Some thoughts on the session that has just ended
20 Dec 2003
As I came home last Thursday, having asked the Leader of the House when he was going to do something about the unsightly collection of placards in Parliament Square, I pondered on all that had happened since this session began in October. A new Leader of the Opposition; unprecedented rebellions in the Government on top-up fees and Foundation Hospitals; some risks taken with the Budget as tax revenues slow down and Government expenditure accelerates; the capture of Saddam Hussein; the implosion of the new European constitution; and renewed uncertainties about the Prime Minister's health.
And who would have guessed that Michael Howard would accuse David Blunkett of doing something "despicable" to the families of asylum seekers?
A year ago, it was a foregone conclusion amongst political commentators that Tony Blair would lead the Labour Party to a third overwhelming victory at the next General Election. Now, neither half of that proposition is so certain. A debate on the succession has begun, rather quietly, but the volume could easily and quickly be turned up. My view has been that the favourite, Gordon Brown, will not take over when the time comes. He will be the Rab Butler of the Labour Party, the natural successor who never succeded. If the change comes early, watch Alan Milburn; if it comes late, watch Hilary Benn.
The shape of the next general Election is already visible. The Government will accuse the Opposition of wanting to slash investment in public services; the Opposition will say that too much of that investment has been wasted. Both will accuse the Liberal Democrats of having expensive commitments which they have not costed properly, and which cannot be financed by a 50% rate on those with incomes over £100,000.
But before then, we have the Euro elections in June. The postponement of agreement - if it ever comes - on the new Constitution has given the PM a breathing space. The demand for a referendum will seem less urgent. (But could not the PM have taken a trick if he had precipitated events at the recent Summit, rather than allowing the Poles and Spaniards to do so? Would Alastair Campbell have missed that opportunity?)
And, yes, the PM does look lonely and beleaguered. He is resilient and will bounce back after Christmas to confront the Hutton report. Of that, more anon. Until then, a happy Christmas to all website visitors.
 
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015