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Parliament is out for summer ... but how did the parties do this term?

PUBLISHED: 18:38 21 July 2017 | UPDATED: 18:38 21 July 2017

The Palace of Westminster
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The Palace of Westminster Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

In the past week children across East Anglia exited school gates sheepishly clutching brown envelopes with a look of dread writ large across their faces.

Prime Minister Theresa May's former chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill 
Rick Findler/PA Wire Prime Minister Theresa May's former chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill Rick Findler/PA Wire

Has the hard work paid off? Will the teacher reveal any bad behaviour in their report? Will the summer be blissful or with furious parents demanding they get through a sheaf of work to catch up with their classmates?

And it is the end of term for our members of Parliament as well – and there were also some very sheepish figures leaving Westminster this week.

Summer recess offers MPs their longest break from the rigours of the House of Commons – but don’t think for a second that they will spend the next six weeks sipping cocktails and sunning themselves. Although many will of course take a break, there remains plenty of constituency work to be done.

And don’t forget the plotting – there will be a lot of that this summer.

If political parties were given grades before the summer holidays it would undoubtedly be Labour that would be the top of the class: “A difficult start for Labour, but excelled in the end-of-year exams and now displays a newly-found confidence.”

No-one could have predicted the election performance of Jeremy Corbyn – and let’s not be mistaken it was the leader that delivered those extra seats and astonishing vote share.

Beyond their leader, Labour still has huge issues to deal with. It remains deeply divided between left and moderates, the Corbyn campaign group Momentum is growing in power and influence and the added scrutiny that comes with being a real alternative to the government will prove problematic.

Momentum members have begun seizing the reins of local parties and the confidence and power of this party-within-a-party is higher than ever. It could mean losing some very hard-working MPs (the treatment of Luciana Berger, who was told to apologise for not backing Mr Corbyn, sent a chill though much of the party).

However what should be most concerning to Labour is abandoning their claim to the centre ground of British politics completely.

The Conservative Party is in a mess. And it is all their own fault: “There can be no doubting the potential of the Tory Party – but over-confidence, lack of preparation and some dubious choices regarding who to fraternise with meant the year ended in huge disappointment.”

Theresa May should have won the landslide everyone was predicting. An even half-competent campaign would have delivered her a majority. To go from a double-digit lead in the polls when the election was called to losing 13 seats is criminal.

The biggest issue was undoubtedly the manifesto. It offered no hope mixed with toxic proposals on social care and fox-hunting - both of which have been scrapped.

The reason for all these Tory woes has to stop at the door of Number 10. Mrs May could well hang around for another two years – but her premiership and legacy are ruined.

A favourite joke of tourists on open top bus rides passing Number 10 along Whitehall this summer is chanting the now ubiquitous “oh...Jeremy Corbyn” ditty. Political banter that probably cuts like a knife every time its drifts along Downing Street.

And the Liberal Democrats: “They were very well-behaved but rarely made an impression during class discussion. Maybe a new term will offer new enthusiasm.”

There were some individual triumphs for the Lib Dems at the election – Norman Lamb beating a strong Tory challenge and Jo Swinson returning. But the glory days are a distant memory. But in Sir Vince Cable, they have hope. He is very experienced and will provide steady leadership. But perhaps the party should look to the leader after Sir Vince for any significant electoral breakthrough.

Opposing Brexit did in their manifesto did not have the broad appeal they had hoped for but adding seats in the face of the Labour surge should be applauded.

Rumours, rows and sweary texts

Even before the Tory election disaster things were rotten at the top of the party, according to sources.

One well-placed Conservative said the staff closest to the prime minister in Number 10 lived in fear of joint chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill and that Theresa May handed them too much power.

The pair were notorious across both the party and Westminster more generally. Sweary texts and confrontations were allegedly commonplace.

“They were very difficult to work with,” he said. “There are horror stories about them shouting at people, even ministers.

“Around Christmas time people started to wonder about how remote Number 10 had become. But no-one would dare to moan because they would have been blacklisted by Nick and Fi.

“Nick’s involvement with the manifesto was no surprise of course. He supposedly wanted to reach out to the working class and steal votes from Labour. If anything I think the party has been driven further to the right.

“The fact we have completely turned our back on a lot of the good work that was done during the David Cameron years is a huge disappointment. That administration did manage to capture the centre ground – young families that had perhaps never voted Conservative before.

“We gave them hope in 2015 but by this year we offered them a very little. We have to find those voters again, relate to those voters.”

Another source said the Number 10 office became even more dysfunctional when rumours of an affair between a senior Tory and one of Mrs May’s team began to circulate. He said: “It is common knowledge now and has been used by other ministers as a bargaining chip. There have been threats to reveal details of it to the press. Hardly very professional behaviour.”

Others are adamant the rumours of the affair were fabricated. But either way, the fact that it is being talked about openly in Westminster plunges the government to new lows.

The question now is: “Will the troops fall into line?” The public spats might subside during recess but the plots will continue.

Not now for leadership challenge

It has been a bruising few months for the Tories - but one Suffolk MP is adamant now is not the time for change at the top.

Dr Dan Poulter has backed the prime minister’s call for unity within her cabinet adding: “A leadership contest right now would not be in the country’s interest.”

The Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP said: “It is inevitable that when there is an election that does not go to plan there is a degree of contemplation.

“Some of that has to be about the lessons we can learn. But it would be very self indulgent to just look inwards rather than getting on with the job.

“There is a massive job ahead in the negotiation of our exit from the European Union. That must be the sole focus. There is no appetite in the country for a change of leadership – we must get on with our jobs.”

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