Bonus track

This recess is of course a bit different in that Parliament is being recalled on 6th September, for a couple of weeks, and then we’re in recess again for the Conference season. It’s basically just because Cameron made a populist pledge at some point during the election campaign about MPs not having a ten week ‘holiday’, even though he knows perfectly well that most MPs work throughout recess, or at least the September bit of it and much of August too.

We have however got several major Bills having their Second Reading during this fortnight. On the first day back it’s the infamous AV Referendum Bill, which also includes the commitment to cut the number of MPs to 600, and fix rejig constituency boundaries so that Labour don’t win the next election they’re more equal in size.

Although Labour – unlike the Tories and Lib Dems, ironically – fought the election on a commitment to a referendum on AV, we’ll be forced to oppose this Bill because of the constituency boundaries stuff. This may, given the widespread opposition to AV on the Tory backbenches make it difficult for the Government to get the Bill through, although there’ll be concerted efforts by the Tory whips to do so. Without the promise of a referendum, albeit on a voting system they don’t actually support, the Libs would find it impossible to justify their decision to be in Government with the Tories. You hear Libs all the time on television excusing their support for draconian cuts which hit the poorest the hardest by saying “Lib Dem policies are being implemented in Government”… Nine times out of ten, they’re things that the Tories were committed to doing anyway (eg scrapping ID cards). The referendum promise is their forlorn little figleaf, covering their shame; without it they’d have no excuse.

There’s substantial opposition to the AV Bill on the Tory  frontbench too, but they’ll vote in favour, with their fingers crossed. In favour of the referendum that is; they’ll be free to oppose AV when it comes to the referendum itself. Cameron has already said he’s not going to campaign.

I think I’ve already made it clear that although I’d vote yes in any future referendum on AV, I think it’s a mistake to hold it on the same day as the local elections next May. Stephen Williams has already approached me about being part of a Bristol ‘yes’ campaign. My priority next May will be to get rid of the useless Lib Dem lot in the Council House, not to buddy up with them on a referendum campaign.

I think there are plans afoot (by Tories? or possibly cross-party) to call for the referendum to be moved to September instead, allowing a summer of campaigning just on that issue, which seems to me a much better option. The Government’s excuse is that this will cost more; it will. But we don’t have referenda very often, and if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

The other Bills coming up include the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill – fair enough, but it should be four years, not five – and the Superannuations Bill, which is about civil servants’ pensions. The ConDems are up to their usual tricks on this. They’re trying to get it certified by the Speaker as a ‘Money Bill’ which means that it can’t be held up in the Lords. The decision rests with Mr Bercow, and he doesn’t adjudicate until the Bill has passed through its Commons stages, but he can expect a lot of lobbying in the meantime.

We’ve also got an Opposition Day debate on the Wednesday we go back. And then it’s Lib Dem conference, Labour conference, Tory conference and back to work proper.

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  • woodsy  On August 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Four years for a term of office is still too long one has an unpopular or incompetent government. The Chartists advocated annual parliaments; they had some sense.

    • kerrymccarthy  On August 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      That would paralyse decision-making, as we see with Bristol City Council. Election in May, and by December everyone’s worried about losing control the following May, no-one dares take tough decisions. I think we should have all-outs every four years in Bristol, rather than annual one-thirds… yes it means we could be stuck with an unpopular administration for longer than we like, but I think it would lead to better local leadership. And if they could be held the same day as a General Election turnout would be up too.

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