We weren’t overburdened with contenders in 2016; most politicians covered themselves in everything but glory.
Politician of the year – Nigel Farage
But Farage has to go down as the century’s most successful UK politician. He joined Ukip with one goal in mind – to get Britain out of the EU – and this year was instrumental in getting 52% of those who voted in the EU referendum to agree with him. All this from a man whose career up till then had been the very opposite of a success, having failed in almost everything he had put his mind to. He had lost every single one of the seven UK elections in which he had stood to become an MP and couldn’t even resign as leader of the party without changing his mind several times. He ended the year as President-elect Donald Trump’s preferred candidate to become the UK ambassador in Washington and was overheard moaning about how he couldn’t stand being in the same room as most of the people who voted Ukip. Even Tony Blair didn’t come that Teflon-coated.
Comeback of the year – Ed Balls
The most hotly contested award of the year as there were plenty of politicians whom we thought we had heard the last of who managed to spectacularly resurrect their moribund careers. In another year, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis could all have romped home, but Ed Balls just shades it. When he lost his seat in the 2015 general election it looked as if he would simply fade into benign obscurity, remembered only as one of Gordon Brown’s bully boys by members of his own party and by the rest of the country as the shadow chancellor who was consistently outflanked by George Osborne. Then came Strictly Come Dancing, where Balls won the hearts of a nation by throwing himself around like an accountant who had taken too much ecstasy at Glastonbury. Now a return to Westminster looks an odds-on certainty.
Sunk without trace – David Cameron
In January, Dave looked like a man in control of his destiny having unexpectedly won the general election the year before. All he needed to do to cement his legacy was to sort out the divisions in his own party by winning the unlosable EU referendum. That’s where it all went wrong. Having promised to stay on as prime minister regardless of the result, Dave promptly resigned on the morning of 24 June, saying he would step down in September. Poor old Dave wasn’t even given that long as the Tory leadership campaign disintegrated into a death spiral and the removal men were outside the door of No 10 by the middle of July. Dave then said he would remain as a backbencher only to stand down from his Witney constituency seat at the earliest opportunity. He can now be found on the lucrative American lecture circuit with Dave: My Part in his Downfall.
Idiot on Twitter – Donald Trump
Even among the fairly sane, Twitter can feel like an echo chamber for the insecure and the needy – See me, Feel me, Touch me, Like me, Retweet me – but in the hands of a politician it can be a lethal weapon of self-destruction. Having found himself with more time on his hands than he would have liked after his knifing of Boris ended up doing more damage to his own career, Michael Gove took to Twitter. It was often hard to know whether Mikey had sunk one too many bevvies or just wasn’t as bright as everyone had thought with most of his tweets. From art to macroeconomics, there wasn’t a subject in which he couldn’t show up his ignorance. But for Twitter as idiotic, Grand Guignol, no one could compete with Donald Trump. Trump’s tweets veered from the terrifyingly insane – “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes” – to the merely insane. Only this week, he used Twitter as a means of talking to himself with “The US Consumer Confidence Index for December surged nearly four points to 113.7, THE HIGHEST LEVEL IN MORE THAN 15 YEARS! Thanks Donald!”
Lie of the year – £350m
2016 was living proof that the bigger the lie you tell, the better the chance you have of getting away with it. The genius of this approach is that some people will assume that something so incredible must be true, while others will simply accept the lie for the lie it is and believe all the other smaller lies you are telling instead. It was widely assumed the Vote Leave bus would have to change its “Every week the UK gives £350m to the EU” after it was repeatedly pointed out that this figure bore absolutely no relation to the truth. But rather than painting over the £350m and putting in the more accurate figure of £136m, Vote Leave went on the offensive by claiming economists were merely experts and were, therefore, inherently untrustworthy. Bizarrely – long after everyone had stopped caring about the lie – Gove was this week still trying to claim that all the £350m was going to go to the NHS. Let it go, Mikey. It’s over. You won.
Unsung heroes of the year – the Treasury select committee
In a year when post-truth was the order of the day, there was at least one group of MPs more interested in the truth itself. Politicians haven’t had a great rep in 2016, but the Treasury select committee – chaired by Conservative Andrew Tyrie – consistently worked hard to disentangle fact from fiction. If their finest hour came during the EU referendum campaign when they tried to disentangle the evidence from the rhetoric of both the leave and remain campaigns – their verdict was that both sides were making it up as they went along, but remain had a slightly better grasp of reality – they maintained their high inquisitorial standards post-Brexit with forensic examinations of the nation’s finances. During a session with the chancellor, shortly after November’s autumn statement, it felt as though Philip Hammond might sob with relief at finding himself in a room full of grownups for the first time in months.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010