UK Politics: Best and worst of the 2010s

Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Nigel Farage
Johnson, Cameron and Farage - it was the beer what won it (possibly)

Four elections, four PMs, three referendums, unprecedented parliamentary defeats for the government and a lot of upsets in the betting - it's been a hell of a decade in UK politics, says Max Liu...

"As the party begins the new decade with a leadership contest to find Corbyn’s successor, those on the Labour right will remind its left that Tony Blair remains the only Labour leader of the past 40 years to win a general election."

The 2010s saw four general elections - in 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019 - compared to two in each of the preceding three decades. There were three referendums - on electoral reform in 2011, Scottish independence in 2014 and the UK's membership of the European Union in 2016 - and four prime ministers, a coalition and minority government. It all adds up to an almost unprecedented amount of voting and Brenda from Bristol spoke for many in 2017 when, told a general election had been called, said: "Another one?!"

Britons' trips back and forth to polling stations reflected the turbulence of the times. The implications of the foreign policy failures and global financial crisis of the previous decade were truly felt in the 2010s and the centre couldn't hold. Two fringe causes - Britain leaving the European Union and Scotland leaving the United Kingdom - are now feasible realities. Here's a selection of key events and protagonists.

Moment of the decade

At 11:15 am on 23 June 2016, Remain was trading at 1.16 (an 87% chance) on the Betfair Exchange while Leave had drifted to 6.8 (13%). You all know what happened next and the subsequent three-and-a-half years have been dominated by the consequences of an outcome that the UK government simply hadn't prepared for.

It will run and run, but will another EU country vote to leave in the 2020s and if so which? Meanwhile, European commission vice president Frans Timmermans said this week that the UK is welcome to rejoin the EU if it changes its mind, so you could bet on whether we'll ever go back. We're leaving on 31 January but Brexit isn't done and we'll probably still be arguing about it in another ten years.

Losers of the decade

Labour lost all four of the decade's elections. Gordon Brown arguably did better than expected in 2010, denying David Cameron a majority, and that was definitely true of Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 when Labour took seats from the Tories and deprived Theresa May of the majority she would need to get her Brexit deal through the House of Commons.

Ed M and Corbyn 956.jpg

The defeats to which Ed Miliband and Corbyn lead Labour in '15 and '19 respectively felt grimly reminiscent of 1992 and '83 respectively. As the party begins the new decade with a leadership contest to find Corbyn's successor, those on the Labour right will remind its left that Tony Blair remains the only Labour leader of the past 40 years to win a general election. Among the decade's other losers were the Lib Dems who began it with 62 seats and end with 11.

Winners of the decade

Nigel Farage began the 2010s in a helicopter crash. He subsequently lead two parties to victory in European elections, achieved his lifetime's ambition of persuading Britons to vote to Leave the EU and was courted by a certain US president.

Boris Johnson spent the decade travelling an unorthodox route from mayor of London to PM with an 80 seat majority. He's 1/21.51 to be in power for at least five years but somehow Johnson doesn't seem invulnerable.

If anyone's had an undeniably good decade, and looks poised to consolidate their power in the 2020s, it's the SNP who won 48 of Scotland's 59 seats at the recent general election. You can get even odds on Scots voting to leave the union at the next referendum on the matter.

Heroes of the decade

"A low dishonest decade" was how the poet WH Auden described the 1930s. The 2010s were low, dishonest and quite a bit besides, so how can we find its heroes? Ex-Speaker John Bercow (pictured below) didn't do badly, refusing to be bullied by the government on Brexit and upholding the power of parliament against the executive.

John Bercow 956.jpg

Tory Remainers, like Dominic Grieve, were beacons of sanity who were willing to sacrifice their careers within the party for the cause. Mind you, they spent the early part of the decade voting for austerity which arguably created the conditions for the UK to vote Leave.

Labour's Diane Abbott, meanwhile, stood in a leadership election, helped move her party to the left and argued consistently for Remain within the shadow cabinet. MPs get a lot of s**t from the public these days but, since becoming the UK's first black woman MP in 1987, Abbott has endured an unprecedented level of abuse. And she's not finished yet.

Villains of the decade

Farage? Yep. May? Have a heart. Corbyn? Plenty of people would say so. Salmond? We'll see. Johnson? We'll save him up for the next decade and instead give this award to one of his predecessors. The mind boggles as to how a prime minister, who had enjoyed every advantage in life and was considered a master strategist by his colleague, could make such a catastrophic miscalculation as Cameron did when he called an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

Gambling with the futures of millions of people is the definition of not knowing your limits and we'll be paying the price for his fecklessness and recklessness for a long time.

"We're all Thatcherites," now he said at the height of his arrogance in 2013 when the former-PM passed away. It was Margaret Thatcher who, according to her private secretary Charles Powell, never had a happy day once she left Downing Street. Looking at Britain at the end of the 2010s, it's tempting to wish the same for Cameron.

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