2010: Year in review - part two


Despite a hung parliament and leadership contest, Gordon Brown's survival throughout 2010 is being hailed as the political miracle of the century.

By Alex Stevenson

It's been a tumultuous 12 months for Westminster in a year every bit as extraordinary and divisive as the expenses-ridden saga of 2009.

The approach to the general election was relatively placid, broken only by the tragic death of defence secretary Bob Ainsworth under a tank on Salisbury Plain. A mini-reshuffle followed Peter Mandelson's decision to revoke his peerage and stand again for parliament. With Brown performing well in the polls and Britain finally emerging out of recession, the country seemed to be sitting up and taking notice of politics again.

It still came as a huge surprise when the Conservatives failed to secure the outright majority they so desperately wanted.

Despite David Cameron's initial impulse to form a minority administration it soon became clear during that chaotic first fortnight the task seemed likely to be beyond him.

Reports of a fundamental divide between Cameron and George Osborne over how to respond to this crisis were pushed into the long grass when Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg finally stepped in.

His party, despite slipping to a meagre 54 MPs, held the kingmaking ability to shore up the Tories in the Commons. Clegg claimed he was driving a hard bargain and somehow managed to extract electoral reform promises from the panic-stricken CCHQ. The new government's emergency Budget gave Osborne the chance to wreak the "savage cuts" Clegg had previously envisaged.

But the perception among the public, in an improving economic situation, was that the new administration had gone too far. Perhaps it was this which helped Gordon Brown see off his challengers for the Labour party's leadership. Driven into opposition after 13 years in power, New Labour maintained its old faultlines in the contest to follow. But the Blairites divided among themselves, David Miliband and Andy Burnham proving particularly irreconcilable. By the time Labour got round to holding the vote, Brown won hands down.

But trouble was brewing in a traumatised summer on Whitehall.

William Hague, in his brief stay in the Foreign Office, had to deal with a major foreign policy crisis as Israel carried out military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

And in a piece of spectacularly bad timing the Olympics finally slipped behind time and over budget - just after Boris Johnson had assumed a Cabinet role as Olympics minister.

It was Vince Cable's shock resignation as chief secretary to the Treasury which began the unravelling of the Clegg-Cameron axis. You might have thought after years out of power the Liberals would have stuck to it like glue. But Dr Cable, a seasoned campaigner, was able to sense the momentum was shifting against the coalition - and his own party leader. The new government, falling apart as quickly as it had come together, was in crisis mode by the time of the party conferences.

For Clegg his brush with the activists was the final straw. He had always suffered from leaning the wrong way. The grassroots, exerting the full power granted to them by their conference, defeated the leadership not once, not twice, but three times on classic left-right issues.

By the end of the week Clegg had quit, with his one-time rival Chris Huhne facing the prospect of another election.

The second campaign of 2010 was a more confused affair than the first. Now Brown had something to fight against, while Cameron's support had drained away as a result of the summer's uncertainties.

Confounding expectations, Brown won a 17-seat majority. His one-time adviser Ed Balls, who had lost his seat in the spring election, was appointed to the Lords and returned to the Cabinet. Mandelson, now an MP again, entered No 11.

It was as if nothing had changed - almost. A much-weakened prime minister, facing a bruised opposition contemplating the fate of their own leader, now has to implement brutal and deeply unpopular spending cuts. The odds seem stacked against Brown surviving 2011, let alone his full five-year term. But if we've learned anything from his astonishing clam-like performance throughout the sturm und drang of 2010, it's not to underestimate this great survivor.


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