New Jeers Honours

By DAVID WOODING

THERE has been plenty of gloom in the corridors of power during 2013.

It’s been a year of squeezes and freezes as politicians tell us all to tighten our belts.

But through all the austerity, they still managed to make us laugh – if only at their own tantrums, cock-ups.

So let’s loosen those belts a notch or two as Sun on Sunday Political Editor David Wooding honours those MPs in his NewJeers Political Awards.

Prat of the Year

MEP Godfrey Bloom for a string of outbursts too brazen even for the “fruitcakes and loonies” of UKIP. He dubbed African countries “bongo bong land”, branding women who don’t clean behind the fridge “sluts”. UKIP boss Nigel Farage stripped him of the party whip – probably using even more fruity language in the process.

Gold medal for selfie-exposure

David Cameron was caught snoozing barefoot on a bed in the background of a picture, posted on Instagram, of his sister-in-law getting ready for her wedding. Clearly, the red ministerial box beside him was full of dreary reading.

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The Gillette Award for sharpest put-down

The striker whose one-liner floored Tory heavyweight Eric Pickles after he scoffed at the small number of union activists on a Whitehall picket line.The roly poly Cabinet bruiser laughed: “I’ve walked past longer chip shop queues.” Quick as a flash, the un-named striker retorted: “But Eric, you’ve NEVER walked past a chip shop queue in your life.”

Shafter BAFTA

London Mayor Boris Johnson with this put down for Labour leader Ed Miliband: “Only a socialist could consider family ties as being so trivial as to shaft his own brother.”

Gaffe of the year 1

David Cameron for declaring he was on “team Nigella” and almost halting the trial of the TV chef’s former servants. The judge told the jury to ignore what he said. Labour would, no doubt, agree.

Gaffe of the year 2

The PM again for being unable to quote the price of a loaf – then admitting he baked his own using a posh, trendy bread-maker and organic flour.

A League of Their Own medal for sport

Sports minister Helen Grant who failed to get a single question right in a TV sports quiz.  She couldn’t name the Wimbledon women’s champ (Marion Bartoli), the FA cup holders (Wigan Athletic) or the England rugby captain (Chris Robshaw). Back in training for you, Ms Grant.

Twit of the Year

Labour MP Jack Dromey favourited gay porn websites on Twitter. The dad-of-three accidentally clicked on posts about well-endowed gay black men while researching a holiday. His wife, equalities zealot Harriet Harman, will clearly be pleased with his efforts to achieve diversity.

Jingle Balls Medal

Ed Balls, under pressure over his red-faced blustering performance at the autumn statement, mis-timed his grade three piano exam for the same day and had to postpone it. But he did better in his first public recital when he played a piece for children with only a few bum notes.

Pants on Fire Diploma

This is always a tough one in politics, with so many liars to choose from. But Chris Huhne wins this year’s award on points…the three he had put on his wife’s driving licence. The former Energy Secretary was jailed for eight months for perverting justice, but freed after serving 62 days, describing it as a “humbling and sobering experience”. True to form, it wasn’t long before he shamelessly took to the airwaves pontificating on the behaviour of others. Huhne wasn’t the only politician to run into trouble behind the wheel, though…

Strop Gear Award for Motoring

Commons Speaker John Bercow was called an “arrogant toff” and a “little weasel” in a five-minute dressing down by a mum who claimed he pranged her car while parking.

The Red “Ed” Light Award for Road discipline

Ed Balls, famed for blowing his top during Commons debates, didn’t see red for once – at a set of traffic lights. The shadow chancellor was fined after police cameras caught him jumping a red signal in his car. He confessed only weeks earlier he had also been caught speeding.

We’re all in this (parking space) together medal

George Osborne, after his car was caught on camera using a disabled parking bay in the same week the Chancellor cut disability benefits. And while we’re on motoring…

U-turn of the Year

David Cameron promised to be the greenest PM ever but with a screech of tyres he then promised to “cut the green crap” to bring down energy costs. Foot on the gas, Dave.

Margaret Thatcher memorial medal for tributes

Respect – but not respected – MP George Galloway produced the most churlish response to Lady Thatcher’s death with “tramp the dirt down”. He shares the award with ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell who provided the most cringe-making tribute: “A grocer’s daughter who taught me anything is possible…x.”

Nelson Mandela Award for Name-dropping

Nearly all top politicians were quick to boast how they once shook hands with Nelson Mandela…apart from Nick Clegg. But that didn’t stop him making a personal tribute on his death. The Deputy PM was greeted with howls of laughter as he told the Commons he never met the South African leader – but knew somebody who had.

Snouts in the Trough Award

Millionaire health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who blew £3,700 of taxpayers’ money learning his Chinese wife’s language, was front runner. But he was pipped at the post by most of the 650 other MPs who demanded an 11 per cent pay rise while the rest of us have our wages squeezed.

Fashionista of the Year

Labour’s Stella Creasy left kitten-heeled Home Secretary Theresa May in the shade by donning a chic blue PVC pencil skirt to question the PM in the Commons. Perhaps she’ll land a shadow Cabinet job – but her leader will make the vinyl decision.

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Rocky Belt for Parliamentary punch-ups

Hellraiser Eric Joyce spent a night in police cells after a brawl in a Commons bar – just a year after being charged with another Westminster fracas. But it was his decision to stand down as Falkirk MP which started the mother of all punch-ups as Ed Miliband squared up to union militants over who should be Labour’s new candidate.

Snooze-night award for political broadcasting

Newsnight editor Ian Katz wins hands down for taking to Twitter to brand Labour’s rising star Rachel Reeves “boring snoring” moments after she went on his BBC2 show. Ms Reeves replied simply: “Thanks”. But red-faced Katz, only two weeks in his job after leaving the Guardian, apologized in writing.

Plain speaking award

John Prescott, who on hearing his successor as deputy PM, Nick Clegg, has 15 advisers, quipped: “Even Jesus Christ capped it at 12.”

Political wisdom award

TV’s Jeremy Paxman for summing up the three choices facing voters at the next election – barely 500 days away – thus: “The people who gave us five years of austerity, the people who left us in this mess and  the people who pledged they would not raise student fees – the most blatant lie in recent political history.”

Tom Watson quits


By DAVID WOODING

LABOUR MP Tom Watson has quit the Shadow Cabinet in the heat of a growing storm over a union plot to seize control of candidate selection.

In his resignation letter to Ed Miliband, he has a dig at “unattributed briefings” by fellow front-benchers.

This story is far from over. Here’s Mr Watson’s resignation letter to the Labour leader.

Dear Ed,

I said that I’d stay with you as general election co-ordinator within the Shadow Cabinet as long as I was useful. I think it would be a good idea for you, and me, if I stood down from the role now.

As you know, I offered my resignation on Tuesday and you asked me to reconsider. I’ve thought about it and still feel it is better for you and the future unity of the party that I go now. There are some who have not forgiven me for resigning in 2006. I fully accept the consequences of that decision and genuinely hope my departure allows the party to move on.

Yet it’s not the unattributed shadow cabinet briefings around the mess in Falkirk that has convinced me that the arrangement has run its course (though they don’t help). I believe that the report should be published – in full – and the whole truth told as soon as possible so that the record can be made clear. I’ve still not seen the report but believe there are an awful lot of spurious suppositions being written.

I wish to use the backbenches to speak out in areas of personal interest: open government and the surveillance state, the digital economy, drones and the future of conflict, the child abuse inquiries, the aftermath of the Murdoch scandal and grass roots responses to austerity.

Having resigned a couple of times before, I know how puckish lobby hacks might choose to misconstrue the departure. So to make it harder for them let me say this: I’m proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve. I remain your loyal servant. I’ll always be on hand to help you if you need me. I just don’t think you need me in the Shadow Cabinet any more. After nearly thirty years of this, I feel like I’ve seen the merry-go-round turn too many times. Whereas the Shadow Cabinet’s for people who still want to get dizzy.

You have it in you to be an outstanding Labour Prime Minister. The road ahead is always rocky but I will be with you all of the way, cheering you on from the backbenches. You’re my friend and leader, and I’m going to do all I can to make sure you win in 2015.

EU referendum – a running sore for David Cameron

By DAVID WOODING

DAVID Cameron faced the biggest Tory revolt in modern history tonight in a row that looks set to dog the rest of his Premiership.

Mr Cameron crushed the rebellion thanks to support from Labour and Lib Dem MPs but it left wounded and festering backbenchers vowing never to surrender on the issue.

Up to 80 of Mr Cameron’s own troops opposed him in the Commons tonight and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

It was biggest revolt suffered by a Conservative Prime Minister since 41 defied Sir John Major to oppose the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Labour leader Ed Miliband taunted: “This massive Tory rebellion is a humiliation for the Prime Minister.”

Some 111 MPs of all parties backed the referendum call, not enough to clinch victory on the issue. Early estimates suggest that about 80 of them were Tories.

Resentment is now mounting not only over the result, but his handling of the issue, with some claiming they were threatened by heavy-handed government whips.

Costly mistake

Two ministerial aides have quit and one private parliamentary secretary is said to have needed medical attention after he fainted during a stern showdown with the PM.

The rebels were given a further boost by two polls tonight which show voters are overwhelmingly on their side

Two-thirds of the public want a straight “in or out” referendum onBritain’s membership of the European Union, according to a ComRes survey for ITV News.

More than half – 54 per cent – believe that joining the union has been a costly mistake, delivering more problems than advantages.

But they are equally divided on full withdrawal – 37 per cent agree and 37 per cent disagree – but 41 per cent want the government to negotiate better membership terms.

And more than half would support pulling out if striking a better deal was not possible.

More than 130,000 have already signed a petition demanding a say on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

An ICM poll for tomorrow’s Guardian shows 70 per cent want a referendum, with 49 per cent prepared to vote to pull out and only 40 per cent to stay in.

UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage said: “It is fascinating watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart over this.

Wrong 

“Polls over the last few days have shown clearly that the general public believe MPs should be able to vote how they like regarding an EU referendum.”

But Mr Cameron insisted voting to leave Europe at a time of financial crisis would be like deserting your neighbours when their houses are on fire when you should be helping and stopping it from spreading to your home.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs a referendum on our future in Europe was the “wrong question at the wrong time”.

With the euro in meltdown, and Britain having to stump up billions to keep it afloat, the row looks set to drag on.

After the economy, it could turn out to be one of the biggest issues to dog Mr Cameron’s premiership.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Labour chief Ed Miliband puts new blood in shadow cabinet

By DAVID WOODING

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband rejuvenated his top team today by bringing five new MPs into his inner circle.

Rookies from the 2010 intake were promoted to the front bench as Mr Miliband staged his first shadow cabinet reshuffle since he landed the job a year ago.

Mr Miliband took advantage of a party rule change which allows him to choose his own spokesmen – ending the traditional elections by MPs, union chiefs and grass roots members.

Five senior MPs go out to make way for new blood – most of whom have only been MPs for less than 18 months.

Rachel Reeves (pictured right), a former Bank of England economist, becomes deputy to Ed Balls in the Treasury team. She has impressed the leadership with a wave of TV appearances since winning the Leeds West seat last year. The previous holder of the post, Angela Eagle, moves to be shadow Commons leader.

Stephen Twigg, also part of the 2010 intake, takes over as shadow education secretary, the present incumbent, Andy Burnham, moving to health – where he served as secretary of state in the last government.

Chuka Umunna, another talented, young new arrival, gets the important business brief.

Rising star Michael Dugher (pictured below left) will attend shadow Cabinet as Cabinet Office spokesman without portfolio along with fellow newcomer Liz Kendall, who becomes shadow minister for care of older people.

In other changes, Hilary Benn takes over at  Communities and Local Government, raising the delicious prospect of regular Commons jousts with Eric Pickles.

Ivan Lewis is moved from Culture Media and Sport to International Development, where he was a junior minister in the last government.

He said he was “delighted” to be returning to that field and added: “My time there was one of my most satisfying in government, helping to change the world.” Mr Lewis is replaced at Culture by deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman.

Five people leave the shadow cabinet, including shadow business secretary John Denham and health spokesman John Healey who stepped down hours before the reshuffle. (See following story)

Those sacked by Mr Miliband include Shaun Woodward, replaced at Northern Ireland by Vernon Coaker and Meg Hillier, who gives way at energy for Caroline Flint. Ann McKechin is dropped as shadow Scottish secretary in favour of Margaret Curran.

Eleven shadow minister held on to the same jobs, including the top three – shadow chancellor Ed Balls, his wife Yvette Cooper at home affairs and Douglas Alexander as Foreign Office spokesman.

Sadiq Khan keeps his job as shadow justice secretary and chief whip Rosie Winterton remains in place, as does Jim Murphy at defence, Maria Eagle at transport and Tessa Jowell on Olympics.

Peter Hain remains shadow Wales secretary, Mary Creagh will continue speaking on the environment and Liam Byrne stays on as shadow work and pensions secretary.

Labour big guns quit as Ed Miliband plans reshuffle

By DAVID WOODING

TWO former ministers have quit the shadow cabinet tonight as Ed Miliband prepares to beef up his frontbench team.

John Denham and John Healey stood down from frontline politics just hours before the Labour leader is expected to begin drawing up his new line-up.

OUT: John Denham

Mr Miliband is certain to take advantage of a change in the rulebook he forced through,  ending election of party spokesmen – giving him a free hand to pick who he wants.

But the departure of two big guns is a major blow to his leadership. Mr Insiders insist the departures were “civilised” and both men had indicated some time ago that they wished to stand down.

Mr Denham, 58, said he had decided some time ago not to seek re-election at the next election and it would be wrong to stay on if he had no chance of becoming a minister if Labour were to win.

The shadow business secretary, who served in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, has agreed to stay on as Mr Miliband’s unpaid Private Parliamentary Secretary as a sign of loyalty to his boss.

Shadow health secretary Mr Healey said his decision was made for “family reasons”. But he was said to be furious over the leadership’s decision to allow tobacco firms to take part in a business even at last week’s Labour rally.

And critics had been whispering for some time that Mr Healey had been under-performing and had failed to make political capital out of the coalition’s shambolic NHS reforms.

Fresh blood

Last night there were some nervous-looking faces on Labour front benches as they awaited the call from Mr Miliband.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham could be switched to the health brief – as he was secretary of state in that field in the last government.

But Mr Miliband is certain to seize the chance to inject some fresh blood into the party, with rookie Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves tipped for a place on the front benches.

OUT: John Healey

Senior figures such as shadow chancellor Ed Balls and, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander are expected to stay in place.

New talent tipped for promotion includes Michael Dugher, a former Downing Street aide and now  MP for Barnsley East, Stoke MP Tristram Hunt  and ex-TV reporter Gloria del Piero, the MP for Ashfield.

Suggestions that the former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer would return to politics as shadow leader of the Lords, opposing Lord Strathclyde, were dismissed.

A Labour spokesman said:  “We do not comment on reshuffle speculation.”

Who would you bring into the shadow cabinet if you were Ed Miliband? 

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Ed: I don’t give a damn if people think I’m weird

By DAVID WOODING

ED Miliband insisted he’s a “pretty normal guy” today as he scoffed as suggestions he is “weird”.

The Labour leader said he “doesn’t give a damn” about what people think of him – it’s what he does as a politician that counts.

Mr Miliband spent the morning doing a round of TV and radio studios after criticism of his speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool.

On Radio 4’s Today programme, he was asked bluntly if he feared his chances of winning power were doomed because many voters think he is “weird”.

He hit back: “Other people make their own judgments. I think I’m a pretty normal guy. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

“I don’t give a damn about that. The times are too serious and the issues are too grave for us to say it is not about substance.

“It is about substance. It is absolutely about substance. The problems our country faces are so serious that substance matters, and I have got an old-fashioned view – substance wins out.”

In his speech yesterday, Mr Miliband pledged to break up the system “take what you can” system that has dominated British politics for a generation.

He stood by the message of his address, declaring: “The words I said yesterday were the words I came to say.”

He told Eamonn Holmes on Sky News he wanted to set out the “big argument” about how Britain must change.

He also claimed to be on the side of ordinary families facing a squeeze in living standards.

Asked if he wanted to move Britain into a post-Thatcher-Blair era, he answered:  “Definitely. Definitely. Tony Blair was elected leader 17 years ago. He was dealing with different challenges. It is a new era, it has got to be a new era.

“The Prime Minister is the last gasp of an old era, because he doesn’t want to face up to these big changes.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Ed pledges a “new bargain” for Britain – but had voters switched off?

By DAVID WOODING in Liverpool

ED Miliband got one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon when he told the Labour conference: “I’m not Tony Blair.”

Then he set out to prove it by unveiling his plan to change the face of Britain by lurching his party to the Left.

His hour-long speech was a hit in the hall as he set out his personal mantra of building a society where people get out what they put in.

But there was little in this plodding speech to inspire the millions of struggling  voters he needs to win over.

The Labour leader signalled a return to socialist basics with an attack on “predatory asset-stripping” firms and curbs on fat cat bosses.

He vowed: “I’m my own man. And I’m going to do things my own way.”

Mr Miliband told supporters  he would “rip up the old rules” so that the country works for them.

His used the word “change” 17 times and “values” 30 as he outlined how he would completely re-draw the nation’s rule book.

He attacked “predatory asset-stripping” firms, warning the would pay more tax than producers – but didn’t explain how he’d achieve it. He promised to fight for a new bargain in our economy so reward is linked with effort”.

And he vowed to end “cosy cartels” which set top wages by putting a worker on board every pay committee.

Mr Miliband admitted: “It will be a tough fight to change Britain. But I’m up for the fight. The fight for a new bargain – a new bargain in our economy so reward is linked to effort.”

He added: “I aspire to be your Prime Minister not for more of the same but to write a new chapter in our country’s history.”

The Labour chief argued that previous governments had left a society where vested interests like energy giants and banks prospered and the wrong people – such as Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Fred Goodwin – got most rewards.

He earned loud cheers from delegates for attacking Britain’s “fast buck” culture – saying “growth is built on sand if it comes from predators and not our producers”.

The workmanlike speech was well received in the Liverpool conference hall – ticking all the boxes by attacking the Tories and praising the NHS. But it probably left the non-committed cold.

Those who tuned in on BBC or Sky News missed a chunk when the live feed broke down – if they hadn’t already switched off.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Why Ed must make the speech of his life

By DAVID WOODING in Liverpool

ED Miliband makes the most important speech of his career tomorrow – and must convince Labour doubters he is the man to lead their party back into power.

Talking to delegates in the conference hotel bars, I’ve reached the conclusion that he’s still got some way to go to win over even his own supporters.

Many still wonder whether they made the wrong choice when they picked him ahead of hot favourite and big brother David just a year ago.

Their mood echoes opinion polls which show Ed (pictured) still lagging behind Prime Minister David Cameron in personal ratings.

Even when asked publicly whether they picked the right Miliband, grass roots members are reluctant to say “yes”.

This was illustrated to dramatic effect during a Radio 5 Live show live from the bar of Jury’s Hotel in Liverpool.on Sunday night.

I was a guest on the lively show Pienaar’s Politics when, for a final flourish, presenter John Pienaar grabbed a microphone, waded into a group of delegates and asked them for their views on Ed.

Of the four people he asked, not one was willing to give their own leader a full endorsement.

It’s gob-smacking that support is so tepid among a group of paid-up party activists. John tried several times to coax a word or two of approval from the bar but all he got was a mood of uncertainty.

If that’s the view on his home turf, what do the “silent majority” of ordinary voters he needs to win over think?

So when he stands up to make his second speech as leader tomorrow, Mr Miliband must outline his vision of Britain under a future Labour government. He needs to think not only of those doubters in the conference hall, but the millions outside.

He must do some straight talking on the economic crisis – and give a clear idea on what he will do to boost growth, create jobs and improve law and order.

With the coalition suffering problems of its own, now is the time for Ed to step up to the plate. And show us what he’s made of.

Hear it for yourself: Listen to John Pienaar trying to get find an Ed Miliband supporter at the Labour conference: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/pienaar