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The Great Commons Game Of Stop-Start Is No Fun For Ed Miliband

Last Updated: Friday, April 13th, 2012

Respect’s triumph in the Bradford by-election and a survey showing UKIP at 11 per cent (it’s worth adding that the polling company concerned prompts for minor party responses) have re-fired the debate about the future of the three main parties.  Parliament and the Commons, too, are held in low esteem: some voters question whether they serve any useful purpose at all.

They may or may not, but the degree to which the legislature and the media combine to hold the executive to account is underestimated.  When the Commons sits, Ministers can be questioned, motions debated and votes held.  The Opposition can take the controversy of the day and make a drama of it in the House; the media can throw a spotlight on the action – close votes, big clashes, backbench revolts, possible resignations.

In other words, a sitting Commons is essential if the screw is to be turned on any Government.  It hasn’t sat this week during the continuing row about the budget, particularly over its effects on charities.  Labour have thus been denied the chance to use the Chamber to ramp up pressure on Ministers – above all, by Ed Miliband grilling David Cameron about the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Instead, the Prime Minister has been able to fly off to the Far East, free to exploit the photo-opportunities involved.  How he must smile, then, as he contemplates the Commons timetable for the next few months.  Not until over another week has passed does the House sit again after this continuing Easter recess: it will so on April 23.  By that time, the election for the London Mayoralty, other London elections and other local elections will be in full swing.

So will the Opposition and the media be able to get stuck into the Government after these end?  No, because the House will be prorogued until May 9, when the Queen’s speech is delivered.  After that?  Scarcely, because the Commons will sit only until May 24 – barely two weeks – before a break of almost three weeks to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  After that, then?  Not really, unless you think that just over a month – the period from June 11 until July 24 – will do the trick.

The Daily Mail claimed after the Easter Recess had begun claimed that the Commons will be sitting for only 17 days in the next two months.  It labeled the coming period the Great Westminster Shutdown.  It is certainly the great Westminster Stop-Start – and will be deeply frustrating for the Labour Party.  Miliband will find it very hard to develop any real sense of momentum when the drama he is constantly seeking to stir is stop-started by all these recesses – during the run-up to what should be another great Government photo-op: the Olympics.

By Paul Goodman



  1. George Osborne says he has no regrets about the Budget and we get an insight into his fightback strategy –
  2. A profile of the 2020 Conservatives – one of the new influential groupings of Tory MPs –
  3. Are the Tories looking for another Thatcher? A ConHome survey finds that four women Conservative MPs (Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel, Anna Soubry and Liz Truss) feature prominently in expectations of a future leader –
  4. Mark Field MP argues against plain packaging of cigarettes, suggesting it would be fundamentally “unconservative” –
  5. Tory MP Chris White MP breaks ranks to criticise the Chancellor’s charity cap –
  6. Jill Kirby warns that the Green Deal could be the next mis-selling scandal –
  7. Only a referendum can limit leakage of Tory voters to UKIP, says Tim Montgomerie –
  8. Alun Cairns MP sees Labour’s record on the NHS in Wales as an Achilles heel for Ed Miliband –
  9. Fraud costs local government £10 billion every year –
  10. In one of a number of pieces reflecting on the 20th anniversary of John Major’s 1992 victory Bruce Anderson reflects on the period that followed and what he sees as the Conservative Party’s most shameful ever period –

By Tim Montgomerie

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