17:18 Monday 31st December 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: We’re almost at the end of the 2012. What kind of year has it been in politics? Twelve months ago the economy was struggling, there were strains in the Coalition, and Labour were ahead in the opinion polls. The man with a ringside seat at Westminster, for us, has been our Political Correspondent Paul Rowley.
PAUL ROWLEY: The economy is still struggling Chris. There are strains in the Coalition. And Labour are still ahead in the opinion polls. So it’s been a bit of a Groundhog Year in many respects, although I suspect one person delighted to see the back of 2012 is our dear Chancellor George Osborne. Because not only has he presided over Britain moving into recession, thankfully we’re now out of it, he’s also been responsible for what was described as the “omnishambles” budget, with all those U-turns over things like the pasty tax, the caravan tax, the charity tax, the steeple tax. He’s had to abandon hopes of balancing the books by the next election. It’s now going to be at least 2018 before that budget deficit can be eliminated. Added to that, 80,000 people booed him at the Olympics, which prompted the joke, “Why were 80,000 people booing George Osborne a the Olympics?” And the answer to that Chris is, “Because that’s the capacity of the Olympic Stadium”.
CHRIS MANN: (LAUGHS) I read at the weekend in I think it was the Telegraph, a pretty dire prediction from someone within the Conservative Party that there’s no way they can come out ahead at the next election, that the most likely scenario will be a Labour-led coalition. What do you think at this stage Paul?
PAUL ROWLEY: That’s a possibility, because you’d think that Labour can’t do as badly as they did last time around. Although the Conservatives could make gains at the expense of their Coalition partners, at present the Liberal Democrats. It’s not been a good year for the Tories. It’s difficult mid-term anyway for a Government, especially with the financial problems they’re having to deal with. And for David Cameron, having authorised the Leveson enquiry, in order to put the spotlight on the “meejya”, and the phone hacking scandal, well what did it do? It put the emphasis on David Cameron and his intimate texts with Rebekah Brooks, the former Chief Executive of News International.And of course Andy Coulson, his former Press Secretary. Both of them have been charged as a result of the phone-hacking scandal. So it’s been an odd year. Boris Johnson got stuck on a trip-wire, and yet somehow he manages to turn it into a public relations triumph. And another Conservative, Nadine Dorries, swapped Westminster for another jungle, because she became a contestant on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
CHRIS MANN: Yes but we’re old enough to think back paul. Is it as bad as the Brown years? Is it as bad as some of the Blair years? Is it as bad as the Major years? They all have some pretty awful crises to deal with, and mid-term they were all pretty shambolic.
PAUL ROWLEY: Absolutely. And at times you thought that Neil Kinnock was on course to become Prime Minister. It never happened. William Hague did well off the Prime Minister’s Question Time and yet got absolutely massacred in the 2001 elections. So I suspect the fact that we are talking about Nadine Dorries eating a lamb’s testicle, a camel’s toe, an ostrich’s bottom, and a baked spider, it’s nowt in comparison. And I tell you what. Having eaten food as Nadine Dorries does, like me, in the Commons canteen, she’s got to be used to it.
CHRIS MANN: (LAUGHS) So will the Labour Party be looking at 2012 and thinking, we’ve shored up our ship, and we’re back on course here?
PAUL ROWLEY: I think they’d be somewhat premature to think like that.Yes it’s been a better year for Ed Miliband than this time last year, when there were even questions about not just whether Labour had chosen the right leader, but whether they’d chosen the right Miliband. I don’t think the leadership’s in question. Nobody frankly wants the job in certain instances. David Miliband has ruled himself out of any future challenge. So I think yes, they have a sustained opinion poll lead, partly because of the Government’s problems. Yes there are anxieties among Labour activists, because they are still to sketch out new policies. But it’s a deliberate tactic, because we’re two and a half years away from the next election Chris. The Party is wary of providing a hostage to fortune in many respects. They know they need to regain the trust of the electorate, after thirteen years in power, particularly over the economy. But I think Ed Miliband himself emerges much stronger, because he’s performed better at Prime Minister’s Question Time. He made what many regard as his best ever speech at party conference, which he delivered without notes, and rebranded Labour as One Nation Labour, which is an old Tory phrase which they nicked fr5om Benjamin Disraeli, the former Conservative Prime Minister, in the nineteenth century. And I know he wants to call it One Nation Labour. He used the phrase Chris, no fewer than 46 times during that conference speech. I counted them all. You know I really think I should get out more.
CHRIS MANN: Well, Mr Clegg, ironically, is the first LibDem Leader to get his party into government for 60 years. And just a couple of years into that government period, they’re already plotting against him Paul. It’s not what the Party wanted, ironically.
PAUL ROWLEY: Well the extraordinary thing is they lost seats at the last election, yet find themselves as the third party in Government. They used to be the party that used to win by-elections. Now they don’t . They were eighth, eighth, in Rotherham. No governing party has ever finished eighth in a British election. They lost their deposit in the Corby by-election. So it’s been another tough year for Nick Clegg himself. I still see him leading his party up to the next election. Whether or not he survives that, because it’s going to be tough for his Sheffield constituency .. he was hoping this year to have a triumph in reforming the House of Lords, but that was thrown out after a Commons rebellion by 91 Conservative MPs. But there is a plus to the year for the Cleggster as we call him, because he’s the only British politician that’s ever achieved the task of making the download chart, with his version of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry”, after that apology over university tuition fees. Although, noticeably, it’s not an apology for the U-turn, it was the apology for the policy in the first place. But, if nothing else, it was a viral hit on YouTube, and he made a bit of money for charity.
CHRIS MANN: Look into your crystal ball for us please Mr Rowley. Tell us in 2013 what can we expect?
PAUL ROWLEY: Probably more of the same, although you always get the unexpected, which can cause lots of difficulties for politicians, especially Government politicians. For David Cameron, he’s going to make s statement on Europe in the New Year. Always a toxic issue for the Conservative Party. I think he’s having to do it because the UK Independence Party has done rather well in 2012, and he’s rather worried that he could lose votes to them, and lose seats at the next election, or face a rebellion too at the issue of gay marriage. Although I think David Cameron will stick to his guns on this one, because almost certainly it will go through the Commons with the help of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. For Ed Miliband, I think he’ll want to build steadily on Labour’s lead. And for Nick Clegg, I think he’ll just hope that 2013 is better than 2012.