Up close and personal: The political image of the year?

The top ten political scandals of 2013

The top ten political scandals of 2013

This was, in truth, a poor year for political scandals. Perhaps we've been spoiled in previous years by the behemoths of phone-hacking and expenses – and these continued to rumble on into 2013. But there were no big scalps this year, no ministerial resignations and little by way of actual results. Instead the main theme is of unresolved, unknowable question-marks: in Labour's internal dynamics, in the structures which govern the shadowy digital world of spying online, in sub judice cases where we just don't know the answers yet. This was a year of previous scandals having a last hurrah and the arrival of fresh scandals not yet answered. It leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth.

(Last year's position in brackets)

10 (5) Plebgate

Andrew Mitchell's demise was a 2012 story, true – but the steady unravelling of the case against him has been a constant undercurrent of 2013. The scandal is not now about what a posh Tory Cabinet minister said, but the extent to which police officers conspired to push him out of power.

9 (-) Lynton Crosby

The man who helped Boris Johnson into City Hall has been hired by the Tories to help David Cameron in 2015. Which is why Lynton Crosby, who is a tobacco lobbyist, got into the headlines when the coalition government decided to drop its plans for plain packaging of cigarettes. Despite deep suspicion from many, Downing Street held its defensive line all year. It was a scandal without grounds, but the political heat it generated means it made it into this top ten.

8 (-) Nigel Evans

The dramatic resignation of the MP for Ribble Valley from the deputy Speakership, after being charged with eight counts of sexual misbehaviour, was actually the biggest departure of the year. Right now criminal proceedings remain active and so it's up to the courts to decide whether Nigel Evans is guilty or not guilty. In parliament, the widespread disbelief at his resignation told its own story.

7 (7) Expenses

It's been going for five years now, but it still won't go away. This year the biggest scalp from the dodgy expenses claims MPs made in the noughties was Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister, who got six months behind bars for his deliberately fraudulent claims. Stories about the Lords 'clocking in' to pick up their daily tax-free £300 allowance and MPs getting not one but two free iPads courtesy of the taxpayer didn't help shift the now permanent suspicion that MPs are out for every paperclip they can scrounge.

6 (1) Phone-hacking

The number one scandal of 2011 and 2012 finally slips down our list. In 2013 it was all about the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and co, which provided a string of shocking revelations. From Prince William being called 'babykins' to the news that Brooks and Coulson were having an affair, the trial – still ongoing – has been a constant reminder that one of the big scandals of yesteryear is still not quite resolved.

5 (-) Mail vs Miliband

Perhaps some right-wing commentators might dispute the presence of this palaver in this particular list. What really made it newsworthy was not so much the cynical, brutal way in which the Mail and Mail on Sunday went after Ed Miliband via his father – and then via a journalistic invasion of a family memorial service event – but the momentum which Miliband's righteous anger generated in response. The Mail's reputation was deeply damaged, making it even more of a powerhouse in right-wing circles and a joke in left-wing ones than it had been before.

4 (4) Chris Huhne

Again, another scandal from yesteryear. But 2013 saw the dramatic denouement, in which Vicky Pryce and her ex-husband paid for the breakup of their marriage with a self-destructive court case which ended up with both in prison. Huhne, once seen as a future leader of the Lib Dems, saw the final end of his political career this year. The images of him walking into prison were among the most compelling British political pictures of the year.

3 (-) Horse meat

This, on the other hand, was a scandal no-one was expecting. The extent to which we had been gobbling away on the flesh of a creature we absolutely didn't want to be gobbling was primarily one for the food industry to deal with – but Labour strained every sinew to turn it into a political one and did enough for it to make it on to this list.

2 (-) Falkirk

It was a scandal. We know that much. But what exactly was particularly scandalous remains just a little bit shrouded in mystery right now. Something, it's clear, caused the resignation of Tom Watson as Labour's general election coordinator. The involvement of the Unite union in allegedly rigging the selection in the Falkirk constituency was at the heart of it – but after the initial furore the Labour inquiry turned into something of a whitewash. There was "insufficient evidence" of wrongdoing and it turned out the rules "at the time" had not been broken. So what was going on? We don't, in all honesty, really know. But something is up – and after Ed Miliband's declaration of war against the unions, a grim battle – of which the Falkirk scandal is only a part – is taking place which will dominate the early part of 2014.

1 (-) GCHQ, Prism and the Guardian

The biggest scandal of the year, though, was an international one. Edward Snowden's whistleblowing revelations, and the Guardian's decision to publish them in Britain, let the world know the true extent of the nefarious snooping activities of Britain's intelligence forces. This year it emerged that GCHQ, working with the Americans' Prism programme, were able to access personal data. Law-abiding citizens, we were told, have "nothing to worry about". But by the end of the year there were serious questions being asked about the intelligence and security committee, which is supposed to offer oversight to the secret work of Britain's intelligence agencies. "Only a fool would think we are re-assured by the appearance of a mandarin quietly saying 'trust me, everything is alright'," Lib Dem president Tim Farron wrote for politics.co.uk earlier this month. "This pervasive surveillance of our entire digital lives has been allowed to take place without prior knowledge, debate or consent." It is by far the biggest scandal of 2013.