Talking Politics

Top ten political scandals of 2012

Such is the extent of the turmoil which British society now finds itself in that it's hard to tell where political scandals end and begin. They bleed into each other, prop each other up and together create a firestorm of anger and resentment at the UK's ruling elites: those in charge of our politics, our financial system and our media were all battered by public hostility in 2012. Mix all that up with the return of some old favourites (expenses, anyone?) and you get a mouth-watering pot pourri of outrageous, unacceptable failure. Prepare to get worked up.

(Last year's position in brackets. We've assessed these by looking at their impact on the political world, rather than the country as a whole. Which might explain why Chris Huhne's resignation ranks higher than the Libor scandal, for example.)

10 (-) Tax avoidance

This scandal has three parts: first came a massive £500 million move against Barclays from the taxman, who concluded the bank had been "highly abusive" and was now paying the price. Then came an isolated flutter of anger against comedian Jimmy Carr, who found himself the target of the prime minister's criticisms over his tax avoidance measures. Carr was soon in headlong retreat. It took a lot more than a mere rebuke to get big multinational corporations like Google and Starbucks to change their practises, however. Anger at their blatant, unapologetic attempts to avoid paying tax in the UK soon boiled over after a shameless appearance before MPs. They eventually backed down - sort of.

09 (-) Bankers' bonuses

Given what followed, you might be forgiven for forgetting just how cross politicians were at the bankers' bonuses still being awarded to those who had led failure at Britain's biggest banks. Stephen Hester of RBS eventually gave up his bonus of nearly £1 million after the threat of a Commons vote; others were to follow. This was a time when Sir Fred Goodwin become plain old Fred Goodwin, too - the former RBS chief being stripped of his knighthood by a shadowy Whitehall committee.

08 (-) Cash-for-access

A Sunday newspaper's sting back in March saw the Conservative treasurer Peter Cruddas forced to resign, after it emerged he was prepared to secure time with the prime minister in exchange for a mere £250,000 or so. Westminster got thoroughly worked up for a fortnight or so, as it eventually emerged David Cameron had failed to declare all his dinners with party donors. Questions were asked about the ministerial code, but the scandal eventually fizzled out.

07 (8) Expenses

The only entry actually moving up our chart this year, the expenses debacle is truly the scandal that just keeps on giving. This year saw Labour MP Denis MacShane instantly disgraced, prompting him to leave parliament. Tory chairman Sayeeda Warsi faced intense scrutiny over her questionable claims, too. And Margaret Hodge, the Luton South ex-Labour MP whose second home was over 100 miles from her constituency, only escaped jail on because of mental health problems. She got a two-year supervision and treatment order instead. These really are all part of the same scandal, which covered the 2005-2010 parliament. Surely it can't keep on running for another year? Come back in 12 months and find out.

06 (5) - Chris Huhne's speeding points

All of the salient points relating to Huhne's attempts to dodge speeding points on his licence had emerged in 2011, but it wasn't until February this year that the scandal finally cost him his place in the Cabinet. Huhne faces a charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, but has denied them absolutely. He is alleged to have asked Vicky Pryce, his wife at the time, to take the penalty points for a speeding offence for an incident that occurred way back in 2003. No judgement yet, so this is another scandal which will continue on until 2013. Maybe they could time the judgement for the tenth anniversary of the incident. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

05 (-) Plebgate

At first we thought this was a gaffe, but now we're not so sure. Andrew Mitchell's foul-mouthed tirade against police officers on duty outside Downing Street was supposed to be nothing more than a Cabinet minister losing his temper so badly it damned the entire government as a bunch of not-caring Tory snobs. The sort of error you pay for with your job, certainly. But as 2012 drew to an end, it began to appear a little more complex than that. Were police really colluding to "blacken the name", as Cameron put it, of a Cabinet minister? A Metropolitan police investigation is now underway...

04 (-) Libor

Not strictly a political scandal, but revelations about widespread fiddling of the interbank lending rate known as Libor still got temperatures raised in Westminster. David Cameron faced intense pressure to call for an inquiry, before eventually conceding the establishment of a parliamentary commission. This is one scandal which definitely will be around next year, as the true extent of the wrongdoing is only slowly unfolding. Initially it was Barclays which was found to be the chief villain; it still took several days of intense pressure before Bob Diamond finally resigned as chief executive.

It's now widely expected other banks will soon be confirmed as guilty of interference, too. A review has demanded jail for Libor fiddlers, and MPs will continue pouring scrutiny on the scandal.

03 (-) Paedophile allegations and a BBC meltdown

'Child abuse' is never a good phrase to have cropping up in any headline, which is why the stories emerging about the BBC's former hero Jimmy Savile and other historic cases were so appalling. All this was bad enough, as the Beeb's reputation quivered on its foundations. They were finally pushed off by unfounded allegations of a 'Tory paedophile' and the utter mess that was the BBC's handling of the story. New director-general George Entwistle seemed hopelessly out of his depth, and his failure to keep a clear eye on the ball eventually led to his resignation. The unjustly accused Lord MacAlpine broke cover, received apologies, and sought damages. Trust in the BBC is once again at a low point, and the terrible stories about historic child abuse cases remain.

02 (-) Jeremy Hunt and the BSkyB takeover that never was

This was the one that got away. Unlike most of the other scandals in this list, no one really important lost their jobs as a result of the furore surrounding the then culture secretary's decision-making. The Leveson inquiry became a public court as it slowly emerged quite how close Hunt and his office had been to key figures at News Corp. David Cameron had handed Hunt quasi-judicial responsibility for the story after Vince Cable had dropped the ball, prompting questions that he may have had a role to play, too. In the end, the phone-hacking maelstrom scuppered the deal.

Hunt's special adviser fell on his sword. Cameron made Leveson a de facto judge on the matter, and then declared his man innocent. It seemed a miracle that Hunt had survived, but somehow he remains in the Cabinet as health secretary. This was undoubtedly the biggest scandal of the year not to have claimed a big scalp.

01 (1/3/4) - Phone-hacking: Press, police and politicians

Last year the emerging phone-hacking scandal was simply too big to be contained as one entry in this chart, but this time around we've decided it can just about be crammed into a single judicial inquiry-sized box. Lord Justice Leveson's efforts to get his head around the mess that is the flawed relationships between Britain's police, press and politicians ensured the shock and outrage which so many people felt last year continued long into 2012. The reputation of Britain's newspapers had plummeted so low in 2011 they could barely have deteriorated further this year. But there was more bad news for the police: the Metropolitan police's director of public affairs Dick Fedorcio had no choice but to resign in March, while politicians suffered, too. David Cameron seemed especially vulnerable: revelations about his 'lol' texts to Rebekah Brooks - and even the unexpected news that she had given him a horse - simply reinforced the impression the Tory leader was far, far too friendly with one of Rupert Murdoch's biggest allies. She faced criminal charges, along with Cameron's former chief spin doctor Andy Coulson and others, as the wheels of the criminal justice system slowly continued turning.

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