RICHARD PORRITT takes a look at what each of the three main English parties must do in 2018
So, farewell then 2017 – another year of utterly insane politics.
The turn of the year is a time when plans are hatched, hopes are high and optimism rules… but how long can it last for Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Vince Cable?
The three major parties in England all have a lot of work to do. But what will be their New Year’s resolutions? For the Liberal Democrats 2018 needs to be about building. The fallout from the coalition government and the tuition fees promise still haunts the party. Let’s not forget that less than three years ago the Lib Dems had 57 seats. They now have just 12.
They won four seats at June’s election but their hopes were much higher, especially after they captured Richmond Park (briefly) from the Tories.
Now they have party veteran Sir Vince Cable as leader, a familiar face in the way Tim Farron never was and not nearly as damaged by being in government as the likes of Nick Clegg.
Many thought the party’s anti-Brexit stance would attract voters annoyed at the referendum to leave the European Union.
But this proved not to be the case. So why has Sir Vince decided to plough on with this policy?
For the Lib Dems to gain any ground on Labour and the Conservatives they must stand out. They are currently the party of the centre of British politics but that alone is not enough to gain traction.
On Brexit they can stand alone and Sir Vince was right not to change the party’s hard-line Remain stand. He is banking on the current polling, which shows an increasingly amount of doubt and fear over what Brexit will actually mean, becoming votes for his party.
The local elections in May will provide a good marker for the Lib Dems. The party has traditionally been strong in council elections and they will need to build from that base again if they are to grab back the parliamentary seats they once had.
A year ago no-one would have predicted the year Labour and Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed in 2017. The belief that there was no appetite for left-wing politics and that Corbyn would be routed at the ballot box proved wayward.
The reasons are plentiful but years of austerity, wage stagnation and a woeful Tory campaign were perhaps the main drivers.
Labour’s resolution now has to be to build on the very solid foundations they have laid. But that will be far harder than anything they achieved in 2017. Surely the Tories will never again be as bad as they were during the election campaign?
And, of course, Labour is yet to nail Brexit. The frontbench has a range of views which they often spout and are usually at odds with the line poor Sir Keir Starmer has taken.
They need to be stronger, they need to make clear the damage Brexit will do to many regions that have traditionally backed the party. Corbyn wishes Brexit was over with and he could get on with shifting British politics left – that is a huge mistake. He needs to grasp the opportunity to make clear the harm leaving the EU will do to the most vulnerable in our society. But don’t hold your breath.
Expect more policies aimed at people who feel let down – we have already seen a renewed pledge to shift the law to help people who rent. Austerity is the battleground Labour feel they can win on, not Brexit.
For the Tories and May everything will be consumed by Brexit. If the government can get that right everything, they believe, should fall into place.
They will be encouraged that May managed to get Britain over the line and phase two trade talks will begin in 2018. The Prime Minister will hope she can continue in the strong form she ended this year and see off any leadership challenges.
That, like the fate of the government, will hinge on Brexit negotiations.
But in a strange way May’s weakness might well be what keeps her in Number 10 in 2018. The last thing Brussels wants is a hard Brexiteer challenger toppling the PM – the EU does not want to have to deal with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Expect them to offer the embattled PM some leeway.