The Houses of Parliament, Sunset. Claude Monet
“April is the cruellest month” are the famous opening words of TS Elliot’s The Wasteland. September might be called the most stupid month for politics and if it were possible to remove one month from the political calendar it would be now.
Politics in September is about preening, posing and posturing as MPs come back from their holidays full of vim and vigour and an overwhelming desire to say something, anything to get into the media limelight after the weeks away from Westminster.
Until New Labour arrived, the Commons sensibly rose in July and came back with the Queen’s speech in October. As it is, the Commons sits for longer hours and days than most other legislatures. Tiny nit-picking laws and regulations that elsewhere are sensibly handled by regional, state or City elected lawmakers have to be legislated line by line in the Commons.
Despite that there is a permanent whine from the media and from some rent-a-quote MPs that the Commons is not sitting often enough, and Labour rather wetly gave in to this modish stupidity and brought in a 2 week sitting in September to appease critics of ‘lazy’ MPs.
The Conservatives compounded the error by moving the Queen’s Speech to May so instead of a clear parliamentary year of October to July, no-one really knows when new legislative proposals will come in and when the Commons gets down to serious work.
In addition, the 2 week September sitting precedes the annual conferences of the parties later in September and into October. Again, sensible parties in other countries have their big party jamborees every 2, 3 or 4 years with many more regional or sectoral conferences to allow rank and file party members to shape policy in debate with lawmakers.
The annual British party conference season is now overwhelmed by business and media bigwigs drenching the event in a fiesta of alcohol-soaked lobbying and hunt for gossip to fill news pages.
The Tory leader and prime minister, Arthur Balfour, said: “I would no more take advice from the Conservative Party conference than from my valet.” Mrs May and Mr Corbyn presumably dress themselves but both have risen high by being the echo chamber of party conference militants rather than standing back a bit and thinking strategically about the national as well as their party political interest.
There are no longer properly constructed and well delivered speeches at party conferences – just researcher or advisor written texts read out from teleprompt machines with the oratory of a speaking clock.
Having the conferences after the 2 hothouse weeks of Commons sound and fury in September just continues the attention grabbing impulses of ministers, ambitious wannabe replacements and opposition parties desperate to remind the public of their existence as the long years to the next general election unfold.
On Brexit nothing serious will happen until the EU Council meets on 19th October. It is all sound and fury now signifying not much. September is not a serious month for politics.
Denis MacShane is the former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years. He is author of Brexit, No Exit. Why (in the End ) Britian Won’t Leave Europe published by IB Tauris