2015 – The Year of Surprises

Daran Hill reviews the more unexpected events of the last year.

“Surprise, surprise,

The unexpected hits you between the eyes,

The unpredictable: that’s the surprise you see

Surprise! Surprise!”

As a tribute to the scouse chanteuse on the year of her passing (a surprise in itself), it is more than appropriate to pay homage to Cilla and reflect on fifteen of the most between the eyes moments in Welsh politics. Because looking through this list you would be hard pressed not to agree with me that this was the Year of Political Surprises.

So let’s start with most obvious one.

  1. Jeremy Corbyn triumphed: And not just across the UK but in Wales too where for the first time ever in a modern leadership election the left of Labour had more momentum and fought a better campaign than the centre right. Historically this has never been the case here, even during the 1980s. Corbyn even managed to inspire a thousand people to turn up to a public meeting in the capital city and, most particularly, displayed an energy and openness which propelled a peripheral backbencher to become leader of the opposition. If he’d been in post a year earlier it would certainly have had an impact on…

  2. The UK Leader Debates: The fact that they were held at all was a surprise considering the lateness in the day when they were agreed. The fact that one of the debates was based around none of the governing party leaders but a platform of five opposition leaders, four of whom between them represented just 12 Members of Parliament out of 650 (6 SNP, 3 Plaid, 1 Green, 2 UKIP). The fact that Leanne Wood became a public figure on the UK stage on the back of them, arguably the first Plaid member in more than a generation to achieve that feat. But then…

  3. Plaid failed to make any real progress in the General Election: This achievement was put into the sharpest possible focus in May with a Double Non-Whammy – failing to win a seat off the Liberal Democrats when that party went into meltdown, and against a backdrop of staggering success for the SNP in Scotland. While on the other side of the political spectrum….

  4. The Conservatives formed a majority Government: Never doubted for a second they would be the biggest party, but forming a government was a real shock and a huge winner for anyone who gambled on that outcomes. Hats off and quids in to them. Of course it was all only possible because…

  5. Byron Davies won the Gower: I held an election prediction event last January at which the AM turned MP insisted that his was a key seat to watch in Wales. From the energy he was supplying compared to a lacklustre campaign from a Labour candidate with so little visibility she was the ideal successor to Martin Caton, there was certainly something different happening there. All of which in a seat which – unlike every other Tory gain from Labour in May anywehere in the UK – had never ever been blue before. Which wasn’t true when….

  6. Craig Williams won Cardiff North: If the shock of 2010 was Jonathan Evans beating Julie Morgan by just a whisker, then the fact that Labour failed so miserably to win their top target seat in Wales despite throwing everything they had at it must surely make it a contender for the biggest surprise of all this year. How did he do it? Effective targeting and mobilisation, which was also the key factor when…

  7. Neil McEvoy almost beat Leanne Wood: Despite the profile and the leadership status, Plaid Leader Leanne Wood only held on to the number one spot on the South Wales Central regional list by seven votes. And against marmite man Neil McEvoy who showed again he is one of the best mobilisers in Welsh politics. If only he had been campaign manager for…

  8. William Graham losing the selection in South Wales East: From the moment neither Mohammed Asghar or William Graham were not automatically reselected to lead their regional list by their local party, something significant was up. Many assumed it was all about ditching Oscar and how wrong they were. William, an AM with seventeen years standing, went from first to fifth in the ballot and will not be returned to Cardiff Bay next year. Which is exactly the sort of problem not faced by…

  9. Andrew RT Davies deciding to fight the South Wales Central list not the Vale of Glamorgan: Let’s get this right. The whole Conservative election strategy planned for 2016 is based on winning first past the post seats in Wales at the expense of list ones. But rather than leading by example the Welsh party leader is staying on the list and not going for a seat that now has a 7,000 Conservative majority in Westminster. And aligned to that….

  10. The Welsh Conservatives have decided not to use the electoral system to their advantage: The Conservatives changed the law to allow candidates to fight first past the post seats at the same time as list ones. But they have decided not to use the natural advantage this brings, which leaves us pundits scratching our heads and wondering quite what the strategy is. Which was also exemplified when…

  11. Stephen Crabb published a reserved powers list which actually clawed back power to Westminster: The list of reservations proposed is so lengthy it even includes hovercraft policy. If not quite back to the drawing board, it’s certain the next iteration of the list will have to be slimmed down to avoid making the Wales Bill a waste of time. Which is a charge that could also be levelled at….

  12. The Welsh Government’s Local Government Bill: Which was passed this year and allows local authorities to seek voluntary mergers as a way to consolidating some local authorities in Wales. An approach which was rather undermined last spring when Leighton Andrews put all three proposals for voluntary mergers in the bin, including Conwy and Denbighshire which had been in the Williams map and was also an option in the draft map the Minister is actually consulting on. Sometimes the Welsh Government does make curious choices, such as….

  13. When the Welsh flag was lowered to half mast to honour the death of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia: All the more puzzling since the Welsh Government explained it away as being policy to lower the flag at the deaths of heads of state. Hardly credible if you look at this list of heads of state who have died in office. Despite the media interest and an obvious own goal this wasn’t enough to merit an Urgent Question from Simon Thomas actually being called on the floor of the Assembly, which reminds us….

  14. That this was the worst ever year for transparency in Welsh politics: The decision to end Ministerial Decision Reports was the lowest point, and the First Minister would have got away with it too if it wasn’t for us pesky kids. But equally important was the decision by the Presiding Office to now publish reasons why Urgent Questions are called or not called, responding clearly to pressure from a range of AMs who were becoming increasingly bewildered by the criteria. But there was one big decision which was truly front page news…

  15. The Assembly turning down the chance to film James Bond in the Siambr: Or rather the Presiding Officer and the Commission did. All done in the name of the Assembly and without so much as even informing AMs until it appeared in the press. Just like the decision later in the year to deny the opportunity of a behind the scenes documentary being filmed on the Assembly estate.

And so there it is, my top 15 surprises for 2015. When I look back at it, I’m surprising myself that I didn’t include several others, most particularly the collapse of the Liberal Democrats everywhere bar Ceredigion in May. But maybe that wasn’t a surprise to anyone.

Daran Hill is MD of Positif.

5 thoughts on “2015 – The Year of Surprises

  1. Ah Ministerial Decision Reports. Gone but not forgotten. Disappointed that there have been few complaints over how the new publishing system contains far less information than the previous version. Would have expected the outrage to continue given the feeling expressed to the media at the time. But then again maybe people haven’t noticed the change.

  2. 15.The Assembly turning down the chance to film James Bond in the Siambr:

    Is that a surprise because they made the right choice. Because otherwise odds on Y Siambr would have been used as the setting for the Spectre members council meeting and so the refusal has spared us a lifetime of “witty” quips and inane giggling from the anti-devolution lot…
    And it turned out to be a crap Dr Evil type Bond film anyway.

  3. 16 A senior minister not fit to carry out the full remit of responsibility but no reporting or offers to step down.

  4. The most sensible decision yet was to reject the chance to turn the national parliament into a film set. A triumph of self-respect over transitory publicity seeking.

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