Top ten U-turns of 2010

U-turns aren't always popular
U-turns aren't always popular

There have been a lot of spectacular U-turns this year. We suspect it has something to do with the coalition agreement making all those cast-iron manifesto commitments somewhat more malleable. Here's our break-down of the good, the bad and the ugly.

By Peter Wozniak

10 - Darling quails before the wrath of the cider drinker

It would have been expected that a ten per cent hike in the duty on the beverage would not have gone down particularly well in the west country.

But the singling out of the humble cider drinker, in view of the fact that beer and wine escaped Alistair Darling's last Budget with rises of just two per cent, was more than even the most equable enjoyer of alcohol could take.

The government certainly didn't expect them to mount such a campaign against the plan as to force a near-instantaneous climb-down.

Labour insisted it would reimpose the tax increase if it was returned to government in May - as good as ruling it out for good.

9 - May has her 'change of mind' about gay adoption

Theresa May came in for a heap of criticism when she became home secretary in May - replacing the ill-fated Chris Grayling who had previously been groomed for the job. Some even claimed she was there simply to show diversity at the top-levels of government.

And then gay campaigners started highlighting her voting record. It didn't make a pretty picture in the new era of coalition politics. She voted against the repeal of Section 28 and gay adoption.

Deciding to nip the mounting pressure on her in the bud, she took the highly unusual step for a politician of saying, in front of a live audience on Question Time, the fateful words: "I've changed my mind", instantly licensing the media to brand it a U-turn.

And what's more it worked. We haven't heard a peep about the issue since.

8 - BNP opens the door to non-white members

The legal battle between the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the BNP has run on throughout this year, but its most critical moment was definitely in February, when the far-right party was forced to change its constitution to accept non-whites as members.

Not that we were ever expecting the party to suddenly embrace pluralist politics. Nick Griffin himself said he was expected a "trickle, rather than a flood" of applicants from ethnic minority.

But considering how the BNP has centred its entire existence on the so-called 'indigenous British' population, this particular U-turn was of huge significance.

7 - Brown suddenly realises his burning passion for electoral reform

Truly one of the most transparent pieces of electioneering, this took place in February just in the midst of the shadow-boxing before the general election.

After 13 years in power, Labour instantaneously, it seems, embraced a change in the voting system for the House of Commons to the Alternative Vote (AV), all for the purpose of cleaning up politics.

Nothing at all to do with clumsily attempting to woo the Liberal Democrats - who are quite keen on electoral reform - in anticipation of a hung parliament, of course. The ironic thing is the cause for AV trumpeted by Brown has now been taken up, with a greater ring of genuineness, by his successor Ed Miliband.

6 - Cameron dumps his vanity photographer

Mere weeks after George Osborne had announced the spending review, the timing of the news that the prime minister had brought his photographer and videographer Andrew Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse onto the public payroll could not have been more perfectly timed for the opposition.

Despite the best efforts of Prince William and Kate Middleton to bury the story in a deluge of needless helicopter shots of Buckingham Palace, the Labour leader's quest to highlight the hugely embarrassing tale paid off.

In particularly the naming of Parsons as a 'vanity photographer' perfectly fitted in with the narrative of David Cameron being 'out of touch' with ordinary suffering families.

In highly undignified fashion, the prime minister had to hastily put the pair back onto the Conservative party books.

Only the dominance of the royal wedding buzz prevented this becoming far more damaging to the government than it was.

5 - Cable flirts with a graduate tax

Vince Cable's position as business secretary put him in charge of determining the system for higher education funding, a rather thorny issue of which more later.

But Cable's brief flirtation with the idea of a graduate tax was a little bit too maverick and was quickly shot down by No 10.

And so we were presented with the ridiculous sight of the business secretary denouncing as unworkable a policy which, mere days before, he had been ardently singing the praises of. Would probably feature higher up this list but for another U-turn on higher education.

4 - Lib Dems embrace nuclear power

The Liberal Democrats can't stand nuclear power, declaiming grandly in their manifesto that they would always prioritise other forms of renewable energy.

But that was before the coalition agreement allowed Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne to realise he was in favour of nuclear power after all, announcing the building of eight new stations.

To be fair to him, the agreement meant the stations wouldn't be funded by public subsidy, but that rather pales in comparison to the wider picture of Mr Huhne's volte face.

Strangely, this one didn't get as much coverage as other Lib Dem policy twists and turns, but remains a hugely significant one for the party.

3: Cameron atones for Bloody Sunday

U-turns are often the subject of ridicule and attacked as a sign of weak will. Not so this one, which saw David Cameron emerge in a more solidly principled light than had been expected.

The report on the events of Bloody Sunday duly arrived shortly after Mr Cameron took office. But the prime minister reportedly tore up the prepared remarks and delivered a speech of such uncompromising, genuine, stern apology that it took all of us quite by surprise.

2 - The redemption of Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband's disowning of the Iraq war and the Blair administration's draconian tendencies on civil liberties emerged during the Labour leadership campaign, and set him apart from his brother David.

These issues, which had so tainted the New Labour brand, were convincingly pushed past in an effective conference speech designed to bury the ghosts of Blair and Brown.

Miliband had delivered a rhetorical triumph, but was more than aware that the views he was expressing were anathema to many who sat in the government which put those policies through.

One only had to look at David Miliband's chastisement of Harriet Harman for applauding his brother's comments on Iraq - "you voted for it, why are you clapping?" - to see that this particular U-turn hasn't yet spread entirely to the Labour party.

1 - The breaking of Clegg: Tuition fees

The tuition fees saga dominated the end of the political year. That broken NUS pledge by the Liberal Democrats may well represent the moment when the party lost its huge student constituency forever.

The climbdown which saw the Lib Dems' flagship education policy cast aside on the altar of the stability of the coalition will continue to burn for some time yet.

None of those Lib Dem MPs, had they been asked last year, would have dreamed they might be in the aye lobby for trebling the cap on tuition fees.

The contortions which the party went through over the issue, with Vince Cable suggesting the entire party might abstain, and then all its MPs splitting three ways in the fateful vote, were, as U-turns go, one of the big ones.


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