The week in politics: Relaxing into Christmas

One of the least eventful political weeks in recent months still saw the players laying out their pieces for the battles ahead.

By Ian Dunt

After a week of tight Commons votes, emotional debates and riots in Parliament Square, we all needed a breather. You could feel people start to calm down as the festive season approached, and by the time Friday came parliament had already turned into a ghost town. But quietly, the areas of future battle were being laid out.

Nowhere was this more obvious than with Oldham East and Saddleworth, where Labour picked its replacement candidate after Phil Woolas legal case, and political career, bit the dust. Debbie Abrahams, a public health consultant who unsuccessfully fought the adjacent Colne Valley seat at the election, was installed. It looked like a Christmas by-election was on the way, once the Lib Dems moved the writ setting up a January 13th voting day. Ed Miliband was the first leader to get down there. He shouldn’t find it too hard to win. The Lib Dems wil be wary of being thrown into third place.

The party was still picking up the pieces of last week, as celebrity supporters, including Mr Darcy himself, left the party in droves, together with students. But it wasn’t only the Lib Dems having trouble. The way the leadership treated potentially rebellious Tory Mps was in marked contrast to the softly-softly approach of the Lib Dems, and David Cameron had to stroke some backbench tummies. Not a pretty image.

A final chance for Labour to prevent the plans becoming a reality was defeated by the Lords, rather easily in the end. Miliband, who we are now referring to without specifying which of the brothers it is we’re talking about, tried an alternate tactic in his first press conference as opposition leader, asking them to come aboard the Labour ship if they couldn’t stand the government’s right wing economic agenda. By Wednesday he was back to attacking Nick Clegg, referring to him, rather enjoyably, as the back end of a pantomime horse. Meanwhile, activists were incensed by suggestions from Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson that he might ban future student demonstrations.

With all that done, the only remaining issues were Ken Clarke’s growing unpopularity with Tory backbenchers and right wing tabloids. We’re sure Michael Howards attack on his criminal justice plan had nothing to do with the fact he expected to be made home secretary. Quite sure.

Oh, and there was the little matter of Julian Assange, enigmatic Australian founder of Wikileaks, who was finally granted bail by a London court, only to have Sweden (or was it the Crown Prosecution Service?) appeal. He eventually got out on Sunday night. London is now firmly centre-stage for the global battle that is to come.