Analysis Politics

Round up of the last year in Parliament

Hannah Boyle takes on the parliamentary review, summarising the last year

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Image Credit: Jessica Taylor

Parliament is now in recess until 6 September 2021, giving us the ideal opportunity to reflect on the year and the government’s handling of continued crises. With challenges caused by the end of the Brexit Transition period, continuing challenges of Covid and the recent, controversial legislation – this parliamentary session is one to remember.

Party politics in parliament

With a hybrid parliament in full swing and the return to parliament for some, it has been a year that challenged parliamentarians like no other. Johnson, Starmer and Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle have dominated business in the House of Commons, but what is worth noting over the past year?

The Coronavirus Act 2020 will not be unfamiliar to any of us, as it allows the government to enact measures to reduce the spread of Covid when necessary. While the bill was introduced in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, it was extended until September 2021. This was the source of great interest to many, as, with support from Labour, the government suffered a small rebellion of 35 Conservative MPs who expressed concerns about continuing lockdowns.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 was introduced earlier this year with the intention of “back[ing] our police by equipping officers with the powers and tools they need to keep themselves and all of us safe” (Source: gov.uk). While the bill was defended as a required and recommended measures by the government, it has been the source of much criticism since its introduction- notably for changes it plans to make to the right to protest and the impact on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Further vital legislation has been the Nationality and Borders Bill 2021, which second reading passed with a majority of 101 on 20 July 2021 and is currently at the Committee Stage. Described as the new beginning for government immigration policy, the Nationality and Borders Bill tackles issues of asylum, refugees, immigration, and human trafficking. A new immigration policy in the aftermath of Brexit, it has been supported heavily by the government, while attracting criticism from Labour for failing to provide provision for unaccompanied child refugees.

Political drama never slows, as shown in the last week before recess. In a leak to the press, it was suggested that the government has planned potential changes to the Official Secrets Act. The changes, endorsed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, are said to target journalists who may be considering publishing “unauthorised disclosures”, even if in the public interest, according to The Guardian. While we may have to wait until the end of recess to see the full extent of these plans, this guarantees an exciting start to the next session.

Change for the Conservatives?

This year has also been an interesting one for the government itself, with changes and challenges entering the Conservative Party ranks. With allegations of cronyism, chaos and contempt at the heart of Johnson’s government, this parliamentary session will be seen as far from easy for the Conservatives in history. In June, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to resign after images were leaked of him kissing his aide, Gina Colangelo. He was replaced by former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid.

But this Parliamentary session represents more for the Conservatives. They currently hang in a fine balance of benefiting from the ‘vaccine-bounce’ in the polls and recent concerns over the timing of “Freedom Day” – the removal of all Covid restrictions. While we may have to wait to see if Johnson’s Covid gamble pays off, belated ‘gifts’ from former aide Dominic Cummings keep surfacing and this summer could represent a fundamental turning point in Conservative popularity, not only in national polls but internal party divisions may swell with the continuing pandemic.

Life or loss for Labour?

While this may be a summer of reckoning and far from an easy Parliamentary session for the Conservative Party, the Labour Party has been equally challenged this year. With rocky local election results and concerns over the internal finances of UK Labour, Starmer has had his work cut out to convince voters that Labour should be the party of governance. The Labour leader recently embarked on a tour to discuss issues with voters, starting in Blackpool in July. It is yet to be seen if this is enough to convince voters to move back to the left.

Labour has had further challenges – even with the victory in Batley and Spen –  with the electorate struggling to find the firm Labour position as the focus remains on Covid. However, there may be potential gains in the future, with 53 percent of Britons believing restrictions should have remained in place, according to The Times and YouGov. With Labour opposing the removal of all restrictions, and advocating for the continued use of face coverings in retail and transport, perhaps Conservative loss may be Labour gain over the recess period.

Where now?

As recess leads to a period of calm, we have an exciting September to look forward to. With the potential return of a fully in person Parliament and Party Conference, this year promises to be explosive for those invested in party policy and development. Johnson will be focused on the vaccination success and Starmer will be setting out his positions for the first time since his election as Labour Party Leader in 2020. The next Parliamentary session is not one to miss.

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