The 10 best political videos of 2013

Including, Dennis Skinner on Atos, Mehdi Hasan on the Daily Mail and Glenda Jackson on Margaret Thatcher.

1. Dennis Skinner denounces the "heartless monster" Atos

The beast of Bolsover delivered one of the most powerful parliamentary performances in recent memory at PMQs in October. As he recounted the story of a constituent who was stripped of his benefits by Atos and waited 11 months for an appeal before his cancer "took his sight, his hearing, and then - last Friday - took his life", the House fell to a rare silence. He closed:

Two things the Prime Minister should do. One, with immediate effect, make an ex gratia payment to his widow to cover the pain and loss of income, and second, abolish this cruel, heartless monster called Atos. Get rid of it!

Whatever their views on welfare cuts, all were agreed that it was a masterful piece of oratory from the 81-year-old. 

2. Mehdi Hasan lets rip at the Daily Mail

Whoops of delight were heard across liberal England as the NS columnist tore into the Mail for its attack on Ralph Miliband as "the man who hated Britain", denouncing it as "immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining" and "gay-baiting". 

3. Anna Soubry stands up to Farage's scaremongering 

Appearing on Question Time last month, Conservative minister Anna Soubry unexpectedly - and brilliantly - departed from the Lynton Crosby script and attacked Nigel Farage for his scaremongering over immigration. Rather than pandering to the UKIP leader, as so many Tories do, she declared: "You do not talk facts, you talk prejudice. That’s what you talk, and you scaremonger and you put fear in people’s hearts.

"Look, times are tough. We know that. But when times are tough, there’s a danger and history tells us when things are not good, you turn to the stranger and you blame them. And you shouldn’t. That is wrong. And I’m proud of our country’s history and I’m proud that people come here."

4. Godfrey Bloom thwacks Michael Crick

After beginning the day by referring to UKIP's female activists as "sluts", Bloom continued his apparent mission to destroy the party's conference by hitting Channel 4 News's Michael Crick over the head after he challenged him on the absence of non-white faces on a party brochure. Bloom was subsequently suspended from the party and now sits as an independent MEP. 

5. Glenda Jackson on Thatcher: "A woman? Not on my terms"

Most of Margaret Thatcher's fiercest Labour foes chose to stay away from the parliamentary tribute to her, but Glenda Jackson couldn't allow the occasion to pass without criticism, declaring that the former PM wreaked "the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country", and concluding: "a woman? Not on my terms." 

The Labour MP for Hampstead was jeered and booed by Tories, with Tony Baldry declaring that her speech was against the "conventions of the House" as "this is not and has never been a general debate on the memory of the person who has been deceased, but an opportunity for tribute". But John Bercow rejected the criticisim, stating that "nothing unparliamentary has occured".

"We are debating a motion that says ‘this House has considered the matter of tributes to the Baroness Thatcher’ - that is what we are doing and nothing has got in the way of that."

6. Alastair Campbell blasts Paul Dacre: "you're dealing with a bully and a coward"

When the Daily Mail put up its deputy Jon Steafel to defend the paper's attacks on Ralph Miliband, Alastair Campbell seized the opportunity to tear into the absent Dacre: "You [Emily Maitlis] said the Mail is a formidable opponent. The Mail is not a formidable opponent because it's run by a bully and a coward and, like most cowards, he's a hypocrite as well. Paul Dacre hasn't got the guts to come on this programme and defend something that I know Jon Steafel believes is not defensible."

He added: "These people do not believe in genuine debate. If you do not conform to Paul Dacre's narrow, twisted view of the world as all of his employees, like Steafel, have to do, you get done in. All I say to all of the politicians in Britain is that once you accept you're dealing with a bully and a coward, you have absolutely nothing to fear from them."

Those on the left who have never forgiven Campbell for his conduct during the Iraq war were moved to rare praise. 

7. David Cameron 'gets' it on Syria

The most dramatic moment of parliamentary theatre this year came when Cameron ruled out military action against Syria after becoming the first prime minister since 1782 to lose a vote on a matter of peace and war. When Miliband asked him to assure the Commons that he would not use the royal prerogative to approve intervention, he replied:

Let me say the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.

With Obama responding by halting the US's rush to war and Syria agreeing to dismantle its chemical weapons (to be followed by a nuclear agreement with Iran), rarely has one voted proved more consequential. 

8. Eddie Mair takes on Boris Johnson: "you're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?"

The usually unflappable Boris Johnson met his match when he was confronted by Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show. As he was reminded that he was sacked from the Times for making up quotes, sacked from the Conservative frontbench for lying to Michael Howard about his affair with Petronella Wyatt and that he listened uncritically as Darius Guppy plotted to beat up a journalist, the mayor helplessly pleaded: "why don't we talk about something else?" 

9. Cameron confronted by protester over NHS privatisation

The day after it was announced that the NHS-owned blood plasma supplier PRUK had been sold to US private equity firm Bain Capital (the company co-founded by Mitt Romney), David Cameron found himself heckled by a protester at the Olympic park over the privatisation of the health service. Unable to deny the charge that he was "privatising the NHS", the PM could only offer the non-sequitur that the government was "putting more money in". 

10. Miliband at PMQs: "is there anything he could organise in a brewery?"

The Labour leader delivered his finest PMQs zinger to date when he responded to the government's U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing by asking Cameron: "is there anything he could organise in a brewery?" The best the PM could manage in response was another hackneyed jibe at Ed Balls. 

Oh crumbs: Boris Johnson during his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change