With the excitement of a fevered conference season now over, business as usual returns to the House of Commons. Amid the grand visions offered to us by all party leaders, actual legislation continues to work its way through Westminster’s many corridors this week on a diverse range of agendas; from nuclear waste disposal to a discussion on dog control with the suitably-named Minister, Lord de Mauley.
Ed Miliband has begun the week on the front foot, with an agenda-setting call to end the social stigma attached to mental illness. In his first public address since the Labour party conference, the Labour leader will unveil ambitious proposals to rewrite the NHS constitution to guarantee mentally ill people have access to therapies in the same way as the physically ill are provided treatment. With statistics highlighting that one in four of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives, the stigma and ignorance that proliferates through society can no longer go unaddressed. From a party political point of view, many within Labour will rejoice that an increasingly confident Labour leader has been assertive and launched a bold new taskforce to tackle a hidden ill of his ‘one nation’ society.
In the House, our Lords begin their week with the committee stage of the electoral registration and administration bill. This seemingly innocuous sounding legislation has created more angst among parliamentarians than any proposed piece of statute to emerge thus far from the coalition’s calculations. Many Conservatives remain privately furious that a stroppy Nick Clegg blocked their long cherished objective of reforming parliamentary constituencies. This simple act of political malice drastically narrowed the likelihood of a majority Conservative government in 2015. Now, if the Conservative peers were angry at that they will be furious at further manoeuvres from their Lib Dem allies. Baroness Warsi warned after the election that her party had evidence that electoral fraud had cost them seats. Lib Dem peers Lord Rennard and Tyker have tabled a barrage of amendments to the bill. Another coalition clash over a quite frankly nakedly partisan issue designed to either, depending on your viewpoint, remove bias towards Labour, or gerrymander the electoral map towards the Conservatives, seems to be brewing apace.
Elsewhere, the police and crime commissioner elections – which has obviously gripped the nation – seems to have slipped our Welsh parliamentarians by. An order will be debated today to authorise the expenditure and distribution of Welsh language ballot papers for these elections. This must clear parliament by the 31 October, ahead of the 5pm deadline that day for postal ballots. Quite why this is going through with literally hours to spare will raise an eyebrow: joined-up government it is not.
Further down the week the political heavyweights of the government will all make an appearance; Messrs Hague, Cable, McLoughlin, Moore, Lansley and, of course, Cameron will all grace the hollowed green carpet of our parliament. In Westminster Hall there will be a series of debates led by backbenchers – among them, controversially, the long-standing abortion campaigner, Nadine Dorries, who will lead a debate on the upper legal limit for abortion.
With politics and parliament now back into its usual groove, all parties can take stock after the whirlwind of conference season and look to the gruelling schedule in the run up to the Christmas period. For Labour, it is much as we were. Paul Waugh, over at PoliticsHome, detailed an interesting snippet in his memo this morning that the Tories’ private polling puts Labour only 6 per cent ahead, and that the Tories remain on a steady 34 per cent of the vote. Many, not least within the Conservative party, would say this is far better than they actually ought to be doing at this stage in the electoral cycle. And for Labour it brings into sharp focus that with two years to go until the next general election, much more still needs to be done.
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