As the Christmas period draws to a soggy and windy conclusion it is inevitable that our thoughts may take to reflecting on the previous year and some of the major political events. In fact I am currently doing just that as I overlook a rather wet garden, uninviting patio, and a tree that is caught in winds that wouldn't look out of place in The Day After Tomorrow. This is not the nicest of days, so in that context I thought I'd present a few random political thoughts!
Very briefly, at Westminster it was one where the Conservative Party publically re-embraced Thatcherism, where One Nation Labour struggled to emerge further yet held on for life, and the United Kingdom Independence Party continued its long march to significance.
Looking further afield the Scottish Referendum has increasingly become the only show in town north of the border, with the Yes and No campaigns trying to outwit each other with economic data, threats, and romanticism. As a side issue the referendum led to a rather interesting discussion over the future of the Union Flag and how it would change should Scotland leave the UK. Some argued that because the Union was between the English and Scottish monarchies the flag would remain for both given the Queen remains head of state. However the impact of an independent Scotland would ripple across the British isles and into Europe in a way which few can foresee.
However, these were now yesterday's discussions. 2014 will turn the Scottish Referendum from an idea into an event. The UKIP will have their shot at winning the Euro-Elections. And Ed Miliband will show us that he can change the Labour Party, thereby demonstrating his ability to change the country. This will be a significant moment of Miliband as he remains an untried leader. Granted, One Nation Labour convinced the Labour movement of his credentials, but can he actually change something? The debate over party funding from the Unions will address this issue.
For the Conservatives they face something of a political dilemma. The narrative of more cuts, clampdown on immigration, clampdown in benefits, clampdown on Europe, clampdown on whatever is highly uninspiring and yet it is one which they seem dead set on taking forward. Their fear of UKIP is so great that they equate combatting it with a relentless rightward march which 1997, 2001, 2005 demonstrated loses them the election. However, contrasting that is the belief that provided they can appear united and not tear themselves to pieces over Europe they will appear to have mastered an effective model of statecraft that will carry them over the finish line in a way they failed to in 2010. Given Europe is a low salience issue with the electorate this is unlikely, however the absence of overt division can create the illusion of unity. But it is a unity that is forever one step away from cracking and exposing the divisions once more. Tying this to a negative narrative will also be highly problematic because of One Nation Labour.
Granted Ed Miliband has not produced specific details of how One Nation Labour will work. But given he is leader of the opposition there is no major need for him to do so yet. Rather what One Nation Labour does is set a positive political agenda of hope. This should not be underestimated because positivity, unity, and the promise of a brighter tomorrow are rhetorically useful with an electorate that has endured years of Coalition austerity and the expectation of further Conservative austerity. The distinction is clear and will provide the electorate with a clear choice in 2015. Yet Labour austerity is even more distinct given it takes from the top and invests at the bottom. The British people like to think Britain is a moral country, and One Nation Labour appeals to that sense of rightness. For Labour Britishness is an undertaking based on values derived from social justice and an affection for institutions that are designed to educate, care, and inform (Universities, the NHS, and the BBC).
It has also been another difficult year for the Liberal Democrats. Despite Nick Clegg's early promises of a new politics and a fairer country the Coalition has presided over a consolidation of the old politics (no Lords reform, no PR/AV) and an increasingly unfair society (rise of foodbanks, cuts in disability benefits). This is not a record the Liberal Democrats can be proud of because it fails their own criteria for success and has rendered their position in the Coalition as somewhat uninspiring.
The overarching narratives are now set in place in the run up to 2015. The Tories promise a referendum on a low salience issue as the prize for returning them to Downing Street with a majority. The Labour Party presents a vision of One Nation and a private sector economy that works for the country. Both will have UKIP buzzing around their vulnerable seats, whilst the Liberal Democrats hope to avoid an electoral meltdown. This is a false hope given they are not at risk of emerging with less than 30 seats, unless future events take a turn for the worse.
Of course the general election will produce a major losing party. Should Cameron lose then a leadership election will most likely swing them back to the right. Should Miliband lose then a Labour renewal strategy will most likely look back to Blair as their last winning model. And if the Liberal Democrats fail to enter another Coalition then it could well be Tim Farron's moment. Regardless of who secures the most seats in 2015, UKIP will be the winner even if they take only one seat. But before we get to 2015, we have the coming year which, politically speaking, will once again show that we are indeed living through interesting times.