For the first time since 1974, there will be no party conferences this autumn. The last time it happened Harold Wilson called the second General Election that year and MPs were campaigning in their seats not at the seaside.
It will be a blow to the Liverpool economy not to have Labour back, and Keir Starmer will be denied a first conference adulation as party leader.
But even if the conference halls in Liverpool and Birmingham have been silenced by Covid 19, there should be plenty of political action at Westminster, although the government will still be spared potential hostility from a chamber jammed full of MPs disgruntled at the handling of the pandemic.
Backbenchers are not the only ones grumbling. The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is very uneasy about government plans to hold daily news conferences instead of one of the traditional behind closed doors lobby briefings for journalists. The Chorley MP fears more government announcements are going to be made to the press and not the Commons.
I was a member of the Lobby for some years and the system of off the record briefings did sometimes gave journalists a valuable insight into ministers thinking. The live press conference runs the danger of more grandstanding by the likes of ITV’s Robert Peston and a replication of Prime Minister’s Question Time from the government side.
The final legislation to implement Brexit shouldn’t present the government with much trouble. Although some unrest is developing on the Tory benches about the handling of the virus, they are all united on “Get Brexit Done”.
There is quite a busy legislative programme, bills tackling domestic abuse and online harm but there is no sign of ministers putting into law a new framework for social care.
This is shameful considering the way the virus showed up major weaknesses in the way we care for our elderly. With a big majority and a General Election at least three years away; now is the time for the government to tackle this difficult problem.
Another thorny issue that needs tackling well before the run up to the election is when MPs are going to vacate the Palace of Westminster for its major refurbishment
Then we come to the question of whether there will be a major budget statement this autumn. There has been a lot of speculation that the Chancellor is going after capital gains tax increases and scaling back pension reliefs to partly pay for the huge bill run up during the furlough period. However, uncertainty over the course of Covid 19 and how employers are going to react as government help is withdrawn, may mean the Chancellor waits for the spring for a big budget.
WE should still get an important financial announcement though as the Comprehensive Spending Review is due. That sets out the government’s main spending plans for the rest of the parliament.
We can hope that select committees will hold ministers to account for their handling of the crisis, especially the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson