Parliament has shut up shop for Christmas. The House of Commons won’t meet again until 5 January 2015, with the House of Lords returning the following day.
MPs will then sit at Westminster for a total of 54 days before the election. This is not a great deal time for the government to get any outstanding legislation safely through parliament.
Ministers won’t want to leave things too late, for two reasons.
First, to avoid a clash with the Budget on 18 March, which is the one remaining big event of this session; and second, to ensure legislation does not fall foul of the “wash-up”: the last-minute round of compromises in the dying days of a parliament, when bills get chopped up and watered down to ensure their speedy passage into the statute book.
The Queen will formally dissolve parliament on 30 March. The Budget will therefore need to make it through both houses of parliament in seven working days. This won’t leave much time for debate in either house.
I’m a little surprised the Budget is taking place so late in March. I’d previously thought the Lib Dems would want it to happen earlier, thereby allowing more time for its passage through parliament and also leave more of a gap before the dissolution of parliament, to allow the coalition to start to break up.
Instead the Lib Dems will be tied tightly together with the Tories right up to the moment when the election campaign officially begins.
The parliamentary calendar also means there are just 11 sessions of prime minister’s questions remaining until the election. Depending on your point of view, this is either an unsatisfactory number of occasions for David Cameron to be held to account by MPs, or 11 sessions too many.
Either way the final lap of the 2010-15 parliament is approaching. Brace yourself for an undignified and messy scramble to the finishing line.