If I was writing a “Top 10 Most Reliable Occupations” I’m pretty sure that “politician” wouldn’t be top of the list. They are prone to be devious, lie and have undisclosed sources of income – and that’s just the good ones. A particular speciality of politicians is the flip-flop – known as a U-turn in the UK and a backflip in New Zealand and Australia. It’s essentially where they say one thing and then go onto to completely change their minds. Sometimes they acknowledge that it’s gone wrong – as with Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose heartfelt apology has been turned into a chart-topping song. But the more usual approach is to brazen it out and pretend that they thought that all along. You’ll find plenty of bluster and failed cover-ups in our Top 10 Political Flip-flops.
10. Pasty Tax
You can tell a politician is particularly embarrassed by a U-turn when they hurry out to stage a compensatory photoshoot. And that’s what happened in the UK in 2012, when a curiously specific tax was due to be introduced on pies and pasties that cooled down on a shelf rather than being kept warm. It provoked rage from the baking industry who, along with the general public, were largely baffled by this move. Cue a flurry of pictures of politicians tucking into the flaky treats, including Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured above). This was followed by a hasty climbdown and is one of the most public of the many U-turns performed by the British government since the coalition took over in 2010.
David Cameron’s colleague in world affairs, President Obama, probably knows how it feels to have to perform a humiliatingly public about-turn on an important issue. On the campaign trail in 2008, one of Obama’s key promises was to close Guantanamo Bay prison, after details emerged about the various human rights violations occuring there. But it’s 2013 and the prison is still open. Obama is still keen to close the facility but faces repeated resistance from his own party, as well as his voters, who are not keen to get an influx of terrorists onto American soil. Despite pledges that it would close in 2009 and then in 2010, Obama faces a long struggle to fulfil his election promise, and there have been all manner of flip-flops along the way.
8. The Pacific Solution
A backflip now from Australia that, in 2012, saw politicians hurling insults at each other. In 2008, the government of Kevin Rudd oversaw the closure of detention centers for immigrants in the Pacific Ocean, namely on the island of Nauru and Manus Island. The offshore immigrant processing centers had been set up under John Howard, but they were deemed unethical and illegal as well as costing in excess of $1bn (see above). Just 4 years later, the centers were reopening after a spate of deaths at sea as refugees tried to enter Australia directly. Heading up the initiative was Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who had denounced the centers as “wrong as a matter of principle” while in opposition. The backtrack was accompanied with a plea for political tolerance, as she said “the time for the political point-scoring, the yelling, the shouting, that time is over”. The bill was passed and the next prime minister – none other than Kevin Rudd again – has implemented it. An embarrassing and heated climbdown.
7. Romney on Climate Change
Mitt Romney has a difficult relationship with the thorny issue of climate change, with attacks on his flippant remarks about rising sea levels. But the starkest flip-flop he has made involves the effect of human activity on climate change. The change of heart is starkly illustrated by two quotes from Romney, made just a year apart. The first featured in his 2010 book “No apology”, where he says “I believe that climate change is occurring…I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor”. A year later, speaking at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he said “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet”. So, what’s it to be Mitt? Or does it depend on which side is more powerful at the time?
6. Poll Tax
If you were to think of the most unpopular taxes of all time, poll tax would be fairly high on the list. Officially known as the community charge, it was proposed in the UK in 1989 as a way of charging individuals to fund their community services. The cumbersome administrative system would have caused multiple problems, like students being able to move house without paying and so leaving a payments hole. The population of the UK were so enraged by what they saw as an unfair tax that riots broke out. The most notorious was in Trafalgar Square on March 31st 1990 (pictured above) and government ministers rapidly rethought the introduction of the tax. But the prime minister at the time – Margaret Thatcher – was famously “not for turning” and refused to back down. So she was eventually ousted and all her potential successors vowed to block the tax, John Major finally abolishing the tax the following year.