Mercury Prize shortlist announced

Odds for the Mercury Prize nominees are the "closest ever", but Plan B and Richard Hawley are the favourites.

Eight of the twelve nominated albums are debuts, but it is East London rapper Plan B’s third album and Sheffield singer Richard Hawley’s sixth that are the favourites to win this year’s Mercury Prize, according to bookmakers William Hill. Brighton-based band The Maccabees and Peter and David Brewis, the Sunderland brothers that make up Field Music, are the only other veterans to have albums included on this year’s shortlist.

Also nominated are indie favourites Alt-J, psychedelic quartet Django Django and the rather more pop-friendly Jessie Ware, as well as folk singer Sam Lee and a band that Radio 6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson has called the "new sound of UK jazz", Roller Trio. Acoustic singer-songwriters Ben Howard, Lianne La Havas and the lesser-known Michael Kiwanuka round off the shortlist, a nod to a year that has seen the arrival and subsequent flourishing of many talented new solo artists. Speculations that Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow or the comeback album from Dexys, One Day I’m Going To Soar, would be nominated were proven to be unfounded, to the disappointment of a few - but for a prize that has always attempted to push emerging artists over old favourites, it is hardly surprising. Cambridge-based Alt-J would be my pick to win with their gorgeous, unique strain of ‘folk-step’, but Plan B is probably the safest bet. Then again, when Richard Hawley lost out to the Arctic Monkeys in 2006, Alex Turner famously exclaimed that the singer had been "robbed". Perhaps Hawley will manage to scoop the 2012 prize with this second attempt.

The 2012 Albums of the Year (with odds from William Hill) are:

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave 5/1

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom 8/1

Django Django – Django Django 5/1

Field Music – Plumb 10/1

Jessie Ware – Devotion 7/1

Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough? 8/1

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again 8/1

Plan B – Ill Manors 4/1

Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge 4/1

Roller Trio – Roller Trio 10/1

Sam Lee – Ground Of Its Own 10/1

The Maccabees – Given To The Wild 7/1

Could Richard Hawley win the Mercury Prize this time? Photo: Getty Images
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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.