Politician of the year – Alex Salmond
The loss of the independence referendum was meant to be the end of the SNP. The Scottish public gave their verdict and the SNP’s raison d’etre was rejected. Cue internal ructions and a nationalist collapse.
That’s how it was meant to be.
But it wasn’t, largely because of Alex Salmond.
He made mistakes in the independence campaign – notably over nationalist plans for the currency – but Salmond’s easy charm and force of personality helped make the race much closer than many expected.
And following defeat, standing down as leader, his legacy to the SNP is to have taken them to the brink of holding the balance of power in next year’s Westminster election.
If the SNP register a general election result even vaguely in line with their current poll rating, then under Alex Salmond’s leadership, the Scottish nationalists will have fundamentally transformed British politics.
The SNP will have usurped the Liberal Democrats as the third party and Scottish independence will be a real prospect just a few months after it was meant to have been decisively rejected.
No other party leader or MP will have had such a profound impact and for these reasons, Alex Salmond is Uncut’s politician of the year for 2014.
Media misjudgement of the year – Nigel Farage’s leadership of Ukip
The common media narrative about Nigel Farage’s leadership of Ukip would not be out of place in a Mills and Boon novel. Charisma, personality and star quality are meant to be the Farage hallmarks.
He certainly generates good copy and has helped filled countless columns and reports with newsworthy content.
But away from the day to day photo-opps in pubs and quotable one-liners, Nigel Farage has made a catastrophic error. Through his words and actions he has helped confirm Ukip’s biggest negative, toxifying Ukip as the party for racists.
At the start of October, at the height of the largely positive publicity around the Clacton by-election, YouGov polling found that 55% of the public believed Ukip to be more likely to have candidates with racist or offensive views, while 41% believed the party to be racist (41% believed it not to be racist).
In a general election, Ukip’s vote will be squeezed as the choice is polarised between Labour and Conservative and being seen as extremists will amplify this effect.
In the biggest domestic election held this year, when millions voted in the local elections, Ukip’s national equivalent vote share actually fell compared to last year – from 23% to 17%.
Nigel Farage’s main task this year was to detoxify Ukip and make them a viable choice for all voters. By failing to redefine Ukip as an optimistic, unprejudiced party (along the lines that Douglas Carswell clearly wants to), Nigel Farage has ultimately doomed them.
Gaffe of the year – George Osborne for the Autumn Statement
George Osborne’s Autumn Statement is the political equivalent of the loud celebrations of AC Milan when 3-0 up at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final, the fatal conceit that opens the door to wounded opponents transforming into glorious victors. 2010’s “emergency budget” was Paolo Maldini’s goal in the first few minutes of the final, establishing an early advantage grounded in Conservative credibility and Labour profligacy. Everything Osborne has done since then, akin to the brace of Hernán Crespo goals that drove home Milan’s first half advantage, has sought to reinforce these perceptions.
Janan Ganesh’s biography revealed that one of Osborne’s political rules is that oppositions do not win the credibility necessary to form governments unless they match the fiscal plans of the incumbent government. By committing to spending plans that result in the OBR reporting that the state, as a percentage of GDP, will be smaller than at any time since the 1930s, Osborne overplayed his hand in trying to tempt Labour to break this rule.
The public have broadly accepted the necessity of fiscal belt tightening but Osborne now threatens the bone with the belt. People wonder whether it’s necessary to reduce the state to this skeleton. Osborne’s too clever by half move has benefited Labour, who are back in the economic game, and he’s left to hope that Ed Miliband is no Steven Gerrard.
Chutzpah in the face of political meltdown – Mayor Lutfur Rahman of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Last month, auditors PwC finally published their report into Rahman’s abysmal running of the council, which was, predictably, damning.
On the subsequent despatching of the men from the ministry to run Tower Hamlets’ finances – given that PwC had concluded that Rahman’s team was not fit to – the man himself jauntily concluded that there were “flaws in processes” which were “regrettable”. In fact, he appeared delighted that there was “no evidence of fraud or criminal activity”. So that’s all right, then.
It also produced this irony-free gem from the redoubtable Rahman, following Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles’ blistering attack on him in the Commons:
“Given that Tower Hamlets Council is one of the highest performing local authorities in London, and the wider UK for service delivery to our residents, I am surprised at the Secretary of State’s comments today in the House of Commons.”
That’ll be you, and nobody else, mate.
The barefaced liar of the year award – Vladimir Putin
Vladimir “Invade Ukraine? Moi?” Putin, wins for his consistent denials of Russian troops being present on Ukrainian soil, despite being caught on camera by both OSCE and NATO. Yes, following the departure of the last Western journalists after the Sochi Olympics, the macho Russian leader decided it was time to get on with restoring his country’s Soviet-era empire by first invading the Crimea region of Ukraine and then pretending not to invade its Donbass region.
The Uncut jury was also insistent that this prestigious award is to be shared jointly with Putin’s English-language TV station, Russia Today, for its defiance in the face of, er, facts and, generally, loyalty to its leader in keeping to his story about Russian “volunteers”.
The pissing away virtually limitless oil wealth award – Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro
After the death of his mentor Hugo Chávez, chickens have come home to roost in a country struggling to supply basic household goods to its population such as, memorably, toilet paper. Yes, that great experiment in modern pseudo-democratic socialism, so loved by the British radical left – Owen Jones and Diane Abbott being two “observers” at its deeply flawed 2012 election – is hitting the buffers. Inflation is currently running at 63% and a default on its debt payments during 2015 looks a racing certainty. All the more extraordinary when you think that the country is home to the world’s largest oil reserves.
Civic pioneer of the year – Sir Richard Leese
Soon after the 2010 general election, Paul Richards published Labour’s Revival: The Modernisers’ Manifesto. It begins with a quote from G. D. H. Cole. “To my mind, there have always been two fundamental cleavages in socialist thought – the cleavage between the revolutionaries and reformists, and the cleavage between centralisers and federalists.” The Fabians have been bastions of the centralising tendency. This year concluded with the Fabians acknowledging that one thing they’d learnt from it is that we’re all localists now. Or federalists, in Cole’s terms.
If the Fabians are prepared to say as much, Labour is squarely a party of reformers and federalists. We’ll leave the revolution to Russell Brand and the centralising to the dusty history of the Fabians. The party of bottom-up change that Labour has become has been forged by those making this change, Labour councillors who have continued to improve their communities in difficult times.
No one has been more of a pioneer in this regard than Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council. “What Manchester was the first to do,” Leese told Prospect earlier in the year, “was to recognise the importance of scale and of operating as far as possible within the boundaries of the functional economic area. And it’s now over a decade since we had the first Greater Manchester strategy — the 10 local authorities joined up to agree a joint economic strategy and joint action to deliver it.” This success was this year rewarded by George Osborne with an unprecedented devolution of additional powers and budgets to Manchester. The Adonis Review charts a course for Labour to go further in this devolutionary direction.
We are all localists now, especially Adonis and Osborne, two leading thinkers of two different parties. As cities seek to adapt to this new era, with varying degrees of success, the utility of Leese’s leadership becomes more pronounced. Both to Labour’s ideological renewal and urban renewal of cities that remain crucibles of immense, though as yet largely unrealised, potential.