Week in politics: Sunak's rollercoaster ride, Johnson's army exercise and more

Twixes, sun cream and machine guns all featured in this strange week in politics. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees, PA and Number 10

For much of 2020 and 2021, Richmond MP Rishi Sunak looked almost like a Prime Minister in-waiting, widely praised for his response to the economic whirlwind created by Covid-19.

By the middle of April this year, his political ambitions looked dead in the water, after revelations over his wife's tax arrangements and his US green card, followed by confirmation he had been fined for breaking covid rules.

Timing is everything though (political truism no.1) and he stayed on as Chancellor, before finally resigning two and a half weeks ago, as the government collapsed.

Suddenly Mr Sunak was among the favourites for the leadership again, and duly picked up the most support from MPs in every one of their votes.

Now in the final two, Liz Truss appears as the frontrunner, with polls suggesting she is more popular among Conservative party members, some of whom see Mr Sunak as having raised taxes and betrayed Boris Johnson.

The North Yorkshire MP has referred to this (metaphorical) rollercoaster ride over the last few days, saying to supporters "I was totally written out", and describing himself as "the underdog."

He seems to be trying to create a comeback story, and hoping that all-important momentum (political truism no.2) can carry him back into Downing Street. 

Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy was in Darlington on Monday, where she announced Labour's plans to allow local communities to buy local assets like pubs or football clubs, and claimed the Conservative leadership contest was the "final nail in the coffin" for the government's levelling up promises.

I've written recently about how the 'levelling up' slogan has hardly been spoken by Tory contenders.

Rishi Sunak has, though, pledged to keep a cabinet minister for levelling up and to give mayors powers to alter business rates locally.

Liz Truss has said she wants to create low-tax zones, in the North of England particularly.

Their commitment to tackling regional inequalities is likely to be on the agenda when they visit Darlington for hustings with Conservative party members on Tuesday 9 August.

Ahead of a summer of campaigning around the country, Mr Sunak's team gave Westminster journalists care packages this week, including sun cream labelled 'Ready for Rishi - Ready for Sunshine.'

Boris Johnson seems determined to enjoy the time he has left as Prime Minister.

After flying a fighter jet at the start of the week, this weekend his team have also posted a video of him throwing a grenade, when he joined Ukrainian soldiers for training in North Yorkshire.

He can continue leading this caretaker government for a few more weeks, after winning a confidence vote that split along party lines in the Commons on Monday night.

Several of our region's Labour MPs offered criticism in particularly strong terms, including City of Durham's Mary Kelly Foy, who described a "zombie Government and... lame duck Prime Minister."

Newcastle Central's Chi Onwurah said the government "do not support working families" in the city amid the cost of living crisis, while Stockton North's Alex Cunningham mentioned rising child poverty rates, and accused ministers of an "abject failure of children and young people" in the region.

Blyth Valley Conservative MP Ian Levy defended the government, listing local investments, and claiming: "I know when I talk to people in the constituency that they feel there is a definite change and they have hope once again."

On Tuesday, Thirsk & Malton Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake called for a change in the law to make supplying drugs to under-16s a specific offence with a longer prison sentence.

'Leah's Law' would be in memory of 15-year-old Leah Hayes, who died in Northallerton in 2019 after taking MDMA.

Mr Hollinrake said: "When it comes to the supply of drugs, one would think that we would offer our children greater protection against those who seek to exploit their innocence, but we do not."

His Ten Minute Rule Bill was nodded through, but will now go towards the back of a long list of proposed legislation - and the government has shown little sign of supporting it.

The Home Office told us: "Supplying controlled drugs to anyone is an offence, which is why we are not creating an additional offence but we are determined to tackle illegal drugs and the harm they cause to families and communities."

Several of our region's Conservative MPs spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday about antisocial behaviour, particularly focusing on off-road bikes which are often driven at dangerous speeds and cause noise pollution in their areas.

Redcar's Jacob Young said these bikes are often linked to the drugs trade, while Darlington's Peter Gibson said: "every sight and sound of off-road bikes should be reported, so that our police can gather the intelligence they need to eliminate this problem".

Both called on the government to do more to tackle the "scourge" of off-road bikes, and antisocial behaviour more broadly.

Home Office Minister Amanda Solloway said the department was launching "a set of principles designed to galvanise and strengthen the response to antisocial behaviour... setting clear expectations for local agencies and guiding their approach to issues."

Parliament is now in recess for the summer, but the battle to become the next Prime Minister will keep us busy.

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