For many people, 2016 was seen as a terrible year. Their worst political nightmares came to be: Brexit, and Trump winning the US presidential elections being seen as the strongest cases in point. Yet for many others - including, most obviously, Nigel Farage, those same events were seen as their political dreams coming true. 2016 was a year to treasure!
Twelve months ago, very few pundits would have wagered on those results. So what does 2017 hold for the UK and beyond? Here we have the hostage to fortune as key issues are raised.
Within the UK, there are two key political events that will mould the political world. The first is the invoking of Article 50 to start the formal process of Britain leaving the EU, supposedly at the end of March. At this point in time, nobody seems to know what type of relationship the government would like to have with the EU. There have been vacuous sound bites: "Brexit means Brexit" and "a red, white and blue Brexit". Neither of these tell us anything about the possible future relationship between Britain and the EU. They have been little more than stalling tactics as Theresa May maps out the potential Brexit strategies available to the UK. The cynical may argue she plans these negotiations to be so bad for Britain that we will not leave the EU. To prevent any such strategy, no matter how farfetched it may seem, the response is 'hard Brexit'; leave now and negotiate new trade deals later. In doing so, Britain can negotiate with any other country in the world, including our new best friend, Donald Trump.
The second UK political event is the council elections in May, most notably the county councils. Labour need a successful election otherwise there will be further speculation against the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The problem here is simple: what is deemed to be successful? Four years ago, when these councils were last contested, Labour made some gains (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire), and there were Conservative losses (including Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire and the Isle of Wight), but overall it was still a successful night for the Conservatives. This time around, as well as holding on to those gains from four years ago, Labour need to take control of councils such as Cumbria, Lancashire and Warwickshire, as well as removing Conservative control of Staffordshire and even Leicestershire. Four years ago, the Conservatives won more than twice as many council seats as Labour. Thus the bar for success may be artificially low here, but the demands on the Labour Party to succeed will be excessively high. Failure here will see a Labour civil war re-ignited. Interestingly, both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats will play a key role in Labour's future.
Moving overseas, there are two sets of elections which will have a profound impact upon the UK. The first is the French Presidential elections in April and May; the second is the German elections, which will be held in the autumn.
At this moment in time, the French Presidential election appears to be a straight race between Marine Le Pen of the Front National and François Fillon of the Les Républicains. Both are fighting from the political right. In 2002, when Jacques Chirac won the presidency, he did so because the 'left' voted for him in the second ballot to defeat Jean-Marie Le Pen, the then-leader of the Front National. That support from the French left was given most reluctantly. This time around, such support from the left is less likely as Fillon, who is an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, wants to reduce the public sector and increase the pension age. The polls have Le Pen and Fillon neck-and-neck. Should Le Pen win, the issue of Brexit will be replaced by Frexit and the potential collapse of the EU.
The German elections may look to be more straight forward. Angela Merkel is expected to win and remain Chancellor. The issues will be over the margin of victory and the extent to which far right parties have success, most notably the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). At the turn of the year, support for the two major parties - the CDU and SPD - was on the decline, although they were still far ahead of the third placed AfD. It is the issue of immigration which seems to have mobilised some support for the AfD, along with the terror attacks which occurred in 2016. The issue in Germany is likely to be about which party will form a coalition with the CDU. This will distract from the Brexit negotiations, which may well be put on hold during the German election campaign.
On top of these elections, there are many other issues which could become prominent in the forthcoming year. The Trump presidency is the great unknown. Linked to this will be the relationship between the USA and Russia. It may be that Putin and Trump develop a relationship similar to that between Reagan and Gorbachev in the 1980s. From this relationship there will be a follow through on a number of other issues: dealing with the situation in Syria and Iraq, and the fight against so-called Islamic State being one of the more obvious, but also in dealing with issues related to climate change. It is highly likely there will be further efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic regions.
So for those who thought 2016 was a terrible year, there is the potential for 2017 to be even worse. Conversely, for those who look upon 2016 with fondness, 2017 may well deliver more of the same. Is your glass half-full or half-empty?