September Political Intelligence
On the eve of Britain’s departure from the European Union, the MAC have published a report analysing the impact of migration on the UK. Whilst being explicit in their political neutrality, particularly with regards to Brexit, the report states clearly that there should be no preferential access for European low skilled migrants over the rest of the work and that the current cap on low skilled immigration should be removed.
A particularly high profile component of the report was the recommendation that university students should be included in UK’s net migration figures. This approach has raised concerns with several institutions of higher education pointing out that aligning the rhetoric of depressing migration numbers acts as a disincentive to international students. The Government is likely to have to reconsider its position on this point amid growing pressure not only to abandon its migration targets, but also to challenge the recommendation of its independent migration advisory committee.
For fashion, the concerns remain around sourcing lower paid, skilled workers, whose wages fall below the £30,000 per annum wages bar of visa systems, such as Tier 2, to service the production of UK-made clothing and jewellery. Nonetheless, a more open engagement with non-EU migration is likely to improve the flexibility of workers and further entrench seasonal flows of labour.
Fashion in Parliament – Latest News
September marks the beginning of conference season, and for this month’s political intelligence we will be looking into the key themes and talking points from the Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative conferences.
Political parties host conferences every year, as a way of building a new policy agenda and galvanising support from their core base. The events are a balance of senior figures giving policy speeches, and fringe events. Often, the true mood of the party and its members can be read through these smaller more niche side events. Unsurprisingly, Brexit dominated the fringes of all conferences and gave an opportunity for backbenchers to raise their concerns about party performance on the issue.
Lib Dem Conference
The Lib Dem press office, once revered in the early days of the Corbyn Labour Party, will be holding their heads in their hands as the only real media attention their conference got was their leader’s “exotic spresm” gaff. Vince Cable has had a challenging time as the leader and this conference was important for establishing his credibility, as the rumours mount of his imminent departure.
Sadly, poor turnout and a demotivated crowd did little to revitalise a political party who should be attracting large swathes of the electorate, given their strong position on Brexit.
Gina Miller, now a political powerhouse, gave the most emphatic and impressive speech of the conference. Following on from her humiliation of the Government in the Supreme Court, over Parliament’s right to vote, Miller took to the stage to engage the party she described as having a "reasonable, sensible, conciliatory" approach to Brexit. Whilst explicitly pointing out that she is not a member of a political party, and is not interested in the Lib Dem leadership, she took comfort in the ranks of the Lib Dems and received the most impassioned clap of the conference.
This conference, like the Liberal Democrats in UK politics now, falls in clear third place. Missing the mark on substance, this conference has not provided the refreshed answer to Brexit and conservatism that it needed to.
Labour Party Conference
In the lead up to Labour’s event in Liverpool, talk was dominated by what rule changes would be instigated by the National Executive Committee (NEC), now completely staffed by Momentum endorsed candidates. Whispers of mandatory re-selection were only slightly louder than those considering a people’s vote.
In the end, both areas received a lukewarm official response as Momentum clashed heavily and publicly with the trade unions. It is now easier for members to dislodge a local MP, but the changes are a far-cry from the primary-style option that Momentum’s flashy video advocated for in advance of the conference beginning.
On Brexit, the official statement endorsed by the conference was complete waffle, providing enough flexibility for the Party to simultaneously do everything and nothing. Clearly hearing the groans from supporters of the people’s vote, who had marched in their thousands around Liverpool, Keir Starmer dedicated a day of conference to managing criticisms of the statement and explicitly pointing out that Labour would support a people’s vote should their red lines not be met. Reflecting on the now concluded conference, his was the star performance.
Despite the areas the press anticipated would draw the most attention, Corbyn and McDonnell received popular support as they used this conference to present a more radical socialist agenda than that featured in the 2017 manifesto. Handing ownership and increased rights to workers now sits alongside rail nationalisation as a key pledge from the party going into the next election. Jon Ashworth and Angela Rayner gave similarly professional speeches representing their policy areas and altogether the conference felt a little more like an event you would expect of an organisation capable of Governing.
Labour needed this conference to move away from the headlines, bad press and infighting they have been overwhelmed by this summer, and largely this objective was successfully realised. Nonetheless, there is a creeping urge that the divided factions within Labour are only becoming more distinct on Brexit, economic policy and party organisation.
Conservative Party Conference
Getting off to a much slower start than Labour conference, Conservative Party conference crescendoed with rallying speeches by both Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister. However, whilst Brexit was the main talking point, the conference delivered some crucial domestic policy discussions – a clear tactic to try and ensure the Conservatives remain a party of Government.
Michael Gove offered a rare nugget of engaged domestic policy, as he announced DEFRA’s new food waste reduction programme. Since coming into the Environment secretary role, Gove has attracted strong support for what many see as a progressive policy agenda. Tackling plastic, microbeads and now food waste, this is exactly the sort of ‘middle of the road’ policy that a political party needs to convert those ‘maybe’ voters.
Ruth Davidson continued as the Tories alternative celebrity, continuing her marked work in battling the 2015 rise of the Scottish National Party. Davidson came out in strong support for the Prime Minister, urging her colleagues to get behind the Government’s plan for Brexit. This sentiment was echoed by other senior figures: Philip Hammond, Sajid Javid and Matt Hancock. The Chancellor even made Chequers a central focus of his speech, indicating it was a ‘deal enabling’ option.
In the background, however, the unrelenting power of Boris rumbled on. His speech the night before the Prime Minister’s keynote was strongly attended and has largely dominated the press now that the conference is over. Citing 14th Century legislation in his now enduring style, the former Foreign Secretary argued that Chequers was a betrayal and would only deepen the divides facing this country. In a moment many around the country and Europe will strongly identify with, Boris suggested people were sick of only talking about Europe and Brexit – there are important domestic issues that need to be addressed. His move for the leadership cannot be far off, as several MPs have strongly come out in support of him in the previous few days.
Nonetheless, dancing her way onto the stage, the Prime Minister delivered a commended speech, in which she suggested a good leader must act in the national interest and focus on more than their own beliefs. This silent dig at Boris proves that the Prime Minister is not giving up her place in Number 10 yet, and is fully set on fighting for Chequers up until Brexit day next year. Adding in a popular attack on Corbyn’s Labour, this felt like a more comfortable and confident speech, especially when compared to the cough-sweet laced debacle a year earlier.
The Conservative Party hangs in a fine balance as it battles the need for clear Governance, and internal difference on Europe. Boris is a force that is only growing stronger, but this conference was good for the Prime Minister, and she will return to Brussels next week ready to continue with her objectives.