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Five Reasons Why 2016 Might Be One of the Most Politically Turbulent Years Yet

06/01/2016 17:30 GMT | Updated 06/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Even the most seasoned political pundits were left flummoxed by some 2015's most significant political developments. From a surprise Conservative majority in May to a landslide win for the far-left in the Labour Leadership election, last year was full of surprises.

This week ICG publishes our latest Political Preview here; a comprehensive overview of the political and policy landscape of 2016. The year following a General Election can be comparatively quiet as the Government embarks on their ambitious legislative agenda and the Opposition consider how to reconnect with the electorate, but this one looks likely to pack just as many punches. Here's why:

1) Brexit could be on the cards...

Britain's membership of the European Union is set to be the defining issue of 2016. We could be making transitions towards 'Brexit' by the end of the year. With David Cameron's renegotiation deal likely to be finalised at the EU Council Summit on 18-19 February, the referendum is increasingly likely to take place in June. The Prime Minister will be keen to send voters to the polls before the 'mid-term blues' set in, but the summer could also see a resurgence of the refugee crisis, which would be damaging for the "remain" campaign.

The outcome of the referendum looks too close to call at the moment, with a large section of the public remaining undecided. Voters in Scotland in particular will be tempted by a leave vote as offering a second independence referendum. Arguments about jobs and economic growth may cut through in London and the South, but the outcome will be decided by voters in the Midlands and North, many of whom were tempted by Ukip in 2015. Europhiles will be hoping that risk-aversion will nudge the swing vote towards the status quo.

2) Cameron could be gone by the end of the year...

If Downing Street decides that the rules of collective responsibility apply to the EU referendum, 2016 could see a number of ministers resigning in order to campaign for Britain to leave. With several Eurosceptic cabinet ministers hinting at voting 'out', including Iain Duncan-Smith, Michael Gove and Theresa May, the issue has the potential to expose painful splits at the top of the Conservative Party.

More significantly, a win for the 'out' camp would undoubtedly signal the end of David Cameron's premiership. We could have a new Prime Minister by the end of the Autumn party conferences; decided not by the wider electorate but by, at most, 200,000 members of the Conservative Party.

3) The devolved nations are up for grabs...

On Thursday 5th May, voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will cast their votes for members of the devolved administrations. With new powers being handed by Westminster to Holyrood, Stormont House and the Senedd, the devolved elections are of increasing importance. Talks between Nicola Sturgeon and David Cameron over new powers and future funding for Scotland should be resolved early this year, with Holyrood likely to gain full control of income tax bands and rates by 2018.

The SNP is on course for another landslide win, but Labour's performance will be a key test not only of its new Scottish Leader, Kezia Dugdale, but also of Jeremy Corbyn's reputation and the reception to his anti-austerity message north of the border. Labour will be fighting hard to keep control of Wales, too, with threats from Plaid Cymru, Ukip and the Conservatives.

4) Local elections could decide Corbyn's future prospects...

'Super Thursday' will also see local elections take place across England, including four high-profile mayoral contests in London, Manchester, Bristol and Salford. Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan are neck-and-neck in the London polls, and Jeremy Corbyn has identified the independently-held Bristol mayoralty (a city in which he commanded significant support among Labour members during the leadership election) as a key target.

The local and devolved elections will be a crucial test for Mr Corbyn. If Khan triumphs in London and Labour makes gains across the country, Labour MPs may begin to feel more optimistic about their Leader's chance of delivering electoral success in 2020. But if the Party suffers heavy losses or falls to third place behind the Conservatives in Scotland, there will be growing calls for him to step down.

5) And across the Atlantic, the future of the 'special relationship' could see a major change...

On the other side of the pond, the November Presidential Election is likely to see a standoff between either Hilary Clinton or her more left-wing rival Bernie Sanders, the Democrat frontrunners, and one of the three leading Republican hopefuls: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and the ever-controversial Donald Trump. Trump dominates the GOP field going into 2016, but polls indicate that he would lose dramatically to Clinton or Sanders in November. If those predictions are wrong, the global political landscape could experience a seismic shift before the end of the year.