There is something very exciting – and refreshing – about a new Parliament and a new (majority) government. It’s rather like New Year’s Day, or the first day of term at school. All of the last five years is behind us, and one and all we are looking forward to the next.
The new boys and girls are wandering around in a bit of a daze trying to find their lockers, and accidentally (or perhaps intentionally in the case of the SNP) sitting in the wrong places and clapping at inappropriate moments. I am delighted to have given some office space to Bath’s new MP, Ben Howlett, who is finding his feet very swiftly, together with two of his staff, even if alongside my two permanent staff and an intern, it’s all proving a bit of a squash. Red-hot desking for a week or two.
It’s a changed Parliament, though. Labour are in deep disarray. Chukka Umunna would have made a formidable Leader of the Opposition, or even Dan Jarvis. Andy Burnham looks like being the darling of the Unite Union, which may prove to be a bit of an albatross around his neck. The SNP are completely out of their comfort zone, and most of them out of their depth as well. Their bitter disappointment at not being king-makers for a Labour PM will doubtless make them bad-tempered and bad-mannered in Parliament when they come to realise that they can now really achieve very little. Mr Cameron must not give in to their bullying tactics. The poor old Liberals are lost in the crowd, along with the sole UKIP MP, whose seat was snitched by the Scots, and the Green, who failed to double their representation. A bit of a motley crew all round.
The Tories, of course, now luxuriate in one whole side of the Chamber, and in the knowledge of the new and exciting things which we can now do unfettered by the Lib Dems, and unafraid of losing votes. Next week’s Queen’s Speech will be the first of a majority Conservative Government for my eighteen years in Parliament so far. (13 in Opposition, 5 in Coalition.) For the first time, we Conservatives will be able to lay out our programme of Government without let or hindrance, and put into law our promises from the General Election campaign. A 24/7 NHS will be tough to achieve, but popular with all, thanks to the £8 billion new funding we have promised. There will be a bill in there to fix the In/out Euro Referendum, a sparkling new Enterprise Bill which Sajid Javid came down to his native Bristol to announce; and the long-delayed Parliamentary Boundary changes to equalise the number of electors between Labour and Conservative seats. Those and no doubt a host of other bright new ideas will keep us busy for the first couple of years at least.
For me, unconcerned about re-shuffles, I will focus as always on North Wilts, and in Parliament will renew my various commitments. I am now one of the senior members of the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen, who chair committees, Westminster Hall, and occasionally the main Chamber. I am Chairman of two armed forces organisations, and take a keen interest in the Polar regions. That alongside my membership of the Defence Committee keeps me pretty busy; but I will also be keeping an eye open for new opportunities and challenges in this exciting new Parliament.