Final day of campaigning in Kingswood and Wellingborough byelections – UK politics live | Politics

Final day of campaigning in Kingswood and Wellingborough byelections

The headlines for much of this week might have been about the Rochdale byelection, which takes place on 29 February, but pressingly it is the final day of campaigning in the Wellingborough and the Kingswood byelections today. Here is a quick reminder of what is going on there …

Wellingborough has a byelection after veteran Conservative MP Peter Bone was subject to a recall petition after a watchdog found he had bullied a staff member and exposed his genitals near their face, which Bone has denied. The Conservatives have selected his partner Helen Harrison to defend the seat, which has not gone down well with locals. Bone won in 2019 with a majority of 18,540.

Gen Kitchen is the Labour candidate and Keir Starmer was in the constituency with her yesterday. Ana Gunn is standing for the Liberal Democrats and Will Morris standing for the Green party. The co-deputy leader of Reform UK, Ben Habib is their candidate. Labour overturned even bigger Conservative majorities in October 2023 byelections in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire, leading to some expectation resting on Kitchen that she will win.

Historical share of the vote in Wellingborough

Peter Walker recently visited the constituency for us, which you can read about here: ‘We’re not complacent’ – Labour wary of overconfidence in Wellingborough byelection

John Harris also went there recently to produce an episode of the Politics Weekly podcast for us, in which he spoke to local groups helping to deal with knife crime and the closure of youth centres, and met Habib. You can listen to that here.

Kingswood has it byelection after its Conservative MP, Chris Skidmore, a leading Tory voice on green issues, resigned in protest againt his party’s dash for oil and gas. Sam Bromiley is defending Skidmore’s 11,220 majority from 2019. Labour have selected Damien Egan in a seat which has swung between the Tories and Labour over the last century. The Green party came fourth in Kingswood in 2019 but since then has become the largest group on Bristol city council, and has Lorraine Francis standing for it. Andrew Brown is standing for the Liberal Democrats. Reform UK and Ukip also have candidates, with Rupert Lowe, former chairman of Rishi Sunak’s beloved Southampton MP, standing for Richard Tice’s party.

Steven Morris was there in January as the campaign got under way: ‘Not a practice run’: Labour braves the cold before Kingswood byelection

Of course, all these visits and reports were before the events of the last few days, where Labour’s candidate selection procedures have come under intense scrutiny.

Key events

Victims of modern slavery and human trafficking should be protected from removal to Rwanda, a former top judge has told the government.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, the first female Lord Justice of Appeal, argued for this to be added to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill as peers continued their line-by-line scrutiny on Wednesday.

The independent crossbench peer told the House of Lords:

The Modern Slavery Act is an outstanding piece of legislation by, for goodness sake, a Conservative government. We were all extremely proud of it, it was copied in Australia and in other countries.

The government asserts, without evidence, that the system of assessing whether a person is a genuine victim is being abused. But the figures from the NRM (National Referral Mechanism) show that the majority of those going through the system are found to be genuine.

Noting that modern slavery protections no longer apply to “those trafficked into this country for exploitation here”, she argued this will have “a devastating effect on victims and also on the United Kingdom’s ability to deal with the perpetrators of this heinous crime”.

Butler-Sloss, who is also the vice chairwoman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, urged the government to accept her amendment to show “some support to those who are or are about to be victims of a hugely profitable and odious trade in men, women and children”.

Steven Morris

The Guardian’s Steven Morris has interviewed Wales’ economy minister, Vaughan Gething, who is battling to become the leader of Welsh Labour, and thus the first minister of Wales, as well as the country’s first black leader next month.

Gething said of his candidacy:

You can’t deny the historic nature of it. I think I should win because I’m the best candidate. I’ve got loads of experience. I’ve got values rooted in our movement. I was a trade union shop steward, Wales TUC president, had 10 years as an employment lawyer and I have a vision for the future. But if I win, the fact that I’ll be the first black leader of any European nation is a matter of historic significance.

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is telling the House of Lords that the UK was rightly proud of legislation it introduced to combat modern slavery, which was copied by other nations, but that Rwanda does not have similar provisions.

“The government asserts without evidence” she says, that the modern slavery legislation is being abused.

Home secretary James Cleverly has commented on the safety of MPs, saying he is working with the speaker of the house on the issue. He posted to social media:

The intimidation of MPs is wrong and undemocratic. The speaker and I work with parliamentary security and the police to keep measures for MPs under constant review. MPs shouldn’t have to choose between their family’s safety and representing their community.

The comments come in the wake of a pro-Palestinian demonstration that was held outside the house of Conservative MP and former Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood’s house.

Alicia Kearns, chairperson of the foreign affairs select committee, commented:

It is wholly unacceptable for a public servant’s private home to be targeted. This has a chilling effect on political discourse, and serves only to push politicians to the point where they question whether it is all worth it, especially for their families.

Ellwood and his two sons were reported to be at the house at the time of the protest.

House of Lords begins second day of debate on Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

The House of Lords has started to debate amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. You can watch it here.

Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven is opening the debate and said the house is dealing with “a world of fiction and untruths” in the bill.

You can read the amendments being debated here.

Train drivers at five rail operators have voted to continue taking strike action for another six months.

Aslef announced that its members on Chiltern, c2c, East Midlands, Northern and TransPennine railways had overwhelmingly backed carrying on with action. Unions involved in disputes are forced to reballot their members every six months on continuing with industrial action.

PA Media reports Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef said:

Our members have voted, time and again, for strikes. That’s why Mark Harper, the transport secretary, is being disingenuous when he says that offer should have been put to members.

Drivers obviously wouldn’t vote for industrial action, again and again and again, if they thought that was a good offer. They don’t. That offer was dead in the water in April last year – and I think Mr Harper knows that.

Our North of England editor Helen Pidd is on the Today in Focus podcast today, which asks what on earth is going on in the Rochdale byelection?

She has been covering the election, and speaking to people in Rochdale about the chaotic political process there. She tells Nosheen Iqbal how voters are feeling and what really matters to them. You can listen to it here …

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulator has launched an investigation into the performance of National Highways.

In a media statement, the regulator said:

Since it was created, National Highways has generally achieved its aims and delivered well for road users. ORR’s annual assessment of National Highways’ performance, published in July 2023, identified a number of potential risks, such as delivery of its capital portfolio and asset management strategy. Since then, ORR has observed that those risks have materialised, and performance has dipped across several areas.

National Highways operates and maintains motorways and major A-roads in England.

Feras Alshaker, director of planning and performance at ORR, is quoted as saying “National Highways has generally delivered well for road users, but in recent months we have become concerned that its performance has dipped in a number of areas and issues are recurring.”

The regulator says it is planning for the investigation to take approximately eight to 12 weeks between February and April 2024.

House of Lords to debate Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill amendments

The House of Lords has begun sitting for the day. There is a live stream here.

A bit later on it will be debating the government’s Rwanda deportation Bill again, and in advance there are another 34 pages of potential amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. You can read those here.

Among the possible changes are clauses which are designed to:

  • ensure the declaration that Rwanda is a safe country is capable of being rebutted in law by credible evidence.

  • seek to give effect to the proposition that parliament cannot judge Rwanda to be a safe country until the Rwanda treaty has been, and continues to be, fully implemented.

  • ensure that Rwanda is not to be conclusively treated as a safe country where the person to be removed is an unaccompanied child, a victim of human trafficking, or a victim of modern slavery.

  • seeks to ensure that the act does not apply retrospectively.

Among those putting their names to the amendments are Shami Chakrabarti, Brenda Hale, Douglas Hogg and archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

This is not the business live blog – that is with my colleague Jasper Jolly over here – but there is a bit more economic data out from the ONS today which is likely to have ramification for politics and the cost of living crisis.

The average UK house price fell by around £4,000 in the 12 months to December 2023, according to official figures, although the change was unevenly distributed among the nations.

Property values fell annually by 2.1% in England and by 2.5% in Wales, but house prices increased annually by 3.3% in Scotland and by 1.4% in Northern Ireland. London had the biggest fall in house prices. I think I can predict the Daily Express front page tomorrow.

The private rental market saw large cost increases for tenants. The ONS said private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK rose by 6.2% in the 12 months to January 2024.

Annual private rental prices increased by 6.1% in England, 7.0% in Wales and 6.8% in Scotland in the 12 months to January 2024. The ONS said Northern Ireland’s data was only available up to November 2023, so it has not been broken out.

The 6.8% increase in Scotland is the highest annual rate since the Scotland data started in January 2012. Rents in London increased by 6.9% annually – representing the joint-highest annual percentage change since London records started in January 2006.

The headline inflation figures today do mean that the prime minister can claim to have achieved one of his five key pledges, albeit the one where the target for inflation belongs to the independent Bank of England rather than the government per se.

Here is a quick ready reckoner on where Rishi Sunak stands with the five key pledges he made in January, which are listed here and highlighted in bold in this list.

  • “We will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security”. Sunak needed inflation to fall to below 5.4%, and it has.

  • “We will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country”. The final GDP figures for the year will be published on Thursday, it looks unlikely that the economy will have grown by much more than 0.5%, and may have shrunk.

  • “We will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services”. The national debt rose over the course of 2023. It stands at 97.7% higher than it was a year earlier when it stood at 95.8%.

  • “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”. Sunak’s government is only responsible for health in England, as it is a devolved matter. The number of people waiting for NHS treatment reached an estimated 7.61 million in November, up from 7.21 million in January 2023.

  • “We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”. 29,437 people crossed the Channel in small boats in 2023 down from 45,755 in 2022. Sunak has failed to pass his Rwanda deportation bill, with the supreme court ruling against it in November.

Sunak: ‘I absolutely believe that the economy has turned the corner’

Rishi Sunak has told the media that he absolutely believes “the economy has turned the corner” while convening the first meeting of his 2024 Business Council.

Speaking in Downing Street to chief executives, PA Media reports the prime minister said during the public opening of the meeting:

I’m absolutely determined to make the UK the best place in the world to start to grow and invest in businesses.

Of course we’re still battling with lots of global headwinds, not least the Red Sea at the moment, but at the start of this year I absolutely believe that the economy has turned the corner and we’re now pointing in the right direction.

Hopefully that’s something that you’re seeing in your businesses, but inflation has been more than halved from 11% down to 4%, mortgage rates are starting to come down.

Everyone is predicting us to grow this year.

Rishi Sunak speaks with business leaders this morning in Downing Street. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

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