What does 2018 have in store for the world of politics? Academics make their predictionson 1 January 2018
After a tumultuous 2017 which saw Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th President of the United States; a somewhat unexpected UK General Election and ongoing battles over Brexit, we've asked politics academics what they think 2018 has in store for us. If their predictions come true we could see Labour's Jeremy Corbyn jump off the Brexit fence, Theresa May being replaced as party leader and PM by Amber Rudd, some difficult decisions about how to deal with returning IS fighters and maybe even a rehabilitation of politics in the eyes of the public.
Theresa May will be safe as PM because no one else wants the job
Dr Victoria Honeyman
Every year in British Politics appears to be full of surprises, and I expect that 2018 will be no different. There will be a plethora of unexpected issues which would be impossible to predict, but there may be a few features which can be assumed. Brexit will clearly be the big issue of 2018 but I anticipate that the negotiations will appear, certainly to the public and much of the watching media, to be painfully slow and dull. That is the very nature of trade deals and, as with many EU negotiations, the expectation is that the deal will not be sealed until the very last moment, at the end of March 2019.
Other issues will inevitably become significant throughout the year. The US-UK relationship will undoubtedly come under further pressure as Trump continues to create ripples in both domestic and international politics. A predicted state visit to the UK in February 2018 would heighten tension and potentially spark demonstrations which would add pressure to an already strained personal relationship between May and Trump.
May, for the moment, appears to be safe, largely because no-one else in the Conservative Party wants her job. Yet. Her position in January 2019 might well be far more precarious, but for now, she is safe. Chances of another election are low, but with a minority government being propped up by the DUP, there is always the possibility that the status quo might be upset and another election become necessary. If that were to happen, Jeremy Corbyn would be in a strong position but not an unassailable one, despite what he and his supporters say. At this point in the Brexit negotiations, with the problems which the Conservatives are facing, it would be expected that the opposition would be far ahead in the polls, rather than neck and neck. He could win, but it certainly wouldn’t be a sure thing. What is more certain is that the Liberal Democrats are not currently making a lot of headway in the polls, and I expect they will spend most of 2018 trying to deal with this most frustrating issue.
I would anticipate that 2018 will be a fairly quiet political year in comparison to the years which have proceeded it. However, predictions make fools of us all, and we are all at the mercy of ‘events, dear boy, events’.
Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Leeds (@VHoneymanLeeds)
It’s make-your-mind-up time for Jeremy Corbyn
Professor Tim Bale
This year is a big year for Labour when it comes to Brexit. So far the party has supposedly benefited from the so-called constructive ambiguity that has characterised its stance on the issue and which has allowed it to hold on to both Leavers and Remainers. But 2018 may well be make-your-mind-up time for Jeremy Corbyn. Will he stay on the fence or will he jump off it?
The pressure to jump will be enormous – all the more so because, potentially anyway, it won’t just come from his MPs but from grassroots members. Our Party Members Project research suggests that the latter are overwhelmingly (to the tune of eight or nine out of ten of them) in favour of staying in the single market and the customs union; it also suggests that three-quarters of them would like to see a second referendum.
Corbyn and his advisors are used to playing off members and MPs against each other, but on Brexit that’s not going to be so easy. Both the PLP and the grassroots want a soft Brexit or, in many cases, no Brexit at all – and they know that time is running out to persuade a sceptical Labour leadership to do the right thing.
The fact that delegates at last year’s Labour conference agreed not to talk too much about Brexit suggested that ordinary members love Jeremy more than they love Europe. Whatever else it brings, 2018 should reveal whether that’s still the case.
Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London (@ProfTimBale)
Theresa May won’t be Prime Minister by Christmas
Dr Ben Worthy
Few Prime Ministers have fallen so far, so fast as Theresa May. In the space of a year, she went from all-powerful Thatcher to a beleaguered Major. Like her predecessor, all her supposed master strokes, praised by the media, proved to be huge, self-inflicted errors. Her opting for a hard Brexit in October 2016 drove soft Brexit voters to Labour. Triggering article 50 in March 2017 gave away the UK’s one real piece of leverage in the negotiations. And calling a General Election in June 2017 gave Corbyn the chance to drive a stalemate. Even the much praised idea of putting Boris in the Foreign Office backfired. Instead of being trapped in a Golden Cage, he now bounds around like the proverbial loose cannon he is, plotting, and generally smashing up the quarterdeck. She now hangs, Ramsay Macdonald like, in office without authority. She stays there, if Tim Shipman is to be believed, only because Boris botched his last two coup attempts in June then September, and Ruth Davidson is still considering her ‘options’.
Why won’t May survive in power? First, she has no wide circle of supporters either in Cabinet or party to act as a shock absorber. Any party that must constantly express its support for their leader clearly has its mind of regicide. Her only real ally is Damian Green (exactly). Second, she is trapped, like Gordon Brown, in narrative of failure and can’t catch a break. Third, she presides over a severely dysfunctional Downing Street, if the wholesale exodus of staff is anything to go by. Before the election she headed a regime of terror run by her two chiefs. Now, if this piece still holds, she pervades a ‘remote and grim’ atmosphere. Her staying in power flies in the face of the golden rule of politics: for Prime Ministers, things always get worse.
There is, however, a twist. Though May won’t stay as Prime Minister, the Fixed Term Parliament Act and fear of Corbyn will keep the government in place. Step forward, Prime Minister Rudd*.
Ben Worthy, Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck, University of London (@BenWorthy1)
(*All my predictions are wrong-see here.)
Could trust in politics rebound this year?
Dr Matt Wood
Could 2018 be the year when trust in politics and politicians rebounds? Anti-politics has been a consistent theme over the past decade in western democracies. Politicians, and the state more generally, have struggled to rebound from the hit in trust they took a decade ago during the global financial crisis. In many ways, that event continues to reverberate. The OECD’s Government at a Glance report collates latest data on confidence in government around the world, and shows ‘42% of citizens reported having confidence in their national government in 2016 compared to 45% before the crisis’. Compared to the media, business and NGOs, political institutions are viewed with distain. Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer showed politics trusted by only 41% of global survey respondents.
And yet…there were signs this year of people’s bubbling desire for re-engaging with the political world, or at least advocating for a different kind of politics. In the UK a ‘youthquake’ – unexpected increase of nearly 20 percentage points in voting by 18-29 year-olds - characterised this year’s snap general election. In the United States, women especially have become significantly more likely to run for political office. A report by Rutgers University shows almost double the number of women have been identified as potential candidates for the House of Representatives in 2018, compared to 2016. While the past two decades have been a tale of political disillusionment and distain, don’t be too sure 2018 will follow suit.
Matt Wood, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sheffield (@WoodPoliticShef)
Brexit progress will put pressure on Corbyn to forge his own path
Dr Andrew Crines
As 2017 gives way to 2018, it is easy to conclude that Brexit will remain at the centre of British Politics. This will continue to touch all other arguments concerning the NHS, the Union, constitutional reform (particularly in Northern Ireland) and, of course, the economy. Whether any answers will be forthcoming depends largely upon the ability of the government to devise a strategy that produces a clear path to Brexit and beyond. At the moment the government seems focused more on survival. Yet its survival seems increasingly likely given May has managed to hold onto power since June 2017, Brexit will become clearer to envisage. This puts pressure on Corbyn to forge his own path, who so far has taken the collapse of the Conservative government as a given. This is likely to be a mistake. For Labour their trajectory – their momentum – has been on a series of assumptions that have yet to materialise. There has been no Tory leadership challenge, nor has May called a second referendum, or a second 2017 general election. As such, Labour will need to formulate a new strategy that could see the next election as late as (yet on schedule) in 2022*.
*Don’t hold me to any of that!
Andrew Crines, Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool and Co-Convenor of the PSA Politics and History Group (@AndrewCrines)
Brexit divisions may spill over into other areas of Parliament
Dr Marc Geddes
Without a majority for the government in the Commons nor the Lords, everyone should be paying close attention to Parliament over 2018 as Brexit negotiations intensify. Last year’s General Election gave a renewed sense of importance and purpose to the UK Parliament. Just last month we saw the government lose its first vote on the floor of the Commons on the EU Withdrawal Bill. We will see continuing debates within the Conservative Party, and it will be interesting to see if the Party can hold a unified position together. Negotiations over the Irish border will continue and could cause further questions for the Conservative-DUP deal – and hence the slim majority for the government in the Commons. But also, in 2018, the Labour Party will have to make a decision about Brexit and where it stands. If and when those choices are made, intense debates and possible cross-voting will follow. With so much focus on Brexit and the divisions it is causing between all parties, it will be interesting to see if this spills over into other government business in public bill committees and scrutiny of the executive through select committees.
Marc Geddes, Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Edinburgh and Co-Convenor of the PSA Parliaments Group (@MarcGeddes).
National states will need to deal with the return of those who fought for Islamic State
Dr Parveen Akhtar
2017 saw the fall of the Islamic State’s so-called Caliphate. It lost all its territory in Iraq and clings onto power in a few small pockets in Syria - having been ousted from the Syrian city of Raqqa which, in 2014, the group had declared its capital. So, what now for a group which emerged essentially as a franchise of Al Qaida in Iraq and profited from 15 years of chaos and unrest in the Middle East?
In 2018, nation states across the globe will have to continue to deal with the return of nationals who fought with IS in Iraq and Syria. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia were countries which made up the largest proportion of foreign fighters for Islamic State. In Europe, France, Germany and the UK saw between 900 – 1900 nationals enter the war in Iraq and Syria between March 2016 and August 2017. Whether and how returning fighters will be re-integrated into wider society is a pressing issue as the New Year begins.
And whilst Islamic State may have been defeated in Iraq and most of Syria, the history of al Qaeda, its precursor, is essentially that of opportunistic mutation. In the Middle East, 2018 has started with unrest in Iran; anti-government protests have led to a reported 22 deaths since the uprisings began in the last days of 2017. Unrest is IS’s preferred scenario to exploit – a situation in which it can go underground, re-group and, if necessary, re-brand.
Parveen Akhtar, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University (DrParveenAkhtar).
Image: Giggling Gigi CC BY-NC-ND