Labour lost the general election in 2015. A leadership election is underway. Candidates are writing their manifestos. Is it too early? Will the candidates be too tempted to re-run 2015 rather than look ahead to 2020. The political landscape will change. Here are a few thoughts.
Five more years of a Tory government, unhindered by any Liberal Democrat brake, and in hock to the more right-wing members of the Tory party, will mean a harsher landscape. Not just fox-hunting but abortion restrictions (and I suspect a few Tories will be looking longingly at Orban’s attempt to restore capital punishment in Hungary). More banks, more in poverty, greater “security” surveillance. We will be spending billions on the four Tridents. We will have an even more authoritarian society, officially sanctioned.
The Tory leader in 2020 is likely to be from George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Theresa May. Will they skip a generation after Cameron goes, probably in 2018? Doubt it. Well-known senior figures appealing to the Tory heartlands.
Public finances will still be in a mess. Osborne’s forecasts on both debt and deficit have been proved wrong; there is no reason to expect any change. There will still be “no money”. More years of stringent cuts. It’s difficult to see how significantly more full wage jobs can be created so the tax take won’t increase to mitigate cuts.
The public sector ethos will be further weakened. Not just through out-sourcing, privatisation and ” public sector social entrepreneurialism”. Top managers in the public sector will be required to operate as private sector equivalents. The internal culture of the delivery arms of the public sector will drastically change. TTIP and ISDS will prevent the re-nationalisation of public sector contracts.
The Scottish Parliament, from 2016, will be firmly in the nationalist camp. It is hard to foresee Jim Murphy (let alone the old school of Scottish Labour) turning the electoral prospects around in a short time. As Spain has seen with Cataluña a nationalist mind-set always wants more.
Osborne’s “northern powerhouses”, led by Manchester, will be in full swing. Devolution in England will be underway mostly led by Labour councils and they will want, and deserve, more. Power may be devolved but in reality in many cases it simply means power to implement more cuts to local government. Bye bye not just libraries but many areas of local services. No way that the Tories will restore any form of sensible London government.
And looming over all of these changes will be the defining political topic of the next five years: the in/out EU referendum. Polls may indicate a “stay in” majority but as we have seen polls are not at their most brilliant. The lesson from the Scottish Independence referendum is that even a seemingly clear 55/45 division does not end the debate. A “stay in” vote may not end the question; UKIP and the right-wing Tories will continue for a second chance in the 2020s. Will we see Theresa May leading a UKIP/Tory grouping in 2020 pledging to reverse the “stay in” vote? Or an Osborne (perhaps even the bend in the wind Johnson) leading a “happy to be in” a reformed EU?
A “leave” vote in 2017 leads to two years of negotiation of the terms of the exit (the Treaty sets a time limit). Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be up in arms if they have been outvoted by the English. Constitutional turmoil. How does that stack up in 2020?
In my view Labour leadership candidates will find it easy to outline their social and local policy positions; obviously with different priorities. This is their comfort zone. But the overwhelmingly strategic political decision they have to take is on how active in the next two years they will be for a pro-EU vote. No more fence-sitting.
Yes, this means tackling the concerns over migration in areas not used to it and not pandering in UKIP-lite style. It means jettisoning the “Controls on immigration” mug. It means leadership from the front not from the backroom focus group. We all want to reform the EU. If it was being invented now we would not build the current version. But it is the one we have. The 2020 election depends on the EU referendum. Time to step up and be counted: the UK’s future lies unequivocally as a member of the EU. That’s what a potential prime minister in 2020 needs to project.