This week has been a week of spring cleaning in UK politics and beyond. In numerous political and government settings, we have seen departures from the old, and a warm(ish) welcome to the new.
The UK Government solidified its post-Brexit trade approach by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) this week. The announcement played in public debate along typical Brexit dividing lines. While many will see this ascension as being the first step to broader trading relations with the Indo-Pacific region, the figures do not yet reflect much of a benefit to the UK. The Government’s own estimates for example predict that joining the CPTPP will add a mere 0.08% to the UK’s GDP over the next decade. This is largely due to India and China not being members of the partnership.
In another announcement this week that was somewhat overlooked in the media, came the news that the BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) + the UAE have overtaken the G7 economies in their economic output. This is mostly driven by the emergence of India as an economic powerhouse, as well as China’s continued growth, and likely hampered by Russia’s economy which is currently languishing under the stress of Western sanctions due to the Ukraine war. The emergence of this trading block as a direct competitor to the G7 could put further impetus on the Government, currently trying to deter the narrative of declinism in the west, to deliver a more aggressive trade agenda with countries such as India, to cure the UK’s current export woes.
North of the border, we have seen a spring clean in Scottish politics too. As Nicola Sturgeon exited stage-left, Humza Yousaf entered the role of Scottish First Minister, with that classic margin of 52% of the membership vote, compared to 48% to Kate Forbes. Within hours of Yousaf taking up the role, Kate Forbes had resigned from the Scottish Government. Yousaf, seen as the Sturgeon continuity candidate, outlined in his first address to the Nation that he would continue with the former First Minister’s controversial gender recognition reforms. Coinciding with Yousaf’s ascension came a slew of opinion polling showing the Labour Party making quick gains over the SNP in Scotland, with most companies now showing a minute single figure lead for the incumbent party. This will come as welcome news to the Leader of the Opposition’s Office, which now estimates that the SNP implosion and continued rift could give Labour 15-20 seats at the next General Election.
And speaking of Labour, Keir Starmer continued to tighten his group over constituency parties and the candidate selection process this week. As the next General Election could be as close as a year away, the Labour Party are pressing ahead with selecting Parliamentary candidates. Throughout the selection process, former Corbyn loyalists have been routed from the Party, as centrist candidates have been prioritised. It is safe to say that no leader has ever had such a grip on the internal mechanisms of the Party. And with Labour having its best polling lead since the late 00s, and the stakes being so high, who can blame the leader for ousting the purism that’s been leftover from the Corbyn years? Rumours are that the Labour Party looks to select up to 40 more candidates in marginal seats by the end of the summer, clearing the way for the General Election campaign.
But before we get caught up in General Election fever, Labour must first deliver a successful local elections performance - which it plans to do on the back of a promise of a council tax freeze. We also saw the Conservatives launch their local campaign this week, which saw little pick-up from the national media, as well as Ed Davey launching his Lib Dem assault on the ‘blue wall’ from Berkhamsted.