What will 2016 bring? Remain will win and the Tories will stay together

New year predictions are not something this blogger has indulged in before – but it seems to be a universal obligation for the first blog of the year. There is little to be said for it at face value: predictions are either banal continuations of current trends, or depend too heavily on events that are unpredictable. Still, they may reveal something interesting about the way the blogger sees the world- so here goes.

The most important event of 2016 in British politics (and that will be my main focus) will be a referendum on UK membership of the European Union. This is not certain for 2016, but nevertheless looks more than likely. I predict a comfortable majority (in the region 60-40) for the Remain campaign – I am not joining the crowd who suggest that it will be very close, or that Leave will win.

Unlike fellow Lib Dem blogger David Boyle, I don’t think the referendum campaign will be a repeat of Scotland’s independence campaign. Not because I think that the status quo supporters will be any more inspiring or less negative.  There are routine calls for Remain supporters not to repeat the “mistake” of Scotland’s No campaign, which failed to make a positive case for the Union. This rather overlooks the fact that No won in Scotland, in spite of a brilliant Yes campaign. There were signs of ineptitude on the No side – but that more applies to the minor tactics, which were dictated by a Scottish Labour Party whose lack of political skill was shown to all in this year’s General Election, when they were reduced to a single seat. I expect the Remain campaign will manage things better.

But the main reason why the EU referendum will not be like the Scottish one, is that their is no equivalent of the SNP-organised Yes campaign. They managed to motivate their supporters through a very positive, inclusive message, which appealed to young people. There are people in the Leave EU campaign that think that life outside the EU is a fantastic and positive opportunity for Britain, but they look very unlike the Scots Nationalists. For a start many of these are businessmen who think that leaving the EU means deregulation, so that they can screw their employees, customers and the environment even harder. They are fundamentally unconvincing when they suggest that this will make more than few people better off – there is no economic card equivalent to Scotland’s oil.

But a deeper problem for the Leave side is that most of their supporters are of the stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off type. To them the EU represents the intrusion of the modern, globalising world, and leaving it will enable the country to put up stronger barriers to the world. Especially when it comes to the free movement of people. This is a striking contrast to the Scotland Yes campaign. The Leave campaign are (mostly) convinced that immigration is their trump card – and many Remain supporters agree, and are duly worried. Most people outside London are convinced that immigration is too high and one of the main problems that Britain faces. But I don’t think this will be as easy a card to play for Leave. First I doubt whether the public quite has the courage of its convictions on the issue – on the same principle that most voters talk about how much they distrust established politicians, but then keep electing them anyway. Second, the referendum will not change Britain’s political class, and the public doubts its will to deliver lower immigration, even outside the EU. Perhaps these two points two sides of the same coin.

So Remain will win. What will that do to British politics? The conventional wisdom, which I have supported, is that this will tear the Conservative Party apart. But I have changed my mind on this. Europe has been a defining issue for many Tory activists, and they will be upset that the referendum was lost. But we must remember two things about the Tories. First: their party is not “democratic”, by which I mean that its members don’t control things through electoral processes, as they do in the Lib Dems and Labour (sort of, in both cases). The controlling elite has huge power over party direction and can weather the odd storm. Second, the party has the prospect of political power before it. They are in power, and the opposition is weak; too many people, with too much money, will not want to throw away the opportunity to hang on to that power. The example of Ukip, now a chaotic, busted flush, is not encouraging to rebels. The main threat to the Tories comes from who they choose to succeed David Cameron as leader. But this is quite tightly controlled by the parliamentary party, who have an instinct for survival. No equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn is in the wings.

What other predictions? Jeremy Corbyn will remain leader of Labour, and consolidate his power. Labour’s Sadiq Khan will win London’s Mayoral election. Labour “moderates” will bide their time; setting up a rival party is unrealistic on so many levels. And the Lib Dems? They will achieve some local successes, which will be enough to convince insiders that they are making a comeback, but nobody else. The SNP dominance of Scotland will continue in the Scottish parliamentary elections, but I will be surprised if the Conservatives manage to overtake Labour.

And the economy? I think that trouble will strike before 2020; the economy looks too much like its old self in the days of Blair and Brown.  How will it come about? Britain is vulnerable to events elsewhere in the global economy. Perhaps foreigners will start pulling out of the London property market, causing developers to get into trouble, and then whoever is lending them money. This could spark off a long term decline on Britain’s property values, quite opposite to the conventional wisdom that prices are driven by excessive demand, rather than excessive finance. And yes, that process could start in 2016.

What about elsewhere in the world? Perhaps 2016 will produce an unexpected drama in the US elections, but I expect the winner to be a Democrat. Hillary Clinton looks a shoo-in, but could she be derailed by something in her back history?

And Syria? The civil war looks like a stalemate until Saudi Arabia and Iran decide that they need a rapprochement. Continued low oil prices could force that. A coup within Islamic State to produce a new regime that seeks alliances with other actors should not be ruled out. – and less sponsorship of outside terrorism. But terrorism will go on.

Of course the last three paragraphs have enough escape clauses to not count as serious predictions. But that will have to do for now!

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2 thoughts on “What will 2016 bring? Remain will win and the Tories will stay together”

  1. I see from your penultimate paragraph (“rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran”) what you mean about prediction being a precarious business (given the developments of the past 48 hours!) On the whole, however, as usual very insightful and instructive.
    I am not, however, as sure about the impact of Europe on the Conservatives. It (EU) has been a cancer eating away within them since the hour Thatcher made her Bruges Speech (and thereby gave them the opening they (Europhobes) had been waiting for years (more than a decade in the case of those (Powellites etc) who had never forgiven Heath’s “betrayal” in any case. I am likewise not really sure long the creaky Labour machine can really keep going as the gaps between the likes of Ken Livingstone and Yvette Cooper just keep on growing and growing.
    All of this must surely present some kind of major opportunity for the LDs and all it needs, in my view, is what Tim Farron called “a by-election with our name written all over it” to start an Orpington-like resurrection. Oldham was obviously not the place for this, but how about Rochdale (if a by-election becomes required)? Hard to believe, but in 2010 it was the THIRD LD target seat in the UK and, despite all the (horrendous) allegations about Smith and his PAST (a word which need to be employed frequently!), I imagine it could be fruitful territory for “the fight back” to begin to take off?
    Finally, I have always thought the pro-EU vote would win (unless Cameron manages to mess things up entirely), but I think there is a third of the electorate (as you say, basically a mixture of ultra-Thatcherite neo-liberals (like Farage at heart) and ‘Dad’s Army’ fans) who are now just ‘lost’ to the pro-EU cause, as “Europe” has come to represent, above all, immigration, but also globalisation, world trade, outsourcing, lack of opportunities for their children and grandchildren, out-of-touch politicians, “them” in general and so the vote, in my view, will be nearer 70/30 in favour (and half of the “70” will only be won over by ‘fear of being out will be even worse for me/my family’).
    So a lot to do and the Federal Conferences in York and Brighton this year should be real crackers, given this environment!

    1. Thanks Charles. I think Saudi Arabia and Iran have to have a rapprochement, but really there is no alternative for either of them. But it looks as if it will be a long time coming!

      Victory for Remain will not leave people thinking any better of the EU, but perhaps it will allow the debate to move on. And Europehiles like me will probably feel quite depressed by the negativity of it all.

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