Political predictions for 2018, sort of
“There’s a saying that all predictions turn out to be either lucky or wrong.”
With those words, just over 12 months ago, I began a blog post for this site which looked forward to 2017 and committed forever to the internet some reluctant thoughts about what the year might bring in the world of politics and public policy.
Sensible people know that prediction is not so much the science of getting things right, but the art of trying to get them less wrong. With that in mind, I think it’s good housekeeping to revisit past predictions and be honest about how they measured up. So here we go.
2017 prediction: there will be rows over international development spending (Score: 3/5)
Last year I said Britain’s aid budget would come under pressure as old rows resurfaced about the amount of money spent on international development. There were rumours, I wrote, that a run of press reports about wasted cash and bungled projects had been briefed from inside the aid department itself, which could mean the rationale for current policy was being undermined by hostile ministers.
Was I right? Well, the row element has been borne out, but policy is being realigned rather than scrapped wholesale. After Theresa May’s humbling at the ballot box in June, the newly-emboldened Boris Johnson launched a landgrab which saw his Foreign Office take more control of development policy. He has since spoken freely about his wish to absorb the Department for International Development into the FCO and spend aid cash in a way that better serves Britain’s interests abroad.
As of January 2018, we are awaiting further details of what this new policy actually looks like. An announcement is due in the coming weeks.
2017 prediction: Jeremy Corbyn will remain leader of the Labour Party (Score: 4/5)
In January 2017 I wrote that Mr Corbyn’s position was safer than ever. His opponents in the parliamentary Labour Party were in retreat following his second leadership victory, leaving them with only the forlorn hope that the bearded prophet of Holloway Road might fail on his own terms. The only thing which could feasibly bring about his exit, I mused, was a general election defeat.
Twelve months later and Mr Corbyn’s position is even stronger than before, so I was right about that bit. But his limpet-like resilience is for precisely the opposite reason to the one I envisaged. The general election defeat did indeed take place, yet it boosted Corbyn to new heights. Suddenly every sceptical Labour MP wanted to be on the front bench again. The left was victorious. Mr Corbyn headlined Glastonbury.
Have we now passed peak Jeremy? Maybe. This year my best guess is he will once again stay on as leader, but talk about the 68-year-old’s lack of a clear succession plan will get louder.
2017 prediction: we’ll have a hard Brexit (Score: 3/5)
Mrs May made the Article 50 notification in March and in doing so, some might say, frittered away the only real leverage Britain had in negotiations. Whether those negotiations have subsequently been going well for Britain depends very much on which newspaper you read.
The prime minister, to her credit, has quietly played a rather clever game by talking tough to her domestic audience while being more pragmatic on the nuts and bolts. The finalised first-phase agreement between Britain and the EU, reached just before Christmas, seemed to indicate that we would all get to wallow in glorious fudge after all.
But not so fast. Already in 2018, eastern bloc countries have demanded a better deal for their UK-based citizens during the Brexit transition period. And the December agreement provided no answer to the Northern Irish border question, which can be “solved” only by a hard Brexit or by more fudge, this time flavoured with single market and customs union membership for the whole of the UK. Neither option is palatable to all interested parties. What will happen? I don’t know.
2017 prediction: Europe: the populist wave will either break, or… (Score: 0/5)
There are no points for equivocation in this game. I wrote 12 months ago that 2017, after the political upsets of 2016, would be the year the Western liberal order might crumble before our eyes… or might not.
In the end, of course, it didn’t. Centrist smoothie Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen decisively in the French presidential race. In Germany, Angela Merkel clung onto power, again, although the hard-right Alternative für Deutschland took 94 seats in the Bundestag. For the most part, authoritarians across Europe did what Woody Guthrie once said they would, and lost.
But what has been borne out – at least in the UK – is the much-talked about realignment of politics along new lines. This theory holds that it’s not right vs. left anymore. It’s Remain vs. Leave, cities vs. market towns, minority rights vs. bringing back hanging and Black Mirror vs. Mrs Brown’s Boys. It is driven, if I might be permitted a gross oversimplification, partly by economics and partly by culture war. Expect more of it in the year ahead.
2017 prediction: people will keep making inaccurate predictions (Score: 5/5)
And finally, I said last January that people in 2017 would continue to indulge compulsively in ill-advised speculation about the future, with embarrassing results. Let’s see how that went…
“Tory majority of 110.” – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday commentator, gives his final seat prediction on the eve of the general election.
“A euro crisis will cause Denmark and Italy to leave the EU; and an electrical fire will burn down the Houses of Parliament.” – The two standouts among many colourful predictions from Craig Hamilton-Parker, a self-styled psychic from Southampton, reported by The Sun on 20 January.
“And the thing Mrs May will not do? Hold a general election. Tories will urge her to cash in on a huge poll lead over Jeremy Corbyn… But it won’t happen.” – James Kirkup, journalist and think tank boss, writes in the Daily Telegraph on 31 December 2016.
“Bob Dylan will die.” – Me, on Twitter.
So there you have it. Some predictions that were lucky and a few that were wrong. See you next year.
Written by Nick Reading, Senior Account Manager