May You Live in Interesting Times – Part 2

It was Winston Churchill who said it was the role of the politician to be able to foretell what was going to happen, tomorrow, next week and over the year ahead and then, more importantly, to be able to explain why their predictions didn’t come to pass when they got it wrong.

For my final blog of the year, I thought I’d have a stab at looking at what might happen across the domestic political scene over the next 12 months; slightly dangerous but hopefully fun.

Westminster will spend most of the year navel gazing over the question of BREXIT, while waiting for the outcomes of elections across the European Union, which will dictate who we will face across the most important negotiating table.

France, the Netherlands, potentially Italy and most importantly Germany, in the autumn face the prospect of new governments over the period, as well as at least a further nine countries with parliamentary or presidential elections.

The chasm between our negotiating position, based on a strong economic case and very different politically driven stance from the European Commission, will become starker and may necessitate a very different, more Machiavellian approach to the one slowly emerging from Downing St and Whitehall.  

That period of uncertainty, speculation and plotting will cause significant strains within our governing party, with Theresa May’s shrinking majority under increasing pressure.  Despite senior MPs and members of her circle saying that she has no intention of going to the country, I think there’s still a very high chance that we will have a General Election within the year if the polls continue to give the Conservatives the significant lead they currently enjoy.       

Labour will continue its long slow march to increasing irrelevance under Comrade Corbyn.  Whilst the parliamentary party has seemingly resigned itself to the prospect of Corbyn as its leader for the foreseeable future, its local government base is not so happy. It faces the prospect of being eroded on three if not four different fronts with a more credible and popular one nation Conservative Party challenging it in the South, West and the Midlands, the SNP in Scotland, a re-energised Liberal Democrat party wherever opportunity presents itself and potentially UKIP, specifically in the North if the party can stabilise under new leader Paul Nuttall. 

May’s local elections will see little substantial shift in councillor tallies, with the Liberal Democrats being the main beneficiary and Labour the main losers. Labour will keep control of its solitary controlled county council but lose seats elsewhere, only saving face by winning the new Mayoral creations in Liverpool and Manchester.

Several other County Council’s could shift from no overall control, possibly turning blue.  The Liberal Democrats might spring a surprise in the West Country but I don’t think I’d put money on it.

 Infrastructure and housebuilding will be key themes away from BREXIT and the internal agonies of the two major parties.

HS2 will see concrete being poured and maybe even tracks being laid this year.  Heathrow will get the nod, I think Gatwick and maybe Birmingham will also get some good news, a new Housing Paper in the New Year – sorry spring – no – oops, apologies - first half of the year, will see a significant escalation of direct government intervention to seek to address the affordability issue.  Prefabricated housing will see a major boost -  abroad expect to see the first house to be built with a 3D printer.    Hinkley will run into more difficulties, though not enough to cause a rethink at this stage, but maybe enough for the government to bring forward some alternative contingency measures as an alternative strategy.

I could go on but I think I’ve put up quite enough hostages to fortune so will end here.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for the comments and feedback you’ve been kind enough to give me and to wish you all a very merry and peaceful Christmas with best wishes for what I have no doubt will be a fascinating political year ahead.

This article was written by Frank Browne a former leader of Wokingham Borough Council and a member of our non-Executive board.