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UK Politics

2013 - the year in review: Politics as usual, though we lost Margaret Thatcher and gained Adam Afriyie

At Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, Osborne shed a tear, as if a human being lurked below that calculating exterior

This should have been the year when we lost Margaret Thatcher but gained Adam Afriyie. We lost the Baroness in April, laid to rest at a dignified funeral during which George Osborne was seen to shed a tear, as if a human being lurked somewhere below that calculating exterior.

There were also parliamentary tributes, preceded by a stern warning to Labour MPs from the Daily Telegraph commentator, Dan Hodges, to show respect for the recently dead and avoid “infantile” attacks. One Labour MP ignored him and laid into Thatcher’s “heinous” record. That was Glenda Jackson, Dan Hodges’s mother.

A propos of Adam Afriyie, a rumour circulated in spring that a great new leader was emerging to supplant David Cameron after the 2015 election. Mr Afriyie modestly confined himself to saying that he was working with a “large group” of Tory MPs on plans for a “Conservative Britain”. In October, Mr Afriyie decided to show his hand by forcing a vote to commit the Government to holding a referendum before 2015 on whether to stay in or leave the EU. It fell by 249 votes to 15. Mr Cameron’s leadership survived.

In another section of the anti-EU movement, Ukip and its leader Nigel Farage stumbled their way through a sequence of disasters without actually falling flat on their faces. They did well in the May local elections, but the only part of their conference anyone remembers is Godfrey Bloom telling a crowd of women they were sluts and whacking Channel 4’s Michael Crick around the head with a party brochure.

It cannot be said that any of the main parties had an outstanding year. Arguably, in January the Conservatives lost their best chance of winning the next election outright when their Lib Dem allies refused to go along with their plan to redraw constituency boundaries. Yet David Cameron and George Osborne still look a more credible pair than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, managed to hold Eastleigh despite the downfall of Chris Huhne; but their poll ratings remain grim.

But 2013’s smartest political operators may have been the west country badgers. Five thousand were doomed to die in Somerset and Gloucestershire, many eluded the marksmen, so the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson revised the figures downwards and allowed a three-week extension to the campaign. Mr Paterson was asked if he was moving the goalposts. No, he replied, “the badgers moved the goalposts.”