Politics Predictions For 2018

We’re living in interesting times again, aren’t we?

The US developments, where the Republican party seem determined to literally kill millions in order to provide tax breaks for billionaires, and to do so quickly so that a fascist tyrant who got fewer votes than his opponent and is under investigation for treason might be able to have a legislative achievement to crow about, are of course depressing as hell in a myriad ways. But at this point, there’s not much more to say about US politics than that. It’s a horrorshow, and I just hope that as many of my friends as possible get through this period alive, before the US returns to the “normality” that is “only” massacring brown people outside its borders, if it ever does.

But the UK is in a similarly weird position at the moment, with regard to the Brexit clusterfuck. I have no interest in relitigating the referendum, unlike many of my fellow “Remainers”, because I don’t think we’d come off any better given a second shot. I do, however, hope that some sort of sense will prevail within Parliament.

I strongly suspect it won’t, though, and if I’m right we can expect some pretty horrible consequences over the next couple of years. Here’s what I think is the most likely path for the next few years. That doesn’t mean I think this is what is going to happen — I’d put the chance of this precise set of events at no more than about five percent, as politics has been so completely unpredictable recently, and something I’ve not even considered will undoubtedly happen. I just think that this is more likely than any other scenario I can imagine.

First, the problem is that the current government’s aims are, literally, impossible. Because of Theresa May’s hubristic decision to call an election in June this year, we now have a minority Conservative government, relying on the support of the right-wing headbangers in the DUP (for those who don’t follow British politics, they’re roughly equivalent to the Roy Moore wing of the Republicans, and they’re only active in the province of Northern Ireland). The DUP are even more fanatically pro-Brexit than the Conservatives, so one might expect this to be a fairly straightforward matter.

The problem is that the Conservatives have committed to wanting a deal with the EU, but to leaving the Single Market and Customs Union when Britain leaves the EU. This is their single biggest pledge at the moment, and the thing their own supporters will judge them on.

However, leaving the Single Market and Customs Union would involve putting a hard border up on the island of Ireland, between the Republic of Ireland (an independent country and member of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Almost no-one in Ireland, on either side of the border or of any political persuasion, wants this to happen. A hard border would require border checkpoints, customs declarations, and other such things. These would, even in the most ideal world, be inconveniences — many people cross the border daily, and the free flow of people and goods between the two countries is one of the most important reasons for Ireland’s increased prosperity in the last twenty years.

But more importantly than that, the removal of those border checkpoints was one of the biggest reasons why the peace process in Ireland has worked as successfully as it has. For pretty much the whole of the last century, there was an ongoing civil war in Ireland, between the struggle for the RoI’s independence and the later euphemistically-labelled “Troubles”, and yet in the last twenty years or so the amount of violence in Northern Ireland has dropped to a tiny fraction of what it was. And that’s because the existence of a border is much less of a practical issue when you can just walk across it any time you like, rather than having to deal with barbed wire and soldiers with machine guns.

And the Conservatives can’t *not* put a hard border up without destroying their own party. The only way to not have a hard border would be for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market, but that would create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK, which the DUP won’t tolerate. And the Conservatives rely on the DUP.

So my best guess is that the Government will fall, and there’ll be another election in early 2018.

I see that election as not being that different from the last one, except that now no-one will expect a Conservative landslide. The Conservatives will run on “give us a mandate to finish the job properly”, Labour will run on “we’re not the Tories”, and the Lib Dems will run on a platform of “please don’t ask us to make a decision about anything, it makes us anxious” — otherwise known as “have a second referendum on the deal” (even though along with all the other problems with that policy, there’s the other problem that by that time there won’t actually be enough Parliamentary time to legislate for a new referendum before we drop out of the EU in March 2019).

Given the increased polarisation of politics in England and Wales (Scotland is a special case here, where people are no longer voting on left-right lines as far as I can tell, but on nationalist-unionist ones, and so unionists will vote for whichever of the Conservatives, Labour, or Lib Dems is most likely to win in their seat), I expect the Lib Dems to be squeezed even more, and for all of the people on Twitter who say “change your mind, Jeremy Corbyn, and start opposing Brexit, or I will no longer vote for Labour to keep the Tories out” to decide “I must vote Labour again, *just this once*, to keep the Tories out, but they’d better oppose Brexit next time or I shall shout at them again”.

My best guess for the result of such an election would be a hung Parliament, but with Labour the largest party, relying on the support of the SNP, Greens, and Lib Dems to get its legislation through.

My guess is that the Lib Dems would be reduced to a rump of five MPs at most, at which point the leadership will almost certainly say “we lost because we kept banging on about Brexit, we must never speak of it again”.

Labour will pursue a project of moderate social democratic reform, actually less radical and left-wing than the Lib Dems’ manifesto, but it will be condemned by the leadership of both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems as Maoist Trotskyist Stalinism (the Lib Dems’ leadership *always* makes the mistake of portraying Labour as being far more left-wing than they are, rather than portraying them as the authoritarian centralists they actually are). However, they will also continue with exactly the same strategy towards Brexit as the Conservatives have — they plan, just like the Conservatives, on leaving the Single Market, and have said so just as frequently.

At the end of the negotiations, in March 2019, there will therefore be no deal with the EU — leaving the Single Market would create a hard border in Ireland, the Republic of Ireland will never agree to that, and the Republic of Ireland (like all EU member states) has a veto on the deal.

The result, in March 2019, would be Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal. This would mean no imports or exports to EU member countries, a hard border in Ireland, and no flights into or out of the UK from EU countries, among other things. We would also lose the trade deals we have with every country in the world at the same time, as all those deals are with the EU, not with the UK.

The result of this would be food shortages within days, riots on the streets, and martial law, which would in turn lead to another election (presuming civil society could hold together enough to hold an election). While the actual cause of the food shortages and plane groundings would be leaving the EU, these would be portrayed by the Conservatives as having been caused by Corbyn being the reincarnation of Pol Pot, and a sign that even the very mild social democratic reforms Labour would have initiated had simply been too much.

The 2019 election would thus be a Conservative landslide, installing Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a mandate to “fix Labour’s mess” by “making the UK more business-friendly” — asset-stripping it for sale to billionaire oligarchs, and removing all our remaining freedoms in the name of business efficiency. At this point, Scotland probably goes the Catalan route and unilaterally declares independence and applies for emergency admission to the EU.

After that, what happens next I can’t say. But I doubt it’s anything good. England Prevails, probably.

But then again, one thing I should say about all of the above — I’ve tried making predictions about politics over the last few years. I’ve always tried to imagine the worst (from my point of view) that could happen and decided that was the most likely course of events. And yet every time, things have come out a few notches below my unimaginably-bad imaginings.

So take that into account. The above is written by an incurable optimist.

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9 Responses to Politics Predictions For 2018

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    I am a little more sanguine. I think that Labour are monitoring the mood of the electorate, and aware that an increasing (though still small) proportion of Leave-voters now want to remain. I suspect that they are biding their time so that they can come out as pro-Remain at a point where it will best support their electoral hopes. They may be playing rather a canny hand in not visibly opposing Brexit while the vast unquestionable 52% mandate still had apparent legitimacy, but but placing themselves to be “the real voice of the people” when enough of the electorate has seen enough bumbling from Davis, Johnson and co to have second thoughts. (Note: none of this necessarily says that the Labour party are good-hearted; just that their opportunism can work in ways that lead to good results.)

    If I’m right, what happens? As Dave Allen Green as pointed out, there’s not really enough time left to get through the legislation for a second referendum; but General Elections can happen much more quickly under existing legislation. Once Labour declare for Remain, it’s not inconceivable that other parties (DUP included) will rally behind a vote of no confidence in the May government, forcing a GE which would be a Second Referendum By Default: vote Tory to leave, Labour to Remain. Once you cancel out the Remainers who Will Always Vote Tory Because I Always Have, and the Leavers who Will Always Vote Labour Because I Always Have, we may well end up with a clear majority for Remain/Labour, at which point the first order of business for the new government would be withdrawing the Article 50 notification.

    It may be that all this is hopelessly optimistic, and that it gives Labour too much credit for strategic insjght. But I certainly think it’s at least a credible possibility.

    • misssbgmail says:

      “It may be that all this is hopelessly optimistic, and that it gives Labour too much credit for strategic insjght.”

      Yup. That was my thought reading the rest of your comment.

  2. plok says:

    It certainly seems to me as though Labour will not be capable of imagining themselves into a true anti-Brexit stance…from an outsider’s perspective, it looks as though the political culture of the UK has finally, thirty years on from Thatcher, made a clean break from reality. I keep saying this is a stealth constitutional crisis on a heretofore-inconceivable scale, and obviously it’s been happening in the U.S. too, since at least the time of GWB’s first election. Whatever the Trump Presidency is, it’s not an accident right? Because accidents are only 50/50, whereas total disasters require some small amount of intentionality behind them, to drive the worst-case scenario to the front of the pack of likelihoods. A thought that keeps going round in my head is that there’s a significant segment of the American population that wants to be in the generation that’s privileged to witness the End Times, actively or passively…just as the UK would, at some level, albeit abstractly, desire totalitarianism to emerge as the only remaining political compromise that can be tactically-achieved: the “natural conclusion” of all pluralistic debate over How We Do This. On my last visit to those islands of yours, I couldn’t reconcile the political narrative with the political facts-on-the-ground at all, you would’ve thought Ed Milliband was the second coming of Vladimir Ilyich by the way people talked, meantime Tory and Labour seemed functionally-indistinguishible by the way they actually carried on business. Why did they each seem to simultaneously decide that the infinitesimal Racist Vote was the vote to try to capture? Baffling. Over in the States, they’ve had a straight-up Nazi Problem for about twenty years or so, big enough to be visible without a microscope…in the UK, it looks like a radical enactment of Musical Chairs, to the point where it looks to me like if the Tories can’t be the ones to solve the Brexit Crisis, then the Brexit Crisis can’t be solved, and honestly how fucked-up is THAT. Incurable optimists unite! How weird does the world have to be when the only person who even might be moved to risk unpopularity by saving the day, is Boris-Fucking-Johnson?

    I have no answers. 72 years on from the last World War, it looks like we’re in something future history books might call “the Great Crisis”. We’ve managed our advanced technology quite well if we’re talking about nuclear catastrophe, but we might well be in the middle of a cyberwar right now, I mean how would we even tell if we were or weren’t? I mean: is this it? Is this what it looks like? A hundred years from now, it will be easy to look at the new maps and notice how different all the coastlines look, how previously-stable political entities have broken up and then re-formed. Right now it just looks like in the UK no one particularly wants to take the wheel and drive the bus…and crashing out into the ditch is just what’s going to happen.

    But I am hung over as I write this, so maybe I’m too willing to give voice to all my negative thoughts. If Tony Benn were here, he would tell me that democracy remains the sovereign remedy to all diseases of the future, and of course he would be right. We really only need a little more of it, eh? Every time we add a little more, the rules of the game totally change, new possibilities emerge, the spirit of utter disaster backs off a little bit, suddenly unsure of itself, just when it thought victory was absolutely certain and there was nothing left standing in the way.

    Hangovers. They’re not nice. I apologize to all and sundry if I have let a black mood take me over, here in somebody else’s comments…

    • plok says:

      Sorry, that was a really long comment. Maybe I just feel like I’ve been bottling all that up for a while? To walk around as a tourist in those British Isles is to notice how the vast majority of the people are really awesome, such an admirably realistic attitude, concentrated on the REAL THINGS, the things of actual life, life as it’s lived, how do we make it better, okay maybe we should all huddle up a little bit and figure something out. Then you pass by a newsstand and it all comes CRASHING DOWN AROUND YOU. I hope it won’t sound too backward of me to say that if we’re wondering how come there seem to be so many fucking vampires around these days, maybe we should consider that it’s probably because Rupert Murdoch keeps biting people, it’s not even just a UK problem, it’s a globe-spanning problem, WE HAVE A BIT OF A RUPERT MURDOCH PROBLEM HERE, PEOPLE, it seems like a simplistic analysis but maybe sometimes these things really are kind of simple? Left unchecked, billionaires can destroy countries, trade relationships, and any fragile peace that’s worth the name. Sorry, got angry again, between Rupert Murdoch and Tony Benn, Tont Benn will always emerge victorious, and the people, united, can never be defeated.

      I should eat.

      Thanks for letting me get this off my chest, everybody.

    • Scurra says:

      I have occasionally made the joke that the biggest mistake the UK and the US made in the 20th Century was winning the Second World War. Because we weren’t forced to examine and redefine our political systems as a result.
      And the problem with holing something like a supertanker is that one doesn’t realise there’s a problem until it’s far too late, and the whole thing suddenly and abruptly just splits in two and sinks to the bottom.

  3. Nick says:

    I’ve bene known to have some pretty dark thoughts about the future of politics, but I would diverge from yours in two places. First, I don’t think a Labour government that comes to power in 2018 is going to be as committed to Hard Brexit as you think they will be, especially if they’re reliant on other parties (particularly the SNP) to be in power. I think they’re already on course to saying they’ll stay in the Single Market and Customs Union (they’re not making any public change in position because they don’t want to take the focus off the government, plus various internal shenanigans) and if things collapse in chaos to bring about an election a ‘rescind Article 50 (or ask for extension) so we can negotiate it properly’ position also becomes workable in public opinion.

    Second, if I’m wrong about that, I don’t think we’d have explicit martial law followed by an election. I suspect we’d likely get manoeuvres that led to what’s effectively a technocratic takeover, presented as a National Government (including harking back to the 30s and 40s) and a general ‘the Sensible People Are In Control For The Duration Of The Present Crisis’ type of atmosphere. Possibly some sort of Coupon Election that allows a lot of Our Type Of People to enter Parliament and reduce the other parties to extremist rumps, and a Government that never goes full England Prevails but borrows a lot of the soft authoritarian tricks from various guided democracies in order to mute dissent. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, that sort of thing.

    • plok says:

      Wise words, and a good corrective to my teeth-grashing. And really it is all hugely-impossible, right? Is it possible that the UK simply falls off a Brexit CLIFF. I mean would the people stand for it, would they not overturn Parliament if suddenly NO ONE could get medically-approved treatment for their cancer or whatever. I’m not seeing “riots in the streets” so much as I’m seeing “last night, after a huge mob swamped Westminster and burned it to the fucking ground, Theresa May from a secure location issued a call for peace”…I mean it can’t even get that far?

      You can’t kill a million people in an afternoon, and think anybody’s going to be pacified by whatever the headline is in the Daily Mail, or what they say that night on the BBC. I’ll go along with (what I think) Nick is saying, and say Brexit merely leverages a death by inches.

      Sorry, I’m angry again. I don’t live there, so I should shut up.

  4. It seems increasingly that the fallout from Brexit is, if nothing else, to be resulting in a huge surge of anti-Irish feeling and Empire Strikes Back rhetoric. I’ve never seen so many English* politicians and media organs display their contempt for the Republic so openly, at this rate there’ll be calls for another invasion by the time the New Year arrives.

    *The DUP of course have always been doing this but they’re a special case, so much so that calling them “roughly equivalent to the Roy Moore wing of the Republicans” seems overly generous.

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