Why 2018 will be another year of volatility in politics

Written by Gareth Morrell, Head of Insights

When times are hard, citizens rarely cut politicians any slack. History shows us that if things don’t change quickly in desperate times, we’ll vote out our leaders in a heartbeat. Political instability sparked by the First World War and the Great Depression saw the UK vote in (and out) six prime ministers in less than 15 years; Weimar Germany got through 14 Chancellors in the same period before settling on the Nazi party in 1933.

The next 12 months in the UK are unlikely to be short of hard times and political complexity, with a precarious economy, staffing issues in the NHS and the distraction of Brexit negotiation. So what might 2018 hold in store for our politicians? While avoiding making specific predictions, three interacting trends seem likely:

  1. Volatility and change seem inevitable: The prospect of another election in 2018 is a realistic one. This would provide just another opportunity for a display of fickle voting and party disloyalty from the Great British public. The British Election study showed that 20% of Labour and Conservative voters in 2017 voted for a different party just two years earlier. Polling suggests that of those who voted Labour in 2017, over a quarter of them decided to do so in the last few days of the campaign or on the day of the election itself.
  2. The emotive lens will continue to drive campaigning: That people make up their mind so close to an election just shows the importance of campaigns. While it might be practical solutions that make a difference when times are hard, it’s actually often an appeal to the emotional that is successful: tapping into strong forgotten political identities at best, to nationalistic manifestations of deep-seated prejudice at worst. In fact, in recent years in the UK, emotive narratives have turned campaigns around. Leave campaigners in the Brexit referendum were attracted by emotive arguments that tapped into their distinct sense of sovereignty and Britishness. Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign provided a fresh approach and hope for a demographic that previously felt marginalised by common political discourse.
  3. Little movement in tackling long-term challenges: Taken together, the two previous trends suggest that action and progress on long-term solutions to complex national or global challenges seem unlikely. And as citizens, we’re often aware of this. Recent research shows little optimism across the globe in tackling climate change, with over half of the British public believing that the problem will not be adequately addressed by a sufficient number of governments.

All this suggests a busy time at Westminster in 2018 for those in the thick of political action, but potentially further frustration and bemusement from the rest of the country just looking for a bit of stability.