The week in review: Politics paused for a quick cuppa
Half-term weeks can often be dull, uninspiring affairs. This one felt like someone had pressed the 'pause' button at the climax of an action movie while they went out to make a cup of tea.
A cup of tea for the English Defence League, that is. In what was undoubtedly the most cheering story of the week which followed the brutal, horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, nothing summed up the British response to reaction and extremism quite like the Muslims in York who doled out cuppas to the EDL thugs camped outside. They even kicked a football around afterwards. After the sickening bloody meat cleaver of the previous week's news, it was a relief turning to a more civilised topic.
The political aftershock from Woolwich has been a little more troubling. David Cameron and Theresa May began agitating for kneejerk moves to curtail the free speech of radical extremists over the long bank holiday weekend. Whether these measures survive the initial jolt of a one-off violent murder remains to be seen. Meanwhile Nick Clegg changed his tone on the snoopers' charter, but Lib Dem officials insisted the deputy prime minister's policy position was not actually shifting.
The MP having the worst week of all was Patrick Mercer, who chose to resign his party's whip ahead of allegations surfacing about his lobbying activities. The case has revived longstanding calls for a statutory register of lobbyists. As this is a cherished Lib Dem policy, the automatic assumption is it doesn't stand a chance.
The exception that proves the rule is gay marriage, a Lib Dem-backed policy which Cameron actually likes because it is so refreshingly detoxifying. It has been paused since it completed its progress through the Commons earlier this month, when the best that could be said for David Cameron in the eyes of many Tory backbenchers was that at least this unpopular move would not drag on and on (like Europe). For the majority of MPs in the Commons it was a case of one step closer to a desperately wanted reform. Next week sees the issue come to the Lords, who are set to kick up more of a fuss than, perhaps, they should.
The issue matters because of its bearing on Cameron's authority, which is summed up by the state of mind of his would-be successor, Boris Johnson. According to Andy Coulson, Boris wouldn't dream of stabbing Dave – but wants to be first in line to take over when Cameron does finally bow out. With an overall majority far from certain at the next general election, that could come sooner rather than later. It feels like every week another division sees another group of rebels reaffirm their rejection of Cameron's leadership. This week the PM was taking a break in Ibiza. He certainly needed one.
There will be more rebels next week, but it's the Liberal Democrat whips' office who need to worry. At least 11 Lib Dems, including party president Tim Farron, have made clear they're unhappy with the coalition's failure to get a renewable energy target into the energy bill. This was voted on as party policy last year, but hasn't made it into legislation.
We can expect a minor tantrum on Monday. But it's interesting, isn't it, how little Lib Dem rebellions matter these days. The coalition isn't going to collapse because of its junior party, which seems as stubbornly fixated on its own electoral implosion in 2015 as ever. As Clegg deals with sulking Lib Dems in the Commons, Cameron will have to tackle fuming Tories in the Lords. Ready to resume the coalition action movie? Time to press 'play'…