Saturday, December 29, 2012

Taxi for Balls? My political predictions for 2013

Andy Murray will win Wimbledon, Roberto Mancini will be sacked as manager of Manchester City, David and Victoria Beckham will return to the UK, and the X-Factor will finally be canned after ten not always glorious years.

Those were just some of the predictions for 2013 made by members of the public in a recent poll on what we expect to see happening in the year ahead.

But so much for the sport and showbiz; what of the politics?  Well, in last week’s column looking back at 2012 I suggested that the next 12 months may well see the Con-Lib Coalition that has governed the country since May 2010 finally splitting asunder.

It seems I am not alone in this view:  the prospect of Messrs Cameron and Clegg going their separate ways was also mentioned in the aforesaid poll, along with a rise in interest rates, a strike by NHS workers and the prosecution of a major bank for fraud.

So what’s causing the present bout of Coalition-busting speculation?  Well, anyone who heard Nick Clegg’s speech at the Royal Commonwealth Society shortly before Christmas will not be surprised that talk of divorce is in the air.

The speech was less about Lib Dem achievements in government as about what Mr Clegg’s party had prevented the Tories from doing.

It was all a far cry from the government’s early days when the Lib Dem leader had been determined that his party should jointly ‘own’ all of the Coalition’s policies - not just those which it had specifically advocated.

But that strategy was only destined to work so long as the Coalition was popular.   Once it started to be unpopular – as has happened in 2012 – it was inevitable that Mr Clegg would begin to embark on a strategy of differentiation.

It has been my view from the outset that the Lib Dems would somehow have to find a way of getting out of the Coalition alive in order to stand any chance of maintaining a significant parliamentary presence at the next election, and I expect this process to be accelerated in the coming year.

The internal politics of the two parties will play a big part.   If Mr Clegg does not, by the time of his party’s annual conference, set out some kind of exit strategy, he will almost certainly face a leadership challenge before the election.

At the same time, those Tory backbench voices which loathe the Lib Dems and all their works will grow louder, as they seek to press David Cameron into the more orthodox Conservative position that they believe – mistakenly in my view – will secure them an outright majority next time round.

I would expect the upshot to be that the Lib Dems will leave the government within the next 12-15 months, with the Tories moving to a “confidence and supply” arrangement for the remainder of the five-year Parliament.

But while the Coalition may struggle to maintain the semblance of unity, Labour leader Ed Miliband will also struggle to present himself as the Prime Minister-in-waiting that Mr Cameron and Tony Blair so obviously were in their opposition days.

Mr Miliband has had his successes, but the full rashness of Labour’s decision to choose him over his brother David will become clear over the next 12 months.

Overtures will be made to the South Shields MP to return the frontline as Shadow Chancellor in place of Ed Balls, whose closeness to Gordon Brown and the errors of the New Labour years will ultimately prove a fatal barrier to the party’s attempts to regain economic credibility.

But a likelier outcome is a comeback for the respected former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, who has successfully managed to distance himself from Mr Brown’s mistakes.

Mr Balls may not be the only major economic player to be shown the door in 2013.  If the economy continues to stagnate, Mr Cameron may also be forced to find a new role for George Osborne as the election draws nearer.

And with Mr Osborne out of the Tory succession picture, attempts will be made to build up Education Secretary Michael Gove as the alternative contender from within the Cabinet to counter the continuing threat of Boris Johnson.

Unlike poor old Mr Mancini, I don’t expect we will see any of the three main party leaders actually losing their jobs in 2013.

What we will see, though, is each of them having to take fairly drastic action in order to save them.

1 comment:

Barnacle Bill said...

I wouldn't write off Blinky Balls too soon Paul.
Mr & Mrs Balls are not going to give up the good life unless something better is on offer.
Which with the baggage they carry around from the Bottler years isn't going to be any easy pitch for them.
Personally I think Blinky will either go for the top job himself or, try to get Mrs Balls it.
All the best for 2013.