It has been a week of stagnation and drift in Westminster. MPs have almost nothing to do in the Commons. On Monday night party managers put Conservative MPs on a one-line whip; in other words told them that they might as well go home, a decision that was only partly inspired by the forlorn hope that it would stop them plotting. This state of affairs looks set to carry on right up to the Queen’s Speech, which is not due till late November. Only in the House of Lords, where peers on Tuesday night voted down the Hunting Bill in a sudden squall of energy, is there any purpose or vitality.
It is hard to know whose plight is the more wretched: the Tories with their inability to oppose, or New Labour with its incapacity to govern. Both parties are gripped by a crisis of identity. New Labour does not know what it is for, while the Conservative party has lost the ability to articulate what it believes. Tory MPs walk around in twos and threes discussing the leadership. The latest rumination in this endless conversation is whether to strike before or after Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, concludes his report into alleged irregularities inside Iain Duncan Smith’s private office.
Most make the case for waiting. They are hoping that Sir Philip will do their job for them. A minority say: strike at once. They argue, correctly, that the Betsygate allegations have nothing to do with the real case for or against Duncan Smith. Furthermore, it is beginning to emerge that early hopes that Mawer will conduct his business with dispatch may be dashed.
Sir Philip, it should be borne in mind, has emerged from a deep lassitude in order to carry out this investigation.