The Week in Westminster – Back to Bedlam

Friday 23rd January

This week our Execs, Sam Oakley, Nathan Jones and Ben Winter have written the weekly Westminster round up for the Public Affairs Network


Putting it Bluntly

There was an enjoyable exchange of open letters in the Guardian this week between the singer James Blunt and Chris Bryant, Labour’s recently reshuffled Shadow Minister for Culture on privilege, class and the arts. While this was a classic Westminster storm-in-a-teacup (heralding a surprise comeback for the insult, ‘wazzock’) , it does beg the bigger question of how the newer brood of Labour frontbenchers deals with the politics of class and inequality – an issue they may look to put at the heart of the election debate.

This week also saw a pointed intervention from Lord Mandelson, who attacked Labour’s Mansion Tax proposals for being “crude and short-termist”. The New Labour grandee has developed a habit of making timely appearances which gently remind his successors of the phenomenal electoral success of his project, and it would be surprising if this were to prove his last foray between now and May…


Akers and Pains

A strange week for Ukip, whose internal machinations are becoming more and more fascinating. With rumours of a rift between Douglas Carswell (the man who would be King) and Nigel Farage being fanned, quashed and then reignited, the Party sacked its manifesto-writer Tim Aker. Aker, a Ukip MEP, borough councillor and PPC for the hotly-contested Thurrock seat is viewed by some a future leader of the party, but was forced to give up his role as the policy chief for the ‘People’s Army’. It was suggested in some circles that with a deadline of Ukip’s spring conference rapidly approaching for publication of a fully-fleshed out policy platform, Aker had produced “just a series of bullet points”.


Grass is always Greener?

Outside of Caroline Lucas being elected for Brighton Pavilion in 2010, this week was one of the best on record for the Green Party. David Cameron’s insistence on their inclusion in any leaders’ debates has seen the party enjoy some Westminster limelight, with Lord Ashcroft’s poll this week putting them at a record 11 per cent. With the party’s membership also now outstripping Ukip and close to that of the Lib Dems, it is only natural that their policy platform will come under a little scrutiny and the Telegraph jumped at the chance. Matt Holehouse noted: “In the short term, a Green administration would impose a string of new taxes, ramp up public spending to unprecedented levels and decriminalise drugs, brothels and membership of terrorist groups. In the long term, they want to fundamentally change life as we know it.” With the confirmation that the BBC and ITV will now include the Greens in any debates, expect the Labour Party to pounce on these revelations with glee.


Life in the zombie parliament yet…

Lest we forget, there is still some activity in Parliament despite the media focus on the longest election campaign in history. On Wednesday evening, in the unlikely setting of an adjournment debate, the Government announced it is to bring regulations on plain packaging of tobacco before the House shortly – quite literally stealing Labour’s words in pledging to work towards a ‘smoke-free generation’.

The Government also reacted to the Smith Commission on Scottish ‘Home Rule’ with its hope of creating ‘an enduring settlement’. However within minutes of publication the wind was punched out of their proverbial bagpipes with Nicola Sturgeon calling for an urgent rethink and labelling the legislation a “significant watering down” of what was promised.

And, like tabloid nudity, the debate around Trident renewal refuses to go away. A soft-core of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens (supported by Labour members including the honourable member for the socialist republic of Islington North) continued to bang the drum for unilateral nuclear disarmament, the arguments for which apparently have an extensive half-life. The debate – one of the most heralded of the week – is likely to make a decidedly non-nuclear impact.

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