The inside track: October 2019

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities, including legislation on the new Brexit deal, the election of a new speaker, and what you could be doing now to prepare for an election.

Parliament

Brexit

The last few days have seen sudden progress towards a new Brexit deal, although it looks like an extension to the Article 50 deadline will now be required. MPs rejected the government’s programme motion for the withdrawal agreement bill as it provides insufficient time to scrutinise the legislation.

However, it does look like there is ultimately a parliamentary majority to pass this deal. While not everyone who backed the legislation at second reading will continue to support the bill if it remains unamended, the current parliament is expected to pass it if given enough time. This is not a given though, and it is possible that amendments will pass that make the legislation unacceptable to some of the current fragile majority in favour of the deal. The government may ultimately choose not to pass the legislation if it requires an amendment or the pursuit of a customs union, though neither of those is likely to pass. However other amendments could also put the legislation in question.

This is one of the reasons why we are seeing potential manoeuvring towards a general election. At the time of writing, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Will the government seek an early election? Will enough Labour MPs vote against to prevent one? Can the government agree a short extension that allows a programme motion more acceptable to parliament?

If the EU offers the requested extension to 31 January, there’s a pretty good chance that at some point this week we’ll be heading into an election.

Queen’s speech

The Queen’s speech took place last week to signal the start of a new parliamentary session. The speech traditionally sets out the government’s legislative programme for the year ahead. This year however, there was speculation about what it meant in the context of an upcoming election, and I wrote about what it says about the likely Conservative campaign.

Election of a new speaker

John Bercow last month announced he would be stepping down as Speaker of the House of Commons after 10 years in the role, firing the starting gun on an election to replace him.

While candidates have praised him for putting parliament and backbenchers first, there has been criticism of his failure to be seen as even-handed, most notably from Labour MP Chris Bryant, who has made a number of veiled references to impartiality, saying the Speaker should be an ‘umpire not a player’.

Harriet Harman, probably the most high profile candidate for speaker, and currently second favourite with the bookies, is seen as the closest to a ‘continuity Bercow’ candidate, and is likely to contest the role with current deputy speakers Lindsay Hoyle and Dame Eleanor Laing. Others standing include public accounts committee chair Meg Hillier, Conservative backbenchers Sir Henry Bellingham, Shailesh Vara and Sir Edward Leigh, and the remaining deputy speaker Dame Rosie Winterton.

People news

Defections

Two more former Conservative MPs have joined the Liberal Democrats. Former universities minister Sam Gyimah was unveiled at the party’s conference and has now been joined by South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen, who had been part of the Independents, a loose parliamentary grouping, after leaving Change UK (now the Independent Group for Change) after the European elections.

Select committees

Nicky Morgan’s elevation to the cabinet means that a new chair of the Treasury select committee will be elected by MPs today. Because of the way committees are split between parties, the new chair will be a Conservative MP. The candidates are Harriett Baldwin, Mark Garnier, Mel Stride, and Kevin Hollinrake.

What can you do to prepare for an election?

With rumours of an imminent general election again swirling, charities will once again be on alert for an election campaign. Even if an election is not called in the next couple of days, we can be pretty sure that one will be coming in the next few months. So what can you be doing to prepare?

The most important thing is to think about what would be the most important change that could be made through an election by bringing an issue up the agenda. That means thinking about your priorities, but it also means thinking about what issues are likely to come up over the course of the campaign. That won’t always be easy to predict – I certainly wouldn’t have imagined that the last election would have such an impact on the approach of the Conservatives to animal welfare for example. The Queen’s speech points to the Conservative agenda, and you can look at what each of the parties focused their speeches on at the recent party (what everyone assumed would be pre-election) conferences.

If you are going to be campaigning, now is also a good time to get up to speed with election campaigning rules, both the specific guidance from the Charity Commission and the new guidance from the Electoral Commission, which we think should be reassuring to charities who want to have their voice heard during an election.

You could also think about what the new parliament might look like and who you might want to work with. You will probably do most of this thinking in the days following the result, but I like to keep an eye on candidate selections, especially where MPs in safe seats are standing down.

Finally it’s probably worth planning what your campaign activity looks like, even if you don’t know exact dates. I would expect the Conservatives to pick the earliest possible date if the election’s this side of Christmas, so make sure you plan for a short campaign.

NCVO can help you to navigate Westminster and Whitehall

Make sure your voice is heard by those making the decisions. We can provide a range of advice, support and training, contact chris.walker@ncvo.org.uk for details.

If you’re looking for campaigning training, our new training website now has all of our courses in one place.

Brexit updates

We’ve produced guidance on what charities should be doing to plan for a possible no-deal Brexit.

If you want to keep in touch with the latest Brexit news, it’s also worth following these:

 

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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