The 19th annual Parliamentarian of the Year awards, sponsored by The Spectator and by Zurich Financial Services, were presented by Michael Martin, MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, the guest of honour at the awards presentation luncheon held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London. The guests were welcomed by Sandy Leitch, chief executive of Zurich Financial Services. The chairman of the judges, Boris Johnson, editor of The Spectator, read out the judges’ choices and the reasons for them.
Parliamentarian of the Year:
The Rt Hon. Tony Blair, MP
The talents of this year’s victor ludorum were first spotted at Fettes, where he was in the netball team, and played Mark Antony in Julius Caesar. It has been documented that Poppy Anderson, his housemaster’s wife, decided to kit the conspirators out in blue, and the Caesarians in red. Who can say what psychological impact it might have had on the young actor if his first oratorical triumph had been accomplished in a blue toga and not a red one? It is hard to think of another party leader who, for eight years, has exercised such unchallenged dominance of the political landscape. Time after time the Labour benches threaten to rebel, and he quells them as Zeus quelling a bunch of sea-nymphs. He can do cool; he can do Churchill; he can do cool Churchill: ‘You know, guys, it’s blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ This was a politician who opposed the Falklands war, but who has now sent British forces overseas twice on successful engagements. The judges wish to stress that this award is primarily a recognition of the parliamentary achievement of a man whose government is not universally thought to have been good for parliamentary democracy. Commenting on the confidence of his performances, one judge said, ‘He’s on top of his game’; another said, ‘He’s on mid-season form’, and another that he is ‘the coolest cat in town’. Much as it embarrasses me to report it, those are, in the phrase of the old Lufthansa advertisements, authentic passenger statements.
Peer of the Year:
The Rt Hon. Lord Tebbit, CH, PC
In few politicians is there so marked a contrast between the public persona and the reality. He has been called the Chingford Skinhead, and a semi-housetrained polecat. In real life he is a model of courtliness and restraint. What marks him out is his unfailing ability to say, pungently, what many are thinking. Other politicians of his vintage have lapsed into silence or, when they do pronounce, say something so brimming with the wisdom of experience that it is frankly not worth reporting. Not so with our winner. He recently likened the modernisation of the Tory party to selling lingerie at Marks & Spencer, and we gathered that in his opinion the strategy was, as they say these days, pants.
Backbencher of the Year
Graham Allen, MP
It is now many months since the world has seemed to hover on the brink of war with Iraq, and for much of that period Parliament has seemed irrelevant. It was this honorand’s greatest single achievement to have been responsible for the recall of Parliament, in September, to discuss what everyone else was already talking about. He has promoted the inquisition of the Prime Minister, at a special grand committee of Select committee chairmen. In the opinion of the judges, he is a serious and substantial figure, who is dealing with the constitutional consequences of New Labour.
Inquisitor of the Year:
Adam Price, MP
This opposition spokesman on the economy has put us all to shame this year. He spotted the significance of a letter from the Prime Minister to the government of Romania, championing the cause of an obscure steel company owned by one Lakshmi Mittal. Not only did it transpire that Mr Mittal had given a very large cheque to the Labour party; his steel company was not even British, had hardly any interests in Britain, and was campaigning directly against the interests of British steel and British steelworkers in Wales. This winner produced the scoop of the year, in his first year in Parliament, where he is already noted for the passion and euphony of his speeches.
Minister to Watch:
Yvette Cooper, MP
Anyone watching this minister winding up in the recent debate on human rights can have been in no doubt as to her promise, as she alternately petted and disciplined a brace of Tory frontbenchers as though they were over-enthusiastic labradors. It is not just because she is married to the Chancellor’s economic adviser that she is said, across Whitehall, to have balls. Tory libertarians experience a frisson of masochistic excitement as she bans things of which she disapproves, such as tobacco advertising (though not for the motorsport industry). The judges predict that her career will be meteoric, especially if Gordon Brown ever displaces his rival.
Survivor of the Year:
The Rt Hon. Gerald Kaufman, MP
As a young press officer to Harold Wilson, he famously punched John Simpson in the stomach. Since then he has achieved great prominence as a Labour spokesman on foreign affairs (as, indeed, did Mr Simpson, not to mention his stomach). He would have been foreign secretary had Labour won in 1992, and has been recklessly disregarded by the new regime. It has been less easy to pass over his choice of suits or ties. He has been a consistently impressive speaker in the Commons, always extemporising, and over a wide range of subjects. His chairmanship of the culture, media and sport committee has been called a virtuoso performance.
Shadow Minister to Watch:
Caroline Spelman, MP
In the daily struggle of the Tory party to be re-identified by the public as human beings, this shadow minister stands out as someone who seems sane, rational and unprejudiced. The Tory party has not always been identified with the concerns of the world’s dispossessed, and it is very much to her credit that they are now making headway. No one is better placed to understand the disastrous effects of dumping cheap EU sugar on the developing world; not just because she is shadow minister for international development, but also because she was deputy director of the international Confederation of European Beet Growers from 1984 to 1989.
The judges were: Andrew Marr of the BBC, Ben Macintyre of the Times, Elinor Goodman of Channel 4, Simon Hoggart of the Guardian, Frank Johnson of the Daily Telegraph, George Jones of the Daily Telegraph, Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun, Peter Oborne of The Spectator, Alan Watkins of the Independent and Michael White of the Guardian.