Five political predictions for 2014

Labour will end the year ahead in the polls, Scotland will reject independence by a double-digit margin and Ed Balls will remain shadow chancellor.

J.K.Galbraith liked to remark that "the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." One could say the same of political predictions. But with that warning duly noted, here are five of mine for 2014.

1. Labour will end the year ahead in the polls

The polls will remain tight as the Tories continue to benefit (however undeservedly) from the economic recovery, but Labour will end the year in front. The proportion of 2010 Lib Dem voters supporting Miliband's party and the proportion of 2010 Conservative voters supporting UKIP will remain too great for the Tories to move ahead. As May 2015 approaches, discussion will increasingly focus on whether Labour will win an overall majority or, alternatively, become the single largest party, with many Tory MPs resigning themselves to defeat.

End of year polling averages:

Labour 38%

Conservatives 33%

UKIP 15%

Lib Dems 10%

2. Scotland will reject independence by a double-digit margin

The No campaign retained a comfortable lead throughout this year and that won't change in 2014. On 18 September, Scotland will reject independence by a margin no smaller than 10 points and conceivably as large as 25. The pessimists in the Unionist camp and the optimists on the nationalist side point to three factors that could work in the SNP's favour: the large number of undecided voters, Alex Salmond's strength as a campaigner and the unpredictability of referendums. But none of these suggests a yes vote is likely.

There is no reason to believe that the quarter of Scots yet to decide how they will vote will break for the nationalists in the number required for victory. Indeed, according to the most recent YouGov poll, which put the No side ahead by 52-33, even winning over 100 per cent would still leave the Yes camp four points behind.

The SNP might have overturned a double-digit Labour lead to triumph in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections, but there was at least something close to a precedent for this in the form of the party's 2007 victory. By contrast, there has never been anything close to a majority for independence and the uncertainty created by the financial crisis and its aftermath has made voters even more reluctant to take that leap into the dark.

There have been polls showing that Scots would vote for independence if they believed it would make them better off, but the problem for Salmond is that they don't. Asked earlier this month by YouGov, "Do you think Scotland would be economically better or worse off if it became an independent country, or would it make no difference?" (the defining issue of the campaign), just 26% said "better off" and 48% said "worse off". If Salmond couldn't persuade voters that Scotland would be better off alone when the UK was in an austerity-induced double-dip recession, he's not going to be able to persuade them now.

Referendums are uncertain beasts, but the clear tendency is for support for the status quo to increase as voting day approaches (as in the case of the 1975 EU referendum, the 2011 AV referendum and the 1980 Quebec referendum). Faced with the real possibility of secession, I expect a significant minority of Yes supporters to reverse their stance. Ed Miliband, who would struggle to govern if Labour was stripped of its Scottish MPs, and David Cameron, who would become known as the prime minister who lost the Union, will unite in relief.

3. Unemployment will fall to 7% but the Bank of England won't raise rates

Back in August, when Mark Carney introduced forward guidance, the Bank of England didn't expect unemployment to fall to 7% until 2016 (it then stood at 7.8%). But with joblessness already down to 7.4%, my prediction is that the 7% threshold, the trigger for the Bank to consider a rate rise, will be reached by the end of the year.

At this point, hawkish economists will demand an increase in the base rate, but Carney will reject their advice. The governor will cite the continuing weakness of household finances, with many trapped in low-paid work, as the main reason to maintain monetary stimulus and hold rates at their record low of 0.5%.

4. Labour will win the European elections

There is a consensus among the media that UKIP will triumph in the European elections as Nigel Farage turns them into a referendum on Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, but my prediction is a narrow Labour win. The most recent poll gave Miliband's party a seven-point lead over UKIP (32-25) and while this will decline as the campaign proper begins, they will retain the advantage. Quite simply, there are too many voters whose default setting is to back Labour (the elections will be held on 22 May, the same day as the locals) for Farage to win in a national contest. The Tories will finish in third place (prompting predictable panic among their backbenchers), with the Lib Dems in fourth and the Greens in fifth.

5. Ed Balls will remain shadow chancellor

Ed Miliband has stated several times, most recently last week, that Labour will go into the general election with Ed Balls as shadow chancellor, but this won't stop Fleet Street commentators speculating that he will be moved. The cries for Balls to be thrown overboard will reach a crescendo as Alistair Darling leads the Unionist side to victory in the Scottish independence referendum (see prediction number two), just days before the Labour conference opens, but Miliband will wisely disregard them.

The appointment of the man who was Chancellor at the time of the financial crisis would be a gift to the Tories and Balls's rare combination of political cunning and economic nous means he remains the best qualified individual for the job. As 2014 draws to a close, the shadow chancellor will, after years of waiting, finally be able to look forward to delivering his first Budget.

Ed Miliband will still have more to smile about than David Cameron in 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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All the Premiership teams are competing to see who’s got the biggest stadium

It’s not just a financial, but a macho thing – the big clubs want to show off that they have a whopper.

Here in NW5, where we live noisily and fashionably, we are roughly equidistant from Arsenal and Spurs. We bought the house in 1963 for £5,000, which I mention constantly, to make everyone in the street pig sick. Back in 1963, we lived quietly and unfashionably; in fact, we could easily have been living in Loughton, Essex. Now it’s all changed. As have White Hart Lane and Highbury.

Both grounds are a few metres further away from us than they once were, or they will be when White Hart Lane is finished. The new stadium is a few metres to the north, while the Emirates is a few metres to the east.

Why am I saying metres? Like all football fans, I say a near-miss on goal was inches wide, a slow striker is a yard off his pace, and a ball player can turn on a sixpence. That’s more like it.

White Hart Lane, when finished, will hold 61,000 – a thousand more than the Emirates, har har. Meanwhile, Man City is still expanding, and will also hold about 60,000 by the time Pep Guardiola is into his stride. Chelsea will be next, when they get themselves sorted. So will Liverpool.

Man United’s Old Trafford can now hold over 75,000. Fair makes you proud to be alive at this time and enjoying the wonders of the Prem.

Then, of course, we have the New Wembley, architecturally wonderful, striking and stunning, a beacon of beauty for miles around. As they all are, these brave new stadiums. (No one says “stadia” in real life.)

The old stadiums, built between the wars, many of them by the Scottish architect Archibald Leitch (1865-1939), were also seen as wonders of the time, and all of them held far more than their modern counterparts. The record crowd at White Hart Lane was in 1938, when 75,038 came to see Spurs play Sunderland. Arsenal’s record at Highbury was also against Sunderland – in 1935, with 73,295. Wembley, which today can hold 90,000, had an official figure of 126,000 for the first Cup Final in 1923, but the true figure was at least 150,000, because so many broke in.

Back in 1901, when the Cup Final was held at Crystal Palace between Spurs and Sheffield United, there was a crowd of 110,820. Looking at old photos of the Crystal Palace finals, a lot of the ground seems to have been a grassy mound. Hard to believe fans could see.

Between the wars, thanks to Leitch, big clubs did have proper covered stands. Most fans stood on huge open concrete terraces, which remained till the 1990s. There were metal barriers, which were supposed to hold back sudden surges, but rarely did, so if you were caught in a surge, you were swept away or you fell over. Kids were hoisted over the adults’ heads and plonked at the front.

Getting refreshments was almost impossible, unless you caught the eye of a peanut seller who’d lob you a paper bag of Percy Dalton’s. Getting out for a pee was just as hard. You often came home with the back of your trousers soaked.

I used to be an expert on crowds as a lad. Rubbish on identifying a Spitfire from a Hurricane, but shit hot on match gates at Hampden Park and Ibrox. Answer: well over 100,000. Today’s new stadiums will never hold as many, but will cost trillions more. The money is coming from the £8bn that the Prem is getting from TV for three years.

You’d imagine that, with all this money flooding in, the clubs would be kinder to their fans, but no, they’re lashing out, and not just on new stadiums, but players and wages, directors and agents. Hence, so they say, they are having to put up ticket prices, causing protest campaigns at Arsenal and Liverpool. Arsène at Arsenal has admitted that he couldn’t afford to buy while the Emirates was being built. Pochettino is saying much the same at Spurs.

It’s not just a financial, but a macho thing – the big clubs want to show off that they have a whopper. In the end, only rich fans will be able to attend these supergrounds. Chelsea plans to have a private swimming pool under each new box, plus a wine cellar. Just like our street, really . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle