Another year slides by. Historic figures shuffled off this mortal coil, the political pendulum swung back, then forth and we end with Labour holding onto a poll lead, albeit halved since last year.
Sorting through the detritus of the year that was, we’ve decided to revive our annual Uncut awards. These beacons of prestige are awarded on the basis of the skill and judgement of the team at Uncut. They represent our opinion, have your say in the comments
Politician of the year: Nelson Mandela
Even in death, Mandela reminded us of the power of politics to achieve great things. Contrary to the rose tinted reminisces for a secular saint that suffused so many obituaries, he was in many ways a typical politician. There’s ample evidence that he harboured the same deeply held personal emnities as most politicians, that in private he was far from the engaging avuncular figure of myth and that his family felt him to be distant.
But what distinguished him was his political judgement.
This is what made him great and what could so easily distinguish so many of our politicians – no need for sainthood, just a bit more conviction, some hard-headed decision-making and a little less focus-grouped tinkering.
Political speech of the year: Ed Miliband at Labour conference
During the autumn of 2007, there was giddy talk of an imminent general election and an increase in Labour’s majority. Then came George Osborne’s speech to Conservative party conference, committing to cut inheritance tax. The waves of Labour excitement quickly turned to fear. This was the closest Gordon Brown ever came to winning a general election and he was fatally weakened thereafter.
Ed Miliband made the political speech of 2013 by delivering the conference speech with the biggest impact since Osborne’s. The steadily improving economy, Falkirk and Tory ascendancy over debates like immigration and welfare had Labour on the back foot throughout the summer.
The energy price freeze reversed fortunes as dramatically as inheritance tax 5 years previously. Back pocket calculations were central to both, as they will be in May 2015. It remains to be seen if Osborne will then be as hobbled as Brown was in May 2010.
Brass neck of the year: Ed Miliband over Falkirk
Chutzpah. Not a quality that immediately leaps to mind when thinking of Ed Miliband, but events in 2013 proved he has an abundance of it.
In July, the Labour party suspended the union join scheme, which had been used by Unite to recruit new members in Falkirk ahead of the parliamentary selection. The party statement claimed,
““In the light of the activities of Unite in Falkirk we will end the ‘union join’ scheme… due to the results of Unite in Falkirk it has become open to abuse but also open to attacks from our opponents that damage Labour.”
Ed Miliband launched his proposals to reform the union link that month, castigating Unite,
“‘I am here to talk about a different politics, a politics that is open. Transparent. And trusted. Exactly the opposite of the politics we’ve recently seen in Falkirk. A politics that was closed. A politics of the machine. A politics that is rightly hated…’
At the time, it seemed a principled stand. But appearances turned out to be deceptive.
It emerged that Ed Miliband’s office had been intimately involved in discussions with Unite from the very start, signing-off on the union’s strategy in Falkirk. An e-mail from Steve Hart to Karie Murphy, the Unite candidate and Tom Warnett, Unite’s political co-ordinator on the 21st January, published by the Sunday Times in November, revealed the depth of collusion. In it, Hart refers to delays by a sceptical Labour membership department, in processing the mass of new Unite recruits, stating,
“I was advised the week before Xmas that these had all been processed — advised by Jenny Smith [Ed Miliband’s union adviser at the time] and Scott Landon [Iain McNicol’s chief of staff] — but it is for the party to confirm authority, not us.”
The leader’s office had known from the start what Unite were doing and done their best to help them. For Ed Miliband to then claim not to have known what Unite were doing, and attack them for their strategy, makes him the runaway winner of Uncut’s award for brass neck of the year.
Popular cultural deconstruction of the year: Mary Creagh, shadow secretary of state for transport
What’s the top issue facing rail commuters? Price hikes? Overcrowding? HS2?
How about the perniciousness of Thomas the Tank Engine and his (male) friends who are embedding patriarchy in the railway industry?
“In the Thomas the Tank Engine books there are almost no female engines. The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of the railway” said Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh last week.
“There is a preponderance of men in the transport industry and I am very keen to unpack some of the myths that stop women from taking up what are often highly paid and highly skilled jobs.”
Railway companies should advertise in that feminist bible, Good Housekeeping, for female recruits.
The issue is a “national scandal”.
Oi, stop that sniggering at the back.
Resignation of the year
This has been a difficult category to judge, with several extraordinary departures. But from the packed field, we bring the top three:
Winner: Jim Fitzpatrick
Few politicians have fallen on their sword vowing to defeat a policy their leader then subsequently, and almost immediately, endorsed. But that is the fate that befell the former shadow transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick wold told the House he was “opposed to military intervention in Syria, full stop”. So, as it turned out, was his leader who barely a day later instructed his MPs to vote against possible military action.
The defeated Miliband’s departure from British politics had surely been a matter of time moments after he had been told the result of the leadership hustings. In a gift to political cartoonists, and to the general amusement of the public at large, he joined International Rescue. Accused of either being in a “cosmic sulk” or the best Labour leader the party never had he was last seen espousing the virtues of his former constituency whilst safely 3,000 miles away in his New York redoubt.
The West Bromwich MP, and Murdoch-slayer extraordinaire, has become something of a dab hand at drafting a resignation letter. Even more so than his long-time adversary Lord Mandelson. The murky circumstances of his latest demise this summer, as events in Falkirk swirled out of control, rather masked that this was in fact his third resignation. Watson was one of the key antagonists against Tony Blair in 2006, resigning as a junior defence minister before he was sacked for supporting a letter from the 2001 intake of Labour MPs calling on the then Labour prime minister to stand down.
When his ally, and brooding heir apparent, Gordon Brown finally assumed office Watson fared little better, resigning mid 2009 citing “family reasons” – though the Telegraph argued otherwise. Promoted to the lofty-sounding ‘general election co-ordinator’ post 2010 Watson acquired the unwanted hat-trick when his role in the parliamentary selection in Falkirk forced his hand. In political analysis you literally cannot find anymore, our friends at Liberal Conspiracy wondered if Watson’s love of Glastonbury was the real reason behind his departure.
We at Uncut could have forgiven Watson had it not been for his recommendation to the Labour leader of the post-grunge band ‘Drenge’. Some things are worthy of resignation Tom, and that surely is.
Expenses claim of the year: Lutfur Rahman
Long after the parliamentary expenses furore has subsided, one political figure outside of Parliament and thus not subject to the same audit, continues in extraordinary vein. Step forward to receive your prize, Mayor Lutfur Rahman of Tower Hamlets.
For those of you familiar with the borough or the man, this time we don’t even need to get to the questions of his links to the unpleasant Islamic Forum Europe or his disastrous management of the council. In March this year, over a period of just six months, it was found that an expense bill of almost £2,800 was racked up by Rahman. In taxis.
(For the moment, let’s not even get into the matter of his £70-a-day chauffeured Mercedes.)
The Evening Standard takes up the story:
“Lutfur Rahman, who leads the council in charge of some of Britain’s most impoverished areas, was criticised for a series of astonishing claims, including one £71 cab journey to travel a distance of 400 metres.
Tower Hamlets first directly-elected mayor caught a taxpayer-funded taxi from the council’s Mulberry Place headquarters near the Blackwall Tunnel to a shop on Chrisp Street – a journey that takes less than five minutes on foot.”
Yes, that’s four hundred metres.
In 2014, of course, long-suffering residents of the cash-strapped borough will have a chance to elect a different mayor after four years with Rahman at the helm. John Biggs, Labour’s candidate for mayor, also made a claim for taxis, of course, in the course of his work as a GLA member and, thanks to the excellent Ted Jeory, we now know how much money he claimed back from the public purse.
Gosh, that’s quite a difference, isn’t it? Less by a factor of over 500 times. It will be interesting to see how the good people of Tower Hamlets compare these two candidates, come May.