After a late nomination in the “DeHavvies”, DeHavilland’s tongue-in-cheek awards for notable political moments in 2015, the Government’s decision to dump vast volumes of seemingly important data on the last day of Parliamentary business for the calendar year landed journalists with a rather slow-burning Christmas gift – a little larger than first anticipated.
17 December saw the publication of no fewer than 36 ministerial statements, some of considerable national importance, alongside 429 documents. It appeared the Government hoped to catch Westminster hacks catch off guard, nursing Christmas party induced hangovers.
Nevertheless, though the exercise of attempting to bury bad news is well rehearsed in the corridors of Whitehall, this year there was so much to analyse, DeHavilland thought it best to collate some of the stories that hit the headlines now the political world is back in the office for 2016.
First to spoil the festive cheer was the publication of records of the Government’s Special Advisers, which revealed that the annual bill for employing these helpers of ambiguous status rose to £9.2m in 2014-15, up from £8.4m the previous financial year, and set alongside a measly £6.3m bill for ministerial cars.
Indeed, Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bryant took to the floor of the Commons to deride the Prime Minister’s response to a question by Labour MP Kevin Brennan at PMQs this week, when Mr Cameron had flatly stated that there had not been an increase in the number of SpAds since the last Government.
Offering clarification, Mr Bryant remarked during this week’s Business Question: “The Prime Minister’s words yesterday can be true only if, when he said “the last Government”, he did not mean the Labour Government but the Government he led last year. It is as if he has not existed for five years”.
“I have heard of people being airbrushed out of history by their opponents, but this is the first time I have ever heard of a Prime Minister airbrushing himself out of his own history books”, he declared.
Slightly more embarrassing for the Government was the publication of an independent review of the under-occupancy penalty for social housing – the so-called “Bedroom Tax” – conducted by Ipsos MORI and the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research for the Department for Work and Pensions.
Despite being shrewdly published, it served as one of the more high-profile stories to emerge from the data dump, revealing a damning indictment of the policy, with three quarters of people affected stating that they had been forced to cut back on food.
Elsewhere across the broad sweep of Government implicated in the publications, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took this opportune moment to rip off the plaster quickly with some potentially controversial announcements.
We learnt that fracking exploration and the badger cull were to be expanded and extended, whilst DECC announced that it would end support for all new solar farms supported through the Renewables Obligation scheme from 1 April 2016.
With further reports on NHS Trust deaths, the Muslim Brotherhood and House of Lords reform, the masterful timing of the colossal data dump provided investigative-minded hacks with a colourful treasure-trove of seasonal gifts.
Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.