It’s that time of year when everyone makes predictions about what is coming up. Oddly, you get rather fewer articles looking back at the previous year’s predictions. Funny that.
I make predictions each year to set out my considered thoughts and to see where they went wrong, in an effort to see where I can get better when assessing scenarios for my betting. So how did I do twelve months ago?
For once, not too badly at all. I made four broad predictions, as follows.
1) There will be a Brexit deal, substantially on the EU’s terms
This is what I wrote:
“Theresa May is using tactics without strategy. Politically, that serves her quite well, even if it isn’t good for the country. Despite caving in on more or less everything, the media coverage of her initial deal was excellent and her opponents on all sides were discomfited. Aside from a few rumblings from those Leavers whose preferred version of Brexit would be tectonic, she carried all before her at home.
We can expect to see the same trick repeated. Since the government has no strategy and no deal is worse than a bad deal, a bad deal will be done, substantially on the EU’s terms. This time the risk of hardliners opposing the deal will be much greater. There seems, however, to be a majority in the House of Commons for a bad deal. So I expect that a bad deal will be done and Theresa May will again look like a winner.
Much of the year will be taken up with alarums, excursions and brouhahas on the Brexit negotiations. We should ignore them all. We won’t.”
That stands up quite well. A deal was negotiated. It is a bad deal and substantially on the EU’s terms. OK, it hasn’t been agreed and it is already unravelling. You can’t have everything.
Why hasn’t it been agreed? What I got wrong was the intransigence of Leavers. I thought that they’d decided to compromise when they accepted the preliminary agreement last December. It turns out they simply hadn’t understood it. This gave Remainers the cover they needed to oppose it too. Brexit now looks in serious peril in a way I could never have imagined a year ago.
2) The party leaders will stay the same
This was a braver prediction than it looked at the time and I knew it. Theresa May spent most of the year fending off a challenge. Lib Dems have been predicting Vince Cable’s retirement ever since he took the job on. Even Jeremy Corbyn has had a more fraught year than he would have hoped for as some of his past activities have left him with a lot of explaining to do, explaining that he has been notably ineffectual at.
I will not be making the same prediction this year.
3) There will be more Cabinet departures
There were. Aside from the three who left in the January reshuffle (one of whom, James Brokenshire rapidly returned), five more fell by the wayside, four of whom did so over Brexit.
The long continuity of ministers under David Cameron is a thing of the distant past. The Cabinet is held together by short dowels rather than screws and nails.
4) Labour and the Conservatives will remain roughly neck and neck in the polls
I give myself full marks on this one too. The most recent poll from Opinium had both main parties on 39%. You can’t get much more neck and neck than that.
However, this is what I said about the referendum polling:
“I’m also not expecting to see too much change in the polling on the referendum decision. If a deal is concluded, as I now expect, and the economy does OK in 2018, Leave might well start to pull ahead a bit – maybe as far as 55:45. But the only concessions that the government has made to Remain supporters have been extracted by the EU.
If the government wants to start converting Remain supporters in numbers it is going to need to show that it can include their values in its vision of Brexit. Since it isn’t even trying, we can expect a hardcore group of Remainers for the indefinite future. Christmas 2018 is likely to have just as many family arguments about Brexit as Christmas 2017 and Christmas 2016. Happy New Year!”
Contrary to my expectations, Leave have been unable to convert their institutional advantages into a lead in the polls over Remain and as I write Remain’s lead is heading towards 55:45. However, I was right about the continuing lack of harmony between Leavers and Remainers. Positions are getting steadily more entrenched and becoming a part of many people’s personalities. That in turn will have a big part to play in how 2019 turns out. I shall turn to that next.