2014 has been an eventful year both in domestic and international politics. I have picked out some of the BRIT POLITICS highlights of the year and this is part one looking at events at home.
The British weather
We started the year on the domestic front as we do most years with the weather!
We saw floods up and down the country with the impressive Owen Patterson MP dorned in wellington boots inspecting the affected areas. There were all kinds of promises on government action, river dredging, sea defences and reform of the flood insurance market. A year on, flood insurance reform is still a year away and although some work has been done overall the flood defences budget at home was reduced by £250 million pounds while the part of the overseas aid budget that goes on helping countries with their flood defences was increased by a staggering £650 million pounds. If you can see the logic, let me know.
Going to the polls
The elections for both local government and the European Parliament in June proved to be a winner for Nigel Farage and UKIP.
UKIP became the first party in British political history to win a national election that was neither Labour or Conservative.
The losers, were the Liberal Democrats. Their leader, Nick Clegg, was mauled by Nigel Farage in the TV debate and then lost all but one of their MEPs as well as hundreds of their local councillors. UKIP continued their electoral success in Parliamentary by-elections, winning in Clacton and Rochester and almost defeating Labour in their ultra-safe seat of Heywood and Middleton.
Despite a concerted effort by the left, the right and their friends in the media to smear and discredit UKIP, the people’s army went from success to success winning elections and strengthening their opinion poll position throughout the year.
The political phrase of the year
It’s too close to call a winner between Labour’s ‘The cost of living crisis?’ and the Conservatives ‘long term economic plan’ both of which I fear will also be the phrases of 2015.
The economy continued to grow in 2014, although nobody's quite sure what's fuelling this growth, George Osborne's plan A or people splurging with £22 billion pounds of PPI refunds?
Unemployment and inflation are falling. Interest rates are at a record low (can't stay that way forever George), but exports are down. Manufacturing is contracting and the service and construction sectors are just about treading water when you strip out further splurges during summer, christmas and other one off factors, like the football World Cup!
Energy bills and housing costs, combined with little or no wage growth, continue to affect the mood of the electorate. There has been some light relief from the oil price dropping and 2014 could be seen as a good year on the economic front for the government - but the elephant in the room is still with us. The huge deficit, government and consumer debt and the growing dark clouds in the Eurozone again will hold back the economy in 2015. It will be a test to see whose economic narrative will win the day in May.
Scotland decided – or did it?
In September we had the big one. The long anticipated Scottish Referendum. In the end the NO campaign won the day with an impressive 11% victory over the nationalist fuelled YES campaign.
Alex Salmond resigned and is looking to re-invent himself as Deputy Prime Minister for the UK government in what could be a Labour/SNP coalition after the general election next May! Impossible? Well who knows in this crazy political world we currently live in eh?
Despite the referendum result, the nationalists and YES campaigners cannot let it rest. Corruption, fear and fraud were all alleged but they seem to have gone quiet recently, in fact, ever since the oil price fell through the floor, I wonder why that may be?
Changes at the top
Individuals continued to dominate the headlines for a variety of reasons in 2014.
Boris Johnson marked his return to Parliament at the next election by securing the safe Tory seat of Uxbridge, while William Hague shocked Westminster by resigning as Foreign Secretary and then announcing his intention to stand down as an MP at the next election. One of the finest of his generation he will be genuinely and sorely missed.
The long anticipated cabinet reshuffle was a shallow effort to remove the 'pale, male and stale' for more women and in the summer the hopeless, opportunist, Sayeeda Warsi resigned on a point of principle (only she understood) having been passed over for promotion by David Cameron. It appears he prefers the much more able and impressive Sajid Javid to the hapless Baroness.
We said goodbye to Ian Paisley. Paisley, the pragmatic, booming Unionist of Northern Ireland politics bellowed, ‘never, never, never’ following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. He then went on to be Northern Ireland’s First Minister sharing power and developing a unique friendship with his sworn enemy, former IRA commander, Martin McGuiness.
Tony Benn, the left wing firebrand and staunch defender of parliamentary democracy died at the age of 88. Benn was someone, I agreed completely on over Europe but just about nothing else. He was though a man of great conviction and principle, if only there were a few more like him around today!
The entertaining Bob Crow, the charismatic union leader died suddenly and left a genuine hole in the trade union movement. Crow was completely irrational, bonkers even, but a very effective union leader and negotiator. His members will miss him, as will the OUT campaign in a future EU referendum. A staunch opponent of the EU and political and economic union, Crow along with Benn would have been a formidable debating partnership from the left on the issue.
We also lost Jeremy Thorpe the controversial former Leader of the Liberal Party following a long illness. It is sad that he will largely be remembered for a sex scandal rather than for the contribution he made to the Liberal movement.
Overall we leave British domestic politics at the end of 2014 at a crossroads with new forces of democracy emerging. Whether the growing status of UKIP, the SNP and the Green Party are here to stay only time will tell. What is certain though is that as we go into a general election year, British politics has never been harder to call and this is certainly good for democracy.