Balls to Blair: top 10 unpopular politicians’ comebacks of 2016

The politician who just won’t lie down.

10 Tony Blair

Even the publication of the Chilcot report couldn’t dampen his megalomania, and he is still frequently found on TV news channels trying to persuade the country he has a vital role to play in the Brexit negotiations. Despite this, he could be around a while longer; after losing two elections and heading for a third defeat, many Labour MPs still regard him with affection.

9 Neil Hamilton

OK, so leader of Ukip in the Welsh assembly may not be the highest office in the land, but it’s a great deal higher than many in Ukip, let alone the rest of the country, would have had in mind for him. Given his track record for being unable to avoid controversy and scandal, Hamilton’s is likely to be one of the shorter comebacks.

8 Liam Fox

Most people thought they had heard the last of Fox when he was forced to resign as minister for defence after including one of his friends, Adam Werritty, in various international trade talks. Since then, he has been a seething rage of Euroscepticism on the backbenches. After the Brexit vote, Fox stood for leader of the Conservatives and came fourth out of five, and most people assumed that was that. But Theresa May decided to keep her friends close and her enemies closer by appointing him international trade minister, in which role he has done nothing.

7 Nigel Farage

Not so much a comeback as the politician who refuses to go away. After arguably proving himself to be the most successful politician of the century by winning the EU referendum, Farage promised to fade into obscurity by standing down as Ukip leader. Whereupon he promptly decided he was best placed to take the top job again. As if that weren’t enough, he became best mates with Donald Trump and has now been positioning himself as Britain’s next ambassador to the US.

6 Andrea Leadsom

Very few people outside her close circle of friends had heard of Leadsom until she found herself going head to head with Theresa May for the leadership of the Conservative party. Having got herself into all sorts of bother with a dodgy CV and her “as a mother” mantra, she sensibly withdrew early on, sinking without trace as quickly as she had risen. Only then, to her and everyone else’s surprise – she hadn’t been sure if climate change was real or not – she was made minister for the environment.

5 Keith Vaz

Having been outed by the Sunday Mirror for masquerading as Jim, the industrial washing machine salesman of the year, who was allegedly happy to hand over £150 to sex workers to buy cocaine, Vaz reluctantly stepped down from his role as chair of the home affairs select committee. Most MPs follow such public humiliation with time away from the House of Commons as an expression of contrition. Not Vaz: he was back in the house the next day asking questions and within weeks he had got himself elected to the justice select committee.

4 David Davis

When you last served as a minister 19 years previously, in 1997, it’s reasonable to assume that your career in frontline politics is over. In the intervening years, Davis has shown every sign of making himself comfortable on the backbenches as the voice of general dissent. But following the EU referendum, Theresa May has brought him back into the fold as the minister for exiting the EU. Presumably on the grounds of you broke it, you fix it. For Davis, it has been a case of be careful what you wish for. The job is proving a lot trickier than he thought and he is sounding less and less hawkish by the day. Come 2019, he could even be a Europhile.

3 Iain Duncan Smith

Flouncing out of his job as work and pensions minister because the changes he had made to welfare payments had actually been one of the few pieces of government policy to achieve its objectives, looked a curious move. And, when Theresa May had overlooked him for a cabinet position while over-promoting his even less competent Brexiteers, it looked like time was up for IDS. As the Conservative Cabinet continues to struggle to understand whether Brexit means Brexit, and what they should do about it if it does, IDS is looking to be first in line for promotion in any reshuffle.

2 Boris Johnson

Returning to the Commons after taking time out to be London mayor had only ever been a stepping stone for Bozza. So, when faced with the decision of a lifetime – to remain in or leave the EU – Boris had to think carefully: what would make him most likely to be Tory leader? He seemed to choose leave on the grounds that remain would probably narrowly win, which would tee him up nicely for the top job when David Cameron stepped down in 2019. Much to his surprise, leave won and Boris found himself having to rethink his plans. Before he could do so, Michael Gove stabbed him in the front and it looked as though Boris was going to be condemned to a lifetime of hubris. But then Theresa chose him to be her foreign secretary. He and the rest of the world are still coming to terms with that.

1 Ed Balls

Think back to the general election of May 2015, when the then shadow chancellor of the exchequer lost his seat. No one but him mourned, as he was generally remembered by the country as offering little resistance to the austerity measures of George Osborne, and by his own party as having been an unpopular bully boy for Gordon Brown. Cut to December this year, and Balls is now the most loved politician in the country thanks to his eccentric and enthusiastic dance shapes on Strictly Come Dancing. Were Balls to fight an election as leader of the Labour party right now, few would bet against him winning. Politics in 2016: it’s all become an extension of reality TV.

Powered by article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Tuesday 27th December 2016 16.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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