Top ten red herrings of 2010

`I am not the kingmaker`
`I am not the kingmaker`

This year's many twists and turns have made it harder than ever for politicians to get their predictions right. With the benefit of hindsight, here's our choice picks from the most misguided, unrealised misleading and ultimately inaccurate stories of 2010.

By Alex Stevenson

10 - SNP and Plaid: Hung parliament can give us independence

The Scottish National party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru were cheered up by the prospect of a hung parliament, which - if it hadn't been for the coalition deal - could have handed them significant power. The SNP's Angus Robertson was especially excited, calling the scenario "redolent with opportunity" back in March. Implicit in their optimism was the chance they might even be able to secure support for an independence referendum, But, as things turned out, they didn't get the chance to exert any leverage whatsoever. Maybe next time, eh?

9 - Tories block electoral reform

Brown's late conversion to electoral reform led to proposals for alternative vote being rushed through at the very end of Labour's 13 years in power. When time ran out, handing the opposition the power to decide what became law in the parliamentary 'wash-up', the Tories blocked plans for a proposed referendum on AV. "Cameron's message is clear. And it isn't change," a grumpy Willie Sullivan of pressure group Vote For A Change commented. Yet just over a month later the electoral reform referendum was the price Cameron was willing to pay to enter Downing Street. It's barely remembered, now, that had the Tories made the wrong call at the beginning of April they wouldn't have had that bargaining chip on the table at all.

8 - Grayling favourite to become home secretary

"Punters could place a wise bet on Chris Grayling to succeed Alan Johnston as home secretary," we wrote on April 13th, after bookmakers placed him as the favourite to be the next person in charge of the Home Office. Even without the formation of the coalition it was far from clear whether Grayling would make the step into government with the same portfolio, though, following a string of gaffes. Eventually he found himself with the thoroughly limited job of - irony of ironies - employment minister.

7 - Cameron: No 'stitch-up' to enter No 10

Not that the coalition deal could be characterised in these terms, of course. In fact the Conservative leader, speaking on April 24th during the campaign, was referring to plans to force any MP who entered No 10 but hadn't been party leader at a general election to hold a new poll within six months. The coalition prime minister-to-be probably wouldn't want his comments repeated, however. "You should hold office because the people have voted for you, not because your party has stitched up some kind of deal," he argued.

6 - Clegg: UK faces 'Greek-style unrest'

As Britain's politicians campaigned in the general election, Greek protests this spring gave a dangerous foreshadowing of the future - at least according to Clegg, who warned as much in a bid to scare voters away from the Tories. "Imagine the Conservatives go home and get an absolute majority, on 25% of the eligible votes," Clegg said. "They then turn around in the next week or two and say we're going to chuck up VAT to 20%, we're going to start cutting teachers, cutting police and the wage bill in the public sector." With Clegg as deputy prime minister VAT was quickly rushed up to 20%; and the spending review introduced cuts which will see all his predictions taking place. December's tuition fees protests, targeted against Clegg, gave us a foretaste of the wider dissent we can expect in 2011.

5 - Cameron: Vote Clegg, get Brown

It didn't quite work out that way, did it? Once again from the general election campaign, this warning from the Tory leader came amid that huge surge in the polls for the Liberal Democrats which evaporated when the time came to vote. The suggestion that it would be Brown, rather than Cameron, who benefited from the Lib Dems turned out to be utterly incorrect. "If you want to be sure of a change of leadership after May 6th... then it is the Conservatives that offer that decisive change - anything else and you risk being stuck with what you have got," Cameron warned.

4 - Bookies install David Miliband as frontrunner

Moments after Brown had stood down the bookies were clear that David Miliband was the most likely man to succeed him. He remained the candidate to beat throughout the campaign, winning the support of both the Labour party's members and its MPs. But it wasn't to be - Ed Miliband sneaked over the line with the backing of the unions, leaving elder brother David exiting frontline politics after a "soap opera" autumn conference in November.

3 - Cameron downplays spending cut ambitions

Having covered the largest programme of swingeing public spending cuts in generations, that headline seems a little hard to swallow in retrospect. But don't worry, as the leader of the opposition told us in February. The Tories were interested in "making a start" on cutting the deficit, but this would only take place over a five-year period - not in the 2010/11 year. "Look, if we have an election in May, your year is already under way," he argued. "We believe in proving we're serious about getting this deficit down." With 2010/11 nearly over that seems fair enough. But Cameron's comments clearly aimed to deflect attention from the impact of the following four years, which are now looming alarmingly. The respite, if there was one, was very brief indeed.

2 - Clegg: We will replace Labour on the left

Perhaps those illusory poll ratings were going to his head, but just over a week from polling day Lib Dem leader Clegg was ruling out Labour altogether. "The big choice now," he said in an interview with the Times, was between "two competing pitches for change" with liberalism replacing "Labour statism" as the main force in the centre left. "I think more and more people in the Labour party are coming to appreciate that," Clegg said. Not for long, they didn't. The picture quickly changed, with that 'centre-left' party's ministers working closely to implement the huge areas of common ground with the Conservatives.

1 - Clegg: I am not the kingmaker

"The 45 million voters of Britain are the kingmakers," Clegg declared to Liberal Democrat delegates gathered at their pre-election conference on March 14th. "They give the politicians their marching orders, not the other way round. It's called democracy." That is correct, to a point. But when the British people produce a parliament where no party has a majority, it was up to the third party to make their choice and decide who would enter No 10. The election aftermath was dominated by the drama of bid and counterbid from Labour and the Tories as they sought to win over Clegg - who, without question, was the ultimate kingmaker of 2010.


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