Henry G Manson peers into his crystal ball

Henry G Manson peers into his crystal ball

Will 2012 bring tests for all three party leaders?

First up in January David Cameron needs to make a judgement call on a tricky little situation involving Aidan Burley MP. The Conservatives are currently investigating the situation that resulted in the MP for Cannock Chase being present at a Nazi-themed stag party in a French Restaurant, praising the Third Reich and allegedly hiring the costume.

To make things worse Burley, now shorn of his PPS role and of future Ministerial opportunity, is also being investigated by the French Police alongside his chums since they may well have contravened an anti-Nazi law in place since the Second World War.

Reports show that the French police have already spoken to potential witnesses. With the prospect of a Tory MP being hauled over the Channel to face questioning by the French will Cameron cut his losses and chance a by-election? Apparently the Labour Party is on standby for a by-election but Cameron will surely do everything he can to avoid this.

Just as well we’re on such good terms with the French. With a French Presidential election around the corner there is a good chance the issue could get very political. A jail term technically isn’t out of the question though surely would be excessive. Who knows where this could lead.

I wonder if David Cameron will draw from his decisive action over expenses and cut Burley loose now to avoid risking a prolonged and embarrassing affair? It could be a gripping contest if he goes for it.

By mid-February we’re likely to get a sense of how retailers have faired over the Christmas period and January sales. My sense is that while turnover will be up the profit margins will be down. I couldn’t help but notice how many shops were discounting in the run up to Christmas and this could lead to a poor January. My nephew who looks at these things for a living is adamant there will be some big names going under with large job figures alongside that. .

The loss of well-known retailers could have a reasonably large political impact depending on how Labour respond. With the economy expected to have shrunk during in this current quarter there will again be another opportunity for Ed Balls to highlight his plan for a VAT cut. Look out for some new ideas and packaging from Labour on their Plan B. There’s been a lot of soul-searching over Labour’s inability to make inroads in the polls on the economy with every Tom, Dick and Harry giving their tuppence-worth. If the two Eds can’t land some heavy blows in February then they really should pack up and go home.

March is a key month under the Coalition. No not for the Budget, but for the annual Lib Dem Spring conference. Last year’s wrung some notable concessions from the Conservatives over health reform. What will this year’s bring? Opposing the raising cap on private patient income that can be earned by hospitals to 49% has to be up there as a possible contender. A real political stinkbomb. Perfectly timed ahead of local elections, this is still a democratic conference and has every potential to tweak the nose of Cameron or Clegg. Nick Clegg should expect a wishlist to go to Downing Street over. Watch out for whatever Evan Harris is up to. Any concessions will be followed by indignation from Tory backbenchers and some newspapers. One of these days it could get out of hand.

Check out Henry’s crystal ball in the coming days for a lively April-June 2012.

HenryG Manson @henrygmanson

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