no.10

The year in politics

How politics will shape the world in 2012

November 2012 will be the big moment in world politics.

Barack Obama appears to be on course to win a second term in the US Presidential election 11 months from now.

Much can and will happen once the race gets underway but the polls show the Republicans may not be able to find the candidate capable of ousting President Obama.

This matters to Britain as we weigh up how political events will shape the world in 2012.

President Obama and David Cameron have allowed the Special Relationship to cool and a second Democrat term won’t do anything to reheat it.

Elections will play a significant part in the year ahead.

There will be the usual set-pieces – a Budget in March, a Queen’s speech in May, G8 and G20 summits in Chicago and Mexico.

But all around Britain, political parties will be locked in hand-to-hand combat fighting for the London Mayor, local councils and the first directly elected police commissioners.

This matters because it means party members – from the grassroots volunteers all the way up to the PM himself – will be engaged in raw politics.

The party machines will be oiled and geared, systems tried and tested and relationships put under proper stress testing.

Nearly 2,400 councillors across 128 authorities in England will fight for reelection on May 3.

The Conservatives are expecting to lose seats in the Northern, urban and metropolitan areas.

They did well in this year’s polls because they took place on the same night as the AV referendum which brought Tory-minded voters out in their droves.

Nick Clegg’s LibDems will also lose seats – but pollsters are not predicting anything like as many as the massacre seen in May this year.

Labour leader Ed Miliband should have a night of cheer, although critics in and outside of his party are already warning his gains won’t be anything like enough to put him on path to win the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Scotland and Wales will see local elections which will shine a harsh light on the scene – especially north of the border where pressure is mounting for a referendum on the future of the Union.

Londoners will get the chance to give Boris Johnson a second term or throw him out, handing Ken Livingstone the capital’s crown and a remarkable political comeback weeks before his 67th birthday.

Major cities like Birmingham will have referendums on whether or not they want to follow London’s example and have elected Mayors.

Elections for police commissioners in the 43 authorities in England will also be heavily political.

The Conservatives and Labour are both fielding candidates who will essentially run on party tickets.

Mr Cameron wants to use the elections as a way of reminding voters of the Tory commitment to law and order.

They will attract the media’s attention, too.

In Kent former Iraq war hero Colonel Tim Collins will stand as the Tory candidate.

He’ll be up against former BBC Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross.

Both know how to stir media passions and their battle will inspire more Press and TV coverage across the rest of the country.

Conservatives hope for victories as they capitalise on their reputation as the masters of law and order.

Other markers which will help shape the year are banking legislation and the ongoing row over boundary changes, meaning certain professional death for many MPs.

The Coalition is likely to survive – despite the stresses and strains over Europe. Nick Clegg and Mr Cameron have chemistry.

Common endeavour to save Britain from the economic storms will be the narrative running through the government.

Mr Clegg’s position as head of his ailing party looks likely to be unchallenged.

But can Mr Miliband be entirely confident of retaining the Labour Party crown?

Murmuring can be heard in the Labour Party’s Parliamentary ranks about his future. He is safe for now. But if Ken Livingstone fails to unseat Boris Johnson as London Mayor, will Mr Miliband be blamed?

As we turn the year, his personal ratings are at rock bottom and the party is trailing the Conservatives in the polls.

Under the current economic strife, most political observers would expect Labour to be enjoying a significant lead.

Tory strategists had, at one stage, pencilled in 2012 as the year of “turn around”.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a hatful of gold medals at the London Olympics, Boris’s reelection and who knows, even a British Wimbledon winner, and the feelgood factor was guaranteed.

That optimism has vanished and now ministers recognise they are in for a long slog.

Abroad, and the picture is equally challenging – and that’s without considering the future of the euro or, indeed, Britain’s place at the EU table.

Syria’s future remains hugely uncertain.

Every week that goes by more pressure ratchets up on the regime there.

Observers fear that a gruesome descent into a tragic civil war is almost certain.

And what will the West – or Israel – do with Iran and its attempts to build wmd?

A unilateral strike by the Israelis on Iran’s weapons plants would put Mr Cameron on the spot, forcing him to take a stance.

Whatever the outcomes, 2012 will be an important year for the political plates to shift.

It’s a classic mid-term year in the UK – no innovation, just delivery.

George Pascoe-Watson is a Partner at Portland. He formerly served as Political Editor of The Sun.