End of the year report on politicians

WHAT a bizarre year 2005 has been in politics!In some ways it's been a year of big changes - but overall the world doesn't feel very different on December 29 than it did on January 1.

WHAT a bizarre year 2005 has been in politics!

In some ways it's been a year of big changes - but overall the world doesn't feel very different on December 29 than it did on January 1.

The general election was not as boring as the contest in 2001 - but that isn't saying much!

There was never any real doubt that Labour would win - Conservative leader Michael Howard had no real ability to reach out beyond his party's natural supporters.

The main interest was how the political map might change with Liberal Democrats attracting anti-war Labour voters.

In the event there were a few changes - Labour lost seats to the Lib Dems in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff and Cambridge - but this was never going to be enough to threaten their majority.

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The Liberal Democrat surge also collapsed the Labour vote sufficiently in some constituencies to let the Conservatives win some seats even without putting up their vote.

So where do the parties stand today going into 2006?

Labour:

BY the end of election night Tony Blair might have been battered, but he was a long way from being beaten.

Eight months later and frankly it feels as if nothing has changed - Mr Blair still lives in Downing Street and he is still annoying a significant section of his party.

However looks can be deceptive - and I'm not sure Mr Blair is anywhere near as secure as he looks. It is possible, although far from probable, that he could be out by the summer.

Over the next few months he will try to get some controversial reforms through the House of Commons, especially schools reform.

His backbenchers are opposed to these reforms - but the Conservative opposition under new leader David Cameron - has promised support for some.

If Mr Blair forces legislation which his own party doesn't want through the House of Commons with the support of the Tories he could soon be told by party bosses to get out of Number 10 and allow his next-door neighbour to move in.

Conservative:

ONCE they had studied the results that seemed to indicate something of a revival in their fortunes, the Tories realised things hadn't been as good as they thought.

Their vote hardly went up - their successes came as a result of a switch of Labour voters to the Liberal Democrats.

But then Conservatives did something unheard of for them: they elected a new leader based on the fact that they wanted to get back into government rather than one who just reflects their own rather narrow view of life.

David Cameron might turn out to be another Iain Duncan Smith as a leader - but he's made a good start and seems able to attract floating voters in a way that no Tory has done since John Major in 1992.

He's certainly made a good early attempt at upsetting Tony Blair by offering to support his education reforms. If he wants to divide Labour there's no more certain way of doing that.

His party still has a mountain to climb if it is to regain power at the next general election in 2009 or 2010 - but four years is a very long time in politics.

Liberal Democrat:

DID anyone have the courage to give Charles Kennedy a copy of the DVD “As Good As it Gets” after the general election?

In 2005 his party had everything going for it and managed to achieve a very creditable result, winning 62 seats.

However it is very difficult to see conditions being so good for the party by the time the next election comes around unless both of the other parties take leave of their senses.

It isn't really possible to imagine Gordon Brown going into an election as unpopular with his committed members as Tony Blair was this time.

And it is difficult to believe that voters will find David Cameron as off-putting as they found Michael Howard every time he asked: “Are you thinking what we're thinking?”

Mr Kennedy is one of the nicest and most relaxed people you'll find in politics anywhere - but that won't save him as the knives are clearly out for him at present.

I can't see him surviving long as Lib Dem leader, and frankly the party have no one else of his stature to attract the voters.

It will take a miracle for them to improve on their current position.

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