Politician of the year: David Cameron
It’s easy to overlook David Cameron. The political news is dominated by Labour’s travails while the Conservatives seem more pre-occupied with their leadership succession.
But there David Cameron sits in Number 10 as prime minister, with a Conservative majority and a wide lead over Labour in the polls.
During the general election campaign, he was virtually written-off. Even Uncut, one of the few sites that consistently predicted a triumph for Cameron’s Tories over Ed Miliband’s Labour (here’s one, from almost exactly a year ago), did not see the Tory majority coming.
David Cameron defeated the last vestiges of New Labour when he beat Gordon Brown in 2010. He’s now beaten the soft left alternative in Ed Miliband and played a central role in driving the Labour party over the edge of electability with the hard left Jeremy Corbyn.
The Prime Minister dominates the centre ground and has put the Tories in their strongest position since the early 1980s. Several Labour MPs privately talk of the prospect of Tory rule until at least 2030 as a likely prospect.
And now, as David Cameron enters the New Year, he is ideally placed in his final major battle: to keep Britain in the EU. The polls are tilting his way with all of the evidence pointing towards a decisive break in his favour among undecideds when he claims to have secured a significant reform deal.
Despite the grim Tory expectations at the start of the year, the doubts of most of the media and his own avoidable missteps, such as pre-announcing his own resignation before the general election campaign, 2015 will go down as David Cameron’s annus mirabilis.
Media disaster: Edstone
Every general election has one of those moments that defines the losing campaign.
In 1992, it was the row over the Jennifer’s ear party election broadcast for Labour. In 1997, it was the Tories’ doomed Demon Eyes poster.
In 2015 it was the Edstone.
It is hard to describe just how blood-chillingly awful the idea of carving Labour’s key pledges on an 8-foot granite tombstone was.
The metaphors were obvious, so blatantly obvious, in fact, that the idea should have been strangled the moment it fell out of the mouth of the person who proposed it. For good measure, they should have been strangled too.
Like everyone else coming to this a bit late one drowsy Sunday morning, I saw #EdStone trending on Twitter and assumed it was some metaphorical remark he had made about his word ‘being like a tablet of stone’ or some such.
And those initial photographs of Ed stood in front of the stone, they were obviously photo-shopped, right?
What the hell was Ed thinking?! What were his advisers thinking? What was the party’s media team thinking?
They weren’t thinking, that was the problem. Tired, after weeks of campaigning in the insular general election bubble, mistakes are made. Senses are dulled. Unreality somehow becomes real. Crazy ideas become runners.
The Edstone concept apparently passed through ten planning meetings, without anyone pointing out just how mental it was.
Presumably it narrowly won out over tattooing the pledges on his chest and having him stand there, unbuttoning his shirt as he sang out each policy, like a Bee-Gee.
In terms of its media impact, it did what no initiative, policy, photocall or pledge should ever do: it instantly humiliated the leader and made the party a laughing stock. It reaffirmed all the negatives about Miliband that he had spent the previous few weeks of the campaign trying to neuter.
There have been lots of awful moments for Labour during 2015 – the single worst year in the party’s history – but that bloody stone takes some beating.
Gaffe of the Year: John McDonnell MP
With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of our beloved party, this has recently become a highly competitive category.
But the prize surely goes to his, er, “maverick” Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.
The news around the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement was met with glee by many Labourites. At last, Tory golden boy George Osborne would have to put up with a humiliating climbdown on tax credits, forced by, among others, a number in his own party and a Lords defeat. It had all the hallmarks of being a serious blow to his credibility as Chancellor, and conceivably to his chances of succeeding Cameron as PM.
All the ducks were nicely in a row, therefore, for McDonnell to pick them off one by one.
Bizarrely, however, the IRA-sympathising Shadow then decided to look this gift horse squarely in the mouth and throw away perhaps his only chance of landing a serious punch on Osborne this parliament.
His chosen method was to throw a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book (yes, the 20th century’s most prolific serial murderer Mao, that one) towards his Tory counterpart in the middle of his speech, and invite him to read it.
Osborne, quick as a flash, responded that it was McDonnell’s “personal signed copy”.
Predictably, what was meant to be a gem of Wildean wit backfired on the Corbyn’s hapless Number Two, resulting in Tory cheers, ashen faces on his own side of the House and, naturally, headlines which barely mentioned Osborne’s political disaster on the grounds that Mao’s attempted resurrection was a much more engaging news story.
Surely marvelling at his own good fortune, the Chancellor thus left the chamber with his dignity fully intact, noting down 25 November, 2015 in his diary as the day that all his birthdays and Christmases truly came at once.
Poisoned chalice of 2015: Kezia Dugdale
Kezia Dugdale is 34 years old. Alexander of Macedonia at the age of 33 may have famously cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. But – given that the average age of MPs elected in 2015 is 50 – 34 is no age to take on the massive challenge that confronts Dugdale. Even seasoned operators would balk at it. Hers is not so much the poisoned chalice of 2015, secured by being elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, but the poisoned chalice of generations of Labour complacency, a wave that has broken into SNP hegemony.
No matter that the SNP’s record of delivery is lamentable – as John McDermott has skilfully charted in Prospect. What propels the SNP seems stronger than reasoned argument. Especially argument that may be misconceived. There is, for example, an argument that the SNP is fundamentally a left-wing phenomena and therefore, electing a passionately anti-austerity UK leader like Jeremy Corbyn will counter such a force.
But what if that thinking misunderstands the SNP? Uncut fears the clue might be in the N. There have been moments when Dugdale’s thinking has appeared at odds with Corbyn. Dugdale would hardly be alone in doubting Corbyn but combating the SNP requires unity of vision between Labour’s leaderships in Scotland and the UK. The inheritance bequeathed to Dugdale by previous generations of Scottish Labour politicians is already difficult enough without any such disunity further deepening it.
There is much to commend Dugdale and Uncut wishes her all the best with the immense obstacles that confront her. Not least as if it doesn’t work out, she will be unlikely to secure a landing as soft as that gained by Douglas Alexander after his defeat by Mhairi Black, the youngest MP for 300 years: a gig with Bono.