The losers of 2011
politics.co.uk's guide to the worst losers of the year in politics.
By Ian Dunt Follow @IanDunt
10 – Oliver Letwin
The 'Gandalf' of the Tory election campaign continued to behave in an eccentric manner this year, once again creating problems of his own devising with which to derail his political career. His decision to stress the role of "discipline and fear" to public service provision prompted headlines of a particularly dangerous sort, because it played into Labour accusations that the spending cuts are motivated more by ideology than the deficit. The photos of him dumping correspondence, including constituents' letters, in a park bin were even more dangerous, because they invited accusations of bumbling incompetence, rather than political malice. The episode became a running joke with political journalists and will inevitably be raised as evidence of his 'judgement' if he finds himself in hot water again.
9 – Chris Huhne
The energy secretary has developed a reputation as the troublemaker in chief among Lib Dems at the Cabinet table. Unfortunately, it has not sparked loyalty from his colleagues, who view him suspiciously as a leadership plotter waiting for the right time to make his move. The interminable wait for an announcement on his speeding ticket has cast a shadow over his year, making any achievements in the Department of Energy and Climate Change struggle for column space. He is regularly pilloried in the press, particularly among right-wing journalists. All in all, a tough year for the Lib Dem frontbencher.
8 – Ken Clarke
The justice secretary thought he'd have one last go in the ring before he retired out of politics. His supporters, a strange alliance of One Nation Conservatives, Europhiles, liberals and lefties, still rush to his defence, but his enemies grow in stature and number. His injudicious remarks on rape did him no favours whatsoever and an ill-tempered row with Theresa May at the Tory party conference saw him land up on the wrong side of the prime minister. He remains widely liked in the country at large and no party leader will want to take him on publicly, but it was noteworthy how little patience Downing Street had for the justice secretary.
7- Theresa May
May won the support of the prime minister during the cat-gate row but it still did her damage. The fact she specifically said "I'm not making this up" just before making something up heaped on the humiliation. Cameron calculated which side of a debate on the Human Rights Act he wanted to be, but any cursory look at the case she mentioned showed she was in the wrong. Some months later, the home secretary found herself in another row over reduced security checks at border control. At one point she looked done for, but a later mistake by senior civil servant Brodie Clark spared her. Despite surviving the year, her reputation for competence took a significant hammering in 2011. She remains in the most career-ruining role in Westminster and her behaviour this year did little to suggest she won't conform to its history.
6 – Nadine Dorries
The right-wing Tory backbencher was on her way to a major political victory with her abortion amendment, a move which succeeded in dragging the issue into the public domain and won sympathetic comments from the Department of Health. Anything gained by that process was lost when she started issuing attacks on Nick Clegg and, increasingly, the Conservative leadership. She then delivered a bizarre statement when leading the debate, using up much of her time with a sustained attack on the Guardian newspaper. Tory MPs confided in each other that the amendment could have stood a chance if it was presented by someone else. Cameron seriously humiliated the backbencher during PMQs, branding her "frustrated" and allowing the innuendo space to breathe. Even Labour MP Frank Field, who seconded the amendment, distanced himself from her. It was a master class in fumbling the ball. She is now treated disrespectfully by press and parliamentarians alike.
5 – George Osborne
The chancellor is widely respected due to his political instincts. He is an invaluable part of the Cameron project and is whispered about as a future leader of the party. But his autumn statement was as complete a political failure as it is possible to witness. The chancellor admitted he would have to borrow above levels forecast by Alistair Darling, that growth forecasts would need to be significantly downgraded and that the private sector was not, as had been hoped, taking up the slack of public sector job losses. It was a failure on the terms he had set himself. Osborne has the benefit of blaming the eurozone crisis and US paralysis for his lack of export markets and he will appreciate that voters still trust him over the Labour team on the economy. But in terms of concrete policy, 2011 has been a terrible year for the chancellor, whose economic gamble, one of the greatest in Britain's history, shows signs of failure.
4 – Sir Paul Stevenson
The most senior police officer in the UK was one of the most significant casualties of the phone-hacking scandal. Appearing before the home affairs committee he seemed uncertain and resentful. He struggled to explain why Neil Wallis, a former executive editor of the News of the World, acted as a media consultant to the Met while it was investigating the newspaper or the £12,000 of free hospitality he received from Champneys health spa, where Wallis was working. It was a sudden end to a high-flying career, and one from which he is unlikely to return.
3 – Nick Clegg
What is there left to say that hasn't been said already? Clegg had another bruising year, losing the AV referendum, flatlining on popularity ratings, digging his party into a seemingly bottomless poll trench and failing to give the impression of Liberal Democrat influence in government. Cameron's decidedly eurosceptic decision to veto the fiscal consolidation programme in Brussels typified the inadequacy of Clegg's approach. First he came out in support of the prime minister. Then he appeared on TV to attack it. By the next week, he was absent during Cameron's statement to the Commons but very much present to issue another condemnation on television immediately afterwards. His advisers worry that he appears impotent, stuck silently in the Commons while Miliband and Cameron have the real debate. That's a justifiable concern but his response to it has been a disaster, both in terms of policy and public perception. The irony, of course, is that the Lib Dems do the most to water down the more right-wing ideas in Downing Street. Their reward is to be vilified by the left and mocked by everyone else.
2 – Liam Fox
The disintegration of Fox's government career was entirely his fault. While the story of his close relationship with Adam Werritty was odd, it boiled down to one central fact: Fox was effectively running a shadow foreign policy unit in the Ministry of Defence, complete with questionable links to pro-Israeli and neo-con figures. Whichever way you cut it, it was a resigning matter, even if whispers about his personal life almost brought sympathy to the beleaguered minister. The impression of informality it brought to the government was potentially disastrous. Very few people believe he will ever be able to come back.
1 – Rupert Murdoch
Although it is James Murdoch who finds himself with questions to answer about his knowledge of phone-hacking, it is his father who has lost the most. This time last year he was still an almost god-like figure, conferring favour on political candidates and bowed down to by anyone who didn't want to wake up to find a pack of journalists in their front garden. Now his name is a byword for unethical behaviour, he has closed his top-selling newspaper, his son is hounded by media watchdogs, his enemies in Britain, Australia and the US can smell blood and the era of his political domination has well and truly ended. In British political circles, a close connection to Murdoch is no longer something to be aspired to, but to be hidden. 2011 was, as every commentator with literary aspirations pointed out, the year of the Fall of the House of Murdoch.