Political predictions for 2009

James Macintyre taps the political barometer

Gordon Brown will resist calls for a 2009 general election, hoping that time will fully restore his reputation.

By the end of the year, the two main parties will have switched positions in the polls, with the Conservatives heading into 2010 languishing below 30 per cent. However, the government will enter one more period of crisis and unpopularity in the first half of 2009, and will be punished in the local and European elections in June in an angry backlash against the economic situation.

The economies of both the US and the UK will, as Barack Obama has warned, get worse before they get better, with the house-price crash continuing and unemployment in the UK passing the totemic three million mark.

Splits will emerge between Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, with the latter pushing for a more interventionist foreign policy.

Afghanistan will prove Obama's nemesis: there will be renewed bloodshed and no solution to the conflict.

Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa, will fall out with the chief of the defence staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, and Defence Secretary John Hutton over Congo: Malloch-Brown, keen to send troops to the region, will face resistance from these two, who fear military "overstretch".

The UK recession will deepen with a series of industrial crises, particularly for the car industry as General Motors goes bust and Vauxhall and Honda pull out of the UK. The construction and retail sectors will continue to suffer declines in demand.

The media consensus that David Cameron has "modernised" sufficiently to win office will unravel as pressure builds for his equivalent to Neil Kinnock's expulsion of Militant in 1985. Abandoning the ideological commitment to tax cuts remains Cameron's best hope for a Clause Four moment, but he will retreat into tax and spending cuts and neo-Thatcher monetarism.

Europe will remain a headache for Cameron (who will be forced not to quit the centre-right European People's Party grouping in Brussels) after Ireland narrowly votes Yes in a second Lisbon treaty referendum towards autumn. Cameron will have to decide whether to ditch his own commitment to a referendum.

David Blunkett will return to the political front line in a party role, helping to take the Labour message to the country.

Alistair Darling will remain Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to drift downwards in the polls, having lost the sharp identity given to them by Charles Kennedy's opposition to the Iraq invasion and commitment to a penny on income tax.

Ed Miliband will emerge as the up-and-coming politician of 2009 and come to be regarded as Brown's natural successor.

David Cameron will continue to resist calls to enhance his party's economic credibility by appointing Kenneth Clarke as shadow chancellor, partly because of Europe and partly because he fears Clarke would outshine him.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 December 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special