As you are reading this, both Houses of Parliament are now in recess. Just in case you are thinking no creature will be stirring, not even a parliamentary mouse, then think again. Recess is of course the one opportunity the Commons authorities have to engage in what some would categorise elsewhere as major building work. Cavernous holes in the floor are all part of the usual recess experience for the legion of parliamentary staff.
Parliamentarians too will be returning to their constituencies with only one thing in mind. Today, 19th December, marks the commencement of the “long campaign” which runs up until dissolution on the 30th March 2015. It won’t be much easier for those who have already decided that they will move on to pastures new. There is that frantic business of sorting out a series of company directorships/peerages/consultancies to attend to. Blair has set a new bar to what is considered the acceptable standard for the retiring MP. So today’s contingent will have to work all the harder.
This week’s pre-Christmas PMQs was the predictable Punch and Judy show that increasingly characterises this 1960s anachronism. Christmas spirit and seasonal goodwill were distinctly lacking between Government and opposition. You didn’t have to be a “masosadist” to enjoy it, but it probably helped. You can’t help but think that Conservative backbenchers must wish that Santa would deliver them polls reflecting the ignominy heaped on a hapless Miliband.
While the general public may increasingly tune out of PMQs, politicians genuinely do understand what may be the decisive factor of this election; the economy. With the announcement of the Budget Day as the 18th March, the Coalition must be keen to cement its advantage ahead of the polls. Will Mr Clegg choose to stand shoulder to shoulder with old Etonian Mr Cameron? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, he won’t be filmed doing his part of the budget announcement from one of his local student halls.
One, not so minor issue, has been the Government’s handling of privatisations. Lord Myners’ report that Royal Mail privatisation may have been undervalued will not be good news for the Coalition. Since their inception in the 1980s, privatisation of everything owned by the government has been a mainstay of policy by all parties. Notwithstanding the anachronism of foreign government’s state owned utilities and sovereign wealth funds buying up chunks of the UK.
At least this week’s slew of Parliamentary Select Committees could attest that Parliament was in good health. The Treasury Committee in particular has been awarding itself a Christmas present in the form of the Davis report. You won’t find TSC members playing candy crush anytime soon. Last week they had Davis himself giving evidence on the regulator’s “Insurance-gate” scandal. Back in September, Chairman Tyrie announced that the “gloves were off”. It was no surprise therefore that former FCA Directors Clive Adamson and Zitah McMillan were dragged along to be publicly pilloried. You might well ask quite how Treasury Committee members shamed and standing down because of their own scandals have the brass neck to continue to serve as public inquisitors, but they do.
Parliament also paid its final respects to one of its own this week. Jeremy Thorpe, former Liberal leader, famously tried for conspiracy to murder during the 1979 General Election, was laid to rest. His coffin draped in the Union Flag and carrying his trademark brown trilby. At least there was one old Etonian that Clegg was not afraid to be pictured next to. Doubtless many an MP will have the now injunction free warts-and-all biography in their Christmas stocking. They might well conclude that there are worse things than simply losing a seat at the General Election – especially if you are a dog.