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21 December 2023

The best Spotlight policy comment of 2023

Mayors, MPs and trade union firebrands – here’s some of our top pieces from the year.

By Spotlight

What a year 2023 has been. We might have missed the kind of rollercoaster ride of the last days of Boris Johnson, with Partygate, Pinchergate, and infinite resignations moving relentlessly on to the Kami-Kwasi mini-Budget, and the unlikely rise and predictable fall of Liz Truss. But while the so-called grown-ups might be back in charge, 2023 hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride, either.

In the UK, the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite as real wages remain below the dizzy heights of, er, 2008. We’re now into a second decade of living standards stagnation: we’ve got low growth, poor productivity, and a generalised sense of impending doom-and-gloom. And all in time for Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, the polls (and several by-elections) have reflected a nationwide mood for some kind, any kind, of change at the top. We’ve seen five pledges and/or “missions” from each main party leader, along with massive rows about energy, net zero, the Bibby Stockholm barge, the Rwanda plan, and NHS waiting lists, alongside waves of strike action not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

All year, Spotlight on Policy has been a go-to place for essential policy commentary from parliamentarians, mayors, trade unionists, business leaders, think tankers and other assorted policy experts, here to expertly guide you through the policy issues affecting the country. And since we’re entering the festive period, here’s a run-down of some of the best and brightest examples from the last 12 months.

by Wes Streeting MP, Preet Kaur Gill MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, Abena Oppong-Asare MP and Karin Smyth MP

After all the stresses of Covid (plus a decade of chronic underinvestment in capital, and a workforce crisis born of steadily declining salaries), the NHS has rarely been out of the news. Just about every part of the health profession has been out on strike, and millions are stuck on record-long waiting lists. In October, as part of our print issue on healthcare, Spotlight gathered not one, not two, but five members of the shadow health team to explain what Labour would do differently. Essential reading.

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“Only Labour has a serious plan for renewal”
by Tulip Siddiq MP
Following a Budget in which Jeremy Hunt made some surprise announcements on childcare, (along with demonstrating that he wasn’t a fan of Trussonomics and would be making no unfunded tax cuts or spending commitments, thank you very much), Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, the Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury, had this punch response detailing the opposition’s alternative. 

The great British energy rip-off
by Sharon Graham
At the beginning of the year, energy prices were still through the roof, and political arguments around windfall taxes, price freezes and private energy suppliers dropping like flies were everywhere. But the Unite chief, Sharon Graham, head of one of Britain’s largest unions, wanted to talk about (whisper it) nationalisation. Spotlight was there to oblige.

On a mental health mission
by Rosena Allin-Khan MP
Coinciding with World Mental Health Day, the former shadow mental health minister penned this excoriating critique of the current government’s record on mental health (and called for Labour to do better, too).

Let’s hear it for New York (and London)
by Sadiq Khan and Eric Adams
It’s not quite every day you get a leader of one of the world’s largest and most recognisable metropolises writing for Spotlight, but two leaders of two of the world’s greatest cities? No problem. The mayors of London and New York, Sadiq Khan and Eric Adams, published this joint piece on how their cities are taking a new approach to budgeting, with climate action in mind. Khan has also done his fair share of individual articles for Spotlight too to be fair.

Climate climb down
by Chris Skidmore MP
As if having hordes of MPs on the opposition benches, along with climate scientists, international bodies and energy experts, all coming out against your row-back on net zero pledges, wasn’t enough, poor old Rishi Sunak had to contend with criticism from his own Conservative MPs. Here Chris Skidmore, the former government-appointed net zero tsar, lays into the reversal on electric cars and new oil and gas drilling.

On Awaab’s Law
by Clive Betts MP
In 2020, two-year-old Awaab Ishak died tragically from a respiratory condition caused by mould in his parent’s flat, which was owned by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities Committee, wrote for us about why legislation intended to push social landlords to do something about persistent mould and damp should apply to the private rented sector, too.

Online qualms
by Nicky Morgan
A major piece of legislation that was long bubbling under the surface until it received Royal Assent in October is the Online Safety Bill. It’s been a bugbear of free speech campaigners but many, including former Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan, say its provisions don’t go far enough.

“Only the radical looks reasonable”
by Caroline Lucas MP
Caroline Lucas, the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary groups (APPG) on the Green New Deal, wrote about the challenges of the UK’s highly centralised economy for taking meaningful action on the climate. The APPG’s “Local Edge” inquiry sought local solutions for reducing carbon emissions in key sectors, such as housing, transport, and land use and nature. She summarised the findings and concluded that it is high time the government let local people lead.

Net zero for the many
by Oliver Coppard
And in that vein, while the Conservatives were fighting over how best to signal to voters that they had taken David Cameron’s infamous advice on “cutting the green crap” as gospel, in South Yorkshire, the Metro Mayor Oliver Coppard was busy convening ordinary people in a citizen’s assembly to discuss how to transition the post-industrial – and highly climate sceptic – combined authority to net zero. When the assembly had wound down, Coppard reflected on its findings in this piece, which first appeared in the Green Transition, out weekly newsletter on net zero-nomics. Have you signed up yet?

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