Steve Richards: Well done Alex and Ed, but David wins by a head

Leaders or aspiring leaders must try to appear overwhelmingly dominant, when mostly they are not

Share

Recently I bumped into Michael Heseltine and exclaimed to him with banal excitement: "Politics is really interesting at the moment." He paused and replied with a mischievous smile: "Politics is always interesting." He is right, of course. Politics is about human beings seeking to resolve differences through words rather than force, pursuing ambition, attempting to win ideological battles, manoeuvring, projecting through the media, implementing policies. The vocation is inherently fascinating at all times. Those who are tired of politics are tired of life.

Nonetheless, I stand by my simplistic declaration to Michael Heseltine. The vocation becomes more darkly compelling in a hung parliament with an economy that might fall into a second recession. We are not used to peacetime coalitions and most voters have not lived through such bleak economic times. In such circumstances, politics comes to matter even more. We need it to work and, yes, it has been a really interesting year.

So interesting, in fact, that this column will inaugurate a new award: Politician of the Year. It obviously cannot be based on whether or not I agree with them. The judgement must be made on the basis of how well a politician has adapted to the often impossibly daunting external circumstances around them. Leaders or aspiring leaders must try to give the impression of overwhelming dominance, when mostly they are trapped in a tiny amount of space with nowhere to go.

There are three candidates who have transcended the limits that might have manacled lesser figures. The first is Alex Salmond, the most talented and self-assured politician in the UK. His dominance of Scottish politics remains breathtaking and might have historic consequences. Labour is now struggling to recover in a land they once ruled with ease. The Conservatives are nowhere to be seen, and now Salmond contemplates holding a referendum on independence. He will only hold the plebiscite if he is confident of victory, meaning the break-up of the United Kingdom is suddenly a possibility. Salmond is a master and beneficiary of the devolution settlement that he passionately opposes, which is one of the forms of his genius.

The second candidate is the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. The fact that he is shadow Chancellor is testimony to his wilful determination to keep going through the ups and downs of politics. Ed Miliband was wary of appointing him when Alan Johnson resigned, and yet he was the obvious choice. Since then, his bold predictions about what would happen if George Osborne pressed ahead with his speedy cuts have been proved right. At the beginning he had the support of a few perceptive economic columnists, but was largely on his own. Being on your own is, by definition, a lonely place to be. In politics it can be career-threatening. But Balls has political courage and a capacity to mix an expertise in economics with the tactical game that forms a part of politics. David Cameron called him the most annoying figure in British politics, another form of vindication.

Cameron is the third candidate. He leads on the narrowest of stages. To the one side of him are the increasingly stroppy Liberal Democrats, on the other is an assertive parliamentary party that cannot be easily appeased with the promise of ministerial jobs. Prime ministerial patronage is a powerful weapon in controlling a party, but Cameron has fewer jobs at his disposal in a coalition. Meanwhile, economic storms are brewing on a scale that makes those of the 1970s and 1980s seem little more than minor breezes.

Other leaders in comparable circumstances were exhausted and demoralised. Harold Wilson leading a hung parliament in the 1970s, John Major in the economic doldrums in the early 1990s and Gordon Brown in 2008, all lost their humour and political guile partly because there was no cause for laughter and they felt trapped politically. Cameron remains vivacious and witty and is implementing a radical Tory agenda without having won the election. In policy terms, he is skating on thin ice and I suspect the ice will crack next year, but, for now, we are looking back.

Salmond holds sway on a smaller canvas. Balls has yet to persuade the wider electorate and some in his party that he has all the answers. Cameron ends the year in a stronger position than he should be, still evasive as a political figure to the point of being almost uninteresting. This is a triumph of sorts in such a turbulent context and when, as Michael Heseltine observed, politics is inherently interesting. So David Cameron is my Politician of the Year.

s.richards@independent.co.uk / twitter.com/steverichards14

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

.Net/ C# Developer/ Analyst Programmer - Eciting new Role

£45000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .NET/ C# .Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on