Politics review #5

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Is anarchy the answer?

Welcome back to Politics review. There’s lots of juicy content this week — get stuck in!

 Mayoral election latest

  • Read our EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with George Ferguson, the Mayor of Bristol, here!
  • George Ferguson also wrote a piece for the Huffington Post in which he defended his record as mayor and discussed social inequality.
  • The Green Party’s Tony Dyer launched his mayoral campaign, matching Labour candidate Marvin Rees’s pledge to build 8000 new homes by 2020.


Last month, a number of left-wing musicians, poets and comedians came to Colston Hall in Bristol as part of a nationwide tour in support of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. Billy Bragg was in attendance, as was Marvin Rees. He gave an eight-minute speech, in which he outlined some of his policies. He announced his plan to launch a bid for Bristol to become the European Capital of Culture if elected mayor in May.

Also present was Mark Serwotka, who recently ran into a bit of controversy.

Here is an interesting article about another JC4PM event, only up in Scotland.

There have been some exciting developments in the betting markets since the last Politics review. In one day, Paul Saville rose from 200/1 to 100/1 and Marvin Rees from 2/1 to 15/8. Then, less than a week later, Rees rose even higher to 7/4, where he has now sat for about ten days. In terms of percentages, Rees’s chances of winning the race climbed from 33%, to 35%, to 36% — all in one week. Our political editor isn’t entirely sure what, if any, external events triggered these changes. Ferguson is still in the lead, with a 58% chance of winning the race, and no one else comes close to him besides Rees. You can see the table in its entirety below:

Latest odds on 2016 Mayoral Election
Candidate Odds
George Ferguson (Bristol 1st) 1/2
Marvin Rees (Labour) 7/4
Charles Lucas (Conservative) 16/1
Tony Dyer (Green) 33/1
Kay Barnard (Liberal Democrat) 100/1
Laurence Duncan (Independent) 100/1
Paul Saville (Independent) 100/1
John Langley (Independent) 200/1
Christine Townsend (Independent) 200/1
Don’t understand odds? See here.
Source: Ladbrokes, as of 14 March 2016.

Debbonaire is back

Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West, returned to Westminster last week, having been away for nine months recovering from breast cancer. She sat in the House of Commons during Justice Questions, and when Graham Allen MP asked the Justice Secretary whether he would welcome her back, Michael Gove obliged, remarking:

May I take up the honourable Gentleman’s kind offer, because we are all delighted to see the honourable member for Bristol West back in her place—fully recovered, I hope—and look forward to her playing a prominent part in our debates in future; she is a real asset to the House.

Debbonaire told ITV News that playing the cello helped her cope with her illness.

Politician watch

Questions to the Prime Minister and to the the Minister of State for Skills and Equalities (at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills)

Karin Smyth got to open Prime Minister’s Questions last week, standing up to say:

Question one, Mr Speaker.

The question in question is:

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 March?

This is just tradition. The Prime Minister then has to say:

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

This officially gets the session going. Then, Smyth got to ask her real question, which was:

People in Bristol South look forward to their share of the Government’s promised 3 million apprenticeships but they question how this is going to happen. On the eve of national apprenticeship week, can the Prime Minister tell us: does he have a delivery plan or is he making it up as he goes along?

The Prime Minister then replied:

We achieved 2 million in the last Parliament, we are confident of achieving 3 million in this Parliament and we do have a delivery plan. It is based on large companies continuing with their plans for apprenticeships; we want small companies to do more; we want the public sector to join in with larger apprenticeship plans; and we regularly review progress towards the target.

Smyth then followed up on this with another question the next day, this time to Nick Boles, the minister in charge of apprenticeships. She asked:

Bristol South sends the fewest young people to university in the country, so I view apprenticeships as the key to aspiration and share the Minister’s evangelicalism. On his way back from Taunton in the west country, if he wants to stop off in Bristol South to see some of the work that we are doing, he will be most welcome.

Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister whether he had a delivery plan or was making up the policy as he went along; others have described it as iterative and agile. We await the details of the levy, of how the targets will work in practice, and of how colleges and other providers will be supported in their important work. Given that there is a desire to speak with one voice across the House on this subject, will the Minister please say a little more about when the delivery plan will be forthcoming?

Boles responded:

The honourable Lady is right that we have many questions to answer, because we are making substantial policy interventions to try to ensure that we meet our targets for both numbers and quality. If those questions are not fully answered in April, I will be severely disappointed.

And that’s the end of that, for now — I will update the House in April.

  • Happy National Apprenticeship Week! Sajid Javid MP, who grew up in Bristol, is responsible for apprenticeships as he is the Business Secretary.
  • On Wednesday, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will present his latest budget to the House of Commons.

Christians in Politics

Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, and Marvin Rees, Labour’s mayoral candidate, teamed up to discuss their faith and how it relates to politics at a ‘campaigning roadshow’ organised by a group called Christians in Politics in collaboration with Christian Aid and The Children’s Society1.

The event promised to teach attendees the skills to campaign in their churches and communities.

Rees, speaking at the event, remarked:

We have a world in which some people flourish and other people die. How do we create a society in which everyone can flourish? Surely this is a spiritual question.

  • Harry Leslie Smith, the 93 year-old writer, Labour supporter, and RAF veteran, came down to Bristol last week to campaign for Marvin Rees. He wrote a piece for Bristol 24/7, which you can read here.

Arena Ne Pas Arriver?

A decision on the Bristol Arena, one of George Ferguson’s flagship policies, has been delayed by city councillors, whom the mayor has accused of “playing politics”. The councillors have, in turn, responded fairly negatively to this comment. Councillor Peter Abraham said “safety concerns” had brought about the delay.

One of the main disputes is over Ferguson’s refusal to build a large car park.

Former Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams continues his mission to uncover the truth about the Green Capital funds. Here is the Bristol Post’s summary of recent events, including a ‘farcical’ council meeting.

Mogg watch

Alfred the Great, after whom Jacob Rees-Mogg has named his son. Photo by Odejea (Wikimedia Commons)

Alfred the Great, after whom Jacob Rees-Mogg has named his son.
Photo by Odejea (Wikimedia Commons)

First, an apology. I have written a bit too much about North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg this week. But there’s just been so much!

Last month, he became a father for the fifth time, calling his son Alfred Wulfric Leyson Pius Mogg:

  • Alfred, after Alfred the Great, a ninth century King of Wessex (pictured).
  • Wulfric, after Wulfric of Haselbury, a miracle worker who was born in a village in Mr Rees-Mogg’s constituency.
  • Leyson, after Louis Leyson Rees-Mogg, who died at Gallipoli in 1915.
  • Pius, after Pope Pius IX, one of the longest reigning popes in history (Rees-Mogg is a Roman Catholic).

However, the Mail on Sunday’s political gossip column reports that he almost named his son ‘Boris Michael’, after the two high-profile Conservative MPs who had just joined the ‘Out’ campaign in the EU referendum.

Then, he sparked a ‘diplomatic row’ by accusing John Kerry, the US Secretary of State who had just spoken out against Brexit, of being a “terrorist sympathiser” for opposing a treaty in the 1980s which would have allowed for the deportation of IRA activists from the States to the UK. “He is no friend of Britain,” Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs.

In the meantime, he gave an interview to The Times (paywall). Here are a few highlights:

  • Interviewer: When did you realise you were better off than most? JRM: “It was probably when I went to school and realised not everybody lived in two places.”
  • JRM: “I have not watched The X Factor.”
  • Interviewer: And say you were to make PM one day, would nanny be in the cabinet? What would she be best at? Chancellor? Foreign secretary? JRM: “Nanny would be brilliant at everything.”
  • JRM at the age of twelve: “I started out Labour to be different from the rest of the family – they’re all Tories – but then Labour announced they would bring in a wealth tax. Since I plan to be wealthy, I was very off this, so I buttoned my anorak over dozens of stickers, walked into Transport House and yelled, ‘Vote for Maggie.’ ”
  • On his degree: “I got a 2:1. It’s not a first, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
  • On Jeremy Corbyn: “He is very principled and he is very brave. Also very wrong, but he probably thinks I’m very wrong, too.”

The boundary review, set to reduce the number of seats in the House of Commons from 650 to 600, has just begun. The Avon areas is ‘entitled’ to 10.48 seats, yet currently has 11. According to analysis for The Times (paywall):

It would probably be necessary to create an Avon-Somerset straddle seat. There would be complex and far-reaching changes in this area to resolve some relatively small discrepancies in electorate. Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset, a sometime critic of the boundary proposals) would see his constituency radically altered because Bath would need to expand.

  • Speaking of Alfred the Great, a band called Cherry Ghost did a good song with his name as its title. Check it out!

Not so Fantastic Mr Fox?

Last month, I published an article called Fantastic Mr Fox, in which I speculated on Liam Fox’s Tory leadership chances. So imagine my surprise when the very next day I received an email in my inbox titled ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’. This email was about a piece published on the New Statesman which criticised Fox for the actions that led to his resignation as Defence Secretary and 2011, and declared him unsuitable for the post of Conservative leader, let alone Prime Minister.

Fox is down three points from last month in ConservativeHome’s latest leadership survey. His fight to leave the EU continues, describing the Brexit Campaign as a ‘peasants’ revolt’.

EU referendum latest

Alan Johnson, former Home Secretary and leader of Labour’s campaign to remain in the European Union, came to Bristol to warn that 50,000 manufacturing jobs were at risk from leaving.

Following on from the last edition, when I listed how all local MPs would be voting in the EU referendum, I have a few updates. Luke Hall, Conservative MP for Thornbury and Yate, has joined the ‘Remain’ camp, while Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie is still undecided, and has set out why in an article for The Telegraph.

YouGov carried out a survey to find the most and least Eurosceptic regions in Britain.

  • Bristol is the 24th least Eurosceptic area in the country.
  • North Somerset, on the other hand, is the 18th most Eurosceptic area.
  • South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset are somewhere in the middle.

You can see the entire interactive map here.

In other referendum news…

The people of Bath and North East Somerset last week rejected plans for a directly-elected mayor in a plebiscite, with 79% of voters saying ‘No’ on a turnout of 29%.

Residents of the Old Market area in central Bristol also had the opportunity to have their say in a referendum, this time on a neighbourhood plan for the area. The turnout was only 10%, and of the 300 people who took part, 265 voted in favour.

Some history

Prime Minister Harold Wilson, pictured in 1967. Photo by Eric Koch/Anefo.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson, pictured in 1967.
Photo by Eric Koch/Anefo.

Last Friday, MPs marked the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson, two-time Labour Prime Minister (1964-70; 1974-76). He is particularly relevant at the moment due to the parallels between him and the current Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Both of their parties were deeply divided over Europe and both of them decided to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the continent before letting the public decide in a referendum2. Wilson won his vote, and I imagine David Cameron is hoping to follow him in that respect too. However, Wilson played a much smaller role in the campaign than Cameron is right now, meaning that whichever way the referendum went, Wilson would not have had too much trouble staying on. The same is not necessarily true of Cameron today, and there have been stories of potential leadership coups against him should Britain vote to leave. You can read a bit more about the parallels between 1975 and 2016 here.

Wilson is also relevant as he was an ‘electable’ Labour leader3, winning four of the five general elections he contested. Nostalgic Labour MPs have been talking about him a lot in these past few weeks, and many hope to emulate his electoral success in the not too distant future. Tristram Hunt, for instance, gave a speech on him, writing a few articles to go along with it, and also joined the growing campaign for a statue of him in the House of Commons.

One of Wilson’s victories was in the works fifty years ago today, when Britain was a few days into the 1966 general election campaign. The last election had been just a year and a half ago, and his party’s small majority of four meant that he had difficulty passing some legislation. As a result, he decided to take a gamble and call an early election. This paid off, as he won a big majority of 96. You can read a detailed account of the election here.

Wilson resigned as Prime Minister in 1976 and was replaced by James Callaghan, who lost the 1979 election to Margaret Thatcher. Labour would not return to power until 1997, under Tony Blair. Wilson retired from the Commons in 1983, becoming a Peer. He died, aged 79, in 1995. His wife, Mary, turned 100 in January.

Just for fun, here are a some quotes, and below are a couple more:

  • The main essentials of a successful Prime Minister are sleep and a sense of history.
  • I am an optimist, but I’m an optimist who carries a raincoat.

Speaking of quotes and history, here’s Boris Johnson, someone who would quite like to follow in Wilson’s footsteps to 10 Downing Street, channelling US President Franklin D Roosevelt at a ‘Vote Leave’ event last week:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And even fear isn’t particularly scary at the moment!

And now, a quiz question!

I thought that this would be a nice way to end the latest politics review. Here’s the question:

Of all the MPs who attend Cabinet (i.e. Secretaries of State, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, minister without portfolio, etc.), whose Constituency is geographically closest to Bristol?

Too hard? I’ll give you a clue. The MP in question appears in this article somewhere, in some form.

You’ll be able to find the answer in the next political review.

That’s all for now. See you soon!

  1. That was the WORLD EXCLUSIVE, by the way. As far as I can see, no other news outlet has covered it. 
  2. Back then, the UK was a member of the European Community (EEC), which later became the EU. 
  3. As opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, that is. Hey — everyone else’s words, not mine!