Welcome to the second annual The Word from Westminster Awards when the great and the good of the political class await with bated breath to discover whether they’ve awarded one of the prestigious TWFW gongs.
Politician of the Year
The obvious leading candidate for the most sought-after award of is, of course, Theresa May, who navigated the minefield of the Conservative leadership contest, watching rival candidates taking themselves out one by one. The Tory version of Reservoir Dogs started when Boris and Michael knifed Dave; then Michael knifed Boris; Tory MP’s proceeded to knife Michael; before everyone knifed Andrea. Theresa May skilfully danced between the raindrops and ended the year at the top of the greasy poll, to mix our metaphors horribly.
On the Labour side, last year’s Politician of the Year Jeremy Corbyn merits a mention for the mere act of survival. We can think of no-one else who could have survived a vote of confidence in which more than 80% of MP’s voted that he should go. But through a mix of stubbornness and manoeuvring, survive Jez did, and he lives to fight on in 2017. Another who impressed in 2016 was Sadiq Khan who showed that Labour can still win by combining a popular personality with moderate politics speaking to the priorities of the electorate. What an innovative idea – that one will go far!
But none of these people are our winner. No, this gong goes to the man who won our ‘Loser of the Year’ after a disastrous 2015, but has now gone from zero to hero in just 12 months. We are talking, of course, about Nigel Farage. He started the year having failed (again) to win a Parliamentary seat at the General Election, and having seen his party win only one seat in total, despite setting expectations they might get 20-30 MP’s.
What a difference a year makes. In 2016 he realised his ultimate political objective in the Brexit referendum, and he ends the year as probably the only non-American with the next Leader of the Free World on speed-dial. Love him or loathe him, and most Fieldsters are in the latter category, there can be few arguments that Nigel Farage is Politician of the Year.
Loser of the Year
This is an incredibly competitive category. It has been a year of monumental change, and while there have been lots of politicians who have done amazingly well for themselves in 2016, there have also been some who have had absolute stinkers. We are only ultimately considering British politicians for the award, however we must begin by giving an honourable mention to Hillary Clinton, the woman who, after campaigning to be President of the United States for the best part of three years, stumbled and staggered through a battle with relative unknown Bernie Sanders, only to come up against an inarticulate, gaffe prone, orange skinned reality TV star, outspend him by more than 400 million dollars, and still lose. Incredible.
But back to Britain. The first name that springs to mind is our departing Prime Minister David Cameron. After a great 2015, he gambled it all on the EU referendum. Throughout his premiership, Cameron consistently pursued the oh-so-risky tactic of giving the public referendums. He got his way on the AV referendum, he got his way on the Scottish Independence referendum, but he should have known that his luck would only last so long. Alas, his third gamble did not pay off and as a result, Cameron’s political career was thrown onto the scrap heap.
Then we have Michael Gove, who this year demonstrated that he has absolutely no idea how to conduct a Machiavellian stab-in-the-back-and-take-the-throne manoeuvre. After years of publicly insisting he didn’t want to be Prime Minister, and even going as far saying that he “does not have the stamina for it” Gove suddenly declared that he was running for Prime Minister in June, burning all his bridges with Boris Johnson by throwing his hat into the ring. His campaign lasted 7 days and he is now an out of favour backbencher. Well that went well. Frank Underwood he is certainly not.
On the Labour front, Owen Smith deserves a mention. With 81% of Labour MPs voting for Corbyn to go, Smith was the candidate who was supposed to unite the Party and begin to pull them back from their grim decline in the polls. But his campaign never really got off the ground and in the end, Corbyn won even more decisively than he had the first time.
These are all strong entries from candidates who have demonstrated impressive episodes of failure and self-destruction this year. However, after careful consideration, Field have decided that there can only be one true winner of “Loser of the Year,” for a man who defied belief with his utterly cataclysmic demise…
In the history books, the entry under the year 2016 will describe the rise of right wing populism. It will describe defeat for moderates and left wingers and victory for right wing politicians appealing to visceral political messages. However, this entry will also contain a small asterix with the attached note: “unless you’re Zac Goldsmith.” That’s right, in the easiest year ever to be a Brexit supporting Conservative maverick, billionaire pretty boy Zac Goldsmith managed to actually lose an election – not once but twice.
He will look back in years to come and wonder how on earth he managed to do so badly. First was the London Mayoral election, in which he managed to not only lose to Sadiq Khan, but do so in the most undignified manner, resulting in huge numbers of people on the left accusing him of running a shameful and even racist smear campaign. Then came the Richmond by-election, which he entered with a 23,000 vote majority, only to be turned over by the Lib Dems. This combination of cock-ups makes Mr Goldsmith the standout winner of our award, and indeed, the only thing he’s won all year.
Gaffe of the Year
Whatever your politics, someone you disliked was guaranteed to embarrass themselves this year. Our Loser of the Year, Zac Goldsmith, had a truly cringeworthy moment when, having gushed about his love of Bollywood, could not answer an interviewer who asked him to name a single Bollywood film, actor or actress. For the whole car-crash interview watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vViUKsJ42ZM.
A shambolic populist wannabe moment this year was the horrendously awkward ‘Leadsom for Leader’ march. The march, more Dad’s Army than People’s Army, consisted of a group of middle age Tory MPs “marching on parliament” in support of Tory leadership challenger Andrea Leadsom. It looked like irritated and confused John Lewis shoppers in search of a summer sale. You can relive the horrendous moment that shows why Tories don’t – and shouldn’t march – at http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/tory-activists-stage-painfully-embarrassing-march-on-parliament-in-support-of-andrea-leadsom-a3290256.html.
The continuing tensions within the Tory party produced a gaffe from Nicky Morgan, who attacked Theresa May’s £995 leather trousers. Apart from the the oddity of an avowed feminist politician criticising May not for her policies but an item of clothing, this backfired heavily when journalists discovered (perhaps helped by mysterious forces located at Downing Street) that far from never owning something as expensive, Nicky Morgan was partial to a £950 handbag herself. After being forced to pull out of Have I Got News for You, Morgan was duly replaced by said item – perhaps the first time since Thatcher a Tory was handbagged by their own side in No10.
However, the greatest gaffe this year has to go to Jeremy Corbyn and what became known as ‘traingate’. This managed to exemplify all the maximum points of embarrassment that can come from a gaffe. It was self-inflicted. It backfired. It rumbled on and on. It took a reasonably popular cause (rail nationalisation) and made it ridiculous. Jeremy’s sad picture of himself unable to find a seat should have struck a chord with many long suffering commuters and travellers – until Virgin Trains released a picture showing the Labour leader going past empty seats – lots of empty seats – in order to take his picture on the train floor. With people siding with Virgin Trains not Jeremy by a factor of 3:1, Jeremy even managed to give a boost to privatised trains – evidence that you can always rely on Corbyn to give the gift of gaffe to his opponents.
Rising Stars of the Year
Following a truly unpredictable year in politics, it’s hardly surprising that choosing this year’s rising stars hasn’t been the easiest of tasks. In fact, it’s an odd mix of hard, soft and scrambled Brexiteers. But juxtapositions and political contradictions all taken into account this is our list of those politicos worth watching out for.
One rising star who you may hear about next year is the new Leader of the Lords, Baroness Evans. Elevated to the position last year, Natalie Evans has been given the task of steering the Government’s legislation through a House with no majority. Appointed for her intelligence and ability to privately charm peers (often over a glass of wine), Theresa May will want Baroness Evans to be the face of this struggle in the Lords – and we are only hopeful the sight of a talented, young (compared to her ‘peer’ group) woman in full flow does not excite the opposition too much.
Also on the Tory benches there’s Anna Soubry. The MP for Broxtowe who a year ago was an unknown, has really come into her own following the referendum result. Speaking out as an ardent Remainer she went as far as to hail the Liberal Democrat victory in Richmond as a rejection of hard Brexit. Ok maybe she’s not exactly making friends amongst her Conservative colleagues, but Soubry is definitely going places (possibly the other side of the House of Commons floor….).
The Labour side offers us Clive Lewis who made it into this category last year and it seems his star is still rising. Then a newly elected back bencher, Lewis is now the Shadow Secretary of State for Business and is regularly tipped as a possible successor to Corbyn. Hot on in his heels is Keir Starmer, the only MP on the Labour benches who can talk some sense on Brexit. The former Barrister is a breath a fresh air when it comes to our relationship with the EU, able to offer a little more than the adage ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ Expect to see more of Starmer in 2017 as the negotiations continue.
Finally, we couldn’t end the year without mention of the newly elected UKIP Leader. Don’t worry, despite the rumours, it’s not Nigel Farage again but Paul Nuttall, a burly and straight talking northerner, who in the post fact era of politics is set to do well. It hasn’t exactly been a knock-out year for the Party (except for Steven Woolfe, now that was a knock out…) but with Nuttall at the helm they might be about to stage a comeback.
Maybe the future’s bright after all…