Parliament reconvened on Tuesday after three weeks out for party conferences. Energy prices were the hottest political issue this week.
At his party conference Ed Miliband promised a 20 month energy price freeze if Labour wins the 2015 election. At Prime Minister’s Questions Mr Cameron chided him for not understanding that energy prices are largely determined in the international wholesale market which Governments cannot control. He also taunted the Leader of the Opposition that when he was Energy Minister his decarbonisation policy had increased everyone’s bills by £125. On Thursday one gas supplier announced an 8.2% price increase. This issue will not go away.
Regulation of our newspapers also hit the headlines when the Government rejected the industry’s proposals for self-regulation. They and most MPs want a more independent body to hold the press to account and they do not think the press proposals guarantee the public an adequate means to seek redress for journalists’ mistakes and unprofessional behaviour. The cross-party charter agreed in March will be submitted to the Privy Council by 30th October. Newspaper publishers fear vexatious appeals and do not want to be regulated by outsiders. They are now considering seeking a judicial review.
David Cameron celebrated his 47th birthday on Wednesday but it was George Osborne who received the best present when the IMF doubled its UK growth forecast from 0.9% to 1.4% this year and from 1.5% to 1.9% next year. This is faster growth than in France or Germany.
The week has been great for some MPs but sad for others. Both front bench teams have been reshuffled. The biggest loser was Michael Moore, replaced as Secretary of State for Scotland by Alistair Carmichael. Moore was considered too emollient in the run up to the Scotland referendum and Carmichael more combative.
Ed Miliband demoted several Blairites and brought in more women. Maria Eagle was moved from her Shadow Transport role to lead on Environment, hinting at a Labour U-turn on HS2, which she had championed. Rachel Reeves and Mary Creagh are the biggest winners, becoming respectively Shadow Secretaries for Work and Pensions and Transport.
The Prime Minister retired some older Ministers to replace them with more women and northerners. His aim was to change the image of Conservatives as posh boys and southerners, out of touch with the challenges faced by women struggling to make ends meet and the regions with highest unemployment.
The saddest loser must surely have been Alistair Burt, the former Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East and North Africa. He has filled this role with great distinction, affirmed on Tuesday by 20 MPs from all parties who movingly paid tribute to his skill, intellect, decency and consistent courtesy. Burt was rare amongst Ministers in not using civil service briefs when speaking or answering parliamentary questions, so on top was he of one of the most delicate diplomatic jobs in government.
Male or female, young or old, left or right, they all need our prayers.