Predictions and possibilities
- 26 July 2012
- From the section UK Politics
What happens next? Parliament's summer term has not exactly ended with a cliffhanging plotline, but even as the decorators and repair crews move into Westminster, there's plenty of action pending.
It is normal, at this point, to make some snide comment about long holidays, but I suspect quite a few MPs whose constituencies go into the blender in the proposed boundary changes, might be on manoeuvres over the summer, to impress the activists and make sure they're not left standing when the selections for the smaller number of bigger constituencies is done.
The secure may be sunning themselves; the insecure will be trying to shine.
In Parliament, the first question is how Messrs Cameron and Clegg finesse Lords reform. Can they water down the current bill to the point where Tory MPs will pass it? Or can they do a deal to ensure Labour support?
At the moment no further proceedings on the Clegg bill are scheduled. So if we don't hear what's intended before Parliament returns, a good pointer will be whether the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, announces the start of the committee stage, in the second week of the September sitting.
Much of the first week will be taken up with ministerial statements on matters arising during the parliamentary break - which could encompass anything from a euro-zone crisis to war in the Middle East. It will also be interesting to see who makes these statements because David Cameron may well have reshuffled the government by then.
September is the obvious moment to make changes. The new ministers can debut in Parliament and be presented at their party conferences. The PM can also make any changes (ahem) consequential on the Olympics. And there's plenty of time for the coalition implications to be thought through and negotiated. There's endless speculation about which Cabinet ministers might be for the chop, but I'm at least as interested in who is promoted from, in particular, the new Tory intake.
Here, the question is whether the PM will co-opt or freeze out backbenchers who've voted against the official line on Europe or Lords Reform or whatever. If all of these are to be consigned to the outer darkness, the next generation of junior ministers will be selected from a very small gene-pool. Plenty of ambitious loyalists will expect to pass through the pearly gates into ministerial office - and at least some will have to be disappointed.
It seems unlikely that Jesse Norman, ringleader of the Lords rebellion, will feature in the new list of ministers, but he seems to have attained superstar status with colleagues, and, quite suddenly, is mentioned as the next prime minister but three. He is my nomination as the Tory MP to watch, because he has become a pivotal backbench figure. A rebellion over - say - a proposal to put British cash into the next euro-bailout will look a lot more dangerous with Norman on board as a major organiser/advocate.
It's hard to think of an equivalent figure on the Labour benches, not least because so many members of Labour's new intake are already shadow ministers. But watch Liz Kendall, the super-smart ex-special advisor in charge of social care. This is a policy issue that just won't go away. Sorting out how much individuals are expected to pay for their care in old age, and how much the state will have to provide, is not only an urgent necessity for an aging population, but an economic imperative, because the vast costs involved could destabilise government finances, unless something is done. Any deal has to be endorsed by all parties, because it will have to last for decades - and so Kendall will be a key figure. And, be under no illusions, this is an issue which won't go away, even if the government is not willing to move on it.
In Parliament itself, some of the most important action will be on the committee corridor. Topping the bill will be Andrew Tyrie's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards - ie the interest rate-fixing scandal. The Commission has been asked to report on proposals for legislative action no later than 18 December 2012, which means it will have to swing into action pretty rapidly. So expect high-profile hearings to begin in September, if not before. Its membership, on the Commons side, at least, is not exactly iconoclastic, but the issue is so important that ministers will be very nervous about where the evidence might take it.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, in all probability, the Standards and Privileges Committee will be grappling with the cases of the three witnesses accused by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of misleading Parliament over phone hacking. The best legal and procedural brains in Westminster have worked out the framework for handling this case, perhaps with the thought in mind that they may have to deal with similar allegations against other witnesses who've given evidence to other select committees. One interesting thought: it is at least theoretically possible that the committee might find some of the charges "not proven". What then? Will anyone apologise?
A nasty accident has kept Anne Begg, the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, out of Westminster, but she hopes to be back and her committee will be looking at the implementation of the government's plan to completely reshape social security, replacing the Jobseekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits, and Housing Benefit with a new Universal Credit. A massive reform of benefits, underpinned by a new computer system - what could possibly go wrong? This could help prevent all kinds of trouble, and it's worth noting that the W&P committee members are a pretty impressive bunch. So, while this inquiry may not be a headline-grabber, it could have a real influence on the lives of millions of people.