Yorkshire was one of the traditionally red northern regions that the Conservatives managed to flip. Led by Blairite David Blunkett since 1999, Blunkett had once been considered a future President but had fallen from grace, the recession had hit Yorkshire hard and the Labour coalition had lost its majority back in the 2008 Parliamentary election and was requiring the aid of Greens to keep going.
The Conservatives nominated William Hague, the former Presidential candidate who had led the Yorkshire Tories to their best result ever in 2008. Since his defeat in 1999 Hague had transformed from a Thatcherite oddity to a veritable elder statesman. Hague used the financial crisis to reach out to unemployed urbanites and disaffected rural voters alike, scoring particularly well in the outer suburbs of traditionally Labour cities, like Harewood in North-East Leeds.
Blunkett's premiership was flagging, original the first ever disabled Premier, multiple corruption scandals and a financial crisis had tanked his approval ratings, Blunkett also lost support amongst Labour members, Yorkshire became a hotbed of BNP activity, sending four MPs to Parliament from Yorkshire, Blunkett responded to this by taking even more draconian measures on immigration, which only caused more dissatisfaction amongst Labour supporters and emboldened the BNP. Both publicly and privately many in the YPLP called for Blunkett to stand aside in favour of his younger First Minister Yvette Cooper. Maybe she could have prevented the disastrous outcome for Yorkshire Labour.
The Lib Dem's Deputy First Minister Greg Mullholland led the party into the Premier elections, Mullholland was a strange case for a senior Lib Dem, a devote catholic he contributed to the book "Liberal Democrats Do God". He faced criticised for his opposition to liberalising LGBT and abortion laws, however he was very popular in rural Yorkshire, his maverick reputation as a thorn in Blunkett and Cooper's side garnered him much popularity, essentially running as the "shod them all" candidate he put in a strong performance, coming within a handful of votes of overtaking Blunkett in the third round.
As for third parties, UKIP went with their Yorkshire Parliamentary Leader Jonathan Arnott, just 27 years old Arnott was a relative moderate in UKIP and his main priority was seeing of the threat from BNP, Arnott ran as a respectable traditional politician hoping to win over disaffected Tories. The BNP put a lot of stock in Andrew Brons' campaign, Yorkshire was the closest thing the party had to a stronghold and Brons boasted he would overtake UKIP and the Lib Dems to become Yorkshire's third party. Brons' campaign was bitterly disappointing, allegations of his past membership of the "National Socialist Movement" a neo-nazi hate group, and the anti-immigration tones of almost all the major candidates meant Brons didn't make the great breakthrough he had hoped for. The Greens elected not to run a candidate, they were nearly booted out of the Yorkshire Parliament in 2008 with only 4.7% of the vote, polling for 2011 showed them on as little as 2% so they elected to save their resources for the Parliamentary elections.
In the end Hague achieved a resounding victory, becoming Yorkshire's first ever Tory Premier
"Blunkett and Hague, are now locking horns over the spending cuts in Yorkshire in a debate which is being echoed across the country. Hague accuses Blunkett of wanting to return to the days when Labour used Yorkshire as a "political battering ram". The Conservatives were enraged when the Premier warned of a "post-Soviet" meltdown. Blunkett warned of scavenging in the streets if a Hague premiership was elected and scrapped the Yorkshire deprivation grant. Hague, who appeared on the platform with Blunkett, denied that he would scrap the grant (also known as the Working Neighbourhoods Fund). Hague says the warning from Blunkett is typical of a Labour party that fails to take responsibility for the "financial mess". Hague accused Blunkett of failing to acknowledge that he would be imposing similar cuts in government." - Warning by David Blunkett sets scene for battle in William Hague's backyard, Nicholas Watt, The Guardian (2009)
Jack Straw was the last of the New Labour "old guard" to depart centre stage
“Jack Straw is to step down from frontbench politics after 30 years, he announced today. The North West Senator, who served as Premier, Senator and Senate Opposition Leader, said he believed Labour needed a "fresh start". "I was first appointed to the Labour frontbench in 1980, and then elected to the Shadow Cabinet in 1987," he told the Press Association. "But now I want the freedom to range more over foreign and economic policy." He added: "I'll be spending more time on my constituency, and I will be writing a memoir in time." Mr Straw said he would leave in early 2011 when Labour supporters had voted on a fresh Senate leader. Straw said he was not planning to quit as a Senator. "They seem to want me," he added. Mr Straw,joins senior Labour figures like Gordon Brown and David Miliband in retiring from frontbench politics. Mr Straw told the Lancashire Telegraph he had been "lucky" with his career. "My decision (to leave the leadership) was voluntary. I decided a few months ago that I wouldn't stand.” - Jack Straw retiring to the backbenches, James Tapsfield, The Independent (2010)
In his departing speech, Straw called on the party to address voter "disappointment" in Labour
In the Senate Labour also had a leadership race, Jack Straw was retiring after over a decade in top tier politics. If the Parliamentary Leadership election was a Brownite blowout at least it had a non Brownite candidate. For Labour’s senate leadership race only two candidates emerged, right-leaning Brownite Douglas Alexander and left-leaning Brownite John Healey.
The Blairites considered a raft of candidates including West Midlands Senator Laim Byrne and South-East Labour leader John Denham. Byrne was Labour’s ranking member on the Senate’s treasury committee and could bring the party much needed economic credibility, however he was virtually unknown by members and only had a small caucus of supporters in the senate. Denham wasn’t even a Senator, leading Labour in the South East Parliament, Denham was associated with the Blue Labour brand and could win over the rural south but he was completely unheard of outside the South East and had none of the Senate connections other candidates had. Even if there was a perfect candidate, none of the big names were particularly keen to run against the prevailing winds and the majority of the right of the Labour party decided to fall in line behind Alexander.
“Labour's Leadership front-runner Douglas Alexander has insisted the party is on track to the centre ground. With some polls showing Labour and the Tories neck-and-neck, the Mail on Sunday said there was a "vicious feud" over election tactics. Mr Alexander rejected the newspaper headlines and told the BBC Labour could be both "credible and radical". He also insisted that he hadn't axed US election strategist Arnie Graf and she would play a part in his campaign. Mr Graf, whose arrival after success with the Obama campaign was hailed by the party as a coup, has returned to the US. But Alexander, Labour's likely candidate for Senate Presidency, told the Andrew Marr Show he had not fired Mr Graf. "He's going to be involved in the election campaign." He said the party had now appointed its 100th community organiser adding that "the work he (Graf) has started is being carried through". Labour have focused on whether they should adopt a "safety" approach, and target its core vote, or whether it should seek to broaden its appeal.” - Labour can dominate centre ground - Douglas Alexander, BBC (2011)
Alexander pitched himself as the electable candidate
Former Defence Secretary Douglas Alexander remained in the spotlight despite the Government’s defeat in 2008, he spent his time out of power making overtures to Britain's trade unions and building up his formidable bastion in Scottish Labour. In the 2009 Presidential Campaign he worked as Candidate Brown’s National Security Adviser and he was a common surrogate for the campaign on TV and the campaign stump. Alexander also made a name for himself as a crusader against the SNP, Alexander talked Brown into taking a break from his Presidential Campaign to go up to Scotland and campaign for Jim Murphy, who was on the verge of losing the Premiership to the SNP, Brown’s last minute intervention saved Murphy’s campaign and Alexander was credited with stopping the SNP.
On the other side of the ring was John Healey, from the left-Brownite wing of the party Healey had the support of much of the soft left, and grudging acceptance from the hard left, Healey was regarded as a safe pair of hands and his campaign revolved around winning back areas the party lost in 2009 like his home region of Yorkshire. Whilst he wasn’t a well-known national figure like Alexander was, Healey used his decade in the Senate to grow his experience and build up a formidable list of contacts, now he just had to appeal to the ordinary members.
Healey was popular among Senate colleagues but lacked the prestige or media support of Alexander
“Healey said it was hard for Labour to attract public attention at this stage in the electoral cycle. "It's a tough fact of life in this period of opposition ... that what Labour says matters less than what almost anyone else says. He said he would like to see the Government give honours to people involved in local political activity. "I don't see any reason why political activity and service shouldn't be considered as part of broader public and community service," he said. He also reaffirmed his call for local Labour parties to get involved in social enterprises, such as running sports clubs. He warned that it would be a mistake to assume that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote would benefit Labour. He said the Presidential election showed that, if voters in the south-east desert the Lib Dems, they are more likely to switch to the Tories. He said the Labour party "tends to look too much inward". Backing the calls for internal party reform set out in the Refounding Labour report, he said the party needed to reach out to non-supporters. "Parties that lose touch lose power,”" - John Healey: Labour’s establishment insurgent, Andrew Sparrow, The Guardian (2011)
Much like Ed Balls, Alexander had to just lie back and let the votes roll in, with the endorsement of Brown, Blair and most the major unions Alexander formed a formidable block vote. Alexander tried to put a hopeful tone to appeal to party members, he invoked JFK comparing the task of reclaiming a Labour Government to that of landing a man on the moon. Alexander also tried to distance himself from the Blair/Brown era. In a speech to the Northern Irish Fabians in Belfast Alexander said “We have to offer a better tomorrow, not a better yesterday.”
Healey was more critical of past Labour administrations than Alexander. Healey criticised Alexander for being part of a Government that first introduced competition into the NHS. Healey also pushed for more local involvement by Senators. Healey portrayed himself as a fresh start compared to Alexander who had been active in the spotlight since 2003.
Whilst Healey put in a good fight he couldn’t defeat the combined firepower of the united party right, Alexander won nearly two thirds of the votes from supporters. Alexander had done what had seemed impossible just a few years ago, he had united the Blairites and Brownites into one cohesive blob. Alexander’s victory speech was patriotic and ambitious, he spoke of the good work Labour had done in Government for his home city of Edinburgh, most notably on the near eradication of child poverty, Alexander promised a Labour Government would quash child poverty. His speech also tried to capture the spirit of 99: “What 1999 taught us was that with a dynamic, independent and vibrant global civil society campaign, – we can do great things. Some will contest this point. But I think it is important to recognise that our delivery on our promises was made by choice – not chance. By people like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Miliband – buoyed by the knowledge that thousands were backing them. Times are tough – but we can make that difference again. And to that task, let us re-dedicate ourselves tonight.”
For the first time in years both Labour’s Parliamentary and Senatorial leaders were from the same faction and had a strong working relationship, the two made a formidable team and even made a joint speech at the conference, virtually unheard of before. Exhausted Labour activists could finally dare to dream of a united party for the first time since 1999. The party had made its decision, now they had to take the fight to Osborne.
“Conference, let's get down to business. This is a dangerous time for Britain, and for Britain's economy. The Government's austerity plan is failing. You can sense the fear that people have as we watch the economic crisis that stalked our country in 2008 threatening to return. Stock markets around the world are falling. The United States in difficulty. The Eurozone is struggling. And people in Britain are losing their jobs. Now is not the time for the same old answers. From us, on the issues that lost us your trust. From this Government, on the growth crisis we face. You need to know that there is an alternative. You need to know that it is credible. So people need to know where I stand. The Labour Party lost trust on the economy. And under my leadership, we will regain that trust. I am determined to prove to you that the next Labour Government will only spend what it can afford. That we will live within our means.That we will manage your money. I have a special responsibility to show you that every pound that we spend, we spend wisely.” - Ed Balls’ contribution to the joint speech (2011)
"Austerity has been a painful but correct response to the economic situation since 2008." Discuss. (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (2019)
The South East held particular emotional significance as it was Britain's largest region, and thus the Commonwealth's most desirable prize, with nearly 6 million voters it's premier would play a major role in national politics. Theresa May had first been elected Premier in 2004, defeating Labour's Andrew Smith, she initally ruled with a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition until after the 2005 election where she Tories went into coalition with UKIP and the Senior Citizens Party, UKIP subsequently cannibalised the SCP at the 2008 election and May had overseen a Tory/UKIP Government ever since.
Theresa May sought a second term at the head of the South East. May was one of the best known Tory women in the country and was very popular with South East voters, frequently talked up as a future Presidential candidate, the daughter of a vicar and a comprehensive school girl, May wasn't flashy or charismatic but seemed to connect with a certain set of voters, she was also a strong ally of President Howard and since her victory was near guaranteed she spent most of her time in 2009 campaigning for Howard. May's campaign was a traditional Tory one, campaigning on her personal profile and the lowering of taxes.
Leader of the Opposition Norman Baker stepped up to bat for the Lib Dems, from the left of the Lib Dems, Baker focused his campaign around trying to unite progressive voters in the South East under his banner. With both Labour and the Greens struggling nationally, Baker thought he could rally the left and push the Lib Dems out of their traditional strongholds like East Sussex, unfortunately for Baker the national coalition dragged him down and he was defeated in the first round.
Labour's South East Parliament Leader John Denham was nominated to bring the red flag to Brighton, an arch-Blairite member of Blue Labour, Denham came from the socially conservative wing of the party, his campaign promised to lobby for tighter restrictions on immigration and for tougher policing, Denham "patriotic campaign" often ran to the right of Baker, all it really did was discourage Labour supporters and push them towards the Lib Dems or Greens, this coupled with the national swing meant Denham got only 8% of the vote.
UKIP ran Deputy First Minister Marta Andreasen, as well as being DFP, Andreasen was the South Easts' finance minister and ran on her record of reducing taxes for South East votes, however a lack of resources and divisions in UKIP prevented her from making huge impact. For the Greens they ran party legend Caroline Lucas, Lucas attempted to take advantage of Labour and the Liberal's move to the right, but like many Green candidates around the country she was drowned out by the drama of the Presidential Election.
All in all May easily walked back to the Premier's residence in Brighton with a clear mandate in the first round.
"Theresa May, the South East Premier, could well be the most powerful woman in British politics. Yet she is far from typical among the present coterie of senior Conservatives. For a start, she didn't go to a public school, and at one point she was described in her literature as having been educated at Wheatley Comprehensive. She did go to Oxford University, although she didn't study philosophy, politics and economics like so many of her colleagues. Instead, she studied geography, which suggests that the Premier has some awareness that there is life beyond the home counties. Nor has May always been a career politician. She had a job for some years in the "real world" before hitting the stump. She worked in banking, which these days seems like an environment so removed from reality that politics, looks humdrum. May emerged from the expenses scandal without taint which suggests a rejection of the distorted sense of entitlement her colleagues seem to have." - Five Possible Women Presidents, Alyssa McDonald, New Statesman (2009)
Osborne consulted with aides on how to deal with the rebellious right wing Conservative faction: the "British Freedom Caucus"
“Osborne's premiership was characterised by constant criticism and resentment for the right. This manifested itself not only in Parliamentary votes, but also in public comments and alternative policy. Osborne often had more difficulty in managing the Conservative Party than he did in maintaining a relationship with Ed Davey. Although relations with the later became less convivial and cordial. Instead the relationship became more formal and business-like during the coalition's lifetime. One factor increased disquiet among some Conservative backbenchers during the Coalition Government. The privileged socio-educational background of Osborne and some of his closest colleagues. This prompted the Conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries to claim that "Osborne is a posh boy who doesn't know the price of milk. He is an arrogant posh boy who shows no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others.”” - The British Coalition Government, 2008-2011, Peter Dorey, (2016)
2011 started badly for the Conservatives when their Senate Leader, David Davis announced he would be resigning, a long time critic of the coalition Davis had approached Osborne and Howard demanding a guaranteed end to the coalition at the 2011 election, to which they refused. Davis said he could not reconcile his conservative and eurosceptic views with the direction the coalition was travelling, saying he would retire to the backbenches in order to give himself freedom to criticise the coalition.
A long time maverick, Davis was much more comfortable throwing hand-grenades from the backbenches then trying to hold together a coalition he didn't really believe in
Davis’ resignation was great news for the Osbornite moderate wing of the party, Davis had long been a lightning rod for the Tory right and with him out of the way Osborne could hopefully get someone closer to his politics. Originally Osborne considered Philip Hammond, a long time Senator and loyal Osbornite who was supportive of the coalition and popular amongst Senate colleagues. Unfortunately Hammond had the charisma of a damp fish and Osborne was worried he would lose control of the senate.
Another option was the young Justine Greening, first elected to the Senate in 2003 at just 33 years old Greening had quickly risen through the ranks of the Senate’s Tory hierarchy, like Hammond she was moderate and supportive of the coalition, and appointing a young woman would break the Tories pale, male and stale image. However Greening didn’t have the support in the Senate.
In the end Osborne gave his endorsement to Ken Clarke, the returning European Commissioner. Clarke was a giant of the Conservative movement, a twice Presidential Candidate and giant of the Senate, Clarke had the contacts and gravitas necessary to win and quickly became the front-runner.
Unlike Osborne, Howard hadn’t been cultivating allies in the Senate, many friendly Senators like Chris Grayling had been elevated to the Senate and the Open Primaries mainly produced moderate candidates to replace them. The only truly Howardite senior Tories in the Senate were Owen Paterson of the West Midlands and Cheryl Gillian of the South East. Neither were particularly eager for the top job and were comfortable as backbench senators. Howard seemed fairly laissez-faire about the Senate leadership and didn’t put a huge amount of effort into recruiting an ally for the top job.
Howard was from the old generation of Tories, most his allies had moved on or retired, the only senior Tories remaining from his generation were ideological opponents like Clarke
“Freedom Caucus members have warned George Osborne that he faces years of warfare with backbenchers if he backs Ken Clarke. Loyal backbench Senators told Osborne he will face rebellions unless he takes a tough stance on the coalition. The warnings were issued as a third of Osborne's Senators defied a three-line whip and voted in favour of a motion calling for a referendum on the EU. 30 Tory Senators voted in favour of an EU referendum. Meaning that Osborne failed to convince nearly a third of his backbench Senators to support the government. Adam Holloway, Senatorial Private Secretary to the International Development minister, stood down. Holloway accused the government of a "catastrophic mismanagement" after imposing a three-line whip. Chris Huhne, the Foreign Secretary, said it was time to move on after Senators the referendum motion by 257 votes to 77, a majority of 180. But Tory rebels pointed out that Osborne only secured victory because Jack Straw imposed a three-line whip on his Senators. There were eight Labour rebels and one Liberal Democrat rebel.” - George Osborne rocked by record Senate rebellion as Europe splits Tories again, Nicholas Watt, The Guardian (2011)
Howard allies were concerned about a Clarke leadership worrying he could split the party or force a formal electoral alliance with the Lib Dems. A group of key Howard staffers and allies eventually decided to approach Theresa May, the South East’s ambitious Premier, a two term leader of the South East; she was the only candidate who could feasibly stand up to Clarke, after much persuading May reluctantly accepted.
For the right of the party who adored Davis as the scrappy insurgent against the coalition consensus even May wasn’t acceptable as she still wanted to keep the coalition in place. The “British Freedom Caucus” was formed over Eurosceptic right wingers who supported Davis. they too had a lack of a clear successor, Barnet Mayor Theresa Villiers and Welsh Senator David Jones were considered, but they both lacked the prestige of a former commissioner or major Premier, after much lobbying they managed to recruit South West Premier Liam Fox as their candidate.
Fox's leadership campaign was shameless eurosceptic and critical of the coalition
Clarke ran with the clear backing of George Osborne as the candidate best placed to keep control of the senate. Polls consistently showed Clarke as the most popular of the three candidates amongst the public, with many Tory Senators anxious about losing their seats those who were less ideologically aligned with Clarke were willing to give him their backing if it meant they could hold onto their jobs. Clarke was fairly light on policy but was the most committed to maintaining the coalition.
“The catflap, as it became known, was not a scandal. It sprang from a section of Senate Leadership Candidate Theresa May's speech on illegal immigration. May claimed that the legislation was making it far too easy for those facing deportation to remain in the UK. She mentioned an "illegal immigrant who the Government cannot deport because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat". It proved rather unfortunate that, in fact, she was making this up. The case cited the existence of the cat as part of evidence that the foreign national had a long-term relationship with a British national. Worse still, the existence of the cat was not the decisive factor in the courts allowing the foreign national to stay in Britain. Ouch! May was red-faced. But the news story would have faded into insignificance had it not been for the outspoken criticisms of Ken Clarke. As her opponent he has been at loggerheads with May throughout the year, which may have explained why he got so carried away in lashing out. May's speech was "laughable" and "childlike", he told a local newspaper.” - Top ten political gaffes of 2011, Alex Stevenson, Politics.cw (2011)
May ran as a unity candidate, the one best placed to unite the Tories’ Senate caucus, whilst Howard was officially neutral in the selection she was generally accepted to be his preferred choice. Many Tories were weary, May was not the best electioneer or media performer and she had never served in the Senate, being an MP and then a Premier, this meant she had few contacts to back her. With electability front and centre of most Senators minds May struggled to pick up a support.
Still May’s campaign avoided the car crash that was Fox’s campaign. After Fox announced he was running journalist poured threw his dirty laundry as discovered that whilst he had served in the cabinet he had passed on classified papers to his friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, it also emerged that whilst serving as a Minister Fox had paid Werritty with public money and allowed him to act as a surrogate and adviser, but Werritty never went through the process of background checks and security clearance and wasn’t on any official books. These revelations not only crashed Fox’s campaign for Senate Leadership, it tanked his approval ratings back in the South West. Fox later described running as “one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.”
The end result was a clear victory for Clarke, despite their ideological objections Tory Senators had decided their priority was holding onto power, if this meant a wetter leader so be it. For the punditry it was yet another example of Osborne asserting himself over Howard as the senior partner in Government, and rumours began to swirl of Howard standing down for Osborne at the 2014 Presidential Election, or worse Osborne challenging him in a divisive primary.
“Howard's limitations as leader are best summarised as an insufficiency of "emotional intelligence". As we have seen, Howard was far more engaging in private than most voters would have imagined. Yet Ann Widdecombe's suggestion that there was "something of the night" about Howard, which helped to thwart his leadership bid in 1997, hampered his attempts to build a more constructive relationship with voters and politicians between 2009 and 2014. It was this lack of communication and control which prevented him from building up a loyal following in Parliament and the Senate, again and again Howard would lose internal elections to his more politically savvy Prime Minister. It wasn’t complicated, Osborne was simply friendlier and more approachable.” - Commonwealth Presidents, Timothy Heppell (2014)
The Osborne era Conservative Party was more pragmatic rather than ideological.’ Discuss. (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (30 Marks)
Several anti-coalition motions were passed at 2010 conference, a warning of the splits to come
The Liberal Democrats were in trouble, the coalition was increasingly unpopular with some polls showing the party winning as little as 50 seats in the 2011 election. Davey was particularly a lightning rod of discontent, many voters blaming him for selling out, especially on issues like tuition fees. Davey had an approval rating of -43%. Whilst Afghan withdrawal and voting rights for prisoners had been great victories for the Lib Dems, for those on the coalition sceptic wing of the party it showed the party needed to assert itself further.
Discontent around Davey had been growing in both the upper echelons of party leadership and amongst grassroots members, this culminated in a group of senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including former Presidential Candidates Kennedy and Ashdown, entering Davey’s office with a proposal, either Davey stood down of his own volition, or they would support a leadership challenge.
Davey made it abundantly clear he would not be stepping down. Lib Dems dug in for a long fight
Davey refused, he still believed in the coalition and that he was the best candidate to lead the party into the next election, Davey warned renegotiating the coalition would lead to further Lib Dem losses and an illiberal Labour Government, or worse a Tory/UKIP Government. Davey was stubborn and in a press conference he said he would fight a leadership challenge “against anyone and at any time”.
The social liberals now needed to find someone to challenge Davey, Defence Secretary David Hughes and Northern Irish Secretary Tim Farron both supported a challenge to Davey but ruled themselves out of contention. Cable would have been the obvious choice but he opted to remain neutral in the leadership challenge, the only senior Lib Dem to volunteer was Foregin Secretary Chris Huhne.
“I remember some years ago Norman Tebbit shocking some elements in the House of Commons. He pointed out that there was a difference between right and wrong and good and bad. And I remember, too, Liberal raising hands in horror. A Bateman-cartoon type of reaction to what they regarded as a Neanderthal opinion. Davey's problem is that he has to serve two conflicting masters. One of them, a party, large swathes of which believe he has sold them down the river by jumping under the duvet with the Tories. The other is the Government whose policies he at least has to pretend to support. But Davey is not helped by the antics of Chris Huhne or Tim Farron both of whom covet his job and who have demonstrated their hatred for the Tories. Davey has kept his balance so far - but he should watch out for that fatal puff of wind.” - Davey walks the tightrope, Mail Online (2011)
Huhne was a strong candidate, popular amongst party activists, well known in the media and eminently experienced as Foreign Secretary. Supporters described Huhne as “quietly effective” and he had no shortage of allies at all levels of the party. Polls among party members showed Huhne well ahead of Davey amongst registered supporters and he quickly racked up support amongst MPs, over 50 Libeal Democrat MPs broke ranks to publicly support Huhne, 40% of their Parliamentary caucus.
Huhne officially launched his campaign at a Cornwall wind farm
Huhne appointed rising star Lynne Featherstone as his campaign chair and got to work fundraising and recruiting volunteers. Huhne’s popularity was with party members rather than party donors and he built his campaign on the power of volunteers and small donations, these resources combined to form a formidable war chest.
Davey ran on a position of maintaining the coalition at the next election, arguing for a progressive centrist Government, Davey pointed to the coalition's achievements in Government like the cutting of tax for the lowest earners and a green investment bank, Davey particularly elevated the coalitions environmental achievements in an attempt to outflank Huhne on green issues.
Whilst Huhne didn’t decisively condemn the coalition, he said if he won, at the next election the Liberal Democrats would favour a Labour Government, but would prop up a Conservative Government if they had a large mandate and it was necessary to keep UKIP away from the levers of power. Since Huhne had served in the coalition Government he couldn’t be as aggressively anti-coalition as some would have wanted him to.
Despite frequently visiting Downing Street for cabinet meetings, Huhne made sure the cameras saw him looking as miserable as possible
“Leadership candidate, Chris Huhne, has attacked the Conservatives for scrapping environmental regulations. Huhne made the comments at the weekend to the "Social Democrats Caucus" of left-leaning Lib Dems. Huhne made it clear he is opposed to the Government including laws such as the Climate Change Act in its review of regulations. His views reflect a range of opinion within Liberal Democrats in government. A source close to Huhne said the Chancellor Vince Cable supported him and Lib Dem ministers were braced to do battle. The move is part of a Huhne's strategy to fight the Lib Dem corner more in order to put pressure on Davey during the leadership challenge.” - Chris Huhne attacks Tory 'zealots' over proposed scrapping of green laws, Allegra Stratton, The Guardian (2011)
However Huhne’s campaign was fairly aggressive against Davey personally. Huhne accused Davey of “bumbling around worrying about the future rather than rebuilding the party.” In one interview Huhne described Davey as “just a cork bobbing on the waves" with "no strategic vision at all”. The main thrust of Huhne’s campaign was on the issue of political courage, Huhne said that Davey lacked this courage and had failed to stand up for party interests on issues like benefits and the NHS. Huhne argued he had the political courage to get the party what it wanted. Huhne boasted of “standing up to” Osborne and Obama to ensure British troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Polling seemed to support Huhne’s case. 60% of voters agreed the Liberal Democrats would be better off without Davey, especially younger voters in large university cities that had abandoned the party for Labour and the Greens. Whether he liked it or not Davey had become the public face of tuition fee betrayal, many Liberal Democrat supporters saw dropping him as the only way to save the party.
“We asked respondents how much they trusted each of the main party leaders to keep their promises. Disillusioned Lib Dem voters say that they have more trust in Ed Balls and George Osborne than in Ed Davey. A huge 77% of this group has little or no trust in Davey to keep his promises. Cameron came a close second, with 76% saying they do not trust him. Balls fared the best of the three main party leaders with 29% saying they trust him a great deal or to some extent, and 53% saying they do not trust him at all. What’s more, this latter group considers the Liberal Democrat party to be ineffective in Government. 71% of ex-Lib Dem voters believe the party has little or no influence on decisions taken by the Government. 16% think they have a good influence, 5% think they have a bad influence). When asked whether the Liberal Democrats should be blamed for going back on their pledges, 66% say the party has ‘betrayed that commitment’. Only 24% think that as ‘minority members of the Coalition at a time when the Government finances are in a terrible condition’ they should not be blamed.”” - Disloyal Lib Dems, Coralie Pring, YouGov (2011)
As the results were announced at a special conference in Manchester it was a landslide for Huhne. Huhne had the support of party grandees and the grassroots in an unstoppable coalition. Davey was dragged out of the leadership by his fingernails in a humiliating public display. Now it was time for Huhne to save his party's flagging poll ratings and try to keep them in Government.
Huhne’s victory speech was not the fire and brimstone the Lib Dem left had hoped for, instead it emphasised the need for cooperation and compromise: “If you fail to compromise, if you fail to seek the common ground that unites us, then you will put in peril the most crucial achievement of this Government. You will wreck the nation’s economy and common purpose. At the same time, compromise cannot be a concession, we cannot roll over on every issue. Or follow George Osborne off every cliff. If we get a better deal for this country and our voters we will take in the national interest. We are all in this together and we can’t get out of it alone.” Huhne’s speech was a clear attempt to try and reach out to Davey supporters after a bruising and divisive campaign, the Liberal Democrats were holding together by the skin of their teeth and a small breeze could topple the whole operation.
“The Liberal Democrats' presentation of the coalition became confused as the Parliament proceeded. Voters soon became sceptical of the party's actual role. A 2011 poll found that 71% of ex-Liberal Democrat supporters felt that the party had little or no influence on decisions taken in government. Of course, Davey and his fellow Liberal Democrat ministers were hamstrung by the coalition deal. They needed to walk the tightrope as both defender and critic of coalition policies. To work as colleagues but remain bitter rivals to the Conservatives. This proved unsustainable over the long term. Early on the Liberal Democrats were supportive. This reflected their perceived gains from the coalition agreement. This included commitment to a pupil premium and increasing the tax threshold. Vince Cable's attack on Howard's immigration remarks in early 2011 was the sign of things to come. The compounding effect of poor poll ratings and bad local election results ratcheted up the pressure on Huhne.” - From Coalition to Catastrophe, David Cutts (2015)
Compared to the old political system, to what extent are party leaders less politically secure in the Commonwealth? (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (2019)
Osborne and Coulson were close personal friends, it was difficult for Osborne to let him go
“George Osborne employed Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor as director of communications between 2006 and 2011. His appointment came months after he had quit the tabloid following the jailing of former NoW royal editor Clive Goodman. Mr Coulson took up a similar role in Downing Street when Mr Osborne became prime minister in 2008. This was despite allegations about his knowledge of phone hacking while at the News of the World. Mr Coulson resigned in January 2011 saying the continuing phone-hacking row was distracting him from his role. Police arrested Coulson on 8 July 2011 on suspicion of corruption and phone hacking, and he was released on police bail until October. George Osborne has defended his appointment of Mr Coulson over the past two years. "It's wrong for newspapers to breach people's privacy with no justification. That is why Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World two and a half years ago.” - PM's defence of Coulson over the years,BBC News (2011)
The various parties’ leadership elections were not the only thing in the news in early 2011.The phone hacking scandal continued to engulf the national discussion. At the heart of the scandal was Andy Coulson, George Osborne’s communication director. Osborne had loyally defended his communications tsar, dismissing the allegations against him and refusing to suspend him from his post in the heart of Government, as the inquiry continued this seemed more and more of a mistake. The Coulson affair was hurting the Conservative’s poll ratings and eventually Coulson took matters into his own hands.
Coulson knew the election was right around the corner and couldn't risk carrying his baggage into the campaign
In January 2011, Andy Coulson resigned. Coulson said coverage had "made it difficult for me to give the 110% needed in this role". Coulson still denied knowledge of phone hacking, saying he quit as editor in 2007. But Coulson said he took ultimate responsibility for the scandal. In a statement, he said it had been "a privilege and an honour to work for George Osborne for four years. I stand by what I've said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it's time to move on." He said he would leave within weeks and was proud of the work he had done. In a statement Osborne praised him as a "brilliant member of my team". The prime minister said: "I am very sorry that Andy Coulson has decided to resign as my director of communications. I understand that the continuing pressures on him and his family mean that he feels compelled to do so. Andy has told me that the focus on him was impeding his ability to do his job and was starting to prove a distraction for the government."
To replace Coulson Osborne appointed his rather elusive chief speechwriter Ameet Gill as Director of Communications. Gill had been working with Osborne for seven years. Unlike Coulson little was known about Gill, many had expected a more high profile appointment but Osborne decided he wanted a quieter backroom operator. Gill could be trusted to do his best to stay out of the limelight. At just 28 Gill would become one of the youngest members of Osborne’s inner circle and the first BME Director of Communications.
“Osborne had grown dependent upon Coulson for his authentic ear on "ordinary people" for whom Osborne lacked the intuitive "feel for". Osborne tried to keep hold of Coulson as the hacking furore grew from late 2010. He held on long after it would have been wise to let him go, which is admirable loyalty or naive depending on how one views it. Osborne's reliance on this tight circle of trusted advisers aroused particular concern among his own party. They saw him as cliquey and reliant upon those from the same narrow social background. Nadine Dorries summed up this trait in a devastating quotation, that Osborne was a "posh boy who doesn't know the price of milk".” - The Coalition Effect, Anthony Seldon (2015)
In cultural news the multi-academy award winning film “The Queen's Speech” was released to critical acclaim. The film portrayed the downfall of the British royal family and the aftermath of the Diana Crisis. Focusing on Queen Elizabeth II (Diana Quick) drafting a speech to the nation to try and hold onto power against her ambitious Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The film began with the assassination of Diana and ended with Blair's inauguration as President. The film won international critical acclaim, winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and making over 500 million at the box office. However the film was criticised for its sympathetic portrayal of the royal family. The film catapulted both Quick and Sheen to international prominence.
Sheen's portrayal of Tony Blair made him a global star
Internationally the situation in the middle east was heating up again. Inspired by revolts in other Arab countries, especially Egypt and Tunisia, violent protests broke out in Benghazi. The protests spread to other cities. This led to escalating clashes between security forces and rebels, marking the beginning of the Libyan civil war. British forces began to coordinate an evacuation of British nationals from Libya. Over 500 Commonwealth nationals were trapped in Libya, mostly oil workers trapped out in rural Libya by oilfields. President Howard pledged to "do everything I can'' to evacuate the Britons left in Libya. He vowed to investigate whether the Libyan regime had committed "war crimes'' during its crackdown on protests. BAF Hercules planes transported 200 British oil workers from desert locations south of Benghazi in Libya to Malta. The UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to protect civilians, over which NATO assumed command. In March 2011 the House of Commons approved a bombing campaign, with the full support of the four largest parties, the Greens and BNP being the only national parties to vote against military action. Directly after the resolution over 30 British aircraft were dispatched to Libya to assist in the bombing campaign.
“Ministers will announce the deployment of attack helicopters to Libya. Secretary Hughes will announce the deployment on Friday after a meeting of the cabinet. At a joint press conference with Barack Obama, Howard all but confirmed Britain would send Apaches to Libya. We expect CBS Ocean, with three Apaches on board, off the Libyan coast within a week. The armed helicopters will protect a 16-mile buffer zone around Misrata, defence officials said. They could also be used to attack Muammar Gaddafi's forces' positions in the port city. The decision had already been taken, as far as military commanders were concerned. Chris Huhne, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons the Government "had not taken any decisions''. He added that the deployment would represent "a shift in tactics not an escalation of what we are doing"." Ministers are frustrated about the failure to make headway against Gaddafi's forces. They fear that military operations will not end any time soon.” - Libya Apache deployment signals Britain's escalating role in conflict, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian (2011)
The amount of British military hardware active in the Mediterranean dramatically increased
At home this enraged anti-austerity protests taking place in London. Nearly 300,000 people attended a march and rally in central London against public spending cuts. Labour Deputy Parliamentary Leader; Sadiq Khan addressed crowds in Hyde Park. The main march organised by the Trades Union Congress passed off peacefully. Small groups attacked shops and banks with a stand-off in Piccadilly. There were around 200 arrests and 60 people injured, including 15 police. In the largest public protest since the Iraq war rally in 2003, marchers from across the UK set off from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park. TUC general secretary Paul Kenny was first in a line of speakers. "We are here to send a message to the government that we are strong and united," he said. "We will fight the savage cuts and we will not let them destroy peoples' services, jobs and lives." Kenny was followed by Khan, who said: "The Tories said I should not come and speak today. But I am proud to stand with you. There is an alternative."
Whilst Khan was the headline speaker he was a minority in his party with senior Labour officials like Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander opting not to attend the protests. Whilst a good number of Labour candidates did attend, the largest cohort of MPs came from the Green Party, all thirteen Green MPs attended the march, including their Prime Ministerial Candidate Natalie Bennett, the mostly young crowd saved their largest cheers for Green speakers. In a speech Green MP Ricky Knight painted the party as the true force of the progressive left, deriding Balls and Alexander for refusing to attend. The loudest boos were saved for the Lib Dems, the crowd of mostly young people and students had turned their backs on the Liberals, now the Greens and Labour were in a battle for their hearts and minds.
“The Labour Party’s refusal to support reduction in tuition fees, had limited electoral impact. Labour lost support to the Green Party in the year before the election. Some of this they won back by election day. Any pro-Labour surge results from them picking up votes from the Green Party in late swings. This is corroborated in a survey of new graduates by the NUS. This put Labour at 37 per cent, the Greens at 20 per cent, the Conservatives at 17 per cent and the Liberal Democrats at 12 per cent. Around one-in-ten (8 per cent) respondents preferred not to say. This led the NUS to support the shy-Tory hypothesis but also to pose the question of whether there is also a small group of shy Liberal Democrat voters. Whilst Labour has a strong lead among students the lead is not insurmountable, 20 per cent is impressive for a party as small as the Greens.” - Students and the 2011 election, Nick Hillman, HEPI Report (2015)
The Green Party became a common sight on anti-austerity protests in the 2010s
How effective are protests and other forms of direct action in influencing Commonwealth policy outcomes? (30 Marks) - A Level politics exam (2019)