Predictions for 2017: How the Lib Dems can stay one move ahead

Anyone who watched politics, the Premier League or Strictly in 2016 will know that making predictions can seem like a fool’s game. As much as you might think you’ve got the future mapped out, sometimes bizarre things happen and those who thought they were in the know end up with egg on their faces. This is part of life and part of politics. However, the unpredictable nature of 2016 should not mean that we refrain from thinking ahead to what might happen in 2017. If a chess player decided that he or she had no idea what the next ten moves would bring so didn’t bother planning ahead, they would find themselves checkmated pretty quickly. With that in mind, here are my top three political predictions for 2017 and how I think the Liberal Democrats can capitalise on them.

Jeremy Corbyn will still be Labour leader come 2018

There has been plenty of speculation lately, as has been the case since day one of his tenure, about the future of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Fabian Society and Unite leader Len McCluskey are the latest to come out with less-than-helpful comments about him. But whatever seeming pressure there is on Corbyn, he has won two leadership elections now, surviving  the most extraordinary internal coup with a bolstered mandate from members. Forcing him out will be a near impossible job for Labour and I can’t see him resigning himself. If he was going to take the humble way out why didn’t he do it when 80% of his MPs turned on him in the no confidence vote? This means that the Liberal Democratss will likely have another year of being the only major UK wide Party united against Brexit. Banging the drum for the 48% who voted Remain, and holding the Government to account over its handling of its EU negotiations should remain our raison d’etre for now. Even if some start to see us as a single issue Party, it doesn’t matter in my view. Growing a small Party into a big one is often done by focusing on a single issue and then expanding from there. 

Paul Nuttall will make UKIP a powerful force again

Despite their EU referendum victory, UKIP managed to have a pretty turbulent year in 2016, with various resignations, public spats and PR disasters plaguing the Party. This is likely to change now though. Their new leader Paul Nuttall is a working class, says-it-like-it-is, charismatic scouser who will have huge appeal in Northern pro-Brexit towns that have previously voted Labour. A revitalised UKIP outfit will pressure Theresa May from the right and lobby for a Hard Brexit. This will give us the opportunity to point out how divided the Brexit camp is, from Boris Johnson who seems to want Brexit in name only, to UKIP, who want us to cut all ties with Europe and never speak to them again. While UKIP sorting themselves out is a negative for us on some levels, the right arguing amongst themselves could become an advantage.

Liberal/Progressive voices around the world will stage a comeback

Brexit, Trump, the referendum in Italy… It would be easy to say that this wave of momentum towards populist, right-wing movements in the West will continue in 2017, both in polls and in the ballot box in places like France. I don’t think so.

Populist movements are stronger in opposition, when simple solutions can be offered for the complex problems of the day. But now that things like Brexit and Trump are becoming a reality, there will be a backlash. Moderates will be galvanised and united in anger, and some people who voted for more populist messages will start to regret their decision when the realities of what they voted for start to arise. Let’s remember as well, that the winning margins for these movements was already very narrow last year: Brexit was 52-48, and Trump only won because of the Electoral College system in America. A progressive backlash would of course be fantastic for the Liberal Democrats, who, as long as they remain on message, could become a big part of it in the coming year.

So those are my predictions. Now all we need is for Corbyn to get ousted, Nuttall to resign, and Marine Le Pen to storm to victory, and you can all have a good ol laugh at my expense!

* Jon is a political consultant for the public affairs agency Field Consulting, based in London. He joined the Lib Dems after Brexit and wants a People’s Vote.

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21 Comments

  • Chris Bertram 4th Jan '17 - 12:07pm

    “Their new leader Paul Nuttall is a working class, says-it-like-it-is, charismatic scouser who will have huge appeal in Northern pro-Brexit towns that have previously voted Labour.”

    Up to a point – I think he will turn out to be a Marmite politician, and could easily alienate voters who were seduced by Nigel Farage’s “bloke in the pub” act. He also has some credibility issues and I see no reason for us not to highlight these. Let’s do our best to encourage UKIP to fight each other like ferrets in a sack, not that they seem to need much encouragement from outside.

  • paul barker 4th Jan '17 - 12:40pm

    Thanks for an interesting article.
    The crucial point about Labour is that their membership have taken a collective decision to leave the mainstream & remake their Party as one of Protest or Revolution. Their support will decline because they are appealing to a small section of Voters. If Corbyn goes he will be replaced by someone from the same wing of The Party so that, after a brief honeymoon the fall will continue.
    UKIP have made themselves irrelevant by their own succsess, in effect we have a “Blukip” Government. I expect UKIPs very slow decline to continue & we should overtake them this Summer. Its worth remembering that they are going to have a very bad result in Mays Local Elections, simply because they will be fighting Seats last fought when they were at their peak.
    This can be ayear of steady progress for us.

  • Geoffrey Payne 4th Jan '17 - 1:00pm

    I wish I could be as optimistic about the progressive backlash. It reminds me of the SWP members voting Tory to intensify the class struggle which they believe is theirs to win.
    We should think twice before dancing on the grave of Labour. Of course we should aim to win their votes. But Labour voters who switch to UKIP may well create a permanent right wing majority.

  • I’m not convinced Nuttall will get anywhere. UKIP has always worked as raging against the establishment elites. Having won their generational battle last year, UKIP are now stuck with the establishment on their side and I think that will take years to define.

    Nuttall seemed lost and waffling about Article 50 when I saw him on the tv in Sleaford – I think he will last but UKIP will have less and less influence, and it’ll still be Nigel Farage interviewed time after time.

  • Thanks for the constructive comments everyone. Regarding Chris’ response, yes I think Paul Nuttall will be marmite, but UKIP are always going to be marmite, and it benefits them. Nigel Farage is marmite and he was hugely successful in terms of growing the Party and achieving their goals! And tpfkar, they haven’t won their battle yet, as the kind of Brexit we get is still very much up in the air!

  • I think it’s essential for the Lib Dems that UKIP do just well enough to split the right wing vote and weaken the Tories. But not too well, obviously. Labour under Corbyn are toast anyway.

  • “Paul Nuttall will make UKIP a powerful force again”. ???

    Farage was the worst sort of Golf Club bore………,
    ………. but Nuttall wouldn’t even be admitted to the Golf Club…….

  • Labour will do Okay. Not many labour voters are going plump for a party of the economic right. Plus as percentage nearly as many Lib Dems voted Leave as labour voters. UKIP’s survival was pretty much reliant on a Remain vote. Most of it’s vote will swing back to the Conservatives. Also by the 2020 the process of leaving the EU will either be complete or close to completion. It’s a fixed term parliament.

  • Nuttall’s problem is getting out of Farage’s shadow. I think he will fail to do so.

  • It would be a mistake to assume that Labour’s woes are exclusively or even mainly the fault of Corbyn. What is often not appreciated is that old class-based social democratic parties elsewhere in Europe have been experiencing similar electoral setbacks. For example, the Spanish PSOE has been losing votes to Podemos hand over fist, and the German SDP to the Greens. In the Basque Country, the PSOE has lost most of its support to the left-wing nationalist group, Bildu, very much mirroring Labour’s collapse in Scotland. This may have much more to do with the weakening of working-class identity than poor leadership or being too left-wing. A more competent and moderate leader (Hilary Benn, say) would probably improve Labour’s polling performance in the short-term, but I suspect not by very much.

    If Paul Nuttall thinks he can win Labour seats in the North of England he has a rude awakening coming. Far right parties have rarely had much success in winning over the urban working-class. In order to do that, UKIP would have to change its economic policy, it would have to become a Strasserite rather than a conservative nationalist party. If it did so, the rich businessmen who provide the funding would take their money elsewhere, and much of the membership would walk. UKIP is anti-EU precisely because its members are passionately opposed to regulation. Nuttall himself is unlikely to appeal to traditional British nationalists, for two reasons: (1) he is a Roman Catholic, and (2) he comes from Liverpool.

  • We need to be careful in regards to being seen as a single issue anti brexit party because from our by election results we are winning in areas that voted leave based on the hard work we do at local level not because of our anti brexit stance.

    In order to win over voters we do need to start talking policy on other issues too, the 48%of remain voters are not going to change from labour or tories unless we appeal to them on other policies.

    As for 2017, we need to continue winning by elections and work from the ground up at local level, get good results in the local elections in May by getting across that message that we are community party that listens to people on the doorstep, but we also need other policies that will appeal other than anti brexit.

    If ukip start pulling right leaning labour voters then we need to start pulling the middle moderates. We need something to appeal them.

    As for the fight against the tories, we are seeing good results against them which suggests we are winning back voters who have voted for us previously, even in leave areas.

    All I’m saying is people higher up in the party need to realise that us on the ground got shat on because of the coalition and that it is us on the ground that are building the party back up, hence we need more ammunition than ring anti brexit.

    I like Tim don’t get me wrong but we need the alternative ideas to be put forward and he needs to play the anti elite card.

  • Simon Freeman 5th Jan '17 - 6:53am

    I see Labour sticking around 25-30% in polls. Lib Dems aim to keep that figure nearer to 25% and should be able to push up to around 15% themselves and make steady progress in council elections. Tory leaning UKIP voters to go back to the Tories but win some anti-European Labour voters, whilst other Labour voters don’t vote at all. LibDems have some success winning over pro-European pale blue Tories.

    if there is a General Election I predict : Con 40% Lab 25% LibDem 15% UKIP 10% Green 2% SNP/Plaid Cymru 5%

  • Jon – thanks for the interesting article. It has provoked a good discussion.
    The UKIP/Nuttall question is intriguing. I’ve always thought that he would be effective as leader, but he has made very little impact so far. I know it’s early but I believe that any leader’s first 100 days are an important opportunity, and I expected him to come out really storming, grabbing headlines and re-calibrating UKIP after their awful few months. But he hasn’t really done that, and I detect a sense of uncertainty. As others have said, the party has some identity issues now – and Farage’s reluctance to leave the stage can’t be doing PN’s blood pressure any good !
    I agree with you on the Liberal fight-back: there is a growing sense that the 48% are not going to just lie down, and our party is in the ideal position to become a focal point of that. I must admit I’ve had some concerns myself about us being seen as a one-issue party, but on reflection I think you are right: this should be our strategy for now – but it’s important that we talk about our EU stance in the context of our core values. (Sarah Olney’s speech at the count is an excellent example of this).
    The other thing we must do, of course, is campaign, campaign, campaign. I mean at local level – and I think we are doing that. Morale in the party is surprisingly good at the moment. I feel that we have a sense of determination and self-confidence that we’ve lacked for 5 or 6 years. It’s going to be hard work, but the old fighting spirit is there again. We just have to get out there and do what we do best.

  • @Matt
    ‘In order to win over voters we do need to start talking policy on other issues too, the 48%of remain voters are not going to change from labour or tories unless we appeal to them on other policies.’
    I would like to strongly endorse this statement. At least Labour have an alternative economic policy. It would seem like the LibDems are seen as a party of ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’. Strong on principles but indistinct on policy. Try this for a start:
    http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/the-land-song/ .

  • @TonyJ thank you for your comment. Glad my article has been of interest to you.

    I think you make a good point that Nuttall has started slowly. I get the impression that there are still some internal issues going on in UKIP that the public don’t necessarily know about. But once the dust settles in UKIP as I still think it will eventually, the right man is at the wheel to drive them forward, he’s very effective in a similar way to Farage but without Farage’s flaw of coming from a very privileged background.

    On the single issue Party thing – we obviously shouldn’t *just* go on about Brexit but for now, no one is going to publish an article on the Lib Dem tax plans. We have to ride the wave of what’s hot and what we have support on. I also don’t like the idea of us being “the anti-Brexit Party” forever. Not least because I am not someone who wants to ultimately see the Lib Dems block Brexit. In my view it has to happen but it should be our job to hold the Government’s handling of it to account and lobbying for a soft Brexit.

  • Peter Watson 5th Jan '17 - 2:20pm

    @Jon Andrew “no one is going to publish an article on the Lib Dem tax plans”
    Out of interest, what are the Lib Dem tax plans?
    Surely LibDemVoice could usefully publish such an article. I’ve commented elsewhere that it is difficult to pin down specific Lib Dem policies (other than ‘anti-Brexit’), and even the party’s own website is not much help.

  • Simon Banks 5th Jan '17 - 5:15pm

    I don’t think anything can create a permanent right-wing majority, not even Scotland leaving the UK, which would push the UK much further right than anything Nuttall can do. Where one party or alliance seems totally dominant, over time it either sheds votes as it fails on key issues and has to take decisions that split its supporters, or the dividing line shifts as it did in 1979-97, with the overconfident rulers alienating people on the margins of their support and the opposition moving to recruit them.

    Nuttall could take a lot of Labour votes in the Labour heartland without winning any seats in a general election or costing Labour any seats. In the seats where Labour could win or lose on a fairly small swing, Nuttall’s politics will have limited appeal and in places like Harlow or York Central he’ll take working-class intolerant Tory votes as well as Labour. He may also find funders a little more cautious and the tragi-comic record of UKIP councillors will begin to haunt the party.

    The factors that led to a lurch to the populist right are still there and some will get worse, but looking further ahead than 31.12.2017, that lurch was mainly among older people. The attitudes of most younger people here and the UK suggest the future is comparatively Liberal, if only we can stay alive long enough to get there.

  • If UKIP intend to outflank Labour on its left then the logical move for the Lib Dems is to outflank Labour on its right and to try and get through to the Tory business vote. There are many Labour voters who are concerned that Brexit could damage jobs and could lead to more austerity. Equally there are many Tories who are worried that Brexit will be bad for the economy and lead to tax rises and stunted growth.

    We should fight the next election on ending austerity, cutting taxes which are higher than need be because of Brexit and on increasing spending on vital public services. We should unveil posters showing the Tory tax bomb that will follow Brexit and the cuts to services they will make. We should show an unemployment queue caused by Brexit. We should ram the Tories own messages back down their throats and go for some of their core vote.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Jan '17 - 9:43pm

    Christian, never mind the next election, we have a by-election to fight in West Cumbria (where was a 62% vote for Leave I believe) in the immediate future: the hustings to choose our candidate are next week. What to say on the doorsteps? I think Jon Andrew is right that we emphasise that we are the only major UK-wide party united about Brexit, and we add that we believe people should have a chance to say whether they accept the negotiated settlement that is to come. We can perhaps point out the immediate consequences of rising prices, continuing uncertainty for manufacturers and financial services, vast amount of government officials’ time to be spent on getting us out, division in the Government and Labour Party alike, and very doubtful trade advantages in the long run. ( Other emphasises, better approaches? Do suggest.)

    Matt, backed by P.J.. is right that in this year we will need to start talking policies on other issues, but I think the other issues arising will perhaps allow us to highlight our policies : for instance, with the continuing decline of local services, the plight of working people on declining benefits, the rising cost of living and the crises in the hospitals and social care. Meantime, though, as people like Mike S. have argued on earlier threads, we need to project a strong identity, and our strong stance on Brexit and on the EU does indeed provide it. P.J.’s welcome link to the splendid article on the history of the Land Song does incidentally remind us that our identity is neither new nor nebulous, but rooted in more than a hundred years of promoting Liberal values.

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