In the spirit of annual yearly reviews, Mandate has compiled our ‘Top 7′ list of political moments from 2009. Unsurprisingly, America’s new President is top of the list but there are few surprise choices in there as well:
- Barack Obama’s inauguration as 44th President of the United States. After a gruelling election campaign, America’s first black President finally reached the White House. The Supreme Court Chief Justice may have fluffed his lines but this didn’t stop thousands of Obama’s supporters celebrating on the streets of Washington DC or billions worldwide tuning in to watch. The new President promised a new era of American leadership and responsibility and temporarily, at least, restored our faith in politics.
- The 2009 Budget. Alistair Darling revealed that Britain would have to borrow £175 billion as he admitted that the UK faced the worst economic conditions since the Second World War. Labour also scrapped its manifesto pledge not to raise income tax before the next General Election, effectively killing off one of New Labour’s central tenets. The Chancellor said it was about Building Britain’s Future; the Tories called it an ‘utter mess’.
- The Expenses scandal. Westminster was rocked by allegations of sleaze and impropriety as information on MPs’ expenses was leaked to the Daily Telegraph in the biggest scoop of the year. The most ridiculous claim went to Sir Peter Viggers for his floating duck house but some MPs may still yet face criminal charges. Reputations were ruined, careers ended. The fallout continues.
- Exodus of New Labour. Only hours after polls closed in the June local and European elections, James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, sensationally quit the Cabinet. In a rare act of political courage, the arch moderniser put his reputation on the line and asked Brown to stand aside to give Labour a fighting chance of winning the next election. With Hazel Blears and John Hutton announcing their resignations too, the exodus of New Labour heavyweights from the Government continued. Brown was irrevocably damaged but Purnell established himself as one to watch for the future. The Economist called him one of New Labour’s heroes.
- The Sun Goes blue. Britain’s biggest selling daily tabloid did what many had expected it to do for months and officially announced that it would endorse the Conservatives at the next election. After 12 years of support for Labour, the Sun’s editorial screamed ‘Labour’s Lost It’. Coming only the day after Gordon Brown’s set piece speech to conference, the decision looked like a deliberate attempt to scupper the Prime Minister’s re-launch. The Tories rejoiced.
- A change of Speaker. One of the fallouts from the expenses scandal was Michael Martin’s resignation as Speaker of the House of Commons, effectively becoming the first speaker to be forced out of office in 300 years. Martin had faced enormous criticism over his handling of the expenses scandal with many MPs prepared to sign a motion of no confidence in him. The left-leaning Tory MP, John Bercow, was chosen to replace him, much to the delight of Labour MPs and the fury of his Tory colleagues.
- The BNP on the BBC. The British National Party had one of its most successful years ever in 2009 when the party won two seats in the European Parliament and consolidated its strength in the London Assembly and across councils in England. Its gains sent shudders of horror across Westminster. The BNP’s leader Nick Griffin received widespread coverage in the press and even appeared on the BBC’s flagship ‘Question Time’ programme, with the Corporation receiving a barrage of complaints as a result. Many wonder whether the Party has peaked but the question remains whether it can emulate its success in next year’s General Election.