Rishi Sunak has agreed to amend the levelling up bill to remove mandatory housebuilding targets for councils in response to a rebellion said to be backed by more than 100 MPs. Labour said that was “unconscionable” given the housing crisis, and proof that Sunak is “in office but not in power”. (See 5.14pm.)
Labour has unveiled its blueprint for an overhaul of the UK constitution, based on tackling regional inequalities and moving political power away from London, and described by Keir Starmer as an end to short-term “sticking plaster politics.
Rejoining the EU’s single market would not boost UK economic growth, Keir Starmer has argued, saying it would create “years of uncertainty” for UK businesses, which would be worse than the closer trade links that would come.
A meeting of Ministry of Justice officials at which Dominic Raab’s conduct was discussed was told “people had died” in the Afghanistan evacuation because of his refusal to review documents in formats which he did not like, the Guardian has been told.
Rishi Sunak is to drop compulsory housebuilding targets to see off an embarrassing backbench rebellion, prompting criticism he is putting party unity over the national interest.
The move, which comes in the middle of a national housing crisis, will spark fresh concerns that the prime minister is too weak to take on unruly Conservative backbenchers.
The capitulation came after up to 100 Tory MPs threatened to back an amendment that would in effect force the government to abolish the target of building 300,000 homes a year in England.
Instead, the target will be “advisory” and councils will be allowed to build fewer homes if they can show hitting it would significantly change the character of an area, an exemption expected to particularly apply to rural and suburban communities.
Read more: Sunak backs down on housebuilding targets after pressure from Tory MPs
Michael Gove said tonight that “the government is not spoiling for any sort of fight”, in response the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s (RMT) announcement of further strikes over Christmas.
Members of RMT who work for Network Rail will walk out from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on 27 December and will press ahead with two 48-hour strikes next week.
Speaking to Sky News, the levelling up secretary said:
We are not spoiling for any sort of fight. The government is determined to ensure we can work constructively with employers and trade unions in order to help people through what is a difficult time.
As you know the whole approach Rishi Sunak is taking as prime minister is exactly what the country wants, someone who is calm and in control, someone who is always trying to bring people together rather than divide them.
Gordon Brown has told Andrew Marr that the Conservative government since 2019 is the most corrupt for “at least a century”.
Speaking to Tonight with Andrew Marr on LBC, the former Labour prime minister called for the creation of a corruption commissioner to ensure there are “better controls within Westminster and Whitehall”.
When asked by Marr, “Do you think we’ve seen the most corrupt government ever?” Brown replied:
I think it’s possible to argue that the governments of the 18th century were perhaps more corrupt, but in terms of the scale of resources that appear to be wasted, or not properly used, I think it’s very difficult to see that this government has not been the worst in living memory, at least in the worst for a century.
You know, Lloyd George, obviously was criticised for selling honours and that led to the Sale of Honours Act in 1925. All these criticisms of cronyism and conflicts of interests have got to lead to change. And therefore, the change is not going to come from the Conservatives. They’re not proposing it, change has got to come from Labour, and that will come with Keir Starmer.
Asked, “You call for a corruption commissioner, is that directly because of what happened during the Boris Johnson administration?” He said:
There’s no doubt that what happened during that administration is something that leads one to wonder why there are not better controls within Westminster and Whitehall and why there’s not an agency that looks at these issues very carefully.
Matt Hancock has been accused of rewriting history as he seeks to rescue his reputation with the launch of a book about helping to lead the UK’s response to Covid.
Fresh from spending three weeks in the Australian jungle on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, the former health secretary has written what is billed as a tell-all account of “the successes and the failures” of tackling coronavirus.
Extracts of the book, The Pandemic Diaries, serialised by the Daily Mail in advance of release, have drawn criticism.
A former Conservative cabinet minister questioned whether Hancock would be prepared to stand by some of the allegations in the book if he is interviewed under oath by the official Covid inquiry.
Read more: Matt Hancock accused of rewriting history in pandemic book
The RMT union has confirmed its members will stage an extra strike on Network Rail from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on 27 December.
The news comes as the union also said it had recommended members reject the latest offer from Network Rail.
Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, said the news of further strikes was “dreadful”.
PA Media quote a tweet from him, saying: “This is dreadful by the RMT – ruining people’s Christmases with an 8% pay rise over two years on the table (and no compulsory redundancies). The railway received 16 billion - 600/household - in emergency funding during Covid and drivers’ median salary is 59k, staff’s is 44k.”
PA Media has more from Michael Gove on the coming changes to housebuilding targets.
The government says the changes to the levelling up bill will put local communities at the heart of the planning system.
Gove said: “We have an urgent need in this country to build more homes so that everyone – whether they aspire to home-ownership or not – can have a high-quality, affordable place to live. But our planning system is not working as it should.
“If we are to deliver the new homes this country needs, new development must have the support of local communities. That requires people to know it will be beautiful, accompanied by the right infrastructure, approved democratically, that it will enhance the environment and create proper neighbourhoods.
“These principles have always been key to our reforms and we are now going further by strengthening our commitment to build the right homes in the right places and put local people at the heart of decision-making.
“I’m grateful to colleagues across the house for their hard work and support to drive forward these much-needed changes to create a planning system that works for all.”
Rail strikes from 24-27 December, reports say
Sky News’s Beth Rigby reports that there is further rail strike misery coming down the line:
Guardian columnist John Harris wrote last week about the internal Tory fight over housebuilding targets. He argued that while the Conservatives’ infighting did not get near the most urgent housing issue (the huge lack of homes for social rent), the row was more complex than being a case of simple nimbyism.
Here’s an extract of his column:
Conservatives being Conservatives, none of the controversy gets near the most urgent housing issue of all: the dire lack of homes for social rent, and the pitiful numbers built every year. But that hardly diminishes the passions of the combatants. Today the minister-turned-senior backbencher Sajid Javid warned in the Sunday Times that Villiers and her comrades wanted to “tear down the existing planning system”, and lead their party into “a colossal failure of political leadership”.
A Tory-aligned columnist in the same newspaper recently described the rebels’ moves as a “wicked” quest to “enshrine nimbyism as the governing principle of British society”. Given that their ranks include such panto villains as Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood, most bystanders on the political left would presumably be inclined to agree.
But this issue is complex and confounding, and two somewhat contradictory things could both be true. Yes, the anti-development Tories’ motives might be cynical and self-serving. But at the same time, some of the widespread unease that they are seizing on is real and understandable. If you live and work in a city, imagining the opponents of new development to be a bigoted shower and endlessly shouting “nimby” at them is easy. But take a closer look at what is actually happening across the country, and you might come to a more nuanced opinion.
You can read his full column here:
Labour says housing target U-turn confirms 'weak' Sunak 'in office but not in power'
Gove confirms levelling up bill will be amended to abolish mandatory housebuilding targets for councils
Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has sent a letter to Tory MPs confirming that the government will water down housebuilding targets, PA Media reports. PA says Gove told the MPs the levelling up bill would be amended to abolish mandatory housebuilding targets.
Gove said he recognises “there is no truly objective way of calculating how many new homes are needed in an area” but the “plan-making process for housing has to start with a number”.
The change would make the centrally determined target a “starting point”, with councils able to propose building fewer homes if they faced “genuine constraints” or would have to build at a density that would “significantly change the character” of their area.
The bill is expected to return to the Commons next week for day two of its report stage, PA says.
Tory rebels force Sunak to abandon plans to maintain mandatory housing targets for councils
Rishi Sunak has agreed to give in to the key demand of the Tory planning rebels who were backing an amendment to the levelling up bill that would have abolished mandatory housebuilding targets for councils, Daniel Martin and Christopher Hope report at the Telegraph.
This amounts to a significant victory for Theresa Villiers, the former environment secretary who tabled the rebel amendment backed by more than 50 Tory backbenchers. She told the Telegraph:
The government has listened and will amend planning rules so that councils which are subject to genuine constraints will be permitted to reduce their [housing] target. This will apply if meeting the centrally determined target would significantly change the character of an area, for example from suburban to high-rise urban.
The compromise we have secured shows that positive change can be achieved through backbench scrutiny of legislation.
And Bob Seely, another Tory who signed the amendment, told the Telegraph:
We know how many communities have been battling against bad development. Supported by well over 100 Tory MPs, we have helped ministers shape a housing and planning agenda which is more conservative than the one we currently have.
Targets will be advisory, not mandatory. The power of planning inspectors is weakened. Rules which have helped developers force councils to release land will be weakened.
The new language we’ve agreed will work with communities, speaking to the character of areas and celebrating the beauty of good design. It understands the need for farmland, will significantly emphasise brownfield over greenfield development, and will help deliver homes for young people.
Seely’s final claim is questionable. Critics claim that watering down the housing targets will make it harder for people to build new homes for young people.
This is not Sunak’s first U-turn – the Mirror has a list of some others here – but it is the first time as PM has backed down in the face of a revolt by Tory MPs.
And he has retreated, or compromised, even thought he was in no risk of losing the vote, because the Villiers amendment did not have Labour support.
The Electoral Reform Society has joined other pro-PR organisations in saying the Labour report should have included PR. This is from Jess Garland, the ERS’s director of policy and research.
We welcome Labour’s proposals for renewing out democracy – a clear sign that Labour is correctly putting democracy at the heart of their plans to modernise Britain.
From further devolving powers to local communities, cleaning up our elections by taking big money out of politics to, the overdue abolition of the unelected and unaccountable House of Lords, these proposals offer a blueprint for much-needed democratic renewal.
But any new elected second chamber must be fairly elected and to ensure every voter, as well as every nation and region, is appropriately represented. But if the same principle of fair representation is not too extended to the House of Commons, a glaring hole will be left in Britain’s new constitutional settlement.
Brown says electoral reform was never meant to be part of his inquiry. There are many different electoral systems used in the UK, he says. Any proposals relating to voting systems should be for the manifesto, he says.
And that’s it. The Q&A is over.
Brown says he is not proposing a new second chamber should take over from the House of Commons. The Commons is the chamber that is supreme, he says.
But he says he wants to see a second chamber that upholds the constitution.
The panel are now taking media questions.
Q: In 2019 Labour promised to give Holyrood borrowing powers. Why have you not matched those?
Brown says the new chancellor will consult on new borrowing powers for the Scottish parliament.
Q: Why don’t you put these proposals to the people in a referendum?
Starmer says the manifesto will be a clear statement of what a Labour government would do. If Labour wins, it will have a mandate for that change, including a mandate for change in Scotland.
Starmer says Labour will consult on this report. But that won’t be a “vague exercise”, he says. It will be a “statement of intent”.
He says he wants that process to happen now, not after the election.
Brown claims that, since 2016, the Conservatives have undermined the devolution settlement. In particular he criticises the government of ignoring the Sewel convention, which says Westminster should not legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the devolved governments.
Sarwar says the SNP and the Tories both make a virtue of conflict because neither of them believe in devolution. Labour does, and wants to make it work, he says.
Starmer claims Brown commission report will be seen as 'turning point' between old economy and new one
Keir Starmer says the Labour proposals in relation to economic clusters (see 9.38am) are extremely important. They are central to what the report is about, he says. These proposals could lead to the report being a turning point, he says. He says in the future people will look back at it and see that the report was “the turning point between an old economy that wasn’t working, and a new economy that actually has worked for the whole of the United Kingdom”.
Gordon Brown says people know that new jobs are not going to just come from big, established companies. They will come from innovative firms, and newly emerging sectors. These firms are all around the UK. And they need locally sensitive policies, he says.
Gordon Brown, Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar are now taking questions.
Q: How can Scottish Labour use this report?
Sarwar starts by thanking Starmer for making people believe a Labour government is possible. That is a transformative change, he says.
He says the report also highlights that, contrary to what the SNP implies, anger and discontent does not just exist in Scotland. It can be found all over the UK, he says.
He says the Labour plan would benefit the whole of the country.
And he says it is wrong to suggest the choice is between independence or the status quo. There is a “vast majority” for change that does not involve Scottish independence, he says.
Keir Starmer is speaking now. He is speaking off the cuff, rather than from a text, but the substance is much the same as it was when he spoke this morning. (See 10.17am.)
Brown says New Labour's constitutional reform programme had 'missing element' because it left centre untouched
Brown says Scotland led the way with devolution. Now all other parts of the UK were following.
But, he says, there was a “missing element” in Labour’s constitutional reform programme; the centre was left untouched, he says.
Now it is time to tackle that, he says.
We have a centre that, in my view, under the Conservatives, is completely out of touch with local needs.
It is out of date because it has not reformed itself.
It’s out of its depth when it tries to micromanage decisions, as we found over the pandemic, that should be made locally.
And of course, we have seen in so many different instances, it’s out of control with corruption, cronyism, contracts to friends. We’re seeing it only in the last few days in some of the scandals that are being reported – abuse of power, abusive of patronage – and no doubt we’ll see in the next few weeks when Boris Johnson has his resignation honours list, and Rishi Sunak has to approve it.
Starmer and Brown launch commission report in Edinburgh
Keir Starmer and Gordon Brown are now holding a second launch for the Commission on UK’s Future report in Scotland. Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, is there too.
Brown starts by saying he thinks Sarwar will be the next first minister of Scotland.
Alex Thomas, a civil service specialist at the Institute for Government thinktank, has welcomed the decision in Gordon Brown’s report to propose legislation to protect the impartiality of the civil service.
As you might expect, the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform is complaining that the Gordon Brown reform plans do not include proportional representation.
Brown claims public appetite for political change even stronger now than in 1997
Gordon Brown has told PA Media that he thinks the public appetite for political change is even stronger than it was in 1997, when New Labour was elected. He said:
I was around obviously, in the many years from the 1980s to 1997 parliament and I saw the rising demand for change.
The worry about the decline in public standards, which happened when we had all these sleaze allegations, the failure of the economy after ERM [Exchange Rate Mechanism] and people’s desire for change, but I think it’s a more sweeping and more noticeable desire, and it’s in every part of the country.
In 1997, we had a desire for devolution in Scotland, then in Wales, but now you see the desire for local power in Manchester, in Liverpool, in Newcastle but not just in the cities.
Asked if Labour would benefit from this, he replied:
I think so, because Labour is offering real change and not cosmetic change.
Levelling-up seems to me to be cosmetic change. Because if you can move people up from the bottom rung, to the second bottom rung, you can say you’ve succeeded. What we want is equal opportunity for every part of the country. And that’s a big change.
This is from Simon Clarke, the Tory former levelling up secretary, on the Labour plans. Readers may feel that, as someone who was a member of Liz Truss’s inner circle during her short and ill-fated premiership, Clarke might not be the best person to opine on what makes for “effective government”.
Corbyn and Momentum say, if Starmer fully committed to decentralisation, he should stop purging leftwing candidates
Jeremy Corbyn has said he should have the Labour whip restored and be allowed to stand as a candidate for the party at the next election. Responding to Keir Starmer saying this morning that he could not see Corbyn being a Labour candidate again (see 9.15am), Corbyn said:
I am honoured to be the full-time representative of Islington North, and will continue to tackle the most important issues - the cost-of living crisis, stagnant wages and growing inequality - affecting my constituents.
I was elected as a Labour MP and proud to be so. I have made it clear that the whip was wrongly removed, and it should be reinstated.
Labour members have the democratic right to choose their candidate. Currently, members in Islington North are being denied that right, and it should be restored immediately.
Corbyn also posted a message on Twitter implying that it was hypocritcal of Starmer to favour the decentralisation of power for the UK, but not within the Labour party.
Momentum, the Labour group set up to back Corbyn’s agenda when he was Labour leader, has also made the same point.
Corbyn and Momentum are referring to the way that activists who are even loosely associated with the Corbynite left are being blocked from standing for election. Labour insiders accept that rigorous vetting is taking place, but they claim that people are being vetoed on grounds of competence, not ideology.
In an interview with the Courier, published before the unveiling of his Commission on the UK’s Future report, Gordon Brown said Labour would go ahead with its plans for constitutional change even if the SNP won more seats in Scotland at the next election. The SNP says this undermines Labour’s claims to be committed to respecting the views of Scots. In a statement, the party’s deputy leader, Keith Brown, said:
After bigging it up for months and months, Gordon Brown has already undermined this report by saying Labour will ignore what the people of Scotland vote for if they reject Labour and impose theirs anyway. That is contemptuous. They are acting just like the Tories.
It also shows they have disrespected their own promise in 2014 that power lay with the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed and it utterly humiliates Anas Sarwar by driving a coach and horses through his ‘principles’ for reform.
Ironically, a report which claims to be about strengthening devolution in many cases actually looks set to undermine it. It’s just another Brownhog Day.
Keith Brown is referring to this document, which was published by the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, in the summer. It said: “The Scottish people are sovereign and have the right to determine the best form of government suited to our needs.”
Labour criticised for omitting PR from its plan for constitutional reform
Compass, the leftwing group committed to pluralism, has welcomed the proposals in the Gordon Brown commission report, but complained that they do not go far enough. In a news release, it says:
Brown’s report … includes some promising recommendations, including plans to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber, but ultimately the vision lacks the depth and breadth needed to tackle the UK’s democratic disillusionment.
In two key ways, Brown’s proposals fall short: failing to involve citizens in designing a new democracy from the start; and overlooking one of the most important structural changes this country needs to respond to the challenges of 21st century government: proportional representation. These two commitments would mean both greater legitimacy and longevity for Brown’s proposals.
Compass says Labour would be better advised to follow the proposals in its own report, We’ll have what they’re having: How decentralisation in Germany created the conditions for ‘the great transformation’.
Unlock Democracy, a group campaigning for “real democracy”, has also criticised the Brown report for not endorsing proportional representation.
Reform UK party calls for NHS staff to pay zero basic rate income tax, to expand workforce
All frontline health and social care staff would pay zero basic rate income tax for the next three years under proposals unveiled by Reform UK, as it seeks to recapture momentum after a poor showing in last week’s Chester byelection overshadowed recent strong polling results.
Also, waiting times would be cut to zero and the staffing crisis solved by plans which would apply to both NHS and agency staff and come at a net cost of £9bn-£10bn a year, claimed Richard Tice, the party’s leader.
Tice rejected suggestions that voters would draw a parallel between the damaging economic experiment of the Liz Truss premiership and the radical manner in which Reform was proposing to fund its plans, which involves “reorganising” all Bank of England quantitative easing debt into 75-year bonds and “leaving them on its computer for the next 75 years”.
“You might think, as someone else suggested, that it’s sort of funny money, but don’t just trust me,” Tice told a press conference in Westminster, pointing to criticism of the Bank of England’s approach from others, including the maverick economist Patrick Minford.
Reform appeared in a YouGov survey last week to have benefited from falling support for the Tories as it increased its projected vote to 9%, up by four points, but got just 2.7% in the Chester byelection.
The plans were endorsed at the event by Prof Karol Sikora, an oncologist who has previously described the NHS as “the last bastion of communism”. He said the proposals were a way of incentivising key workers, ranging from technicians to cleaners, to come back into the system and work overtime.
While, he conceded, consultants from the private sector would also stand to gain, he added: “Overall, this would increase the capacity, which is what’s needed, a backlog by definition needs a short-term action, not a long-term plan.”
The Scottish Conservative party has accused Labour of seeking to appease the SNP with the plans in the Gordon Brown commission report. Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative chair, said:
The SNP will never be appeased by more devolved powers – nothing short of independence will ever satisfy them and it’s naive to think otherwise.
Scotland already has one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world, and the SNP – at the same time as agitating for more powers – choose not to use many of those already at their disposal, most notably in welfare …
While Labour try to meet Nicola Sturgeon halfway on the question of independence, only the Scottish Conservatives are standing up to the SNP and building a real alternative, focused on people’s real priorities.
Plaid Cymru says Gordon Brown commission plans 'damp squib for Wales'
Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster, says the Gordon Brown commission recommendations are “a damp squib” for Wales, and offer even less devolution to the country than Labour in Wales is proposing. In a statement she said:
This report is a damp squib for Wales. The message from Gordon Brown to the people of Wales: if you want a democracy equipped with the powers to do a proper job – vote Plaid Cymru.
By offering more powers to Scotland than to Wales, Labour is once again showing that how much they are in awe of SNP-run Scotland while taking Labour-run Wales for granted. Scotland is rewarded while Labour is content for Wales to make-do and mend with piecemeal powers.
Not only does this report not go far enough, but it also backtracks from previous Labour promises – the 2017 Labour manifesto having promised the devolution of policing to Wales.
The Labour Welsh government’s Thomas commission recommended that justice should be wholly devolved, and a Welsh legal jurisdiction created. This timid report only offers piecemeal powers over youth justice and probation, showing the level of disdain the central Labour party holds towards the only government it currently runs.
The last Labour politician who tried to reform the House of Lords was the late Robin Cook. His tussle with the forces of ermine didn’t end well. David Clark used to work for him as an adviser (albeit when Cook was foreign secretary, not leader of the Commons), and he is not impressed by the party’s new constitutional reform programmes.
Another former adviser to Robin Cook is Meg Russell, who did work for Cook when he was leader of the Commons. In an article for Prospect written before the Gordon Brown commission report was published, she says wholesale Lords reform will be “difficult”, to put it mildly.
The Blair/Brown years were also marked by government backbench rebellions and splits, with proposals for a largely appointed chamber dismissed as insufficiently democratic, and proposals for a largely elected one viewed by MPs as a threat to the primacy of the Commons. Starmer should be under no illusions: ambitious Lords reform is – to say the least – difficult to achieve.
Several Labour party manifestos have pledged a second chamber of the nations and regions, and the Brown commission is expected to say the same. But so far, such an idea has been more of a slogan than a properly worked out plan.
She says Starmer might be better advised to pursue modest Lords reform.
The history of Lords reform is one in which small changes to deal with the most glaring problems sometimes happen, while larger ones tend to fail.
No 10 refuses to deny that plan to ban people who enter UK illegally from claiming asylum being considered
Today the Centre for Policy Studies, a thinktank with close links to No 10, has published a report saying that people who enter Britain by crossing the Channel in small boats should be banned from ever getting asylum in the UK, detained, and then removed to a third country. The report was co-written by Nick Timothy, co-chief of staff to Theresa May when she was prime minister, and it included a foreword from Suella Braverman, the home secretary, saying that although she did not agree with all its recommendations, it was a “vital and necessary” contribution to the debate.
As my colleague Rowena Mason reports, Braverman’s semi-endorsement has fuelled speculation that the government will adopt a version of the Timothy plan. Braverman did propose this explicitly at the Conservative party conference – although at that point Liz Truss was PM, not Rishi Sunak.
At the Downing Street lobby briefing this morning the PM’s spokesperson refused to rule out banning people who cross the Channel unlawfully from claiming asylum. Asked if Sunak would back this idea, the spokesperson said:
I’ve seen lots of speculation around what may or may not be further policies to be introduced. So I’m not going to speculate.
We do want to do more on this area. There is policy work ongoing currently, but I’m not going to get into what is or is not being considered at this stage.
The CPS report says Britain should leave the European convention on human rights if necessary to allow this ban to be implemented. Asked if the government was committed to remaining party to the convention, the spokesperson replied:
Our focus is on getting a grip on the illegal migration problem. We’ve said that the bill of rights will help restore common sense when it comes to these issues.
There is much in the Gordon Brown report that will be welcomed by people campaigning for constitutional reform but there is one glaring omission; it says nothing about moving towards proportional representation. The report is even coy about the voting system that should be used to elect the assembly of the nations and regions that it says should replace the House of Lords (it says this should be a matter for consultation), even though it is probably impossible to find a plan for an elected second chamber that involves first past the post.
Best for Britain, which describes itself as a campaign group for better democracy and which backs electoral reform, says this is a mistake. Naomi Smith, its chief executive, said:
While Lords reform is important, without fair votes for the Commons, Labour will be fixing the roof while the foundations rot.
If Starmer listens to his party conference and brings in PR, he can dismantle a system which more often than not hands total power to the Tories, deliver on Labour’s commitment to equality, and ensure his is the largest party in government almost all of the time.
It is not hard to see why Brown did not recommend PR. He wanted a set of recommendations acceptable to Starmer. In September the Labour party conference voted in favour of PR, But Starmer ruled out including that in the manifesto.
The SNP has not issued any response to the Gordon Brown commission report yet, but it has put out a statement criticising what Keir Starmer said this morning about the single market. (See 8.54am.) This is from Drew Hendry MP, the SNP’s trade spokesperson.
Keir Starmer’s ludicrous claim that rejoining the world’s largest single market wouldn’t boost economic growth shows the Labour party is just as bad as the Tories on Brexit – and cannot be trusted with Scotland’s economy.
Although media coverage of the Gordon Brown report has focused on the House of Lords, there is a lot more to it than that. These are from my colleague Jessica Elgot on the proposal in the document to devolve control over job centres.
And this is what the report says on devolving responsibility for Jobcentre Plus.
The Whitehall-led approach to supporting people back into work has failed …
We recommend a new, local approach based on the idea of providing a tailored approach to help local people find the right opportunities for them, and help local businesses find the skilled workers they need.
We recommend devolving the administration of Jobcentre Plus so they can be made to work for local communities: bringing together information, advice and guidance, skills, apprenticeships, and employment support in one place, and with local accountability. They should be more open – including those looking to upskill or run their own business, and as such should crowd in civil society, trade union, and private sector support; Chambers of Commerce, for example, might offer advice on starting a business. They could be integrated with local community health services to provide a holistic, tailored approach to people’s needs. They should also be centres of excellence for local and regional labour market information, providing insight to inform local and national decision-making.
These are from my colleague Peter Walker, who has written up what the Labour report recommends.
Here is the full 155-page report from the Commission on the UK’s Future. It is called – A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy.
Q: Is House of Lords reform really a priority for people?
Starmer says this is just one of many recommendations. What drives him is “fixing our broken economy, and fixing our broken politics”. He says this report is central to that.
He says he and the shadow cabinet spend their whole time out of London. And everywhere it is the same story; people have ideas for improving their community, but they do not have the power to implement them.
He says “huge ambition for the country” underpins the report.
People are fed up with this sense that things are broken, he says. Labour will fix it.
And that’s it. The Q&A is over.
Q: [From ITV’s Romilly Weeks] House of Lords reform is notoriously difficult. Do you expect to implement it?
Starmer says he asked for recommendations that could be implemented in the first five years of a Labour government. He wants to do that. He wants to lead a Labour government that delivers, not one that just carries on the discussion.
Starmer says he wants to give local leaders new powers over a wide range of policy areas. (See 9.38am.)
Brown says, when the commission was sitting, it found innovative companies all over the UK that needed support. They needed support at a local level, with training, research, and infrastructure. If mayors could back them up, they would be in a better position to expand.
He says he is talking about innovative industries, like digital and life sciences.
The report is build around the idea that, if these industries get support, the economy will be more effective.
Q: New money is needed as well as new power. Where will that come from?
Starmer says he wants to decentralise control over money. A lot of money is in silos controlled by the centre, he says. He says the government’s levelling up plan involves asking people to bid for money controlled by Westminster.
Starmer invites Brown to contribute, but Brown says Starmer has summed it up.
Q: [From the Yorkshire Post] Are you ruling out a one Yorkshire devolution deal?
Starmer says he does not want to use the commission as a place to have an argument about the boundaries for new mayoralties.
That does not mean he is saying current boundaries for mayoralities should never change, he says.
If Labour goes down the “rabbit warren” of just talking about boundaries, nothing will get done, he says.
Q: How will Leeds be affected by these plans?
Starmer says Leeds has really good hubs that can be developed.
(See 9.38am for more on what the report says about the importance of economic hubs or clusters.)
Starmer says decentralisation not 'handing power away' but 'putting power where it should be'
Q: [From the FT’s Jennifer Williams] After being out of office for more than 12 years, are you really going to hand power away as the first thing you do.
Yes, says Starmer. But he goes on:
I don’t see it as handing power away. I see it as putting power where it should be.
Starmer says the assembly of the nations and regions proposed in the report, the council of the nations, and the council for England, are not alternative bodies.
The assembly for regions and the nations would replace the Lords. The council of the nations would replace the joint consultative council (a body that allows the UK government to talk to the devolved governments). And the council for England would look at England-only representation.
UPDATE: I have corrected this, because it is the assembly of the nations and regions that would replace the Lords under the Labour plan, not the council for regions and nations that would replace it.
Q: Would you abolish hereditary peers immediately? [Current rules allow 90 hereditary peers to be elected by other hereditary peers to sit in the Lords.]
Starmer says he does not think anyone can justify the retention of hereditary peers. “The sooner we abolish them, the better,” he says. But he says the Lords reform plans should be seen as part of a wider package.
Q: Could the new Lords go to a city like Leeds?
Starmer says the report does not make a recommendation on moving the site of the second chamber. He says he thinks the composition is more important. It would include people from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions.
Q: If the government legislates to introduce minimum service levels of public services, to reduce the impact of strikes, would you repeal that?
Starmer says he does not think legislation is the answer. He says the government needs to negotiate and resolve these disputes.
Starmer says recommendations in report are 'first term agenda'
Q: [From the BBC’s Chris Mason] How much of this do you want to happen?
Starmer says, when he set up the commission, he wanted recommendations that could be implemented in the first term of a Labour government.
He says he wants the period of consultation on this to happen now, not after the election.
He wants all the recommendations to be delivered as quickly as possible.
He is not putting this off, he says. He does not want a discussion “going on for years on end”.
People feel they are not being heard, he says.
He goes on: “This is a first term agenda.”
Brown accuses SNP of offering 'one-line manifesto' on independence
Starmer is now taking questions.
Q: [Beth Rigby from Sky] When people are struggling with the cost of living, you are talking about constitutional issues. This might look to people as if you are out of touch. Are you talking to Westminster about stuff that won’t happen. What in this will improve people’s lives from day one of a Labour government?
Starmer disagrees. He says centralisation is holding the UK back. This report addresses that problem. Wherever he goes, people says they want more power over their community. “This could not be more relevant,” he says.
The economy is not working. These recommendations will address what politicians agree needs to be done.
This is “the complete opposite of a discussion in Westminster”, he says.
Q: Isn’t it too late for more devolution for Scotland?
Brown says in 2014 a lot of people voted for independence because they thought that was the only change on offer. This report changes that, he says. It shows that change within Britain is possible.
He says the commission has done a huge amount of research. People in Scotland want better public services, and better housing.
This report shows how that can happen. The Scottish National party is just offering “a one-line manifesto”, he says, referring to the SNP’s plan to make the next election a de facto independence referendum.
UPDATE: Brown said:
When you come to the next election, it may be that the Scottish National party will have a one-line manifesto and want a one-issue general election.
But we have done a huge amount of research on Scottish public opinion and people want a better health service immediately, people want living standards improved immediately, people want jobs for young people immediately, people want better housing immediately and people of course want change in the way that we are suggesting immediately.
That is going to be the issue on which we fight. We are offering a plan for economic, social, political and constitutional reform, not a one-issue election.
Starmer says Labour's decentralisation plans will address concerns that made many people back Brexit
Keir Starmer is now speaking at the Labour event. He says it is fantastic to be back at Leeds University, where he spent three happy years.
He praises Tracy Brabin’s record in West Yorkshire, protecting the safety of women and girls, and delivering better and cheaper buses.
But she is being held back by the centralisation of power in the UK, he says.
He says Britain is one of the most centralised countries in Europe, “and the centre has not delivered”.
He says people want change. He argued for the UK to remain in the EU during the Brexit referendum. But he says he could not argue against what many leave voters were calling for – more control over their lives.
And the same applied in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, he says.
People up and down this country are crying out for a new approach. During the Brexit referendum I argued for remain. But I couldn’t disagree with the basic case that many leave voters made to me.
They wanted democratic control over their lives so they could provide opportunities for the next generation, build communities they felt proud of, and public services they could rely on.
And I know that in the Scottish referendum in 2014, many of those who voted yes did so for similar reasons. The same frustration at a Westminster system that seems remote. The same yearning for the power to build a fairer future for themselves and their families.
People know Britain needs change. But they are never going to get it from the Tories. I am determined that, with Labour, people will get the change they deserve.
Key recommendations from Brown's Commission on UK's Future report
The Brown report has just been published in full. Here is a summary of the main points from PA Media.
Abolish the ‘indefensible’ House of Lords
The commission proposed replacing the unelected upper chamber with a “smaller, more representative and democratic” assembly of the nations and regions, although details would be matters for further consultation.
Clean up politics
The panel proposed new rules for politicians and civil servants, clamping down on MPs’ second jobs and creating the role of a “powerful” anti-corruption commissioner to root out criminal behaviour in British political life.
Create a ‘New Britain’ by rebalancing the economy to drive up living standards in some of the most deprived areas and giving more local control over decision-making
The panel called for a new constitutional law setting out how political power should be shared, with a requirement for decisions to be taken “as close as meaningfully possible” to the people affected by them.
There would be an explicit requirement to rebalance the economy to spread prosperity and investment more equally across the UK.
The right to healthcare based on need rather than ability to pay would be enshrined in a set of protected social rights.
Creating new regional industrial clusters
Towns, cities and other areas would be brought together as part of a coordinated economic strategy.
Mayors and local leaders will play a key role in shaping the plans, with the UK Infrastructure Bank and a British Regional Investment Bank (a rebadged British Business Bank) supporting investment.
About 50,000 civil service jobs would be transferred out of London.
Extra powers for Scotland and Wales, with restored and strengthened devolution in Northern Ireland
Scotland would be able to enter into international agreements in relation to devolved matters, the status of MSPs would be bolstered, devolution would get greater constitutional protection and there would be enhanced access to economic support through the British Regional Investment Bank.
Wales could get new powers over youth justice and probation, while constitutional protections for devolution and the rights of members of the Senedd would be extended in a way similar to the Scottish proposals, along with access to British Regional Investment Bank funding.
In Northern Ireland there is a desire for devolution to be “restored and strengthened”.
A new culture of co-operation between the UK government, England’s regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
New, legally-mandated “councils of the nations and regions of England” will replace the present joint ministerial committees.
The new bodies would include not just devolved administrations but local leaders from within England, to prevent the government treating communities in a “high-handed way”.
Gordon Brown, the former PM, is speaking now.
He says it is a privilege to be the warm-up speaker for Keir Starmer, the leader best qualified to be the next PM of the UK.
He says Tracy Brabin’s success as mayor proves the case for the argument he is making in his report.
He says the proposals would amount to the biggest transfer of power out of Westminster seen in the UK.
He stresses that the commission is a group effort. Here are the full list of its members.
Keir Starmer and Gordon Brown launch Commission on UK's Future report
Tracy Brabin, the Labour mayor for West Yorkshire, is speaking at the launch of the Commission on the UK’s Future report at an event in Leeds.
There is a live feed at the top of the blog.
She says trust in politics is at a record low. But trust in local leaders is at an all-time high, she claims.
And here are some more lines from Keir Starmer’s morning interview round.
Starmer said that he wanted to abolish the House of Lords in the first term of a Labour government. In interviews he stressed that he would consult on the recommendations in Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future report, and when they might be implemented. But when asked on Sky if he hoped to abolish the Lords in the first term of a Labour government, he replied:
Yes, I do. Because when I asked Gordon Brown to set up the commission and do this, I said what I want is recommendations that are capable of being implemented in the first term.
Starmer stressed that he did not want to abolish private schools. He told the Today programme:
Is it fair to have a tax break for private schools at the same time as state schools are really, really struggling? I think the answer to that question is no. But let me be clear, I’m not talking about, nor am I interested in, abolishing private schools.
He called on both sides to compromise in the rail dispute. He said that in Wales and Scotland the devolved governments had been willing to negotiate, and this had led to disputes being resolved. He told ITV:
Both sides need to compromise, both sides need to finish the negotiations and the government needs to drive them forward.
The government’s been sitting on its hands in this. That’s not good enough. And I think if you look at the example of Wales, you can see that with a different approach this could be resolved.
Starmer says plans for decentralisation in Brown report would lead to 'wider spread of power' and better growth
In his interviews this morning Keir Starmer was keen to stressed that the recommendations in the Commission on the UK’s Future report out today go well beyond abolition of the House of Lords. He highlighted the decentralisation plans – which make for a less exciting story than the defenestration of the nation’s peers, but arguably could be more important.
Summing up the report in the overnight Labour press release, Starmer said:
The centre hasn’t delivered. We have an unbalanced economy which makes too little use of the talents of too few people in too few places. We will have higher standards in public life, a wider spread of power and opportunity, and better economic growth that benefits everyone, wherever they are. By setting our sights higher, wider, better, we can build a better future together.
And this is how Labour summarised what the report says:
Among the report’s 40 recommendations is the need to give local communities new powers over skills, transport, planning and culture to drive growth. Delivering greater powers, combined with local growth plans, will enable the emergence of hundreds of ‘clusters’ of economic activity in cities and towns across all regions and nations of the United Kingdom. The co-ordination of activity across these clusters, by the people who know the assets of these areas best, will bring together local leadership, businesses, innovators, skilled workers, unions and entrepreneurs, that can drive a ‘new pro-growth strategy and make every part of our country more prosperous’ created economic activity that is more than the sum of its parts …
To make this happen the commission proposes real economic empowerment for our devolved government, the mayors, and local authorities, including:
New powers over transport and infrastructure
New powers to stimulate growth, with longer funding settlements, and commitments to R&D that take into account local economic plans
New powers over development and housing, such as compulsory purchase orders on vacant sites
A regionally-oriented investment bank to ensure start-ups have access to equity capital needed to scale
Powers over economic development and job creation and the devolution of Jobcentres
Powers to link training and skills to local employment needs through devolution of colleges
Keir Starmer’s claim that rejoining the single market would not boost economic growth (see 8.54am) has been dismissed by experts.
This is from Jonathan Portes, a former government economist who is now a professor at King’s College London.
And these are from Nicolai von Ondarza, head of the Europe division at SWP, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a thinktank.
And this is from Tanja Bueltmann, a professor at the University of Strathclyde specialising in migration.
Although Starmer did, in his initial response to Mishal Husain, say that he did not think membership of the single market would boost economic growth “at this stage”, his full answer implied that he thought it would be the “wrangling” leading up to return to the single market that would be bad for growth, not being back in per se. (See 8.54am.)
Starmer says he can't see how Corbyn can be Labour candidate at next election
In his Today interview Keir Starmer also appeared to rule out Jeremy Corbyn standing as a Labour candidate at the next election. Asked if Corbyn would be the party’s candidate in Islington North at the next election, Starmer replied:
I don’t see the circumstances in which that can happen. Obviously, we’ve not got to the selection of that particular constituency yet, but I don’t see the circumstances in which Jeremy Corbyn will stand as a Labour candidate.
Corbyn is still a Labour party member, but he lost the whip more than two years ago after his response to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report about antisemitism in the Labour party under his leadership was deemed to play down the seriousness of the problem.
At the time Starmer said that, to have the whip restored (which has to happen for Corbyn to be eligible to stand as a Labour candidate), Corbyn would have to apologise. But that has not happened, the standoff has not been resolved, and Starmer’s latest comment (which echoes what his aides have been saying in private) is probably the most explicit public confirmation from him yet about Corbyn not being able to return to the party.
Keir Starmer says he does not think rejoining single market would boost economic growth ‘at this stage’
Good morning. Sir Keir Starmer has been doing interviews this morning before the publication of the report from the party’s Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by Gordon Brown. Most of the reporting in advance has focused on a recommendation in the report that the House of Lords should be abolished, partly because on Saturday the Times ran a story claiming “proposals to abolish the House of Lords are set to be watered down after an eleventh-hour row between Gordon Brown and Sir Keir Starmer’s advisers”. The paper claimed that Brown wanted a firm commitment from Starmer to abolish the Lords, while Starmer’s team just wanted to commit to consulting on reform. That is why, when Starmer was on the Today programme a few minutes ago, the first question was about whether Starmer wanted to abolish the Lords.
Starmer said he did – but he said that when that would happen would be a matter for consultation.
Starmer also stressed that the recomendations in the report go far beyond what should happen to the upper chamber. That was obvious in the overnight briefing released by the party which did not even mention the Lords, and instead stressed the party’s commitment to decentralisation, and the devolution of power to local government.
We’ll come back to those shortly, because in his Today interview Starmer was also asked about Brexit. He has repeatedly said that a Labour government would not take the UK back into the single market, but he put a particularly provocative spin on this when responding to a question from Mishal Husain, who asked if membership of the single market would boost economic growth. Starmer replied:
No, at this stage, I don’t think it would. And there’s no case for going back to the EU, or going back into the single market.
I do think there’s a case for a better Brexit. I do think there’s a very strong case for making Brexit work.
When Husain pressed him again on this, pointing out that economists say trade has suffered because the UK has been out of the single market, Starmer replied:
I think trade has gone down because the deal that we’ve got is not a very good deal. I think we can move from getting Brexit done, which is all that we’ve managed at the moment, to making Brexit work and I do think there’s a better deal.
But do I think … that going back into years of wrangling, years of uncertainty, is going to help the economy? No, I don’t.
I spent many, many years post-2016 talking to businesses who said to me, over and over again, the thing that’s hardest for us is all the uncertainty. And that for many years held us back.
I will post more from the interview shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Keir Starmer holds a press conference with Gordon Brown to launch the report from the Commission on the UK’s Future, which Brown chaired.
11.30pm: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
3.30pm: Starmer and Brown hold a second launch of the commission’s report in Edinburgh.
After 3.30pm: MPs resume their debate on the online safety bill. The bill has been paused for months because first Liz Truss’s government, and then Rishi Sunak’s, were considering changes to it. Those changes were announced last week.
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