The Year According to Sean Dilley: Six picks of 2013

Sean Dilley: Nobody call Ukip 'fruitcakes'
Sean Dilley: Nobody call Ukip 'fruitcakes'

Broadcaster and general nuisance Sean Dilley rounds up the year with his highlights of 2013 - presenting an oddly positive note for, well, just about everyone.

Once surrounded by presidents and heads of state, Britain's only female prime minister died in the Ritz hotel in London at 11am on April 8th with just her doctor and care worker by her side.

The Iron Lady - so named by the Soviets during the Cold War - perhaps earned many harsher names from Britain's trade union movement and politicians from all parties, particularly her own. But the as the longest serving PM of modern times, her death undoubtedly tops the biggest moments in British politics in 2013.

 


I was amazed how respectful most people were. Aside from a couple of arrests and some choice speeches in the Commons chamber, pundits, politicians and members of the public alike were able for the most part to put politics to one side and mark the achievements of Baroness T. Even Ed Miliband praised her achievements in breaking the glass ceiling.

There were of course objections by many that David Cameron called it wrong in recalling parliament to spend seven-and-a-half hours debating the former PM's death. Indeed Speaker Bercow was particularly unhappy with the breaking of tradition insisting that the PM put his request in writing rather than attempting to initiate a recall through a mid-ranking No 10 official.

But whatever views people may hold, even her biggest opposers will never take from her the achievement of being our first female prime ministers. Twenty-three years on from her resignation, the question must be asked - when and who will the second be?

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2013 has been a year packed with politics - but history will undoubtedly remember it as the year same sex-marriage was passed in to law.

The legislation's passage is even more remarkable given the widespread opposition from Tory backbenchers. One openly gay Conservative confided: "I think it's right and I support it but I don't understand why it's happening before it's been properly discussed with the public." But David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been resolute, with a senior coalition insider telling me: "Dave and Nick really don't care whether it's the popular thing to do, just that it's the right thing to do".

Another Tory doubter claimed to let a little light in to the PM's thinking when he reported on a No 10 gathering for Tory backbenchers ahead of the big vote. According to my source, the PM justified the swift progress of the bill by saying, "I think it's the right thing to do, but it certainly won't lose any votes". Much to the dismay of the Tory MP. who, predictably enough, disagreed.

Whether the legislation upsets the grassroots of the Conservatives or not, it has passed. Same-sex marriage will go ahead from March 29th 2014 in what is unquestionably the most progressive act of the Lib-Con coalition.

*****

2013 is also the year affixed to the Succession to the Crown Act - one of the crowning achievements of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, if you'll forgive the pun.

Among the Liberal Democrat leader's duties in government is constitutional affairs and there is nothing quite as constitutional as changing the rules on who is entitled to sit as monarch.

Even before the royal wedding, the DPM had resolved to change the archaic rules that gave priority to the eldest male of the next in-line. Now William's already due to step into the fold after Charles but suppose this year's royal baby happened to be born Georgia... how could it be right for that baby to be disregarded in the event of the birth of a male in the future, discriminating purely based on gender?

Simply put, the law needed to be changed. A simple enough matter one might think, but of course, our constitutional monarchy extends well beyond our fair islands and into 27 other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada. In order for the Succession to the Crown Act to pass, laws needed changing there too.

So it's easy to scoff at politicians and accuse them of doing nothing, but believe you me, this Act of Parliament has involved more blood and sweat than the public will ever know.

One can only imagine how distraught Nick Clegg must have been to learn that baby George wasn't a Georgia.

******

Liberal Eastleigh has been the non-Westminster town of politics in 2013 following the dramatic resignation of its MP, Chris Huhne. This year he ducked out of politics to spend some time in the slammer.

There is of course much we could say about the former energy and climate change secretary from his original offence to his pathetic defence but for me, the strangest thing about the Huhne affair is Vicky Pryce. She was not so much an innocent victim of Chris Huhne but, in reality, a woman Southwark crown court heard was highly capable and intelligent - and a criminal.

If we're to believe in rehabilitation, it is surely fair to consider a former criminal as a law-abiding member of the public in time - but is it just me who is slightly uncomfortable with media colleagues appearing to write off her wrongdoing on days when she appeared on our televisions and radio sets billed as an economist and not a crook?

And of course, just as it seemed the Pryce affair couldn't get any stranger, reports emerged that she and former Europe minister Denis MacShane, who has just been jailed for dodgy expense claims, have started a relationship together. Now I've known Denis professionally for some years and have always considered him a nice chap. But to borrow a phrase from Richard Littlejohn, you couldn't make this up. Well, I suppose Vicky and Denis probably could.

******

As for the Eastleigh by-election triggered by Huhne's departure, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who has been causing some concern at Conservative campaign HQ, missed out on an almost certain seat in parliament by deciding not to stand - giving the Lib Dems' Mike Thornton a 32.05% share of the vote versus Ukip's 27.8%.

Now Ukip insiders suggest that Mr Farage was keen not to be seeking any old opportunity to run for Westminster. But with the greatest respect for their candidate Diane James, the double-edged sword of Nigel's personal recognition and popularity would almost certainly have seen him adding the letters M and P to his name. If only he hadn't listened to party colleagues!

Even as it turned out, without Mr Ukip himself at the helm of the by-election, the Tories poor showing in third place with just over 25% of the vote share - despite the constituency being a major target seat for them - raises serious questions about the blues' ability to win the 2015 general election outright.

So nobody call Ukip 'fruitcakes'. David Cameron did it once but he thinks he's got away with it.

*****

My final pick for 2013 isn't so much one story or event, but rather a thought on the main parties' standing in the court of public opinion. Many thousands of people are struggling to heat their homes and pensioners in particular who are the most vulnerable in society are literally having to choose to eat or heat.

For this reason, Labour's work on fuel poverty has to be judged as a success with politicians of all parties telling me more and more constituents are making reference to Ed Miliband's work.

Labour might also like to thank work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith for backing the image Labour wish to paint about the Tories being the nasty party, with the Chingford Charmer insisting the only reason food bank usage will increase to an alarming one million in 2014 is because there are more food banks.

IDS is of course a principled man who speaks what he regards to be the truth but foreheads are being slapped in Tory high command over rhetoric that is considered in Cabinet circles as a bit OTT.

The Lib Dems have had a successful year in terms of election planning with successes on the economy and constitutional reform. It's difficult for the results to be quantified now, since frankly they exist mostly under the radar of many voters, but all the fruits of this year will be realized at election time when Vince Cable will join the DPM and other senior colleagues and say they've proven they are now a party of government.

As for the Conservatives, the apparent upturn in the economy will without question benefit them the most. The Libs will claim that the economy would be in a worse state without their input but when all is said and done, George Osborne has told the world he is sticking to 'plan A' until Ed Balls was red in the face, but plan A is showing signs of success. Even if slower than originally promised.

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