration Bill. 

  • By-elections are held in: 


August

  • Nadine Dorries officially resigns. 

  • Rachel Reeves rules out wealth tax if Labour become the next government.

  • Rishi Sunak carries out a mini-reshuffle. 


September 

  • Keir Starmer completes a Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle. 

  • UK rejoins the EU’s Horizon Europe program. 

  • Christopher Pincher resigns triggering a by-election. 

  • Parliamentary Standards Committee finds that Sunak broke the MP's code of conduct when his wife failed to properly declare her interests in a childminding company. 

  • Online Safety Bill Passes. 

  • Keir Starmer meets Emmanuel Macron. 

  • Sunak repeals several policies to help the UK reach its commitment to Zero by 2050. 


October

  • The Manchester portion of the HS2 rail link will be asked. 

  • A Levels and T levels will be replaced. 

  • Fighting begins between Israel and Gaza. 

  • Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak deliver their keynote speeches at their respective party conferences. 

  • Labour win both By-Elections in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth.


November 

  • The 2023 AI Safety Summit is held in Bletchley Park. 

  • The 2023 State Opening of Parliament is held. 

  • the Prime Minister completes his Cabinet Reshuffle. 

  • David Cameron returned to Parliament and became Foreign Secretary. 

  • The Government's plan to deport migrants to Rwanda to ruled as unlawful by the Supreme Court. 

  • UK Autumn Statement is delivered. 


December 

  • COP28 is held. 

  • The Government won a new Bill on Rwanda declaring it safe. 



A long read


Let’s start with the Conservative Party. At the start of the year, Rishi Sunak continued to enjoy his honeymoon period, with many backbenchers praising the stability that he brought to the role of Prime Minister. Fast forward nearly a year and his Party’s position is just as bleak in opinion polling, reinforced by numerous by-election defeats (and one victory eked out in Uxbridge). 


Sunak, realising the task ahead of him, took a major gamble in setting-out five key missions at the beginning of the year to; halve inflation, stop the boats, grow the economy, cut NHS waiting lists, and cut debt. 


All of this has damaged Sunak’s only strength which he initially brought to the role - his image of ‘stability’. Throughout the year, the Prime Minister has been accused of lurching from one plan to another in order to combat the UK’s mounting domestic policy challenges, with no clear strategy other than his ‘five missions’. His resets which included his net-zero policy reversal, HS2 cancellation, the party conference and his reshuffle which brought former Prime Minister David Cameron in as Foreign Secretary, have actually been counter-intuitive for the Prime Minister, presenting him as just as chaotic as his predecessor, Liz Truss. 


It is likely that the Prime Minister will not start his 2024 off with a bang, as a direct result of failing four of his five missions. He has unquestionably passed his commitment to halve inflation, which was near 11% at the start of the year and is now hovering at 4%. Whether the Prime Minister had much influence over that rather than the Bank of England, we will leave to the academics. 


Sunak is expected to fail his other four missions. Small boats crossings continue, NHS waiting lists have now hit over seven million, debt continues to increase in relation to GDP, and economic growth is flatlined. The Labour Party will of course seize upon the opportunity to rub salt in the wounds, but more importantly to Sunak will be the impact of this failure among his own MPs, who are gradually beginning to believe that the Prime Minister has already run out of steam. 


The Prime Minister is however fortunate in that the Conservative Party knows that it cannot parachute another leader in ahead of the next General Election, lest it invites an even larger wrath of the electorate. The question many in No.10 will be asking this Christmas is whether there is anything that Rishi Sunak can do to impact opinion polling and increase their chances at the General Election. 


HOWEVER - it is not just the Prime Minister that is impacting the Party’s chances in the coming election. It is the Party’s brand itself. A slew of scandals which have led to by-elections, an inability to bring the warring factions together, and a general public sentiment that the Party continues to be ‘out of touch’ is a main driving force for the sluggishness of its polling performance. Many polls have the Prime MInister’s ratings in negative territory, but the wider Party’s numbers are also just as bad. 


This crystalised this year with the ‘Rwanda Plan’, a hallmark of the PM’s plan to tackle illegal migration by sending asylum seekers who have crossed the channel in small boats to Rwanda. Enter… the ‘Safety of Rwanda Bill’, a hallmark piece of emergency legislation designed to ‘deem’ Rwanda a safe country under UK law, in order to circumvent existing human rights legislation that keeps asylum seekers in the UK. 


There is one issue though. There is currently no version of the Safety of Rwanda Bill that can marry together the right wing factions of the Conservatives with the moderates in the Party. The moderate ‘One Nation’ caucus has said that it could vote for the Bill as it is, and did so in its second reading. The issue though is that right wing caucuses such as the New Conservatives, the Common Sense Group and the European Research Group have promised to amend it in Committee Stage and vote it down should these amendments not make it to the Third Reading. 


This issue, unfortunately, will not go away for the Prime Minister in the New Year and could very well trigger a General Election if his vote fails and is proven to not have the confidence of the House. Advisors around the Prime Minister in No.10 must be asking themselves how they have backed themselves into a corner whereby the hill that the Government could die on is over a Bill titled the ‘Safety of Rwanda Bill’. 


Up next, the Labour Party. It won’t ruffle many feathers to say that Sir Keir Starmer has had a ‘good’ year, and to also say that only an unforeseen seismic event now can prevent a Labour Government. The Party’s lead in opinion polls has held up stubbornly throughout the year at around 18%. The Party has also had substantial by-election victories in Selby & Ainsty, Tamworth, Mid Bedfordshire and Rutherglen and Hamilton West. If replicated at a General Election, these sorts of swings would give the Party a monumental majority. The leadership is keen however to stamp down on complacency or any hint of arrogance, as we know polls have a tendency to quickly tighten in UK elections. 


Electorally, one of Starmer’s advantages is that, despite his own tepid favorability ratings, they aren’t quite as bad as Rishi Sunak’s, who the Conservative Party knows must stay in place until the election. Starmer is therefore lucky that not only is he facing an unpopular Prime Minister (under current polling), but one that the Labour Party knows will still be in place going into the General Election. This makes their political strategy a lot easier. 


But this year has not come without its challenges for Sir Keir. The Israel / Palestine conflict presented Keir Starmer with his first major leadership test, with a substantial split forming its way through the Party. The Socialist Campaign Group made up of former Jeremy Corbyn supporters is assertively pro-Palestine, and has made use of every opportunity to attack the leader for not backing a ceasefire. To date, Starmer has managed to stem much of this rebellion. As the crisis progresses and the death toll increases however, many of his moderate MPs will be calling on him to back a ceasefire.


Additionally, the Leader continues to wrestle with voters' ambivalence towards him. Starmer continues to be plagued in focus groups by voters who still ‘do not know what he stands for’, and even go as far to accuse him of saying what he thinks must be said to secure votes, rather than having his own convictions. 


There is light at the end of the political tunnel for Starmer, given that Labour has purposefully withheld its policy platform until the election cycle, in order to avoid years of criticism from the Tory machine. It is a predicament that many Leaders of the Opposition have faced in the past, making their job difficult due to the lack of cut-through. But Sir Keir has managed to do this successfully while maintaining a strong lead in the polls. With a General Election expected in May 2024, we may start to see more policy detail from the Labour Party in the New Year. 


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