After a rollercoaster of a political year, 2017 has an awful lot to live up to! We asked our Public Affairs Team to gaze into their ‘crystal balls’ and to share their ‘political predictions’ for 2017.
Simon Gentry, Partner
I predict the strain of trying to govern with a shrinking majority will become increasingly difficult and the Prime Minister will engineer an election in the first half of 2017.
The Conservatives campaigning on a ‘respect the people/We need a united front to negotiate with the Europeans’ ticket will be returned with a commanding majority as Labour falls prey to the inevitable civil war. George Osborne and his band of ‘soft Brexit’ supporters, having played a part in bringing the election about, will be marginalised at least for the life of the next Parliament. This will make Theresa May’s job of negotiating a reasonable deal with the EU 27 considerably easier.
The Lib Dems – in spite of their charisma-free leader – will return with 30+ seats, but these will be concentrated in affluent urban areas, not the traditional non-conformist areas that used to support the Liberals.
As an outlier, watch the Dutch General Election. The pro-‘Nexit’ parties may well make substantial gains, creating further turmoil in the EU institutions. And its not over in Greece either …
Tomos Davies, Associate Partner
“Should I stay or should I go”, that iconic ‘Clash’ punk rock number will be ringing in Theresa May’s ears in the New Year. Despite her ballooning opinion poll ratings, the PM will be initially reluctant to yield to the mounting speculation that she might call an early General Election. Matters will soon come to a head as the Government’s Brexit agenda continues to be frustrated by malcontents in the Labour party and by her own backbench Tory Europhiles. The business of government will become so impossible the Prime Minister will have no choice but to call a snap election to deliver a fresh mandate. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act makes engineering an election rather difficult. Whilst it would seem rather odd for a Government to table a motion of no confidence in itself, it would be impossible for the Labour party not to back such a motion, even as the party faces utter humiliation at the polls.
In Germany, Frau Merkel can be expected to be re-elected for a historic fourth term, possibly making her the longest-serving leader in German democratic history. Nevertheless, the continued seeping of votes to the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party and the unreliability of the Social Democrats as a coalition bedfellow makes her victory far from assured. In France, the Thatcherite François Fillon will struggle to beat Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French Presidential election as the left fail to turn out in sufficient numbers to ‘hold their noses’ and vote.
There are few signs that the shameful, and utterly inexcusable lack of foreign policy leadership demonstrated in 2016 by the Obama administration and its western allies will change. Syria will remain a humanitarian catastrophe in 2017, as the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians by Russian rockets and the Assad regime continues unabated. Trump’s choice of Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief, for Secretary of State will fail to gain Senate confirmation as enough Republican foreign-policy grandees (Rubio, McCain et al) mount a rear-guard action. Alas, Trump’s controversial choice of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel will be confirmed, further inflaming already strained relations between the US and its Middle East allies and setting the cause of the two-state solution back a generation.
Closer to home, the big story of 2017 will be the political resurrection of George Osborne. Having already established himself as the standard bearer for Tory Europhiles, he will continue to dedicate himself with zeal to promoting and protecting his Northern Powerhouse legacy. With Madame Lagarde’s authority severely undermined by her much publicised financial and legal difficulties, Osborne may emerge as a prime contender for the top job at the IMF. In one sense Mrs May would be relieved to be rid of such a prominent thorn in her side in Parliament, though wary perhaps of providing her one-time rival with an even loftier platform to challenge her Government. A cameo appearance as a guest presenter of Have I Got News For You should not be ruled out at this stage either (I hear their fees are almost as lucrative as Citi, Black Rock and JP Morgan).
But my own personal highlight, however, will be in February, when England’s seemingly inevitable march towards the All Black’s record for the number of consecutive test wins will come to a spectacular halt as the wheels come off the ‘chariots’ in a spectacular defeat at the hands of a resurgent Wales at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. If only….!
Gareth Jones, Associate Partner
After a year of ‘unpresidented’ turmoil (to quote Donald Trump!), it is very likely that populism will remain the dominant theme in 2017, both at home and abroad – with widespread sentiments of economic insecurity combining with a resurgent nationalism to shape democratic politics in dramatic ways.
Domestically, I expect living standards will rise to the top of the agenda. With inflation expected to rise as a result of the fall in Sterling, combining with slowing economic growth, we may see this hitting people’s pockets in 2017. The first signs of this for most people will be during their weekly shopping trip. Manufacturers and retailers will respond to cost pressures accordingly – so following the examples of missing Marmite and tampered Toblerones, we may expect three-fingered Kit Kats or Hula Hoops becoming smaller so they only fit on your little fingers. More generally, rising inflation and its impacts on households and businesses (interest rates, housing costs, pay disputes) will be a big test for the Prime Minister and her efforts to help those who are Just About Managing – the so-called JAMs.
As we get closer to the Government’s deadline for triggering Article 50, tensions within Cabinet will surface. Key decisions that have been put-off to-date will have to be determined (eg whether the UK stays in the customs union and if there’s a proposed transitional deal) which will inevitably lead to fierce disagreements and possibly resignations (with Liam Fox and Boris Johnson favourites to leave first, according to the bookies). As formal negotiations begin with the EU and the 27 Member States, the atmosphere could quickly become hostile if there is little sign of a generous deal from our EU counterparts. As we get more defensive, expect more ‘patriotic’ soundbites and policies from the press and politicians. Theresa May will probably follow up on her recent statements of a “Red, White and Blue Brexit” and oaths of allegiance to British values with similarly catchy phrases and initiatives – and if she doesn’t, expect others in her Party or in UKIP to ramp up the nationalist rhetoric. After all, Nigel Farage is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Meanwhile, on the Continent, the populist wave will be felt in important national elections, with potentially global consequences. Fresh from their success in hacking the US Election, Russia will almost certainly try to interfere with upcoming Dutch, French and German elections – stoking fears over immigration and supporting right-wing populists Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen, while also attempting to undermine Angela Merkel’s bid to remain German Chancellor. Should any of these populists triumph, it could severely undermine confidence in the Eurozone.
As for President Trump, it remains very unclear as to how he will follow through on his controversial campaigning rhetoric once he is sworn into office. Perhaps the most likely outcome is that he will be so caught up in his own internal and constitutional issues, that he will become unable and uninterested in intervening in global affairs, leading to a power vacuum across many parts the world – causing further instability and turmoil.
Daniel Costen, Consultant
Theresa May’s ship will continue to leak by the bucket, though it will be filled with little substance, until Parliament gets to see the Government’s plan for Brexit which will at least distract MPs and the media who have been starved of meat since she became captain. If there is an election in 2017, it will be in the Autumn and not the Spring as the government has too much on its plate on entering the New Year: several court challenges to Brexit; triggering Art 50; a belligerent Russia holding great sway with the incoming US President, heralding a new (and unstable) world order; and heightened security fears in Europe and the Middle East.
But if, as Brexit negotiations progress throughout 2017, it becomes clear the government is struggling to make any headway in Parliament then May will be much more inclined to call an election and increase her majority. Which she will, as Labour haemorrhage seats to the Lib Dems and lose perhaps a couple to UKIP, though UKIP will not become “the party of the North”. Labour MP Jamie Reed’s resignation means Copeland may be the first seat to be taken by the Conservatives in 2017 – the constituency voted 62% to leave the EU and Reed only has a 2,500 majority.
Although the strains within the Labour Party will not subside, Jeremy Corbyn will continue as Leader, at least until his party is pulverised at an Autumn election. A moderate Labour MP may announce his/her intention to run for Labour leader early in the year to allow enough new members to sign up – a new leadership election cannot be called until a year after the last one. Elsewhere in the Labour Party, Ken Livingstone will be allowed back in front of cameras around April, before being swiftly put back in his box after saying Hitler 50 times in response to a question about climate change.
Outside politics, Andy Murray will win BBC Sports Personality of the Year again (and every year until he retires from professional tennis); the BBC Music Awards will hold their last ceremony before being cancelled due to lack of relevance; and Channel Four will announce it will show a revamped Bake Off as a dating programme, combining its best shows though amounting to far less than the sum of its parts: “Naked Attraction’s Embarrassing Bodies does First Dates on Bake Off”.
Charlie Withey, Associate
In efforts to rebrand Jeremy Corbyn as an effective and relatable leader of the opposition, the Labour party will mistakenly launch a gorilla marketing campaign to insert Jezza into unexpected corners of everyday life.
These are my predictions for where you will find him:
Only time will tell whether constant exposure to Corbyn’s bearded façade will return lost voters to Labour’s flock. The only certain prediction is everyone’s excited trepidation to find out exactly what form this potential rebrand will take (he may already be practicing the fox trot at this very moment).
Nicholas Sowemimo, Graduate
At home, local elections in May across the UK will be dominated by debates over Brexit. Both main party leaders will find themselves in difficulties, as Tory voters dissatisfied with the Government’s slow progress in exiting the EU will result in UKIP making significant gains and the Conservatives losing key councils to no overall control. In the aftermath, Theresa May will find her position challenged by a stalking horse from the Tory Right.
Meanwhile, Labour will be devastated by losses across Scotland and Wales, haemorrhaging scores of councillors in traditional heartlands to the nationalist opposition. The ensuing calls for Jeremy Corbyn’s immediate resignation – and his intransigence in response – will renew speculation about a party split.
In other news, the Daily Mash will cease publication having become obsolete, as its editor declares that readers can no longer distinguish its satire from genuine news.
Abroad, Hong Kong is a region to watch. Tensions have been rising since anti-Beijing candidates made advances in the territory’s 2016 legislative elections and China prevented some pro-democracy lawmakers from taking their seats. In March, a new Chief Executive of Hong Kong will be chosen by a 1,200-strong committee, and the selection of an avowedly pro-Beijing candidate would be likely to lead to further protests, a revived independence movement and possible intervention by China.
From all of us at Newgate, have a prosperous and healthy New Year