It’s been quite a year in Westminster. 2015 saw the first Conservative outright General Election win for a generation and a fundamentally altered Scottish political landscape. The Labour Party has gone through the most dramatic leadership contest in its history, moving the party in a profoundly different political direction. Meanwhile, major figures have exited the political scene, with Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and, to an extent, Nigel Farage, all yesterday’s men.
We’ve pulled together some of the highlights of 2015 for our Christmas Word from Westminster special – we hope you enjoy. The Word from Westminster proper will return on 8th January 2016.
From everyone at Field Consulting – Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Politician of the Year … Jeremy Corbyn
You might think that after securing the first outright Conservative majority in 23 years, David Cameron should be our politician of the year. But no, the Prime Minister’s achievement was exceeded four months later by that of Jeremy Corbyn, whose victory in the Labour leadership contest is one of the most remarkable stories in modern British politics.
A candidate only because it was “buggins turn” amongst the hard left Campaign Group of Labour MPs, Corbyn entered the contest as a 100-1 shot with support from only a handful of MPs. So underestimated was he that around 20 Labour MP’s “lent him” their vote in order to ensure the voice of the left was “heard in the debate” of the leadership contest.
Well the voice of the left is certainly being loud and clear now, and it is hard to think of more unlikely and more stunning triumph than Corbyn’s. Whether you like him or not, and the big poll leads being enjoyed by the Conservatives suggest the electorate is already making its mind up, in a few short months as leader, he has changed to the Labour Party and indeed British politics radically. Whether he can survive 2016 with such a radical approach is a different question, but for the unexpected nature of his triumph he is our Politician of the Year for 2015.
Loser of the Year… Nigel Farage
The nature of the beast is that election years are always full of losers, but whilst the defeats of Nick Clegg (remember him?) and (to a lesser extent) Ed Miliband were predictable, we think the biggest loser of the year was UKIP Leader Nigel Farage. Roll back to January, and the press was full of predictions of UKIP winning 20-30 seats and speculation as to Nigel Farage’s terms for going into Coalition with the Conservatives.
As it turned out, the pressure of the Election campaign rather exposed the UKIP Leader (remember him criticising foreign-born HIV sufferers?) and the party only managed to win one seat. Farage even failed to win the South Thanet constituency that he fought. Since May, UKIP look increasingly irrelevant and even on the EU in/out question don’t appear to be playing a major part in the debate. Farage’s disastrous year was capped in last month’s Oldham West by-election when, after talking up their chances, they were soundly thrashed by Labour.
Gaffe of the Year… the EdStone
Politics provides rich material for a category like this, so deciding on a winner for Gaffe of the Year wasn’t easy. After a lot of thought, and some very amusing reminiscing, we’ve concluded that it should go to… the EdStone. We doubt you could forget the giant concrete slab on which Labour carved its six key election promises, but in case you have, this PR disaster was unveiled at a high profile launch a few days before the election, with Labour saying that if Ed Miliband won it would be placed in the garden at No 10 as a reminder of the party’s promises. But it caused more ridicule then reward for the party (and its then leader) and was promptly towed away the day after it was made public. If Labour’s 1983 manifesto was famously the longest suicide note in history, the EdStone was certainly the heaviest.
The stone is said to now reside in an industrial estate in South London, but this is unconfirmed. Oh, and apparently the bloke that made the thing ended up voting Conservative. Ouch.
Up and Coming MPs
With plenty of new Tory backbenchers the choice of just one to watch is a hard one. Lucy Allen would have been on our list until she faked a death threat on social media over the Syria vote and is reaping the whirlwind of craving too much attention. Also in that camp is Johnny Mercer, the former Army Captain come Dove shower gel model come independently minded MP, who has delivered a series of passionate speeches in the chamber. His star has risen fast and that means the press are sniffing around for dirt. Victoria Borwick, the only MP to be a councillor, a member of the London Assembly and an MP simultaneously is a safe pair of hands with a greater influence on the backbenchers than many think. Our one to watch though is Andrea Jenkyns, the slayer of Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood. Popular and famous for her electoral success she’s a cool operator and is our Tory MP to look out for in 2016.
Clive Lewis and Kat Smith are the Labour MPs we tip for the Shadow Cabinet in 2016. Two of Corbyn’s most loyal MPs are also two of the newest. Jeremy needs his friends close and having been promoted to shadow cabinet rank expect them to join the Shadow Cabinet by Party Conference season next year. Politically on the other end of Labour’s broad spectrum are Wes Streeting and Peter Kyle. Both won marginal seats from the Tories in May and despite being on the right of the party are carving respected and successful niches for them in Corbyn’s Labour. Jim McMahon, the by-election victor, will rise quickly and solidly advocating more co-operative solutions and providing first hand recent accounts of Tory frontline cuts in local government. There is only one to watch in 2016 on Labour benches for us though and that is the MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Philips. Out-spoken, controversial, plain-speaking and hugely popular she is one we suggest keeping a very close eye on come the new year.
With nearly every one of the SNP benches being new there’s a fair few new faces to get accustomed to. Initial attention after the election was on 20 year old Mhairi Black, the youngest MP since 1667, but she is just one of many rising stars on the SNP benches. While Labour has been busy looking inward in the second half of 2015 the SNP has been staking claim to being the real opposition in Westminster. Westminster Leader Angus Robertson’s star continues to rise with cross-party respect for the way he is leading the Nationalist camp in Westminster. New MP Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour man, and former TV presenter John Nicholson, are winning plaudits from the press gallery but our SNP rising star for 2016 is the former Labour member, former Tory candidate and now current SNP Member for Orchil and South Perthshire, Tasmania Ahmed-Sheikh OBE MP. Some confident performances in the chamber means people are beginning to watch her closely.
Quotes of the Year
It may seem a lifetime ago but some of our favourite quotes are from this year’s General Election:
“If the exit poll is right, I will publicly eat my hat ” Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrats
“Thank you for the selfies” Ed Miliband, former leader of the Labour Party during his resignation speech
“This buccaneering, world-beating, can-do country, we can do it all over again” David Cameron, Prime Minister, launching the Conservative Party manifesto
“The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country” Alex Salmond, Scottish Nationalist Party