Looking back: 2008


By Alex Stevenson

The state of British politics changed more in 2008 than it has done at any time in the past 11 years.

It's been a busy year in British politics: not since Tony Blair ousted the Conservatives from government in 1997 has there been such fundamental change.

There was no general election this year, but plenty of shifting of the goalposts. In retrospect historians may look at the period before the economic crisis hit as one of consensus politics: where the Conservative opposition stuck to Labour's public spending plans. The Pre-Budget Report changed all that. All of a sudden politics has got very, very interesting again. There are two clearly divergent solutions to the country's current economic difficulties. Voters must choose which they support.

Not that developments in the run-up to this autumn disappointed. Political fortunes followed a clearly delineated path - mainly downwards if you're the prime minister. But the economic crisis prompted his remarkable recovery as the Conservatives endured a mixed year. Developments in 2008 have paved the way for what will be a fascinating 2009.


The year began badly for the Conservatives - Derek Conway was found to have paid his son the equivalent of £25,970 a year without proving evidence showing he had done any work. He lost the Tory whip and will not stand as an MP at the next election as a result.


After months of what the Tories described as "dithering" the government finally made up its mind about what to do with collapsed bank Northern Rock. Nationalisation brought back echoes of old Labour - but Alistair Darling didn't care, telling MPs this "temporary" measures was the right thing to do.


In a year to be dominated by the economy Mr Darling's first Budget as chancellor proved a bit of a disappointment. Stability was his watchword and it had to be - as strained public finances prevented any major policy announcements. David Cameron was less than impressed with his delivery, saying he delivered the Budget with "the excitement of someone reading out a telephone directory".


April saw campaigning for the local elections rumble on, but the main event this month was the furore which erupted over the government's decision to abolish the 10p rate of income tax. Labour rebel Frank Field promised a rebellion which could have defeated Gordon Brown - had key concessions not resulted in £2.7 billion of tax relief for the poorest.


City Hall changed hands for the first time this month as Tory maverick Boris Johnson ousted Ken Livingstone from power in London. The new mayor's triumph was the icing on the cake for impressive Tory gains in local elections across the country.


After the government narrowly won through in the debate of the year on extending pre-charge detention to 42 days in May, shadow home secretary David Davis resigned from his post as MP on June 12th. His decision, made on principle, was an attempt to seek a single issue by-election and gamble his political career in the process. He eventually won his seat back - but now sits on the backbenches.


After losing Crewe and Nantwich to the Tories, Gordon Brown's fortunes took another plunge downwards as Labour were defeated by the Scottish National party in Glasgow East. John Mason's victory played a key role in the rumbles about the prime minister's leadership throughout the summer.


Those rumbles focused on foreign secretary David Miliband's article in the Guardian appearing to lead the way for a challenge. It took until August 20th for him to deny a rift existed between himself and Mr Brown, having previously refused to back the prime minister publicly. The PM himself spent much of the month brooding on a three-week summer holiday.


Mr Brown returned to form in September with a fighting conference speech which convinced most - but not all - he was the man to lead his party to the next election. At least it bought him time. After a stirring debate the Liberal Democrats decided to back £20 billion of tax cuts while David Cameron matched Mr Brown's performance in Birmingham.


The summer holidays returned to threaten the career of shadow chancellor George Osborne in October. Allegations that he discussed a donation with Nathaniel Rothschild and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska threatened to derail what had been a promising career. After much wriggling he escaped to fight another day.


By November 5th the recession had well and truly kicked in - as had Gordon Brown's political recovery. Labour's hold against the SNP in Glenrothes was a resounding success for the PM who visibly grew in confidence as his measures to tackle the economic crisis attracted praise around the world. The Pre-Budget Report which resulted changed the face of British politics. With public borrowing planned to reach 57 per cent of GDP and David Cameron abandoning his party's link with the government's total spending plans, politics had just got interesting again.


The year ended with the unexpected arrest of shadow immigration minister Damian Green on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office. Investigation into his alleged links with a Home Office serial leaker continued as MPs huffed and puffed about the search of his parliamentary office without a warrant. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats chose to boycott the government-backed committee established to investigate it, leaving the issues it raised unresolved over the new year.


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