It has been quite the year in Westminster, a 12 months where the level of political discourse has slumped to a new low.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson blundered his way to absolute power – despite shutting down parliament unlawfully and failing to die in a ditch – while Jeremy Corbyn managed to lose control of his party.
So now, it’s time to look back at the most absurd year since the last one.
John Bercow pinned to his chair in late-night chaos
We’ll never know which swear words Her Majesty the Queen hurled around Buckingham Palace when told her government’s suspension of parliament was “unlawful”. So the award for the single wildest moment of the whole prorogation debacle goes the scenes in the Commons in the wee small hours of 10 September – when a group of MPs grabbed then-speaker John Bercow in his chair and tried to stop him officially shutting the place down for five weeks. Bercow absolutely hated being the centre of attention, of course. Prior to having his arms and legs pulled about by desperate parliamentarians at two o’clock in the morning, some Labour MPs held up homemade banners saying “silenced” while others sang socialist anthem The Red Flag. Not to be undone amid the chaos, the separatist revolutionaries in the SNP belted out Flower of Scotland. It was all pretty great, to be honest. Oh prorogation … when will we see your like again?
Mark Francois’ odd staring contest with Will Self
The Brexit-adoring Tory MP Mark Francois – a walking, talking Venn diagram intersection of smug and stupid – was the year’s most reliably daft TV performer. Despite his strange inability to feel shame of any kind, Francois’ stare-off with Will Self on the BBC’s Politics Live in March delivered 2019’s most awkward moment. After the politician demanded an apology when the writer suggested racists voted to leave the EU, they locked eyes for 15 delicious seconds of pure hatred. Francois made another meme-able appearance on Politics Live in September, when he predicted “this country will explode” if we didn’t quit the EU by Halloween. And he came up with the most hauntingly thick remark of election night, comparing the dismantling of Labour’s heartlands to the fall of the Berlin Wall. “Are you hallucinating?” asked host Andrew Neil. He was not. He was simply being Mark Gino Francois, the Conservative party’s not-so-useful, media-appearance machine.
PM politely-but-firmly told: ‘Leave my town’
Mr Johnson buffooned his way to ever-greater amounts of power in 2019. Remember when he slopped floodwater around a branch of Specsavers, making the floor muckier than when he started? And when he stood before a phalanx of police cadets and said he’d rather “die in a ditch” than ask for a Brexit extension? Whe he hid from an interviewer inside a giant fridge? Pocketed a reporter’s phone because he didn’t want to look at a photo of a sick boy on a hospital floor? The trouble is, it all fed into the myth of Boris the amusing rascal.
There were times the illusion was shattered. First some applause for the Uxbridge lady who called Johnson “a filthy piece of toe-rag,” then some for Luxembourg’s leader Xavier Bettel who empty podiumed our PM, and give LBC host Nick Ferrari some credit for asking him directly how many children he has (we still don’t know folks). But perhaps the very purest Johnson encounter – the closest the PM came to actually being humbled – came in the Yorkshire parish of Morley, when a man shook his hand, got right up in his face, and said: “Please leave my town.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg reclines on green benches
The honourable member for the 18th century, as he is known, carries the self-satisfied air of a public school prefect who’s ordered a new boy to warm his toilet seat. But after he was made Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg became even more unbearably pompous. His arrogance reached its physical apotheosis when he slouched into a horizontal position on the front bench, like a colonial diplomat in an opium den. It sparked a thousand memes: Rees-Mogg as Homer Simpson on the couch; Rees-Mogg as Ophelia in the river; Rees-Mogg vaulting the high jump. The cabinet member was quietly shunted off to the shires during the election campaign after he suggested Grenfell victims lacked the “common sense” to flee the building. Now that northerners are fashionable again, could the southern Moggster lose his precious role as the Commons’ head boy next year?
Dominic Cummings confronted by livid Labour MP
If Rees-Mogg’s old-fashioned, double-breasted suits perfectly fit his condescending manner, Dominic Cummings managed to demonstrate his disdain for politicians, civil servants and the world in general by dressing like a scruffy skater boi from the early noughties. The closest we got to seeing how the PM’s terrifying, all-powerful consigliere does business came in September when Labour MP Karl Turner squared up to him in Portcullis House, blaming death threats he’d received on No 10’s anti-parliament messaging. Cummings didn’t seem so terrifying. In fact he looked a bit scared. But he did manage to fire off the first-rate insult: “I don’t know who you are.” Earlier in the month Cummings was spotted wandering the Portcullis corridors with a glass of wine, and was said to have shouted at Corbyn while passing him in the corridor: “Come on Jeremy let’s do this election!” Labour MP and bystander Cat Smith described the scene as “some loud bloke who stunk of booze”.
Jennifer Arcuri’s weird GMB appearance
Boris Johnson’s close personal friendship with the ex-model became the close personal friendship from hell after The Sunday Times revealed Jennifer Arcuri was given a total of £126,000 in public money and access to overseas trade missions led by the then London mayor. Door-stepped by the tabloids, the US tech entrepreneur boasted: “I make men trip over their d***s”. But when she appeared on Good Morning Britain in November, she turned as coy as a southern belle. She declared herself shocked to even be asked if she had sex with him. Arcuri did reveal that Johnson asked her to do some pole-dancing tricks and was saved in her phone under the name “Alexander the Great”. But a savage Lorraine Kelly told Arcuri she hadn’t give us enough juicy details. “What’s the point in you coming on air to clear the air and not saying anything?” Too right Lorraine.
Pat Mountain’s cringeworthy interview
Despite Arcuri’s best efforts, the outstanding TV interview of the year was, without question, Ukip’s interim leader Pat Mountain on Sky News. It wasn’t so much of a car crash as a spectacular, Evil Knievel-style nose-dive into a canyon. Mountain struggled to explain immigration policy so badly she gave up and asked host Adam Boulton if he had any ideas. Denying her party was racist, she was asked if Ukip any black candidates. “No we haven’t got any. Well, we have got … erm … you must think I’m dreadful … We do have, I think he’s Indian.” There will be other Ukip leaders – and they will all be imbeciles – but will they ever truly reach peak Mountain? We should give an honourable mention to failed Labour candidate Jane Aitchison for her hilariously bad interview on BBC Radio 5 Live. Taking a 12-second pause to explain why a fellow candidate said they would cheer Tony Blair’s death, Aitchison finally decided to say: “People do celebrate deaths sometimes.”
Ice sculptures spark meltdown at Channel 4
Both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage declined to attend Channel 4’s climate change leaders’ debate in late November, prompting the cheeky broadcaster to shell out £950 for two ice sculptures as stand-ins. The gimmick led Michael Gove to stage his own stunt. Like a posh student half-heartedly trying to argue his way past the nightclub bouncers, the cabinet minister turned up demanding he be allowed on TV to argue the Tories’ case. To add to the madness, Stanley Johnson arrived in the foyer and asked to be let on as well. “They were lovely and charming but neither are the leader,” said Channel 4 News’ editor Ben de Pear, who explained the melting ice was a “visual metaphor”. Thanks Ben, I think we got it.
Justin Trudeau leads gossip session at the palace
Donald Trump arrived in London for a Nato summit in early December (just after a WhatsApp group comprised of Gibbo, Burnsy, Cheeks, Josh and Morty – those absolute legends – managed to start a wild rumour the Queen was dead). But he left town in huff after Johnson, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and Princess Anne were caught out in an apparent gossip-fest, smirking at Trump’s expense over drinks at Buckingham Palace. The US president managed to meddle intermittently in British politics this year, sounding like a giddy, matchmaking schoolgirl when he called up Nigel Farage’s LBC show in October. Trump told Farage that Johnson “respects you a lot – I don’t know if you know that or not. He has a lot of respect and like for you. I wish you two guys could get together”.
Tory candidate caught staging fake doorstep chat
For sheer amateur hour incompetence, it was hard to beat Lee Anderson – the Conservative flagbearer for Ashfield caught getting his friend to pose as an anti-Labour swing voter for the cameras during the general election campaign. Wearing a hot mic while he set up the fake encounter, Anderson was heard to say: “Make out you know who I am … but not a friend, alright?” He still won the seat.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Labour’s Karl Turner was bitten by a ferret, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson called the cops on a bunch of Extinction Rebellion activists dressed as bees who glued themselves to her battle bus, and Tory James Airey had to remove his election poster from a country lane after a resident complained it made local horses “skittish”. The Westmoreland candidate said: “I’m sorry that my face scares not only children but animals now as well.” Meanwhile Jack Gebhard, the Tory candidate in Wansbeck, blamed the council after his name was misspelled on the ballot papers. “I am 26 years old, I have been spelling my name for 26 years and it is not the case I have misspelled my own name,” said Jakc, sorry Jack.