Business finished early today – some compensation for sitting (extra) late Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Most people have cleared off to their constituencies, so I may well be the only MP left in the Palace of Westminster. (Of course, I might not be here at all, I might just be saying that to give you the impression I’m working.)
It’s certainly very quiet here. I like wandering through the more gothic parts of the Palace when no-one else is around. Walking out through Westminster Hall, which is echoey and cavernous, with something really noisy on the headphones… Not that I’m doing that at the moment. I ‘m at my desk, in an office which smells of stale cigarette smoke and the not-very-nice stuff I’ve sprayed round to try to mask it, drinking lukewarm tapwater and eating dry oatcakes for dinner. And blogging by way of displacement activity because I’ve just got through about 100 emails and am steeling myself to face the remaining 200….
Normally I’d be trying to finish things off in the Westminster office at this time on a Thursday and then heading for Paddington to get the train to Bristol – there’s no point getting the train till late, it’s absolutely packed with commuters before then and virtually impossible to get a seat. But I’m staying in London tonight so I can support John McDonnell’s Private Members Bill tomorrow. I suspect it will be talked out by the Tories, unless John can rally 100 MPs to be there and vote yes for a closure motion (which stops the debate, and allows us to move to a vote on the Bill itself). I’ll be heading to Bristol as soon as that’s finished.
Things I will be doing over the next week or so… Mostly Treasury team business. Getting to grips with the finer points of the Spending Review, of course – and I haven’t blogged about it because (a) where to start? (b) it’s bloody depressing and (c) there’s loads of stuff on other blogs already. If you want to be thoroughly depressed, read Johann Hari.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon dashing to College Green for 90-second media interviews and back to the Commons every time the division bell went, as we were on a running three-line whip on the Parliamentary Voting Systems Bill. That’s why it’s called a running whip – you have eight minutes to get to the division lobby before the doors are slammed in your face. If you’re on College Green you’ve probably already lost a minute by the time the text comes through telling you there’s a vote, and then you have to negotiate the traffic and the tourists, and if you’re wearing four-inch heels (which would be a really stupid thing to do on such a day, but some people never learn) then it’s touch and go whether you make it in time.
Next week we have another four sessions of the Finance Bill Committee. I’ve just submitted some amendments on Section 12, Schedule 6, consortium claims for group relief, which gives you some idea of how exciting it is….
On Tuesday afternoon we’ve got another piece of Treasury legislation, the Second Reading of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill. It’s one of the shortest Bills I’ve ever seen: four clauses. But that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Clause 1 scraps the child trust fund. Clause 2 scraps the Saving Gateway scheme. Clause 3 scraps the health in pregnancy grant. Needless to say, Labour will be opposing the Bill, as vociferously and vigorously as we can.
We also had draft legislation on the Bank Levy published today, then there’s the Equitable Life Bill and all sorts of delegated legislation, including the EU-related stuff, and other debates… So, busy times and I’ve had to postpone some of the meetings I was going to have on other issues. Things I’m going to try to get to next week:
- Transport questions on Thursday. I want to ask about the impact of the Spending Review, and in particular the 20% reduction in the bus subsidy and a 28% cut in the local government resource grants; what will this mean for a city like Bristol?
- The parliamentary launch of the National Housing Federation’s “South West Home Truths”, highlighting the need for more social and affordable housing in the South West. It’s being hosted by a Lib Dem MP, who will presumably have *interesting* things to say about the Spending Review?
- Something which is billed in the diary as “a photo-op with BoVine the cow” – I assume this is something to do with Friends of the Earth’s campaign for the Sustainable Livestock Bill. Join the Moovement! http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/biodiversity/press_for_change/moodunnit_25606.html
- A post-Kenya lunch with the All-Party Group on Agriculture and Development, to see how we can take some of the issues forward, and also the APPG’s launch of the Montpelier Panel report
- A reception by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, who’ve been campaigning on the Nocton Dairy Farm: the www.notinmycuppa.com campaign
On Friday I’ll be in London again because the UK Youth Parliament are having a debate in the Commons chamber, but will be back in Bristol Friday afternoon to hold the usual surgery. And a bit of light relief on Thursday night. I’ve been invited to the Electric Proms by BBC 6 Music, to see an eclectic combination of performers: Elton John, Leon Russell, Plan B and Rumer. Not what I’d listen to individually, but I’m intrigued as to what they’ll come up with.
Anyway, back to work! It feels a lot later than it is.