On this day, precisely a year ago, I wrote an article about the biggest political moments in 2017. I ended it, foolishly, with a cheerful challenge: “do your worst, 2018.”
Well, 2018 has been more than happy to rise to the bait. There’s no need for us to go over the details again — you know all about the toothless bureaucracy of Brexit and backstops, and Donald Trump’s slow, faltering grind towards probably criminality and fuzzy incoherence, and Brett Kavanaugh’s sniffy love of beers, and the depressing depth and width of the enveloping #MeToo movement.
But will 2019 be similarly drizzly? Or are there silver linings in the gathering storm? Without wishing to tempt fate in any way, here are our political predictions for 2019.
1. A bare-bones Brexit will be signed off
Despite two years of back-and-forth, and a huge number of alleged ‘red lines’ being violated, the British government will be no closer to agreeing a comprehensive deal for Brexit come the March deadline. Instead, as the global markets wobble, the EU and UK will sign a basic, stripped-back deal that covers only the most fundamental of issues: namely the question of the Irish border and the right to work for EU nationals living in the UK. There is no second referendum. May, immune to leadership challenges since the failed plot of the 1922 committee at the end of last year, plods on largely unscathed.
2. Putin will have a tough time of things
The past twelve months have been something of a vintage year for Vladimir Putin. The annexation of Crimea helped him look strong and ruthless in the eyes of the electorate, and thrust the Russian agenda back onto the world stage. The president’s approval ratings jumped to over 80%, with one poll concluding that the leader had become “a demi-god, a Titan, who brought the people fire.”
The year 2019 may not be so kind to Putin. All the bombast and flash of that statesmanship will fade away as the reality of the Russian situation emerges: a precarious economy and a huge amount of local social unrest. The much-maligned pension reformers he announced in September (which see the retirement age jump up significantly) will kick in in 2019, and the general malaise will grow darker and wider. And that’s before you get to the likely international sanctions — there will be more fallout from the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S elections, and huge pressure over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Britain. With little foreign investment and GDP slowing, the rouble will flutter and fall, and the spiral of unhappiness in the country will continue. It will be hard for Putin to distance himself from this dramatic downturn.
3. Gender equality will be the key policy position worldwide
In the wake of gender inequality campaigns and a huge media push for equal pay and opportunity, companies the world over kick-start a drive to up the number of women in key decision-making role. Christine Lagarde, the chairwoman of the IMF, has already fired the starting pistol on this one. Recently, Lagarde stated financial stability could well be achieved through having more women in leadership positions, if only to reduce “groupthink”: “A higher share of women on the boards of banks and financial supervision agencies is associated with greater stability. As I have said many times, if it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today.”
The juggernaut is gaining momentum, and not before time. Our prediction? That 2019 will mark the year when this idea is put wholeheartedly into action by ministers across the western world.
4. Italy’s economy will spiral out of control — and be bailed out
Italy’s debt sits at 2.3 trillion euros, and it’s rising fast. All it would take is the slightest hint of a global downturn for all hell to break loose. But the fall of the Italian economy would be utterly disastrous for the Eurozone given the inevitable instability caused Brexit (worse, even, than Greece’s near-collapse in 2015). The European Union will agree a bailout package to a plumeting Italian economy. The country will restructure its debt, and the hole is plugged in the ship’s hull — for now.
5. MBS will stay put
The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi put renewed scrutiny on the indiscretions of Saudi Arabia’s ruling regime, especially the allegedly heavy-handed actions of the progressive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
As the international political pressure piles up, there will be calls for the Crown Prince to renege his political responsibilities. But his various friends in high places (did you see that high five with Vladimir Putin?) mean he’s almost too big to fail. Instead, he will have his power (at least nominally) curtailed by his father, King Salman, though he’ll keep his position in the line of succession. His portfolio will be cut (no foreign policy, no defence issues) and instead he’ll focus on domestic policy. Saudi Arabia, though apparently more and more progressive, will remain a dangerous place for dissidents.
6. Donald Trump will not be impeached
Despite the murkier and murkier waters slowly gathering around President Donald Trump’s ankles, it is highly unlikely that he will be impeached in 2019. This is as much down to logistics as it is any moral sanctity on his part.
It’s largely a numbers game. According to the US Constitution, impeachment orders start in the House before moving to the Senate for trial. Though Democrats do indeed control the House, Republicans control the Senate, where any impeachment proceedings need a two-thirds majority to find the President guilty of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’.
Republicans would need to break with a President from their own party in an entirely unprecedented way for the Senate vote to go against Trump: 20 Republicans would need to cross the aisle to join 47 Democrats for a successful impeachment. This is very unlikely.
There is another reason, however, why Trump will likely survive his third year. Memories on the Hill are long. The Republicans’ attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1999 backfired monumentally. When the Senate vote went in Clinton’s favour, Clinton’s popularity peaked: the public saw the proceedings as a partisan attack, and threw their support behind their beleaguered leader. The Democrats do not want to risk handing such a bump in popularity to President Trump on a plate.