Top ten surprises of 2010

David Cameron was outshone by the man who was about to become his deputy prime minister in the leaders' debates
David Cameron was outshone by the man who was about to become his deputy prime minister in the leaders' debates

2010 wasn't just an eventful year - it was an unpredictable one, too. Here's a selection of the developments which have raised our eyebrows the highest.

By Alex Stevenson

10 - A snowplot too far

So many plots to oust Gordon Brown had been attempted in the past, and so many had failed, that we thought by the start of the year we had seen our last coup attempt. But we were wrong: in a bizarre calculation former Tony Blair ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt decided to go out on a limb and try and bring down the country's most resilient prime minister by themselves. There was little plotting in the 'snowplot', as it became known - the pair appeared to assume their mere statement of disloyalty would see the Brown regime collapse - but it certainly got 2010 off to a cracking start.

9 - The coalition's first casualty

Fast forward to the end of May, when we were finally settling down to the 'new politics' of coalition government. With the new Cabinet barely settled in quick changes of personnel were the last thing on anyone's mind. Which is why chief secretary to the Treasury David Laws' sudden departure proved such a shocker. The cocktail of expenses claims and his being outed could have been a monstrous scandal - if it wasn't for the fact it was obvious that his motivation was discomfort with his sexuality, rather than a desire to profit. Still, it was enough to remove him from the government after just 16 days in power. It won't be a surprise when he returns.

8 - An MP is stabbed

Anyone who has come across Labour's former Treasury minister Stephen Timms knows him to be as inoffensive as he is gangly and tall. So it was with incredulity that, last thing on a Friday in May, it emerged that he had been rushed to hospital after being stabbed by a constituent. Timms, who had just been returned to his East Ham seat with another stonking majority, was in his surgery when he was attacked by a young Muslim woman called Roshonara Choudhry. It subsequently emerged she had visited an extremist website which included Timms on its 'hitlist'. Timms, fortunately, was back on his feet within days.

7 - Fortunate Farage

Everyone knows the score on polling day. With campaigning officially at an end there's that strange lull while the nation waits to find out the results. The only news, invariably, is party leaders backing themselves at the ballot box. Not so in 2010. At around 08:00 a small aircraft carrying Ukip leader Nigel Farage crashed in a field, after the banner it was carrying stating 'vote Ukip' got tangled up. Farage - who was attempting to oust Speaker John Bercow from his seat - was lucky to survive, and got much more publicity than his stunt might have expected. Although Farage didn't win he did make a return as Ukip's leader later in the year. He didn't need to resort to air-based acrobatics to win that poll, anyway.

6 - A monster swing

Of all the constituency results to shock us on election night, Redcar was arguably the most unexpected of all. Against the national trend, which saw the Lib Dems post a disappointing performance and end up seeing their total number of MPs decline, Ian Swales managed to take the Teesside seat with a whopping 21.8% swing. Vera Baird's old constituency should have been a shoe-in for Labour, who had held the seat ever since it was created in 1974. But anger over the Brown government's failure to rescue the seat's mothballed Corus steel plant led to this massive upset, overturning Baird's 51% share of the vote in 2005.

5 - David Miliband derailed

David Miliband was always the frontrunner in the Labour leadership election. And two-thirds of the results reflected that, as he convincingly won over MPs and Labour party members in the final analysis. Normally persuading the party is sufficient to win a leadership election. Not so with Labour, whose reliance on the unions clinched the result for younger brother Ed Miliband. The ridiculous "soap opera" drama over David's 'should I stay or should I go?' agonising dominated proceedings at the party's conference in Manchester. Eventually, Mili-D decided to quit frontline politics - a major blow for the Labour party, making him one of the biggest causalities of 2010.

"S**t or bust"

There wasn't an election court convened in Britain in 2009, or 2008, or 2007 - in fact you have to go back to 1911, a full 99 years, for the last example of a candidate challenging a result based on misrepresentation. That didn't stop Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins, who had lost out by just 103 votes against Labour's ex-immigration minister Phil Woolas in Oldham East and Saddleworth. Woolas' "s**t or bust" strategy, the court heard, saw his team attempt to link Watkins with extremists in a campaign charged with racial politics. The two high court judges presiding over the case in a small town hall in Saddleworth had seen enough, chucking Woolas out of the Commons for good.

Ten weeks of Widdy

Ann Widdecombe has always been faintly ridiculous. As a politician and part-time author her high-pitched warblings were always tinged with some sort of veiled irony, just out of reach behind the veil of right-wing bluster. That veil well and truly fell to the ground once she left Westminster. Her decision to swap the Commons for the Strictly Come Dancing dancefloor did wonders for her popularity. Judge Bruno Tonioli called her a "Dalek in drag", but being dragged around by Anton Du Beke proved much more effective than doorstepping when it came to winning votes.

2 - Cleggmania and the Lib Dem surge

Subsequent events have pushed the extraordinary poll ratings of the general election campaign to the back of politicos' memories. It seems so long ago that the Lib Dems were the best thing since sliced bread, pushing Labour into third place and at one stage coming within a handful of points of the Tories. Was it too good to be true? Perhaps, for the 'Cleggmania' surge fuelled by his TV debate appearances faltered by the time polling day came. Nevertheless, it provided a surreal backdrop as activists campaigned up and down the country in the run-up to polling day. No one expected those numbers - or, for that matter, the eerily accurate exit polls which brought the Lib Dem craze to a juddering halt.

1 - The government

And yet the rollercoaster year for the third party was far from over. Despite their disappointment, Clegg, Laws and co were soon to enter into a historic coalition with David Cameron's Conservatives in a decisive break with the pattern of Britain's postwar politics. A hung parliament had been foreseen, certainly - but the most likely outcome was always a confidence-and-supply arrangement, or perhaps a short-lived Tory minority administration. The pundits were proved wrong as a full-on coalition agreement emerged. Once they got together in a room, Clegg and Cameron managed to agree a programme of government for the next five years. Who would have thought, as 2010 began, that it would be personal chemistry rather than the voters which would decide the final shape of Britain's new government?


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