Our Opinion On: Politics in 2013
Big Ben’s bells have chimed which has brought in a New Year, despite the chatter of 2012 doomsday conspirators. And with a New Year, comes an age old tradition – no, not the merry singing of Auld Lang Syne, but predictions and guessing of what lies in store for us all in 2013. But when it comes to doing this for British politics, this is no easy task. A week is a long time in politics after all. If so, how long does that make a year feel? Yet despite the ability of British politics to continually surprise even the most hardened analysts, it is nonetheless boldly done, despite its potential to make predictors look rather foolish come the following year.
For the Conservatives, 2012 has seen them face continued public opposition. The crowd responses at the Paralympics made that clear. The bite of economic austerity is being felt by many and will only get worse in 2013, especially with tighter local budgets bringing it more locally than ever. Benefit cuts will hurt the poor which will fuel anger, especially while others prosper. There are of course many who accept the Conservative position as being necessary to clear up Labour’s mess. They may not like austerity, but they understand it. This conflicting argument is one Cameron has so far struggled to win, but he has at least been able to ride roughshod over this criticism. He continues to argue that he’s making tough choices which by 2015, will be understood by the electorate. Despite his government’s tendency for u-turns, he will not change from this position in 2013, even if they are hit in local elections.
He will be more tested though by those within his party. Backbench muttering has been a part of Cameron’s time in office and could worsen in 2013. It will be the issues of Europe and gay marriage where this’ll come to a head. Both topics fire the right like few others – Commons exchanges pay witness to that. Both will be at the forefront come 2013 as gay marriage legislation gathers momentum and EU financial woes drag on. How Cameron tackles these will be crucial for his premiership, especially with the spectre of UKIP. Though Nigel Faragh’s party is unlikely to get much stronger than it already has in 2013, UKIP will nevertheless entice backbenchers as to some they suggest what the Tories could be. Any electoral success, no matter how small, will only add to this. Cameron has yet to appear fazed by popular discontent but he has found it harder to ignore the grumbles of his own party. Without changes in these policy areas, Cameron may well seek to instil greater parliamentary order through a return of Andrew Mitchell who, having gone from a symbol of Tory snobbery to a victim of a Police stitch-up, could be ripe for a return to Cameron’s inner circle before the year is out.
For their junior partners, 2013 will be another hard year. Coalition government has deeply hurt the Liberal Democrats, for while the Conservatives openly admitted in the election that they would make difficult choices, the Liberal Democrats did not. Their voters feel betrayed over this and Clegg has failed to change these opinions. His grovelling apology over tuition fees in September did nothing to change minds, the reaction being ridicule rather than redemption. With election oblivion lurching nearer, Clegg will again try to create some distance between themselves and the Conservatives and prove that his party does matter. Attaining this whilst retaining an allure of coalition unity won’t be easy and so will fall on deaf ears, just as it did in 2012. Losing their deposit in the Corby by-election in November and a defeat to a Penguin in local elections was just further proof of the punishment being handed to them and there is little chance this will change in local elections in 2013. For Clegg, the vultures continue to circle and more defeats at the local level, the heart of the party and all it stood for, will increase their cry for blood. Clegg and his band of supporters have remained defiant through electoral defeats, but another year of losses will only increase anxiety that the full wrath of the electorate will result in annihilation in 2015. Clegg will hang on in 2013, but mainly because the party’s hierarchy has been tainted by their foray into government. His days as party leader are surely numbered if the party continues to face the level of public wrath it has seen so far, but it seems he will only leave after the clear out expected in 2015.
And what of Labour? Times of economic hardship are inevitably difficult for incumbents and rewarding for challengers and Labour has indeed prospered with a number of key by-election results, especially in their taking of Louise Mensch’s Corby seat. They have done well, but not as well as they should have. The effects of austerity should provide fertile ground for Labour, but they have struggled to really pull themselves sufficiently clear in opinion polls. Part of this is because there are many who blame Labour for the problems felt today. They spent too much, saved too little and now the Conservatives have to mop up their extravagance. But it is also because they have lacked policy substance. Attacking Government is easy, offering alternatives though is hard and it these that are needed for opposition to be ready for power. Their re-brand as ‘One Nation’ in 2012 was a step in the right direction, even if it is lifted from the Conservative Prime Minister Disraeli. More specifics are needed though, most of all economically. Miliband has attacked Conservative policies, but he has lacked substance. To succeed then, Miliband must build on this brand, for only through this can the party be considered a credible future government. They could achieve electoral success in the short term without it and local elections in May could well show more success, but Miliband must know that they still have more to do to convince voters. This may mean confronting the party’s past and admitting the difficult decisions they too will make, but Miliband will have to start this in 2013 if he is to build any momentum before the general election. If not, 2013 will have Labour treading water, doing well compared to the others but not enough to really make the gains needed to challenge for outright majority in 2015.
So there you have it then, a glimpse (perhaps) into the future of British politics and it does seem that 2013 could be a crossroads sort of a year. It is the halfway point of the parliamentary cycle after all and with that brings positioning ahead of a two year push towards the polls, the result of could well be as unclear as those in 2010. To that we can add policy focuses which along with the economy will likely include the EU and, with key dates in 2014, Scottish independence and the role of British forces as they scale down from Afghanistan. All of these go to the heart of what is Britain’s place in the world which, like the domestic political situation, is ready to be shaped in the coming year. It could well be then that in 2013 things might start to get really interesting.