POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR
It’s been a curious year from which to select a ‘Politician of the Year’. Let’s face it, politics is at a pretty low ebb, and few of our leaders seem to be held in particularly high esteem by the public at large. None of the main party leaders can claim to have had a good year, with the fact that she has survived at all being Theresa May’s main claim to success, and with Jeremy Corbyn continuing to lag behind the beleaguered PM in the polls.
So for the Politician of the Year, you need to look beyond the highest-profile candidates. Amongst the chaos of Brexit politics, Keir Starmer has had a quietly impressive year navigating the conflicting factions within the Labour Party and taking most of the party with him. No mean feat when handling the hottest potato of politics in amongst the today’s internecine Labour Party. The other Shadow Cabinet member who has impressed this year has been John McDonnell, an unrecognisable figure from the hard left firebrand of just a few years ago. The radicalism has not left him, but McDonnell is trying to put some serious policy behind the left-wing rhetoric, and more than any other leading left-wing, is succeeding.
On the Conservative side, there aren’t many Cabinet Ministers who can be said to have shone this year, but the man who has caught our eye most is Michael Gove. His political career appeared to be in tatters after the 2016 leadership campaign, but since coming back into Government the Environment Secretary had made bold and striking environmental initiatives, leading to the rebirth of the Tories green credentials.
But our politician of the year comes from neither of the major parties, and not even the third or fourth biggest groups in Parliament. No, our award goes to the tail that has comprehensively wagged the dog in 2018, DUP Leader Arlene Foster. A formidable figure, Foster has stood firm on her demands over Brexit and made clear that her red lines were “blood red”. In recent weeks, the DUP has at times appeared to be toying with the Tories, supporting them on some votes and not others, constantly keeping them guessing and extracting concessions every step of the way. Some achievement for a party with just 10 MPs. In a non-vintage year, we think Foster has stood tallest in the political jungle in 2018.
LOSER OF THE YEAR
In what has to be a record-breaking year for ineptitude and fecklessness, winnowing down the list of politicians eligible for the title of Loser of the Year is no mean feat. Honourable mention goes to the venerated veteran Vince Cable, whose leadership of the Liberal Democrats has gone from insubstantial to invisible. Having succeeded Tim Farron after the 2017 General Election, the septuagenarian leader presided for just over a year before announcing he would stand down, without either standing down or announcing a departure date. Curiously, he also floated the possibility of having a non-Lib Dem lead his party. It’s fair to say Cable’s leadership has not been invigorating the party faithful this year.
Meanwhile, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has found 2018 rocky going. Although in past years it has seemed that everything Sadiq touches turns to gold, more recently his touch has been a bit less deft, and a bit more clunky. Fromthe relentless media pressure about knife crime in the capital, to the woes of TfL’s budget and the what-he-knew-when speculation of the Crossrail delay, his leadership of London is under ever greater scrutiny, and Khan will be looking forward to a quiet break and a fresh start in 2019.
The winner of this year’s accolade for biggest loser however, goes to a collection of Conservatives, the so-called European Research Group. A veritable selection box of losers, who orchestrated the misfired resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson, seemed unable to count to 48, and not only failed to bring down one of the weakest and least popular Prime Ministers in modern history, but somehow strengthened her hand against them by reifying her position for another twelve months. For all of 2018 the general public had been sagely told that the likes of Steve Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg were the intellectual and influential vanguard of a conservative movement poised to change the direction of the Conservative Party and of Brexit. Instead they are now unable to influence anything, unless they take the nuclear option of actively opposing their own Government in a vote of no confidence. The ERG could have had theBrexit they wanted – Davis and Baker were number one and two respectively at DExEU– but instead will end the year impotent and irrelevant, with no say over the direction of Brexit and no power within their party.
RISING STAR OF THE YEAR
Easy. Lord Gareth of Southgate. He almost brought football home and made a nation fall in love with waistcoats. But alas, we are restricted to the world of UK politics here at The Word From Westminster. But in a year when we’ve seen more falling stars than a meteor shower, it’s tricky to pick out any whose political stock has risen. Other than Gary Lineker’s of course.
Seriously though. If you look at where he was at the beginning of the year, a middle ranking Justice minister, and where he is now, many people’s tip for the top job, then Dominic Raab must get a look in. Despite only lasting 129 days in theCabinet as Brexit Secretary before resigning, he is now the bookies third favourite to be the next Conservative leader behind Boris and Sajid. When there is the inevitable leadership election, he could easily become the Brexiteers candidate of choice, who may feel a fresher faced alternative is needed to take the party into the next General Election.
Another candidate for rising star has got to be Tracey Crouch. Again, she might now be on the backbenches having fallen out of Government, but her political reputation has soared. It’s not often that a Minister resigns on a matter of principle, leaving what they claim to be their favourite job in Government, which then triggers a u-turn in Government policy. Tracey did just that. She resigned as Sports Minister after the Chancellor delayed implementing a cut to the maximum stake of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2. Days after her resignation the Government back-tracked, moving the implementation forward by six months. If only more of our political class could affect positive change in such an honourable and impactful way!
At the sprightly age of 58, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox makes it on to our shortlist for 2018. After spending 13 years on the backbenches, he was parachuted into the Cabinet in July to become the country’s top legal adviser. But it was Party Conference that catapulted him to stardom, where he gave a barnstorming battle cry to activists as the warm up act to Theresa May’s headline slot. He swaggered across the stage and quoted 17th Century poets and the Rolling Stones in a booming tone that had the party faithful eating out of the palm of his hand. Nevertheless, despite his best efforts, it remains to be seen whether his Churchillian appeal to unite behind the PM will be heeded.
But the winner, after much deliberation, goes to The People’s Vote campaign. Whether you want a second referendum or not, there’s no doubting that the likelihood of one taking place is much greater than it was a year ago. You could legitimately argue that this is not down to The People’s Vote campaign, but rather the Government’s ineptitude, and the hard Brexiteers’ intransigence. Nevertheless, since its launch at Camden’s Electric Ballroom in April, the cross party movement has given a coherent and powerful voice to all those in favour of another referendum. 100,000 people joined their march in June, some Cabinet Ministers are now talking up the possibility of a second vote, and Labour activists are piling the pressure on Corbyn to adopt it as official party policy. The closer we get to March 29th with no deal on the table, The People’s Vote could well get their wish…
GAFFE OF THE YEAR
We all love it when politicians make a fool of themselves, and this year did not disappoint, with a wide selection of political blunders on display.
Who else better to start us off with than perennial ‘Gaffe of the Year’ candidate, Dianne Abbott. Once again, the numbers did not add up for Abbott, with the Shadow Home Secretary speaking at the Labour Party Conference about the increase in response times to ’99 calls’. The UK’s emergency number, 999, is intended to be memorable, so Abbott’s comical error completely distracted away from her message. However, she wasn’t wrong – there are indeed incredibly long response times if you do call 99… I for one have been waiting to be put through for several months.
Abbott was not the only one struggling with numbers, with minister Rory Stewart being found to be fabricating Brexit statistics. According to Stewart, 80% of the British public supported the Government’s Brexit deal back in November. Such numbers would be a dream for Theresa May, but one that is far from reality. Meanwhile Karen Bradley continued the trend of political clangers amongst the highest-ranks with a worrying admission of her complete naivety to the constitutional divide in Northern Ireland politics – a worrying enough admission for anyone, not least the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps the mistakes of these Government ministers are the reason why Tory MP Johnny Mercer, proclaimed he would not vote for the Conservative Party – i.e. himself – in a General Election…
But when it comes to the ultimate blunder, our winner this year is Jeremy Hunt’s slip up on his first official visit to China as Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary mistook his Chinese wife’s nationality for Japanese when talking to theChinese Foreign Minister in a particularly cringe-worthy gaffe, it was hard not to have an uneasy chuckle at his expense. We can only hope for his sake that he was able to patch things up with Mrs Hunt, but in the meantime, he will be taking home our ‘Gaffe of the Year’ award.