Like the end of school holidays, Steerpike suspects MPs will be greeting the end of summer recess with mix feelings. New masters, new subjects and frequents tests of one kind or another – all beckon with Parliament's return tomorrow. Amid frenzied talk of reshuffles, a punishing timetable will no doubt be leaving some Tories full of unease.
Others no doubt will be relishing Parliament's return. For the 2019-intake, this will be their first extended period in the Commons without Covid restrictions – having barely clocked up three months’ attendance on the hallowed green benches before the pandemic took hold. This could be their chance to show-off their skills and get noticed by head boy Boris and his prefectorial whips. So what awaits eager and not so-eager beavers in just under two weeks’ time? Below is a tantalising (or panic-inducing) preview of the autumn term.
For constitutional aficionados, the first week of term gets off to a good start with the Second Reading of the Elections Bill. This legislation, the Government claims, will 'strengthen the integrity of elections and protect our democracy.' Part of the legislation – the requirement to present photographic ID at polling stations – has already provoked the ire of the Labour front bench. Angela Rayner has branded the plans 'completely undemocratic' saying it would 'deny people their right to vote.'
For those seeking to catch the attention of the whips, this is surely a chance to roll-out some loyal party lines. Such as the fact the previous Labour Government introduced the same ID policy for polling stations in Northern Ireland in 2003. Or that 98 per cent voters already own an acceptable type of identification. Brownie points are here for the taking. The following week is the remaining stages of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act Repeal Bill. This is Conservative and Labour Party manifesto stuff. It should be easy to get through but if the whips are having difficulty finding speakers this may be a chance to put oneself forward.
Meanwhile in the background, issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol will continue to simmer with the grace period for checks on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland due to finish on 1 October. Conference recess starts on 23 September for our tired-out Parliamentarians but Steerpike imagines Lord Frost will be trop occupé with his counterparts in Brussels. MPs return to the Commons 18 October with the Chancellor set to give his half-yearly Budget update on 27 October. Will we see Sunak’s popularity peak or will it be another stage in his unstoppable rise to replacing Boris Johnson as head? Others will just hope the pair find some way of resolving their views on social care.
Then it’s straight onto the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow on 1 November. For those MPs able to take part in an educational trip north of the border, this will be a chance to network, burnish environmental credentials and make friends with elected representatives, officials and academics from overseas. Name-dropping will be easy in the Commons debates that follow and provide good material for MPs’ social media. The last few weeks of term are always a rush and with new GB-EU customs checks coming into force in January 2022, Lord Frost will be no doubt be working hard in December to avoid too much trade disruption in the new year.
Who will come top of the class and who will be told 'must do better'? Steerpike looks forward to finding out.