So, what lies ahead for politics in 2013? Pausing only to admire my willingness to have a go, given my mediocre track record in predictions, let’s get stuck in.
The current state of play
Where are we now?
For this, I can borrow wholesale from my summary from last year.
- The public doesn’t approve of the Coalition.
- The public doesn’t much like David Cameron.
- The public really doesn’t like Nick Clegg.
- The public doesn’t rate Ed Miliband either.
- The public doesn’t like the EU. Surveys show that more people want to leave the EU than remain in it.
- In fact, it’s very hard to find anyone or anything at all that the public approves of right now. (Apart from the Queen and the Royal Family. The public love the Queen.)
But some things have changed a bit. Ed Miliband isn’t disliked as much as he was a year ago, while the gilt has continued to come off David Cameron’s gingerbread (though David Cameron and George Osborne retain a substantial lead on economic trust over the two Eds). Boris Johnson had a gala year, but has ended it with his star dimmed in the eyes of the headbangers because of his apostasy on matters connected to the EU.
Alex Salmond had a pretty mediocre year on the UK stage, saved only by the dismal quality of his Scottish opponents. The suspicion persists that he’s a flat track bully, too easily found out when he tries to take the step up against more serious opposition. And UKIP have definitely taken a step forward this year, consistently polling near or ahead of the Lib Dems in the polls, and having made some impact in by-elections.
Economically, Britain had a pretty dismal year. The best that can be said is that some other countries had grimmer years. But it was not a land of milk and honey. Employment is rising, unemployment is falling, but real incomes continue to decline. Growth remains fragile and the deficit remains stubbornly high.
On the plus side, the Eurozone did not collapse. That’s a much bigger achievement than seems to be acknowledged. It is leading to a financial union of the Eurozone, with Britain on the outside. The implications of this have not begun to be understood either in Britain or in the rest of the EU.
So, what’s next? Last year, I concluded that when no one commands public support, the public follow Newton’s First Law of Motion, proceeding in a straight line with no outside force operating on them. I stand by this judgement. If this is correct, then we should not expect events by themselves to make much difference until sections of the public are persuaded from their current default settings by the analysis of those events put forward by one or more public figures. Or, as happened this year, where one of the parties scores an own goal.
2013 has fewer set piece big events than 2012 that can already be foreseen, but three stand out as of particular importance:
1. The fiscal cliff
As I write, the news media are full of stories of the Republicans and Barack Obama’s failure so far to agree on how to avoid the fiscal cliff leading to a massive tightening of US policy. Whether or not agreement is reached by 1 January 2013 (I doubt it), some form of resolution will ultimately be reached, largely on Barack Obama’s terms – because he’s won the battle of public opinion in the USA and the Republicans will need to avoid lasting blame. This is likely to have a very substantial impact on the debate in the UK on the proper treatment of deficit reduction vs growth. This could be shaped by either George Osborne or Ed Balls in their favour if grasped quickly.
In practice, I expect neither to gain a competitive advantage by themselves, which means that the media will be decisive. I expect that on balance the press will regard this as giving more weight to Ed Balls’s “too far too fast” narrative, which may in turn mean that Labour gain some points in economic credibility.
2 The Royal baby
In the summer, assuming that the Royal pregnancy proceeds as we all hope, we shall succumb to Royal baby mania. Republicans may wish to check likely dates in order to book their holidays now.
While this story is not of direct political relevance, the papers are likely to spend some time considering the prospects for children born today. The coalition looks weak on family-friendliness. This may in turn give a nudge in Labour’s favour.
3. The German election
Germany will hold its federal elections in September or October. At present, Angela Merkel looks likely to win. But whoever wins, the new Government will be ready to take a more dynamic position regarding the Eurozone and its future. The end of the year is likely to be taken up (again) with interminable discussions about the future of the EU, and Britain’s place in it. I’m sure you can’t wait.
More generally, there is no obvious sign that Britain’s economy is going to start improving dramatically any time soon. There are a few recent signs that George Osborne is getting better at expectations management.
North of the border, the debate over Scottish independence will continue. To date, the NO side has been very effective with its message of fear, uncertainty and doubt, aided by some entirely avoidable blunders by the SNP.
OK, time to bite the bullet. In a year where there are relatively few British political events scheduled, I suppose it should be harder to get too much wrong (famous last words).
Labour will keep and perhaps increase its lead in the polls
If the economy doesn’t improve, faith in the coalition’s policies will continue to wane. I have already noted two reasons why Labour may get additional support in the polls, and neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems are doing particularly well at media management, to say the least. Labour are not doing anything brilliant, and the public are not going to fall in love with them, but there aren’t too many options out there for the disaffected, and Labour remains the obvious one.
UKIP will rise further in the polls
The EU is going to be in the news a lot this year, from discussions about Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, Croatia’s accession on 1 July (another country to supply immigrants?), budgets, fiscal union and its consequences to Britain’s role in the new European order. Aided and abetted by the continuing hysteria of the Tory right acting as a fifth column, UKIP will pick up its share of the disaffected. Nothing David Cameron can say or do will ever satisfy the hardliners, of course.
But don’t expect major changes in the identity of Britain’s politicians
This will be another year where our top politicians stay put. Barring mortality, personal decision or unforeseen scandal, all three party leaders look safe enough for the coming year. David Cameron is likely to come under most pressure, but in the absence of a remotely credible rival, he should be safe enough (even in the Conservative party, which is addicted to plotting).
The Cabinet is unlikely to undergo a major reshuffle (it’s too complicated and anyway David Cameron doesn’t seem to believe in reshuffling endlessly). Will Andrew Mitchell or Chris Huhne return? Chris Huhne will have firmer party support if he rebuts the charges against him, but it would be easier to accommodate Andrew Mitchell (there are more Conservatives in Cabinet to eject). In practice, I expect both will find their political aspirations in 2013 progressing outside the Cabinet, unless others blot their copybook and create the necessary space.
The cause of Scottish independence will continue to languish
2012 showed that the SNP are nowhere near ready enough with their ideas as to what an independent Scotland would look like, or even what the route to independence would look like. Unless they can get a grip on this very quickly in 2013, the public will decide that it’s all just too big a gamble. Since there is no sign at present of them doing so, I expect the polls to look pretty dreary for the independence cause.
This article first appeared on PB Channel 2
antifrank is a long standing contributor to PB, he would also like to stress, this piece was written mainly to help him form his own views as to what to expect, he doesn’t want anyone thinking he’s any kind of oracle.