Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

2008: A year in words

Politicians always have plenty to say and 2008 at Westminster was no different. BBC political reporter Justin Parkinson looks at some of the words that rose to prominence over the last year.

A******* What a way to start. It's not a new grade for top-performing A-level students but a rather unpleasant anatomical term - asterisked to preserve readers' feelings. Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland said it to health minister Ivan Lewis for allegedly not giving way to him during a Commons debate.

Carla Bruni and the Duke of Edinburgh
Carla Bruni added charm to her husband's state visit

Bulimia - After almost a year out of the limelight, former deputy PM John Prescott revealed his eating disorder in his memoirs.

Carla How they all sighed. Even the Duke of Edinburgh was in thrall to Carla Bruni, former model and wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when the couple took part in a state visit in March. How cruel of the British tabloids to print topless photos of CB at the same time.

Cojones In 2003, Nick Clegg - two years before he became an MP, let alone Lib Dem leader - said not holding a referendum on an EU constitution would show a lack of cojones - Spanish for certain male body parts associated, for some reason, with courage. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague reprised the term in a debate on the EU treaty in March. Things became painful when he noted that the Lib Dems, who did not favour a referendum on the treaty, had "become separated from their cojones". He added: "These unfortunate objects are to be found impaled on a distant fence." Ouch.

Conquests On a completely unrelated subject Mr Clegg appeared to admit in a magazine interview that he had had liaisons with up to 30 women. MPs have long memories for such things. Cue guffaws around the Commons chamber in December when the Lib Dem leader informed them that a single mother with two children had turned up at his constituency office. A cruel wag shouted: "31."

Haggis, neeps and tatties
Who wants to wallow in champagne when haggis is on the menu?

Decisions Usually prefixed with the words "right" and "long-term". Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in an effort to emphasise his indefatigability - and testing the audience's to the limit - uttered the "D" word constantly as if a mantra.

Dithering The word used almost as often by Gordon Brown's opponents who had a rather different take on his decision-making style

Downturn Last year it was the credit crunch, but this year - as the full scope of the world's economic woes came to light - it became a downturn. Will there be an upturn next year. Or freefall?

Expenses Taxis, homes, the John Lewis list: they were all at it, those who choose to decry the noble profession of politics argued.

Haggis - Labour peer Lord Desai described Gordon Brown as being rather like this Scottish delicacy. Predecessor Tony Blair was more akin to champagne. Give us mince, onions and oatmeal wrapped in a sheep's stomach - rather than expensive fizz - any day, said Mr Brown's supporters.

Heathcliff Up in the windy rooms of Number 10, a magnificent, brooding, dark-browed Mr Brown was hatching ideas to save the economy. In an embarrassing episode, he appeared to tell the New Statesman he thought he was a little like an "older, wiser" version of Heathcliff, the dastardly anti-hero of Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights. It was not long before the Bronte museum pointed out this character might not be the best role model, given that he was guilty of domestic abuse and was possibly a murderer who had dug up the remains of his dead lover. Well, no-one's perfect.

Lord Mandelson
Jersey boy: The PM became Peter's friend again

Iceland In the 1995 film Canadian Bacon the American government - in desperate need of popularity - starts a cold war with its mild-mannered northern neighbour. Some US citizens take the propaganda a bit seriously and start launching cross-border raids, leaving the Canadians somewhat bemused. The collapse of Iceland's banking sector and subsequent use of anti-terror legislation to freeze the country's UK assets might have left the inhabitants of this small island country feeling similarly scapegoated. It was much easier when all we rowed about was cod.

Jumper Restoring its poll ratings and saving the economy will not be a walkover - but at least the government won't be short of pullovers. Peter Mandeslon breezed back into Downing Street wearing his trademark crimson jersey. How does it compare with ermine, one wonders?

Kebab Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was quoted in a newspaper saying she did not feel safe walking about some parts of London at night. Cue outcry - wasn't it her job to ensure law and order? To limit the political damage, an aide pointed out that Ms Smith had dared to venture where few other sober people do - into a kebab shop. The plot thickened like fat congealing on a discarded doner when it was claimed she had been accompanied by a bodyguard.

Kilroy The Veritas MEP Robert Kilroy Silk, a one-time Labour MP and star of daytime TV, hit our screens again in I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here. The audience obliged, deciding he should be the first person evicted from the jungle camp.

John Sergeant on Strictly Come Dancing
He could have danced all night - but thankfully he didn't

Lapdancing Nightclub owner and prolific lothario Peter Stringfellow told a select committee hearing of the joys of "gentlemen's clubs". All was going well until he somewhat ungallantly said a former dancer, turned anti-lapdance campaigner - also giving evidence - must have worked in the business "some time ago".

Mandelson Even Nostradamus would have missed this one. Didn't Brown hate him? Didn't he hate Brown? Seemingly not. In the biggest rematch since Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor tied the knot for a second time, Peter Mandelson was back, with a gift even those movie legends could not have bestowed on each other - a peerage.

Medals We did rather well in the Olympics, with politicians keen to capitalise. To be fair to sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, he had the foresight to bet Team GB would beat the Australians and - to the surprise of all but the most optimistic - it did. Other parliamentarians, though, only started showing an interest when the golds began to rack up. Champion cyclist and BBC Sports Personality of the Year Chris Hoy became so irritated, he accused those queuing up to praise him of "cashing in" on his success. Never.

Morrissey As a good 1980s boy, that charming man David Cameron decided to pay a visit to the iconic Salford Lads Club, as featured on the cover of the Smiths album The Queen is Dead, on a trip to the North West. Local MP Hazel Blears was incensed and sought to stop it all happening.

Nationalisation To the tune of The Red Flag: "What will they do about the banks? They'll buy them up, just like the Yanks."

Nudge Another "N" word, beloved of shadow chancellor George Osborne. Basically, the US-created theory is that we are all idiots who need just a little bit of help to make the right decisions. Er, explain that again.

Obamamania He came; he saw; he was feted. Months before Barack Obama was elected as US president, party leaders were queuing up for a chat and a photoshoot. Then, after he beat John McCain, they claimed to be his spiritual twin.

Prickly This term was used by John Prescott to describe Gordon Brown's attitude to his colleagues. Glass houses? Pots and kettles?

Saved Had Gordon Brown gone too far this time? During PMQs in December, he mistakenly informed MPs his government had "saved the world". Of course he had not meant to say it, but it provided Tory MPs with probably their best moment of the year at Westminster.

Serjeant/Sergeant The serjeant at arms, who allowed officers into Tory MP Damian Green's Commons office without a warrant, was criticised for dancing to the police's tune. Former BBC political correspondent John Sergeant became a national hero for hauling himself and his long-suffering partner about with scant regard for rhythm. His hoofing and goofing on Strictly Come Dancing promised to become an embarrassment for the show's makers, as the public kept voting him through. In the end the Big S fell on his sword.

Unhypothetical The government had a tough old time trying to pass a law allowing terror suspects to be detained for up to 42 days without charge. In fact, peers threw it out and ministers gave up the ghost. But some linguistic good has come from the debacle. When announcing the plans in January, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said they would be in place for when the threat becomes "unhypothetical". The Oxford English Dictionary had never heard of it. Nor had we.

David Mitchell playing a zombie on BBC TV
Are zombies able to make the right long-term decisions?

Walkabout After the doubts about Jacqui Smith's bravery (see "Kebabs" above), Labour MPs Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott proved their mettle by strolling around after dark in London's Stoke Newington - where the cappuccinos can scold and no-one dares look an organic food shop owner in the eye. Nothing much happened, much to the disappointment of the entourage of journalists invited along.

Walkout They weren't happy and they didn't care who knew it. In March, Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey raged against the injustice of not being allowed a debate on the wider aspects of the UK's membership of the EU. The Deputy Speaker would not have it and - after one intervention too many - he expelled the normally mild-mannered Kingston and Surbiton MP. His frontbench colleagues all stomped out in support. Parliament was never the same - until the next day.

Yacht Lord Mandelson and shadow chancellor George Osborne had a fine old time off the coast of Corfu over the summer, enjoying the hospitality of seafaring Russian billionaire Oleg Depipaska. But then the Labour man returned from Brussels to the UK and was accused of spreading "poison" about Gordon Brown - rather than eating poisson (consult your French dictionaries) in a taverna. Mr Osborne was blamed for briefing the press, breaking the gentleman's rule that "what goes on tour, stays on tour". Claim followed counter-claim and counter-claim followed claim about who talked about what with the Russian chap before eventually even the most nerdy of politicos lost interest.

Zombie Not a reader of the press on day 3,267 of the Osborne/Mandelson affair, but Nick Clegg's description of the government, given in his closing speech to the Lib Dem conference. But don't zombies devour the living? We may find out in 2009.

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SEE ALSO
2007: a year in words
30 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
2006: a year in words
29 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
2005: a year in words
27 Dec 05 |  UK Politics


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