The winners of 2011
politics.co.uk's guide to the biggest winners of the year in politics.
By Ian Dunt Follow @IanDunt
10 – Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham was the forgotten man of Labour's leadership election. He came fourth in the end, having failed to dispel an air of pointlessness which hovered over his campaign. But apart from Ed Balls, who arguably saved his career, Burnham was the losing candidate who used the contest to greatest effect. While David Miliband melted into the shadows and Diane Abbott failed to capitalise on her increased public profile, the former health secretary nabbed the shadow education brief, in which he excelled against the turbulent Michael Gove. A few months later he was replacing the competent John Healey, who had good reason to feel hard-done-by, in the most politically profitable role in opposition: shadow health secretary. Burnham, who had become intensely popular in the party, is now taking the fought to Andrew Lansley over NHS reform – a winnable battle in which serious political profits can be made.
9 – Louise Mensch
The Tory MP and chick-lit author was a relative unknown before the phone-hacking scandal. Her performance on the day of the Murdoch testimony was underwhelming and ludicrously over-hyped. A few hours later, she was forced into a humiliating encounter live on air with Piers Morgan. But she emerged from the day with a massively inflated public profile. Her looks and personable approach helped, while an engaging Twitter manner and independent political viewpoints did the rest. Mensch now enjoys a level of attention coveted by most backbench MPs.
8 – Chuka Umunna
The Labour MP for Streatham has enjoyed a meteoric rise since entering parliament last year. Umunna's bitter clashes with George Osborne on the Treasury select committee won him appearances on the news but the Labour leadership had been watching him from well before the general election. He backed Ed Miliband in the leadership fight – a gamble that paid off – and was made parliamentary private secretary for a few months before rising to shadow business secretary. He is ideally placed to benefit from his leader's desire for fresh blood on the front benches. Intelligent, ambitious, good looking and politically savvy – many Westminster insiders expect great things.
7 – David Lammy
The Tottenham MP was the parliamentary face of the response to the riots in London. He projected an intelligent, disturbed image throughout the disorder, appearing daily on the streets of his constituency to talk to the public, make considered statements to the press and welcome visiting political leaders. Lammy's eloquence and moderation saw him win plaudits across the political spectrum and his book on what happened, 'Out of the Ashes: Britain After the Riots' is widely considered the best available text on what happened and why. Some leading political commentators believe his policy suggestions are more accomplished than the entire Labour policy portfolio, such as it is. A prime example of someone who wins standing and respect by responding to a serious situation with the gravity it deserves.
6 – Yvette Cooper
Cooper started 2011 high and crawled ever upwards. Despite not going for the leadership while husband Ed Balls strove for it, Cooper has emerged from Labour's ructions in a better position than any of her colleagues. An effective and convincing Commons performer, she excelled in the Foreign Office brief and was rewarded with the more prominent job of shadow home secretary following the reshuffle. Her political compass is firmly on the right of the party, giving her credibility with the parliamentary lobby. Many view her as the main hope for a female leader since Harriet Harman made plain she didn't want the job on a permanent basis. While Ed Miliband and Balls are frowned on for not making more headway against an unpopular government during an economic downturn, Cooper stays above the fray, unaffected and increasingly admired.
5 – Hugh Grant
It took less than a year for Hugh Grant to turn himself from a fading Hollywood star to a political campaigner. It would have prompted mockery were it not for the fact that Grant showed himself to be smart, quick-witted and politically perceptive to a degree few of us would have foretold. While his agenda does seem to entail the destruction of the entirety of the tabloid press, his campaign on phone-hacking was remarkably successful and he forced procedural developments onto the news merely by virtue of his presence. A Question Time performance in which he appeared far more knowledgeable than the politicians on the panel cemented his reputation.
4 – Angela Merkel
The German chancellor had a bad year and emerged as powerful as she could ever have dreamed. Such is the irony of history and politics. Merkel's attempts to save the eurozone brought no confidence to the markets and she failed to face down opposition at home to measures which everyone outside of Germany considers vital to saving the European market. But by the end of the year she was, without doubt, the most powerful woman in the world. The press hung on her every word. France handed political leadership of Europe to Germany. And her government will, to all intents and purposes, sign off the budgets of EU member states. It is an extraordinary coup and one of the most far-reaching consolidations of power in post-war international relations. It will probably end badly, of course, but for now she's riding high.
3 – Tom Watson
While his elevation from opposition backbencher to deputy Labour chair is hardly on the scale of some other names on this list, Watson had a remarkable political metamorphosis in 2011. The former minister had no real public standing in January and was hardly known outside Westminster. By the summer, the Commons chamber would sit in total silence whenever he spoke. The West Bromwich East MP's relentless investigation into phone-hacking put him in prime position when the scandal blew up, but his reputation was really cemented when he questioned James and Rupert Murdoch on the media select committee. While most of his fellow MPs merely struggled through their questions, Watson managed a finely-detailed forensic analysis of his subjects, reducing them to sweaty insecurity and striking a real win for parliamentary standing. The most telling sign of his newfound influence came when James Murdoch complained to the chairman about being called a mafia boss. John Whittingdale merely looked over at Watson and asked, calmly, if he was finished.
2 – Alex Salmond
On any assessment, Salmond must be considered the most successful and capable politician in the UK. He secured a majority via an electoral system specifically designed to prevent it. He will very probably take Scotland through a referendum on the union, timed to maximise his chances of success. He is assured, effective and adept at getting his way regardless of the circumstance. He has wiped out the Tories north of the border and reduced Labour from the natural party of government to a side-player. He has had the most successful political year in Britain, hands down.
1 – David Cameron
Winning in politics is not about the scale of your accomplishments. It is about the scale of your accomplishments given your circumstances. Cameron started the year in a precarious position. He had failed to win a majority against an unpopular government. He was disliked by many in his own party, lacking in instruments with which to control his backbenchers and strapped to a coalition with the Lib Dems. And yet, his gamble with the AV referendum paid off. He is strengthening the Tories' future electoral prospects with the constituency boundaries review, his personal approval ratings remain high, he is trusted on the economy despite most of Labour's predictions coming true and he maintains control of a coalition partner who is unable to go anywhere because of their dire poll ratings. Cameron is successfully implementing a radical right-wing economic agenda without any mandate for it, he orchestrated and won a war in Libya, he emerged unscathed from a wealth of scandals – including the August riots, phone-hacking and Liam Fox's resignation. Finally, and with commendable panache, he turned a failure of negotiation in Brussels into one of the defining moments of his administration. He is either the luckiest man in Westminster or a master strategist of historic proportions. Either way, he's our winner of the year.