Just another week in politics
With election season upon us, the Easter parliamentary session is due to come to a close on Tuesday afternoon with the 17th century ceremony to prorogue the current parliament. This is the formal name given to the end of one parliamentary session and the state opening of the next, with all the pomp and regal only the British establishment could conjure. Cue much doffing of tricorn hats, an appearance from Black Rod and the uttering in Norman French of ‘la Reyne le veult’ – or, for those needing to brush up their medieval French, ‘the Queen wishes it’ – to signify the royal assent to every law passed in the session. But before this rather niche spectacle the business of governance continues with a sprinkling of legislating and select committee hearings. And there is the small matter of elections to 181 town halls across the land, with nearly 5,000 council seats up for election and the fate of London and Glasgow, to name but two of our principle cities, hanging in the political balance.
Few weeks in politics can match the proceedings seen last week. While it is always important to go forward not back, to borrow a phrase, and the week ahead is the raison d’être of this very column, past behaviour is the best indicator of future conduct. In this regard, the government is in disarray. What began with Theresa May in deep trouble over her inability to read a calendar, moved effortlessly to Jeremy Hunt fighting for his political life with the unravelling of a murky political scandal, via Rupert Murdoch’s testimony, and culminating in the announcement of a double dip recession. This week, it would seem, has much to live up to.
If the Murdochs – or the government – were hoping last week’s evidence before the Leveson inquiry would draw a temporary line under the phonehacking affair, they are to be disappointed. Two unresolved events mean that the scandal will remain in the headlines in to this week too. The 163 pages of email correspondence between Hunt, his special adviser and News Corporation is a sordid affair and once the press, and civil servants, have had the opportunity to read through all the discourse, further revelations are sure to follow. To rub salt in to the wound, Hunt will not welcome the culture, media and sport committee publishing their long-awaited report in to the phonehacking saga on Tuesday. Given his understandable desire to lie low, this may prove somewhat difficult as the secretary of state in charge of the report.
Over in the Lords, our peers plunge into the perennial debate over the, insufferably boring, issue of Lords reform. It may well be a worthy cause, pursued for nigh-on a century, but one can confidently expect most of our peers will vehemently disagree with the proposed reforms – and to say so at some length. So far 81 peers have requested to speak on Monday with an overspill session pencilled in for Tuesday morning. Self-interested, you say?
The political theatre to match the scenes seen last week surely lies at the ballot box. Given the rank incompetence displayed by the government in recent weeks, Labour has an opportunity to turn routine opposition gains into something far more lasting. Beneath the headline figures, avid politicos would do well to look north to Scotland, where all councils are up for election, and where the Labour party faces the dismal prospect of having not one Scottish authority under outright control. To the south, progress must be made in the district councils where the party was decimated, and in our two major cities – Glasgow and London – the most visceral political warfare will take place. Psephology is an imperfect science but, because I am a sucker, briefly, and for the only time, I predict: the SNP will win control of Glasgow, Livingstone will lose in London, Labour will gain 500 seats and Hunt will be gone by the week’s end. So, anything but just another week in politics then.
David Talbot is a political consultant, tweets @_davetalbot and writes the weekly The Week Ahead column on Progress
election 2012, Glasgow, House of Lords, House of Lords reform, Jeremy Hunt, Labour, Leveson inquiry, local government, London, London Assembly elections 2012, Scottish Labour, Theresa May