The Week in Review: Fear and loathing on a winning week for the Tories
Scrappy week. No lead story but plenty of bad feelings. The Tories came out on top, easily. They were positively jubilant. The Lib Dems didn't do badly at all. And Labour got hammered.
The Conservatives kicked off July 2013 much the same way they kicked off July 2008: demanding a tax break for married couples.
It's a poisonous policy which most conservative commentators can't bring themselves to support. The majority of married couples wouldn't qualify and those that do would get a measly £150 a year. Nothing to be sniffed at, it's true, but a low enough limit to suggest that Tory MPs are for once genuinely demeaning the institution of marriage.
Much more importantly, the losers would be front page fodder for the tabloids. Picture her: the young child whose father left her and her mum. And with him went that £150 tax break. Not only does little Jennifer lose her father, she loses that tax break too. Or the family on the breadline, financially sunk by the death of a parent, that last £150 forcing them to soup kitchens. It's madness. Political suicide. George Osborne recognises that. David Cameron surely must, but has convinced himself otherwise.
Over the weekend, an Ipsa leak suggested the watchdog was going to propose a whopping £10,000 pay increase for MPs. It was the kind of political manoeuvre which would make the married couples tax allowance look safe. No party leader or MP can openly support it, especially given the one per cent cap on pay rises in the public sector. But deep in Westminster, and indeed among many journalists and members of the business community, it's considered necessary.
No-one can really do anything about Ipsa's recommendation, given that MPs set it up as an independent body in the wake of the expenses scandal. That's turned into a bit of a double-edged sword. The public aren't really aware of Ipsa and only skim headlines on these matters, so parliamentarians have been roundly condemned for something they didn't really propose. Don't feel too sorry for them, though. An anonymous survey of MPs earlier this year found they wanted an even higher pay rise than the one suggested by the expenses watchdog. They didn't quite make their bed, but it does bear a passing similarity to what they wanted.
Nick Clegg was still trying to map out some political space for himself. He's got the weekly LBC call-in show under his belt and he added to it with a monthly press conference. The broadcasters stuck with it for about five minutes, then got bored and gave up, but the deputy prime minister actually gave some pretty interesting answers to a wide variety of questions. His response to a Politics.co.uk question on Ukip saw the two parties end up in a bit of a spat.
Ed Miliband got himself embroiled in the worst scandal of his time as leader, after Unite the union reportedly stuffed the candidate selection list in Falkirk with its own people. His war of words with leader Len McCluskey grew more ugly by the moment and there was the dim sense that he was on the verge of undertaking a full review of the party's relationship with unions. The Labour leader will be banking on the idea that the public are angrier about Dave getting his donations from the minted rather than Miliband getting them from union members. Time will tell. This was a good week for the Tories. They narrowed down their sights on the McClusky connection and won big by the time Thursday came. Election coordinator and phone-hacking hero Tom Watson stood down with a resignation letter dripping in sarcasm.
The jubilation got a bit much for the Tories by the time Friday came and the Commons was treated to the rare sight of a packed Chamber for a private members bill. James Wharton, the Bryl-creamed teenage MP lucky enough to be presenting the bill, gave a good account of himself. He was confident, witty and held the Chamber competently. Douglas Alexander, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, performed admirably in impossible circumstances. And William Hague proved himself to be the Common's top stand-up comic, gleefully twisting Labour's contorted policy position with grand comic effect.
Cameron laughed along with the rest of them, but every so often you could make out a trace of nervous uncertainty in his eyes.
"This bill is not being brought forward because Tory MPs trust the public – it's because they don’t trust their leader," Alexander said, pointing violently at Cameron and Osborne on the government benches. "When will they release the Downing Street one? He's sitting there on the front bench like a hostage."
Cameron had a good week, but the truth of that line will last longer than the cheers in the Commons Chamber.