And so another year draws to an end. It’s not been the best of years for the Liberal Democrats, with less than impressive performances in local elections and parliamentary by-elections and with our ambition of achieving long overdue reform of the House of Lords kicked into touch by a Prime Minister more concerned about his own backbenchers than he is the relationship with his coalition partners.
But it’s also been a year in which Scottish leader Willie Rennie has shown a little more of what he’s capable of, in which Nick Clegg issued the famous (and, when put to music, hilarious) apology and in which Michael Moore has demonstrated what an asset he is to the Scottish Office and the party more generally. It’s been another year in which conference again proves itself to be the flagbearer for liberal values, sending out clear messages to our parliamentarians on secret courts – and a year in which equal marriage came a step closer, in no small measure due to Liberal Democrat determination.
Of course it will be one that most Liberal Democrats will be happy to put behind us. From a purely political perspective, we’ve had better years. However, this was also the year of the Olympics, Andy Murray winning a Grand Slam title, Bradley Wiggins’ astonishing successes, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Manchester City winning the premiership and England losing to Italy on penalties in Euro 2012. So, all in all, 2012 has been a memorable year for many of the right reasons – on a personal note the birth of baby Xanthe in July is the obvious highlight of a year that was something of an emotional rollercoaster.
In previous years I’ve made my own predictions for the coming year, which are generally more entertaining and slightly more accurate than those made by the Mayans. This year, I’ve decided to do it again and share with you my own thoughts about what the new year will bring.
The Liberal Democrats
• The Lib Dems will continue to do poorly in by-elections, trailing behind UKIP and the Greens. The media will present this as evidence of electoral meltdown, in spite of the fact that the party never had a political base in these constituencies nor any realistic hopes of winning. Nick Clegg states that these embarrassing results will be a thing of the past once voters begin to grasp what an important job we’re doing in government.
• Everyone will continue to look to Tim Farron as a potential new leader, especially The Guardian, The Independent and Liberal Left. Farron will be at pains to stress his loyalty to the current leader, while pointing out that our current difficulties are temporary and that eventually we will be rewarded when the public begin to grasp what an important job we’re doing in government.
• Late in the year we will come third in a by-election, with Nick Clegg pronouncing that a corner has been turned and that voters are now beginning to grasp what an important job we’re doing in government.
• The free vote on the Equal Marriage proposals will see some Liberal Democrat MPs vote against the party line, causing internal conflict and with the MPs concerned vilified by many party members and activists. The legislation will pass but the myth of Lib Dem unity on the matter will have been utterly compromised.
• Liberal Left will drift into relative obscurity, save for the conference season when its shrill near deification of Beveridge and distorted historical views of Gladstone are allowed to form the basis of a misguided attack on the party’s current direction. More influential will be the Social Liberal Forum, who will be increasingly perceived as the party’s conscience and more intelligent in respect to choosing their battles and in the way their criticisms are expressed.
• Relations with the Conservatives will become even more strained, most notably on Europe. Clegg will, however, remain determined to see out the five-year term – arguing that voters would never take the party seriously if it withdrew from the coalition and that, in any case, voters will reward us when they begin to grasp what an important job we’re doing in government.
• In Scotland, Willie Rennie will provide determined leadership in addition to a welcome relief from the usual entrenched tribalism on display at Holyrood. Rennie’s problem will continue to be in communicating a positive, distinctive and forward-looking vision when his voice is either largely ignored by the media or drowned out by the negative rhetoric of our “partners” in Better Together.
• The differentiation strategy will be largely ineffective, not least because they way in which it is carried out suggests a government divided against itself and a rather desperate junior coalition partner. It amounts to little more than a statement that “We’re not Tories y’know!” and will simply play into the hands of Labour. Well, it would if they had the sense to capitalise on it.
The Conservative Party
• The Prime Minister will continue to pander to the whims of his party’s right wing. The liberal values and co-operative approaches he once claimed to champion will be shown to be little more than a pitiful, if regrettably successful, attempt to persuade Liberal Democrats that partnership would be in their interests.
• The Conservatives will indulge their obsession for the EU, demanding referenda on our future relationship or at the very least a renegotiation of our terms of membership. Rather than challenge this idiocy, Cameron will agree to making a half-hearted attempt to secure renegotiation that will please no-one and alienate everyone including the usually loyal Nick Clegg who is spitting feathers.
• Nadine Dorries will continue making intemperate contributions from the backbenches, restricting such interventions to matters surrounding gay people, abortion, the EU, abortion, being on the TV and abortion. Towards the end of the year she will form a new breakaway party...of one.
• George Osborne will not be moved on his economic strategy even though it is evidently not working. Objections from some Liberal Democrats to the effects of austerity will be used to further justify the government’s economic direction to Conservative MPs.
• Some Conservative MPs will form a group determined to wreck the planned bill for Equal Marriage. They will be led by Bill Cash and Peter Bone and will claim to speak for a “moral majority” in spite of being little more than a public embarrassment for the Prime Minister. Ultimately their efforts will be in vain.
• Peter Bone will be revealed to be a closet homosexual and, to pre-empt the press, releases a statement in which he admits to his gay identity. He also reveals that when the law is changed he will marry Brian Souter immediately.
The Labour Party
• Ed Miliband will embark on a strategy to woo disaffected Liberal Democrats. It will go something like this: “Your party has let you down so come to us so we can parade you at our conference as some kind of trophy. You should consider yourself very lucky and privileged that we should reach out to you in this way.”
• Miliband will struggle to present himself as Prime Minister in waiting. On the other hand Chuka Umunna, quite unintentionally of course, looks more like a future leader with every passing TV interview.
• Ed Balls will appear less and less credible as shadow chancellor and will struggle to communicate a coherent alternative economic strategy – not least because he doesn’t have one. Labour big beasts such as Alistair Darling and Ed Miliband’s older brother who everyone seems to have forgotten about, will put pressure on the leader to replace Balls with someone of calibre, economic experience and political competence. Instead he appoints Caroline Flint.
• Labour will do well in parliamentary by-elections – largely in safe seats where incumbent Labour MPs have stepped down after being disgraced for mishandling their parliamentary expenses.
• Unfortunately for Labour they will be increasingly seen as a reaction party, opposing virtually everything proposed by the government but not able to formulate any positive ideas of their own.
• Johann Lamont will continue to prove that under her leadership Scottish Labour is little more than a party of tribal reactivists whose loathing of the Liberal Democrats is secondary to their pathological hatred of the SNP. Lamont will herself extend her own differentiation strategy, intentionally reshaping or discarding good Labour policy to distinguish her party from Alex Salmond’s evil nationalists. The fact that she’s defining her party by what the SNP says and does will be completely lost on her.
The Scottish National Party
• It was a difficult year for Alex Salmond and his party. Labour staged a fightback in the local elections. Salmond’s popularity has dipped a little although his public approval rating remains higher than every other political leader. Support for independence remains static. Things won’t improve greatly in 2013, but the SNP will continue to dominate Scottish politics and – more importantly – the political conversation.
• Nicola Sturgeon will prove to be the star of Scottish politics, not only on account of her more obvious political skills but also due to her success in handling her infrastructure, investment and cities portfolio. Her comfortable debating style, evident understanding of how issues affect people and her personal warmth will have an obvious appeal to those who dislike the perceived arrogance of the First Minister. Her destiny as the SNP’s leader-in-waiting will not be questioned.
• The SNP will dominate Yes Scotland in the same way that Labour dominates Better Together. Unlike Labour, the SNP aren’t comfortable with this (or at least the suggestion that Yes Scotland is merely an extension of the SNP’s campaigning machine) and Yes Scotland will make overtures to pro-independence groups within other parties and none. Independence will remain high on the political agenda, and lack of clarity on detail will cause some significant headaches for Alex Salmond.
• The debate on Scotland’s role within the EU will not go away and what should be a complex question of Scotland’s future relationship with the rest of Europe will become reduced to a political football and a juvenile argument about who did or did not say something and what they meant or did not mean by it. In all this it will be easy to lose sight of the fact that Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, is in a position to obtain crucial answers in respect to Scotland’s position in the EU. It will become even easier to forget that what really matters is that whatever the outcome of the referendum, Scotland is better off in the EU.
• Unemployment in Scotland will fall slightly, leading to the SNP making wildly overreaching claims about their responsibility for it.
• The civil war in Syria will come to an end, with President Assad fleeing into exile. The new government will be made of opposition leaders, most of whom are former Ba’ath Party devotees who defected at an opportune time. Like the new government in Egypt, the Syrian administration will have limited respect, or use, for democracy. The inappropriately named Arab Spring will have finally burned itself out.
• Concerns about the Pope’s health abound later in the year. Even greater concerns abound at the fact that Cardinal Keith O’Brien has an eye on the papal mitre.
• President Obama will struggle to keep the US economy under control, something that doesn’t stop Ed Balls from aspiring to create an American-style economy as a basis for British recovery. On an international front, Obama will regrettably achieve very little this year although some progress will be made in Afghanistan.
• The Eurozone will survive but huge difficulties remain. Greece will increasingly resent the harsh realities of imposed austerity and will consider withdrawal from the Euro and potentially the EU. Many Italians on the other hand feel that the solution to their nation’s economic woes is to re-elect Silvio Burlusconi as Prime Minister for the 56th time. Some people never learn.
• Celtic will win the SPL and Manchester United the Premiership.
• Morton will come agonisingly close to being promoted to the SPL, losing out to Partick Thistle by one point. St Mirren will somehow avoid relegation yet again.
• Albion Rovers will be relegated from Division 2, thus not having to “entertain” Rangers and their fans at Cliftonhill in the following season. Every cloud has a silver lining.
• Roberto Mancini will be dismissed at the end of the season in which Manchester City win nothing. Rafa Benitez will be sacked next week after his team fail to beat QPR by the same margin with which they overcame Aston Villa. “We scored only seven goals, it isn’t good enough” insists Abramovich.
My predictions for previous years can be found here:
Predictions for 2012 (stunningly accurate!)
Predictions for 2011 (not so stunningly accurate)