The week in review: Politics seized by a giant hand
It is as if our politics has been seized by a Giant Hand. Parliament has been tilted on its side, sending all of its stories lurching towards the right.
A Great British panic is slowly gathering pace in Westminster, unsettling ministers, the opposition and journalists alike. Next year's arrival of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants – much-feared, and almost certainly likely to be the first big anti-climax of 2014 – has sent the powerful into a flap. Labour toughened up its immigration policy this week, after the latest in a series of apologies for having messed it all up while in government. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in government have been less certain, holding a head-scratching meeting and pondering what they can get away with when hauled before the European court of human rights.
They are puzzled because they know immigration matters – and there is a political price to pay for not dealing with it. Just look at Ukip, who – according to far-right "smasher" Margaret Hodge may even be attracting voters from parties like the BNP. She used the word "xenophobic" to describe Nigel Farage's bunch – on the same day that experts at Chatham House downgraded the English Defence League from 'racist' to 'xenophobic'. It really was a coincidence, honest. It was certainly a revealing one.
Even liberals like Ken Clarke have been seized by this giant hand. His refusal to bow to his own personality on the secret courts question prompted dismay from liberals who had hoped he might help them resist the government's thinking on the issue. Even Lib Dems, supposed to be the champions of civil liberties within government, refused to budge.
Ah, the Lib Dems. Where to start? They may have held on in Eastleigh but that brief morale boost now seems a long way away. Just look at three of the party's five Cabinet ministers who entered office in 2010. This week Vince Cable broke cover against his own government's economic policy with a lengthy essay for the New Statesman. As Labour pointed out, he seems more powerless than in power. Then comes Chris Huhne, whose ex-wife Vicky Pryce was found guilty of perverting the course of justice this week. The pair will be sentenced on Monday.
Finally comes Nick Clegg. The deputy prime minister found himself facing accusations of a cover-up over the Huhne speeding points, after emails emerged on Thursday suggesting he might have known something of the scandal to come. Staunch denials have, of course, followed, but the question-marks have chased the party leader down to Brighton where he faces a tough weekend. This evening he will address the Lord Rennard sexual harassment scandal which has engulfed his party, which – as its president Tim Farron has admitted – is in a "critical" state.
Politics.co.uk is, naturally, a fair and balanced site which is even capable of resisting being seized by a Giant Hand. This week we unveiled a little bit of research of our own, having enlisted the help of a jury to try and find out who is parliament's most Liberated MP. The answer, it turns out, is Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell, who has freed himself from the shackles of the party system. Exploring his ideas in our in-depth interview led to some interesting conclusions…
This was also the week when Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chavez breathed his last; a by-election was fought and won which we didn't write a single story about until it had happened; and the Crown Prosecution Service got its act together after the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Let's hope things level out next week.