This week in British Politics #1: A guide through the headlines (Monday 30 Jan to Friday 3 Feb)

What has happened this week in British Politics? Find out below! This will be a weekly series, so stay tuned…

The first thing you might have noticed is that everyone was on strike. On Wednesday, February 1st, members of the teacher’s union (the NEU) walked out of schools – they were joined by university lecturers, civil servants, bus drivers and train drivers, over 500,000 workers striking in total on that day, the BBC reported. For the teachers themselves, they had the effect of closing or partially closing over 50 percent of state-funded schools in England. The government was, as you would expect, critical; think of the kids, they said. Sunak said that: “children deserve to be in school”. Ministers have been urging teachers not to walk out, but have yet to offer the teachers what they want, which is an above-inflation pay rise. In England and Wales last year, most teachers got a 5% pay rise, so what they are facing right now due to inflation is a pay-cut, in real terms. On top of a variety of other reasons across sectors – hours, pensions, insecure contracts – it looks as though workers are not going to accept this. This feels big – the turnout on Wednesday is being reported as the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade.

Also in the news, Boris Johnson – he’s back in the news. He visited Zelenkyy in Ukraine a couple of weeks ago, drawing criticism for seeming almost to be representing the British government, something he has no authority to do as a backbench MP. He has also, since, urged the US to send more aircrafts – and tanks – to Ukraine, and supported the argument of Ukrainian membership to NATO. Johnson has also claimed that Putin threatened him with a missile strike shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine – such is Johnson’s credibility in the eyes of critics, the (satirical) journalist Jonathan Pie tweeted that he, in fact, was more inclined to believe Putin’s denial of this than our former PM’s original claim. Can we really blame him?

We’re not done on Johnson. According to a recent Sunday Times story, the BBC Chairman Richard Sharp helped him to secure an £800,000 loan, just weeks before Johnson recommended him for the position of Chair at the BBC – this was in 2021, when he was PM. There’s more! The National Audit Office may be about to launch an inquiry – what we know is a director is planning to speak to the Cabinet Office – about Johnson using over £200,000 of taxpayer’s money to fund his legal defence over the party-gate inquiry. This is, naturally, less positive coverage than calling for more support for Ukraine. Call me a cynic, but could Johnson’s Ukraine headlines, maybe, have something to do with drowning these other, less positive ones, in the British press? It does seem like there’s too much Johnson in the news cycle to just be a coincidence…

Any relief Rishi Sunak would have had over Johnson being the target of the oppositions criticisms was punctured by Sunak’s own problems. He had to sack Nadhim Zahawi from his post as Conservative Party Chair for a serious breach of the ministerial code. Zahawi had failed to declare an investigation and subsequent settlement from HMRC into his tax affairs, stemming largely from a massive sale of shares in YouGov, worth £3.7 million, which he was a cofounder of. The abundance of financial scandals we are seeing in British politics may have something to do with how enormously rich everyone in the cabinet seems to be – bankers, businessmen et cetera. Nesrine Malik’s column in The Guardian this week is an interesting read on this topic, the ‘old boys club’ being replaced by ‘city slickers’ and financial types, she writes.

In other news – this is the last one, don’t worry – Monday saw the government defeated in the House of Lords on their public order bill, with members of the Lords pushing back on the what the threshold of criminality for protests should be, linked to the definition of the term “serious disruption”. The debate in the lords, on the bill, was disrupted by environmental protestors from XR who were escorted from the public gallery after interrupting the debate to announce that in 80 days’ time, tens of thousands of people would come and demand an “upgrade to our democracy” outside parliament – they were referring to the planned XR demonstrations outside parliament from 21 April, a tactical shift from the group as they look to focus more on numbers and less on disruption.

Of course, there’s more we could discuss. But I’m trying to be concise. Until next week!

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