John Woodcock: Changing times call for new focus

'You can never draw a straight line between where you are when you go away and where you are when you come back.'

John Woodcock: changing times call for new focus
John Woodcock: changing times call for new focus

That is how a member of Tony Blair's Downing Street press team once described to me the subtle change in political dynamic that always occurs between the end of the parliamentary term in late July and the restart in September. Even if nothing major has happened during the break, things always feel different when the political world gets back into gear, he explained.

This year, of course, several major events have happened that have interrupted the holiday season; things will feel very different when Westminster is back next week.

Before the summer riots and disorder, crime and antisocial behaviour were still low on the political agenda compared with the Blair years. Ministers had occasionally run into problems during their first year when past opposition to Labour's tough reforms had jarred with their responsibility to protect the public. But the new administration had largely muddled through with public concern directed elsewhere.

The riots have comprehensively changed that: there will be continued focus on how best to target the state's resources to maintain public order and what should be done to address underlying issues.

As the House of Commons rose for its recess, increasing numbers were questioning the wisdom of the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition in supporting military action in Libya. As MPs return, the main question will not be 'how did we get into this mess?', but rather 'where could it be appropriate to apply this approach again in future?'

Politics is always driven by change: elected representatives must help those they represent adapt to the inevitable change taking place around them and seek to shape it for good.

The world seemed to change more than usual this August. The return of Parliament in September and the party conference season is the time for politicians to show we can rise to the challenge it presents.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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