It’s elections week in Westminster – and everywhere else. As this parliament draws to a close, eyes were as much on Holyrood, City Hall and Cardiff Bay. But there was serious business to be dealt with too.
MPs returned from the Bank Holiday weekend to consider the House of Lords’ revisions to the government’s flagship Housing and Planning Bill. Time is running out for this contentious piece of legislation but Housing Minister Brandon Lewis did not indicate willingness to back down. At its heart this Bill radically changes the relationship between local authorities, housing associations and their tenants. Determined to make good on its target of 200,000 new homes by 2020, the government wants to force new homes for sale on local councils.
The Bill’s opponents say that forcing councils to sell off their houses will further diminish affordable social housing, aggravating the housing crisis. It is not for peers to prevent MPs telling councils what to do, according to Brandon Lewis. And for the commentators it’s an excuse to speculate about the timetable from ping pong to wash up.
On Wednesday PMQs was in full election mode – it just wasn’t clear which election. For despite the efforts of candidates across the UK, no one finds any of this as interesting as the big vote on 23 June. The fight for City Hall has proved an ugly one and provided the backdrop for David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn to exchange insults as to which party is the most racist. Not an edifying spectacle. The votes are yet to be counted, but it seems this is the election where no one side can do well, and all will claim victory.
On the campaign trail in London the sunshine had brought out the activists and the armchair punditry. Much of the chat was of turnout: “Fine weather must be good for Labour, higher turnout and all the city folk staying out at the pub and missing the close of poll.” Elsewhere not even a warm day in May could encourage participatory democracy – a voter appearing to elect their Police and Crime Commissioner reports that the polling agents leapt for joy at having someone to welcome, so low was the local interest. Once trumpeted as a vital means of holding the police to account, with so few people taking part in their election do they really have a mandate? It must gall the Chief Constable to know they can be summarily fired by a former district councillor, elected by 15% of the voters. But then, perhaps that is the idea.