I have occasionally been known to risk a tiny amount of the minuscule credibility I possess by putting forward some predictions for the political year ahead. While there’s a temptation to do that because not only does it allow me to put a post up now, it gives me the chance to write at least one more at the end of the year reviewing them, I’m not going to. The present state of politics in Britain and elsewhere is so febrile and chaotic that making predictions for what will happen in the next couple of weeks seems foolish, let alone casting forward a whole twelve months.
Beyond the general chaotic nature of politics, I think there are two other important factors that are distorting British politics. Both of these have unpredictable outcomes that will resonate across the entire political system and have such wide-ranging effects that trying to predict anything that might happen in their wake is pointless, except as a means to fill empty column inches at the start of the year.
These two unpredictable factors are what happens to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and what happens in the EU referendum. These share the potential to distort not just the events of the next twelve months, but the fundamental ways in which British politics has organised itself, making any attempt to predict the future little more than guesswork. On their own, either of them would be an event well outside of the norms of our political system with the potential to completely disrupt it, to have them happen together dramatically increases the chance of a major disruption taking place.
The Corbyn effect is already transforming the Labour Party, shifting it towards the left and changing the balance within the party system. It’s a party system that’s already fragile because of the rise of the SNP and UKIP (who stubbornly refuse to comply with the predictions of their imminent demise) and what happens to Labour could be the catalyst for a wider shifting of positions and allegiances within that system, or could even be the trigger that kills the current one and replaces it with a new one. The interesting thing to watch about Corbynism and the Corbynistas will be how much they change the structures of the party and how involved all those new members and supporters get. Perhaps they can change Labour into a mass popular party of the left and centre-left that can challenge the Conservatives, or perhaps they might just become the UKIP of the left – very very popular amongst their core voters, but finding it very hard to attract anyone from outside that core.
While lots of ink has been spilled and blog posts written about the past, present and future of the Labour Party, the fact that we will likely be having a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU sometime very soon is still very much in the political background. Sure, those who have spent most of the past two or more decades obsessing about Europe continue to froth at the mouth and write massive screeds about it but for most people it’s still in the ‘worry about it later’ pile or even the ‘nothing to worry about’ one. There’s a double layer of complacency in play at the moment, with people assuming that Remain will comfortably win the referendum, and that it will have no longer-term implications. These are, of course, the same sort of predictions being made about Scotland two years ago. Saying then that No would win after being neck and neck in the polls for a while and the fallout from the referendum would see the SNP becoming near-hegemonic in Scottish politics would have been a pretty wild prediction. Now that it’s happened, any look to the future has to include the possibility of the EU referendum causing a similar shake up in the politics of the rest of the UK, regardless of the result.
On top of all the other ‘events, dear boy, events’ that can come along and disrupt our expectations, the Labour Party and the EU referendum both hold massive chaotic potential that could make January 2017 so vastly different from today that trying to predict the politics of it is pointless. So in politics, my only prediction is that all your predictions will be wrong.