MPs cleared off early for a mini-recess ahead of the state opening of parliament on 4 June, largely because they had so little left to do. The big policies of the coalition on the welfare revolution, English NHS and education reform, overhauling taxation and the economy, and bringing further devolution to Scotland and Wales, are now yesterday’s battles. All that is left for MPs now is to prepare for next year’s general election.
It is not by accident that the most immediate election – the one to the European Parliament – is also itself turning into a “zombie election”. The only party apparently campaigning for it is Ukip, while it is hard to find billboards or even leaflets for any of the major players. In essence, the main parties do not really care about this election and are happy to write it off as a Ukip victory on a pathetic turn-out. They hope the spectre of a Ukip presence will be a scarier idea in Westminster than it is in Brussels.
Attention is instead focused on two other ballots. First, the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September, upon which the futures of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and indeed the whole country depend.
But in truth they are also all looking beyond that, to the general election next May. Very little is expected in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech beyond plain packaging for cigarettes and a bill on the recall of MPs, both of which command cross-party support. There is virtually no time for anything else.
In essence, the much-vaunted fixed-term parliaments, of the which the Lib Dems are so proud, have guaranteed that at least one year in the five-year political cycle has effectively become redundant. What we can therefore expect over the next 12 months are an ever increasing number of speeches and policy announcements on what might happen in the five years following the 2015 election.
If Labour’s recent vicious attack on Nick Clegg in a party political broadcast is anything to go by, the coming year will see even more insults and negative campaigning: a real horror show for an increasingly bored electorate.
Yet it is in this period of phantom policies and ghoulish attacks that Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will stand or fall. It seems likely that the day after the 2015 poll, two of the three will be expected to drive a stake through their own political hearts.