Voices: The top 10 political rows which were huge at the time but now seem oddly quaint

·4-min read
Barack Obama and the tan suit, 2014
Barack Obama and the tan suit, 2014

On the 10-year anniversary last month of the pasty tax – the VAT on hot takeaway food announced in George Osborne’s “omnishambles” Budget and reversed two months later – Matt Chorley asked for similar nostalgia-inducing media firestorms. I am merely his compiler.

1. Daniel O’Connell’s election, 1828. He was the first Roman Catholic to be elected to parliament since 1688, despite not being legally allowed to sit in the Commons. The Duke of Wellington, who had just become prime minister, spoke in favour of Catholic Emancipation (the restoration of what we would now consider basic civil rights to Roman Catholics) and provoked such a row that he ended up duelling the Earl of Winchilsea in Battersea Fields. Nominated by James Dinsdale.

2. The Maynooth Grant, 1845. Robert Peel, as prime minister, proposed to increase the grant of a small Roman Catholic seminary in Ireland, from £8,000 to £26,000 a year. A huge political row ensued over state support for Catholicism: more than a million signatures were collected to oppose the grant; Queen Victoria herself was forced to weigh in and visit the College; and the row split the Tories as badly as the Corn Laws (which was an actual important debate about free trade). Another from James Dinsdale.

3. Crichel Down affair, 1954. Government failed to return land commandeered for war purposes, and Sir Thomas Dugdale, minister of agriculture, resigned in a textbook case of taking responsibility for mistakes by civil servants. Much later, it emerged that Dugdale had been consulted and so was directly responsible. Lord Carrington, his junior minister, offered to resign as well but was refused, saving it up for his principled resignation as foreign secretary for failing to anticipate the invasion of the Falklands, which really wasn’t his fault. Thanks to Paul T Horgan.

4. The War of Jennifer’s Ear, 1992. Labour ran an election broadcast about the state of the NHS under the Tories, featuring a child with glue ear who was waiting for the fitting of a grommet she needed. Mayhem ensued when Jennifer Bennett was accidentally identified as the case on which the broadcast was based. Nominated by John Wilkin, Daniel Howard and Eddie Arthur.

5. The Laura Spence Oxford University row, 2000. Gordon Brown, the chancellor, accused Magdalen College of discriminating against a northern state-school student who had won a place at Harvard instead. “There was a big conversation to be had about the antiquated Oxbridge admissions system,” said Andrew Ewart, “but using a teenage girl was not the way to go about it.”

6. Hazel Blears’s resignation as local government secretary, 2009. “Not sure what actually happened, but she wore a brooch implying she was rocking the boat. It was big news,” said Michael Rous. “One of the many ‘Well, Brown will simply have to step down now’ pundit moments that failed to materialise,” added Colin Hoad.

7. The sale of 15 per cent of Forestry Commission land, 2011. David Cameron cancelled a consultation within days. Thanks to Tom Harwood.

8. Maria Miller’s resignation as culture secretary, 2014. Something to do with expenses, complicated by a sulky apology. Thanks to Matt Withers.

9. Barack Obama and the tan suit, 2014. The president wore a “casual” suit at a news conference on the military campaign against ISIS in Syria. Nominated by JayBry88.

10. Priti Patel’s flight of shame, 2017. As she returned to London to be sacked as international development secretary for freelancing as foreign secretary in Israel, the entire press pack followed her plane on flight tracker. Thanks to Craig James.

Alastair Campbell said that when he read his diaries of the Blair government he was struck by how many furious rows that had dominated his life for days on end he had completely forgotten.

Several nominations for the scandal beginning with P and ending with “gate”, about gatherings in Downing Street during lockdowns, have been rejected.

Next week: Fake deaths, inspired by the TV drama about John Darwin, mistitled The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe (it was a kayak).

Coming soon: Things you would expect to see more of based on childhood comics (anvils, people shaking their fists, “keep off the grass” signs).

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk