THERESA MAY OR MAY NOT
Current odds for a 2017 election are 1/3. Here at Field we think that it is more like 50:50.
Normally there would be no chance of a General Election just two years after the last one. But these are not normal times. Theresa May is both incredibly weak and incredibly strong. She has a majority of just 10 in the Commons, no majority in the House of Lords, no electoral legitimacy or elected Manifesto she can draw upon, a comparatively large government deficit and an ongoing fight with much of the pro-Remain establishment on her hands.
But she is in theory enacting at 17 million vote for Brexit, has a poll lead of around 15 percent, faces the least popular opposition leader since polls began, and is likely to be able to ride a wave of patriotism when she triggers Article 50. The reasons for calling an election are that while her strengths are likely to diminish, her weaknesses are likely to grow. As clarity on Brexit emerges the Conservative party and parliament are likely to become increasingly unmanageable. Against that is the Prime Minister’s natural caution and fact that any election – even against Corbyn – is a roll of the dice.
An election and an increased majority however is still probably the best way to defuse her weaknesses and capitalise on her strengths. Our call is that by the end of this year Theresa May will either be riding high in a post-election glow or slowly collapsing under her own weakness. Whether or not her current reticence is a strategy or a deficiency will be a key factor shaping politics as a whole in 2017 – and the Copeland by-election in the next few months may be critical in deciding if there will be an election this year.
FIRST BREXITEER TO EXIT HERE
While Theresa May is very likely to still be in post by 2018, the same cannot be said of the three Brexiteers – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox. Appointed by the pro-Remain May, it aimed to ensure that Brexiteers could not blame her if things became difficult. But as the issues mount it is clear that the buck stops with May – she will be held to account for what Brexit looks like.
This realization is leading to sniping at the Brexiteers – most of all at Liam Fox. He is less of a big beast, is seen as less capable than the others, and has often managed to offend in his post as Secretary of State for International Trade – suggesting that British businesses were not doing a good enough job at exporting for example, rather than sticking to his brief and preparing the groundwork for future trade deals (where little progress has been made).
If one of the three goes, particularly Fox, a potential replacement is Dominic Raab. As someone generally seen as capable, who is close to David Davis and has impeccable Leave credentials, he would allow one high-profile Leaver to be replaced by a (more effective) other.
RESURRECTION OR REJECTION FOR THE LIB DEMS
2016 was a bad year for almost everything the Lib Dems stand for but ironically quite a good year for the Party itself. Britain’s vote to leave the EU has given the Lib Dem’s renewed purpose, as they now seek to pitch themselves as the only fully pro EU Party and the voice of the 48% who voted remain. This message worked in Richmond, where they stunned poor old Zac Goldsmith along with the rest of the political world with an against-the-odds victory.
But will we see this revival continue in 2017? The problem for the Lib Dems is that their Anti-Brexit message will only work in certain very pro-Remain areas. Richmond is not your average constituency. Infact if there is such thing as the metropolitan elite, that leafy West London constituency might just be its capital. In many other areas, particularly where the majority voted “Leave”, the Lib Dems’ Anti-Brexit message will probably be met with anger at what some will interpret as a movement to try and bypass the democratic will of the people.
In short, the Lib Dems are finally set to become a divisive outfit, who will have strong appeal in some areas, but will be disliked in others. This is the opposite of their image as a Party that sits on the fence and is everyone’s second or third choice. Under a First Past the Post system, being divisive tends to beat being “meh”, so in this respect their new approach is probably a good move strategically. But they will have to be careful. Some of the current Lib Dem MPs are in Leave areas. How will they feel about this new Lib Dem approach if it means they are at risk of losing their seats – the only seats the Party managed to hang on to after the mauling it received in 2015? We will have to wait and find out.
NUTTALL VS NIGEL
2016 was a good year for almost everything UKIP stand for but ironically quite a bad year for the Party itself… déjà vu? Yes, remarkably despite achieving their only long term goal as a Party UKIP have been in turmoil since the EU referendum. But their latest leader, as we have argued previously on The Word From Westminster, seems like a good fit for the job. Paul Nuttall is a true working class, football supporting, man down the pub, with charisma and passion. Like Nigel Farage but without the ridiculously posh background contradicting his image.
He has all the ammunition to reinvigorate UKIP. However, the question on our minds right now is where the hell is he? It’s early days yes, but your first 100 days as leader are very important and so far Nuttall as received almost no media coverage. Perhaps the ever present figure of Nigel Farage has made it difficult for Nuttall to get any of the limelight in UKIP. It can’t be easy to make yourself the Party’s number one when the previous leader is flaunting off to America to hang out with the President-elect in a golden lift, and being given his own radio show on LBC. For Nuttall to come into his own, it might be necessary for Nigel to actually take that break from politics he’s been promising us for the last year and a half…
WILL CORBYN SURVIVE
The ugly truth for Labour moderates is that Corbyn will continue as Labour Leader as long as he wants to. Recent polling has shown that overall Labour support is at a historic low and that Corbyn himself is the least popular opposition leader since polls began. In normal times we’d expect to see him booted out pronto. But these aren’t normal times and Labour is not behaving like a party normally would.
One of the main challenges Corbyn faces is to keep Labour relevant. There is a growing concern about what is seen as the leadership’s frequent silence and inability to make news. The upcoming Copeland by-election is an early test for Team Corbyn. The Party is defending a tight 2,500 majority. If Corbyn’s movement is to morph into an election wining tsunami, then it will need to convincingly hold this marginal seat.
Another challenge lays outside electoral contests. Len McCluskey, who has been one of Corbyn’s loudest supporters, will face re-election for general secretary of Unite in April. McCluskey has admitted that the union’s leadership contest is being used by moderates as a proxy war against Corbyn. Indeed, the left are doing the same. The cheerleaders for all things Corbyn, Momentum, is also facing internal challenges this year, with the organisation experiencing an ongoing civil war between its own far left factions. Political wisdom has it that divided parties don’t win election and Labour remains as divided as ever.
Trump and Farage have shown that populism is popular! Corbyn’s team have plotted a new strategy to ramp up his TV appearances in the hope his unpolished approach will cut through to voters if they are exposed to more of it. Trump’s presidential campaign proved that by taking a populist message and running with it, anything is possible, perhaps even when you’re 15 points behind in the polls.