As the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympiad and Paralympics, an Edinburgh derby cup final, Murray in the Wimbledon final and Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, 2012 will be for many people the most memorable of the 21st century so far.
In politics, there have also been many winners, losers and much to remember. As we kick off our wellies and quaff the odd Glüwein in front of the yuletide fire (real or imaginary), I thought I should have some sport offering who I thought had been this year’s political winners or losers.
To put any Liberal Democrats out of their misery, I shall show them the sword straight away and declare them not just losers but probably the biggest losers of the year. Not only has the party’s popularity continued to decline, but the leader Nick Clegg has seen the shine come off his leadership. With the rejection of proportional representation by the British public and the loss of many time-served councillors in English local elections, his party then ends the year with the confirmation in the polls that it lies fourth, behind UKIP.
I do not even have any consolation for them; if Lib Dems think matters cannot get worse then let me assure them it can and it will. Political annihilation awaits when the electorate has a chance to say what it thinks.
Clegg’s strategy of claiming the Liberal Democrats are tempering Conservative extremism in the coalition is either not believed – by those that think the coalition is too austere – or resented – by those that have noticed that austerity is a charade as public spending, borrowing and the debt all continue to climb. In other words, supporters are drifting to either Labour or the Conservatives – leaving only diehards in single figures. A more ridiculous strategy I cannot conceive – if you create a coalition you should proclaim its hard work at every opportunity instead of attacking your partners.
The Lib Dem decline was, however, no surprise – whereas the metamorphosis of Alex Salmond from allegedly invincible colossus seeing off his opponents last year (Tavish Scott, Iain Gray and Annabel Goldie) to be a blagger and bluffer caught out not once, not twice but thrice and more, certainly was. If Salmond was married to Verity Truth she’d be wanting a divorce for adultery and unreasonable behaviour. The result has been that the First Minister is on the verge of being eclipsed by Nicola Sturgeon as the more believable and trustworthy in the SNP leadership – as she repeatedly goes into parliament apologising and clearing up his mess after him.
Staying with the SNP, Kenny MacAskill ends the year with the envious reputation of trying to make Scots law more like the English system as he seeks to end corroboration and the “not proven” verdict. If that’s nationalism then it’s a perverse outcome when such differences have existed for 300 years under the union. When this is compared to how Thatcher’s Tories actually exported Scots law – such as separating the prosecution from the police in England by creating the Crown Prosecution Service – based on our own Crown Office with procurators fiscal – then it is no surprise MacAskill’s name has been struck off Christmas card lists in legal circles.
Who, then, have been winners? Well, after a very badly-presented budget that unravelled almost before he sat down in the spring and an embarrassing Olympics, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has recovered his position to have a good autumn statement and make his opposite number Ed Balls look a complete dunce.
Balls’s defence that he initially stuttered was disrespectful to those with speech impediments for it was his argument that was the problem, not his delivery. Having heckled the chancellor incessantly all year, he could not handle the derision when his reasoning that more borrowing would help solve the debt crisis was rumbled by the chancellor who explained that he had actually borrowed more money than planned but it had not gotten us out of the hole like Balls had said it would.
The chancellor’s Plan A had become the shadow chancellor’s Plan B by default and therefore left Balls with the only option of criticising his own remedy. The truth we now face is that the economic policy the country labours under is “Continuity Brown” – Capability Brown having been rejected as incapable in 2010. Both are flawed.
For Osborne, then, it has been only a bronze medal – likewise the Prime Minister, who could at least point to having got his way with the Edinburgh Agreement when the First Minister conceded a straight “Yes/No” question rather than the multi-option that would have given him an escape hatch, but still sees his party behind the incredulous Ed Milband’s Labour. The good news for David Cameron is nobody wishes to take Ed’s job from him and the PM is well ahead of “the wrong Miliband” in popularity. Expect a presidential style election when it comes in 2015.
The biggest winner, though, must be the leader of UKIP – Nigel Farage – who I expect will have an even better 2013. Why? Because he is a breath of fresh air that calls a spade a shovel. Oh, for a MacFarage in Holyrood.