See no evil
First Published 29 September 2015
Finally, it’s summer recess. MPs have all fled Westminster and escaped to their constituencies to reflect on an eventful year and think about what’s next. And there’s certainly a lot to think about.
The last few weeks before parliament breaks for the summer offer a strange kind of respite. Not from parliamentary business -the rush to get legislation through is enough to keep everyone busy. And the government will certainly have been relieved to get the Housing and Regeneration Act on the statute books in the nick of time.
It’s more that these few weeks give MPs the liberty of procrastination. They can put the big things on hold until the autumn.
So, for example, Labour MPs have allowed media speculation about the leadership drift on, knowing that no one really expects anyone to do anything one way or the other until September. And the Conservatives have managed to avoid setting out many detailed policies because it’s accepted that nothing significant will happen until the autumn.
However, when they come back they’ll find some major policy issues waiting for solutions, with no scope to put them off until later. Take the repossessions crisis for example. MPs from the Labour and Conservative benches have said surprisingly little in parliament about this (the Lib Dems have been better). Yes, the government’s made some moves in the right direction, but it’s the job of opposition and backbench MPs to demand more -so where are they?
Given the daily prominence of the issue in the newspapers, you’d think MPs would be falling over themselves to lay down parliamentary questions and hold adjournment debates clamouring for action. While there has been the odd thing, it’s a fraction of the noise that you’d expect MPs to be making. For the past few weeks, day in day out, there’s been a stream of written questions on eco-towns, and adjournment debates, and topical debates. An important issue, sure, but where’s the equivalent scrutiny of government action (or inaction) on repossessions?
This reticence is not out of lack of interest, or because they underestimate the problem. Privately, MPs of all persuasions admit they are acutely aware of the threat that hangs over many homeowners who are stretched to the limit, and they’re worried about it. But they just don’t know what to say. Labour MPs aren’t keen to talk too much about repossessions, lest they fan the flames and provoke greater scales of public/media economic panic. Instead they play it down and hope for the best.
Conservative MPs would love to do more to highlight disastrous economic developments under Labour’s watch, but in order to do this with any credibility they need to offer alternatives.
They just don’t have the policies yet, and it’s easier said than done to come up with solutions, especially when many of the possibilities on the table would require a hefty spending commitment.
Time’s ticking away and this year’s party conference season will be a big one, with both Labour and the Conservatives likely to be weighed down by heavy expectations for some decisive action -Labour on leadership, and the Conservatives on concrete policy proposals.
Like children gleefully embarking on the eagerly anticipated ‘six-week holidays’, MPs might hope summer recess will last forever. But as we all remember, the gloom of the new school term arrives all too quickly. If they don’t want to be hauled up in front of the class, MPs need to make sure they get their homework done before the conferences start.