Officially, this Parliament is dissolved on Monday. But MPs positively raced through the final Bills, bringing the session to an end before the week was out. Few – bar those members leaving with reluctance – will be sorry to see it go.
This was a tainted Parliament, discredited more than many MPs initially realised, by the scandal surrounding their own expenses. From serious money-making (thanks to mortgages and house "flipping") to petty foibles – Jacqui Smith's 88p bath plug – the revelations deepened voters' cynicism towards their elected representatives. Three MPs and a member of the House of Lords are facing trial.
There are those who are now associated in the public mind with their moats, their toilet seats and their duck houses – images they will bear for ever as little badges of disgrace. Yet it is also worth noting that, from the first mention of the John Lewis List, there were many MPs who chose not to benefit from a system wide open for them to exploit. A blind eye was turned to individuals' greed for too long, but insufficient credit was also given to those who worked hard for the salary they were paid. We hope that the tightening of the rules will confirm the truth that this country has, essentially, an honourable and honest legislature.
This Parliament convened during a period of great, and perhaps underestimated, transition. Not only are all three major parties now led by different people than they were at the start (and the Liberal Democrats went through two changes), but the separation of the judiciary was recognised with the creation of a Supreme Court, which meets outside the precincts of Parliament. More power was devolved to Scotland, Wales, and – after some resistance from Unionists – to Northern Ireland. House of Lords reform may have stalled, but the Upper House gained a new lease of political life, defending civil liberties against government efforts to drive through ever more repressive anti-terrorist legislation. These were grand battles of high principle in which a newly assertive judiciary, too, played its part.
With the dissolution, there are characters who will be missed. John Prescott, Ann Widdecombe, even the mellowed old warhorse Ian Paisley come to mind. We also witnessed the muted passing-out parade of New Labour's old guard. Some, such as Alan Milburn and James Purnell, left with their heads held high; others were tarnished latterly by the lobbying affair. It is no exaggeration to say that a generation of MPs is departing. Whatever the political complexion of the new Parliament, it will be younger and shorter on experience of life.
The past five years had their highlights, of course, and their dramas. The police raid on Damian Green's office was one such, which exposed the decline in institutional knowledge and observance. Most memorable, though, was Tony Blair's final Prime Minister's Questions. "That is that," he said, "the end", as his sparring partner and leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, led unprecedented applause. Will it be Mr Cameron answering the questions when the new Parliament convenes?
As a postscript, it is tempting to ask why the same spirit of co-operation and dispatch that brought this session's business to an early close could not be deployed more often. This Parliament legislated too much and too inexpertly. Efficiency savings – an early leitmotif of the election campaign – could usefully be applied to the new legislature.