For people planning the future of their businesses, 2017 has been a nightmare. While Cabinet members fought amongst themselves over whether to stay close to the EU post Brexit or take our chance on the world stage, firms had to try to plan. Political and business timetables don’t match. For instance, it might make great political drama if we are still negotiating at the last minute of the next EU deadline, but it is not how British business should be treated.
On top of the Brexit uncertainty, we had Theresa May’s opportunistic attempt to increase the Conservative majority. All the signs were in her favour when the local elections saw Labour controlling not a single county council. In the North this meant Lancashire returning to Tory control joining North Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the latter was once a strong Labour county.
But a few weeks later the combination of a disastrous Tory General Election campaign and a wholly unexpected youth driven surge for Jeremy Corbyn, saw a hung parliament elected. The most significant aspect of the General Election may turn out to be that it represented a return to two party politics. In 2017 the centre has not held to paraphrase W.B Yeats. The Lib Dems were defeated in places like Sheffield Hallam and Southport as both Labour and the Conservatives got over 40% of the vote each.
It was a troubled summer for Theresa may who faced much criticism for throwing away a working majority, but the autumn has seen a recovery in her position. Her spluttering performance at her party’s Manchester conference gained her some sympathy but there has been a growing sense that she is trying to bring coherent government to a Cabinet that is fundamentally split on what Brexit should mean. I never felt she was in danger of being kicked out purely because who would want the job of negotiating Brexit? Nor did I think there was any chance of another election. The Democratic Unionist Party will always side with the Tories when the chips are down. It has been little noticed that after having a hissy fit two weeks ago about the Irish border issue they settled for a solution that could leave them very much in line with the republic’s terms of trade.
2017 ends with the Conservatives running the country (as they usually do). The bitter divisions rarely lead them out of office so Corbyn shouldn’t hold his breath.
Many Labour supporters will regard 2017 as being a good year. I disagree. They didn’t win the General Election. They haven’t won a General Election for 12 years. But the misplaced euphoria around Corbyn has been followed by a systematic transformation of the party. Moderate Labour MPs are impotent while constitutional changes locally and nationally will embed the hard left for years to come. If there was an election now, Labour might win. But will the Corbyn bandwagon endure till 2022, the most likely date of the General Election?
So, a poor year for Labour and an even worse one for the Lib Dems, SNP and UKIP. There is an opportunity for the Lib Dems to rally the vast unrepresented centre ground, but they are just not taking it. They are partly hampered by the failure of moderate Labour MPs to realise that the game is up in their party. The SNP fell back at the hands of Ruth Davidson’s Tories. Perhaps Mrs May will stay on until she can hand on to the Conservatives third female leader? UKIP having caused all this Brexit chaos were wiped out under Paul Nuttall’s hapless leadership. But it is Nigel Farage that will go down in British political history as a man who made an enormous impact on the future of the country whilst never being elected as an MP.
In America Donald Trump took office, grasped Theresa May’s hand and then began to systematically demean the most powerful office in the land. As with May, don’t pay too much heed to talk that he’ll be out of office soon although there is a growing chance he’ll be denied a second term nomination by his party.
Finally, back to the North where we have seen the election of mayors in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region. Andy Burnham was only in office a few days before the awful Manchester Arena bombing. It was one of the many terrorist outrages that have reminded us this year that however much we talk about advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, there are people around who would take us back to the darkest periods of human existence on this planet.
Burnham rose to the occasion and at Downtown events with Steve Rotheram began to set out visions for the future. However, the success of northern devolution remains in the balance. It is threatened by a loss of momentum in the Northern Powerhouse project, government Brexit distraction and internal tensions in the city regions, Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Despite all that thank you for reading my blog during the year and a very happy Christmas.
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