Political Review Of The Year 2011: From Hacked Tom Watson To 'Sacked' Liam Fox

From Hacked Tom Watson To 'Sacked' Liam Fox

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a week is a long time in politics. A year is more like a decade, with leaders' fortunes, cabinet members, poll ratings and the economy all having more twist and turns than a series of the Killing. With this in mind, the year just gone in particular feels like a political lifetime.

2011 started, like all the best years do, with a double resignation. Alan Johnson stepped down as shadow chancellor amid claims his wife had an affair with his bodyguard. Just over 12 hours later, Number 10 communications adviser Andy Coulson handed his notice in, saying the "drip drip" of revelations about phone hacking during his time editing News of the World made it impossible for him to give "110 per cent".

David Cameron's line, that Coulson had been "punished twice", didn't hold-up too well by July when his former adviser was questioned by police over his role in the phone hacking scandal. But more of that to follow, we're still in February which began with a mini U-turn in the PM's own family.

David Cameron's brother-in-law acted swiftly to quash any suggestion he disagreed with the government's NHS reforms after the PM himself told journalists the doctor had questioned giving GPs so much power.

As the Arab Spring gained steam, so did calls to intervene in Libya. Benghazi braced itself as Gaddafi threatened "no mercy, no pity". David Cameron led condemnations of the violence as "unacceptable", with Obama following suit.

The conflict continued, and so did coalition politics. Liberal Democrat pressure and public disquiet led to the government launched a "listening exercise" on the NHS bill. The pause led to the first of a number of no confidence votes in Lansley and a humiliating apology to nurses. Then there were the 31 page summary of recommendations by the NHS future forum.

By May the UK had 15 hours to save democracy (as the prime minister put it) during the AV referendum. No, we also barely remember the outcome. There was also the small matter of Alex Salmond's SNP landslide in Scotland.

And while the cabinet bickered over each others' tactics after the referendum fallout, Ken Clarke was busy denying rape was rape. The justice secretary's Wednesday morning Radio 5 Live interview led to Ed Miliband calling for his resignation by that lunchtime's PMQs - and Clarke promising to choose his words carefully in the future.

June was a month where the government proved, once again, it was for turning. The retreat on Ken Clarke's offer if a 50% discount to offenders who plead guilty was one of the many things the government backtracked on this year, including housing benefit, the chief coroner post, NHS targets for waiting times, and forests.

When the news broke that murdered teenager Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked by the News of the World, everything changed. The fallout led to the closure of the paper, the two top cops in the Metropolitan Police and Rebekah Brooks resigning and the arrest of Andy Coulson. Then there was the small matter of James and Rupert Murdoch eating humble pie in front of the culture select committee.

It didn't quieten down in August, despite half the government going on holiday. The five days of riots which erupted across England shocked David Cameron into returning from Italy (eventually).

While women fell out of love with the Conservatives, everyone was falling out of love with political conference season. There were three weeks of, as our political editor Chris Wimpress put it, flat, flat and a cat.

But before we got caught up in a cat flap, Liam Fox managed to allow "the distinction between my personal interest and my Government activities to become blurred". Although the defence secretary resigned over his friendship with Adam Werritty, the two remain close, with Werritty recently telling the Spectator he would spend Hogmany with Fox and his wife. Liam was not the only person on the government payroll to go, with two parliamentary aides resigning over Europe.

The her-word-against-his row between Theresa May and UKBA civil servant Brodie Clarke about who authorised the relaxation of passport checks at most British airports over the summer provided an interesting sideshow. For a while, May looked under pressure, but Clarke quickly backtracked.

The economy (stupid) came to the fore again in November with public sector pension strikes casting a shadow over George Osborne's Autumn Statement. As the papers put it, Osborne struck first, announcing a further pay freeze on public sector workers.

By the end of the year, it was all about Europe - and David Cameron's veto. Once again, Clegg was unhappy and Chris Huhne was said to have been so outraged he interrupted the PM at Cabinet, an etiquette no-no.

And what of the quotes of the year? See below for a slideshow


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