More than one political commentator has described the House of Commons rising for its summer recess as an end of term – and, with some inevitability, there have been numerous ‘end of term’ reports assessing which of the political parties, and its leaders, will head for their holidays or ‘stay-cations’ in better spirits.
The general consensus is that it is the Prime Minister and Conservatives who should have the greatest cause for optimism. To use a cricket analogy given the Ashes contest taking place down the road at Lords, it is clear that in recent weeks the Government has more than begun to master a difficult wicket. The economy is showing signs of improvement; business confidence is at its highest level for several years; crime rates have fallen; and Ministers have now not only implemented controversial NHS reforms but have positioned themselves as patients’ champions dedicated to ensuring a high quality of care. The sum of this is that the Prime Minister appears to have consolidated his position following backbench mutterings earlier in the year, and is significant that opinion polls show increased support for the Conservatives and a decline for UKIP. This does not mean the sky for the Conservatives is a cloudless one – and they can expect to face further questions about alcohol pricing and tobacco advertising. They will continue to be challenged over the role of Lynton Crosby, and are likely to be challenged (quite rightly) by Labour over their damp squib of a lobbying bill. Also looming on the horizon is an autumn court case for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.
The Liberal Democrats should also have cause for optimism, borne out of the high profile role they have secured for themselves and the very public way in which Party leaders, but none more so than Nick Clegg – whose position now looks more secure than at any point since May 2010 – have shaped Government policy.
In contrast, Labour finds itself in a bit of a fix and come the autumn will need to set out its policies far more clearly than it has to date. In recent months, and notably during the spending review, the Government has been able set policy challenges of Labour, and Mr Miliband will need to reverse this trend. Otherwise, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will continue to determine not only each battleground but the terms of each engagement. Labour will also need to address its relationship with the trade unions to ensure that it cannot be accused being at their mercy, while at the same not leaving the Party with an enormous funding shortfall just two years before the General Election.
2015 is still a long way off, but at present the sun will be shining more brightly in the eyes of the Conservatives.