This should be the day when everyone sighs with relief that the silly season is over and we can get back to some ‘proper’ news. But this year has been something of an anomaly – the eurozone debt crisis, the phone hacking scandal, the riots, conflict in Libya and Syria, the US debt negotiations have all meant that the news has had a pretty busy summer. As the BBC’s James Naughtie put it recently on Twitter, it’s indicative of how busy things have been that it took the Today programme until the 17 August to need the ‘how many jellyfish are there in the sea at the moment story’ to fill airtime.
There are now nine sitting days before Parliament goes on recess again for the party conferences. In this time, there is a mammoth amount of legislation for MPs and Lords to get through, as well as some potentially very inflammatory committee hearings. A fair amount of it is pretty high profile stuff, as well – the kind of thing that will not play well for Conservative ministers at their conference if all doesn’t go to plan in the next few days.
Here’s a to do list for the David Cameron to make sure he goes into conference with buoyant poll ratings:
1. Get the Health and Social Care Bill through the Commons. After being ‘paused’ and then rewritten earlier this year, the NHS reforms are causing controversy again as Lib Dem MPs contemplate how they will vote and Nadine Dorries brings provocative amendments about abortion counselling
2. Pass the Terrorism Prevention & Investigation Measures Bill, which is due to be debated this afternoon, without too much fuss or media coverage. The Bill will replace control orders with ‘TPIMs’, but have drawn widespread criticism for just being control orders ‘rebranded’
3. Prevent Ed Miliband and Labour from seizing the narrative on phone hacking again. The Culture, Media and Sport select committee will take evidence from former News International employees Jonathan Chapman and Daniel Cloke and former News of the World editor Colin Myler – guaranteed to cause a rerun of July’s media maelstrom
4. Keep control of Boris over the riots. The Mayor of London and his deputy for policing, Kit Malthouse, along with representatives from the Met, will appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee tomorrow. For the sake of party unity going into the conference, it’s important Boris doesn’t blame the national government too strongly for the riots
5. Win the argument about police cuts, especially in light of the riots and Labour’s strong line on frontline cuts. The Policy Exchange research, released today, should put wind in the government’s sails over this
6. Keep the peace with the Liberal Democrats. Going into their party conference, it looks as though the Lib Dems are trying hard to show clear water between themselves and the Conservatives – see Nick Clegg’s speech later today on free schools, for instance, where he will open up a point of difference with Michael Gove over education reform
7. Find a solution for the Scottish Conservative Party. There’s a leadership contest underway and frontrunner Murdo Fraser has announced he will disband the party, disassociate with London and form a new centre-right party if he wins.
8. Stay positive on Libya and Syria. Foreign intervention is a hairy topic to tackle just before coming face to face with your party’s grassroots, and the fact that Gaddafi still hasn’t been found means that MPs will still have testing questions to ask of the prime minister this week. There are also suggestions the UK was complicit in extraordinary rendition to Libya
9. Appease the party over planning reforms. The Localism Bill is at the report stage in the Lords, and there is likely to be plenty of strong opinions expressed. The rural Conservative party is up in arms about the proposals, which are seen to be weighted in favour of developers. The alternative is a U-turn on the proposed reforms
10. As ever, Europe, stays on the agenda. Bill Cash is holding a conference on ‘European Reform’ in Parliament today, and the People’s Pledge referendum campaign is also gathering steam. As much as No 10 might want to avoid a fight in the party over the EU, staying out of one is going to be a tough job