Five predictions for what will happen in politics in 2016

Stephen Bush looks ahead to the coming political year.

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Labour will win City Hall

Labour haven’t won an election outside Wales since 2005 and they’ve won the London mayoralty just once. But I expect Sadiq Khan to end Labour’s losing run in May; Zac Goldsmith is, in my view, a somewhat overrated politician who has none of the Boris magic.

I think most Londoners want a king as much as a mayor, someone who speaks to their sense that the capital is the best place to live on earth – which is why Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson are so successful. Goldsmith doesn’t quite have that, and he doesn’t have the symbolic potency of Khan’s candidacy either.

Added to that, London still trends Labour, and Livingstone by 2012 was probably a drag on the ticket. It seems unlikely to me that Goldsmith can replicate Johnson’s heroics next year.

The SNP will continue their dominance of Scottish politics, but Labour won’t come third

When I was still doing the Telegraph’s Morning Briefing, a daily email digest of the day’s political news, I had a regular correspondent, who, after years in merchant banking, had retired and topped up his pension with a little betting.

His take on what would happen next was always, without fail, proved correct, and he was always on hand to suggest a useful pun or two for the next day’s headlines.  

In the winter of 2014, shortly before the referendum, he got in touch with a tip: the SNP to take more than 40 seats. “India ’52. Ireland ’18. South Africa ’94. The party of independence always sweeps all before it. Put ten quid on it.”

I didn’t believe him. Sometimes at night I google the odds on the SNP gaining 40 seats in the first week of September and cry myself to sleep. (Gordon Brown put in a similar call to Michael Dugher, as Philip Cowley and Denis Kavanagh’s brilliant study of the 2015 general election reveals.)

Post-referendum, Scottish politics looks a lot less like post-war Europe (a centre-right party, a centre-left party, a populist right-wing party, an environmentalist party and some flotsam) and a lot more like a post-colonial country (a party of independence securing either high pluralities or a straight majority of the vote, and a second party that, while nominally the opposition, is lightyears from power and is tainted by its – real or percieved – collaboration with the previous regime).

The crucial thing is that the same emotional connection that keeps that second party from leapfrogging the first is enough to keep it from falling into third place, no matter how impressive the leadership is.

Jeremy Corbyn will still be leader in a year’s time

Only god, Corbyn, or the membership will be able to move Corbyn. The 2016 local elections will be tricky for Labour – 2012 was the party’s best year under Miliband, electorally speaking – but not so bad as to trigger a rethink among party members. And the blunt truth is that there is no viable “Stop Jeremy” candidate. My instinct is that, far from having “gone mad”, the bulk of Labour activists would still vote for a candidate they thought had a better chance of winning the 2020 election than Corbyn. The problem is, they’re not convinced that any of the other candidates can.

“It’s not accurate to say that the party chose principle over power,” one Corbyn supporter reflected to me recently, “The party is still happy to compromise for power. What they’re not going to do is compromise for 250 seats under Yvette.”  

George Osborne will continue to fall short of his fiscal targets, and no one will care

The Conservatives didn’t expect to be able to govern alone, and their deficit reduction plans were designed to be negotiated down by the DUP, the Liberal Democrats or whoever they needed to do a deal with.

Now the Chancellor is in a coalition deal with reality, which is a less happy prospect. Almost all of the politically easy cuts are gone – there is very little left for people who require extensive care, for the disabled, and for other minority groups. If Osborne wants to balance the budget by 2020, he’s going to need to start making cuts into areas used by the majority of people.

As the row over tax credits showed, getting a parliamentary majority for austerity in theory is very different to delivering one in practice. These little flashpoints will keep flaring up over the parliament, with the same result: a quiet racheting down of the government’s fiscal aims (£12bn worth of welfare cuts by 2017 has already become £12bn worth of welfare cuts by 2020).

However, unhappily for the opposition, no one will really care. The people who do have nowhere else to go; under Nigel Farage, Ukip is not a natural home for serious deficit hawks, and the IEA is not going to endorse Labour any century soon. People who would have been affected by the planned cuts will not be angry about something that hasn’t happened.  

Britain will leave the European Union

Not because the In campaign is a “team of losers” – the campaign has made a number of talented hires. Not because it won’t run a “campaign of hope” – risk aversion is a much more powerful force in politics as in life and is the right course of action. But because the extreme likelihood is a July referendum next year, doubtless against a backdrop of another refugee crisis. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.