With the politically turbulent, celebrity-taking year that was 2016 behind us, and the Christmas festivities past, we can look forward clear eyed to the next 12 months. It certainly won’t be dull. Brexit negotiations will start, and there will be all manner of domestic concerns for the Westminster bubble, local authorities and the devolved assemblies.
So, with that in mind, here are five people for whom 2017 is a particularly big year.
OK, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a bit obvious.
Yes, it is, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact 2017 is a big year for Mrs May. Now firmly ensconced in Downing Street, she’s got to trigger Article 50, begin Brexit negotiations, and manage domestic issues all at the same time.
It’s not been the best start to the New Year for the PM. Fine, she’s got a meeting with Donald Trump to look forward to (who wouldn’t?), but she’s facing serious questions about her Brexit strategy and even the capacity of her civil servants to get the deal Britain needs. Meanwhile domestically she’s facing a level of trade union militancy that hasn’t been seen in a few years, and questions over public finances – with the NHS and MoD both seemingly on thin financial ice. And she needs to steer a course that appeals to a majority of her backbenchers.
Downing Street has maintained an iron grip on government since Mrs May’s appointment. The downside to that is that criticism will, to a degree, bypass her ministers as a result and end up squarely on her desk. It’ll be a tough year for the PM.
The Unite General Secretary and Cobynite-in-chief is facing his own leadership contest and victory is by no means assured. Mr McCluskey is seen very much as the Labour leader’s champion and instrumental in Mr Corbyn winning, and then retaining, the leadership over the past 18 months.
‘Red Len’ has struck an interesting tone in recent weeks, suggesting Mr Corbyn and John McDonnell could stand down if the polls don’t shift in the next 12 months. It’s a curious departure from previous rhetoric – perhaps a reflection of his own leadership battle. But Mr McCluskey is still a pivotal figure for Labour. While 2017 is a big year for him personally, in which he might find himself in the unemployment line, his replacement as Unite General Secretary would trigger further questions over the future leadership of Labour. Which brings us on to…
Sir Keir Starmer
Anyone with Brexit somewhere in their job title can be assured of two things in 2017. One, they’ll be busy. And two, they’re likely to be high profile.
Sir Keir has made quite an impression since taking up his post, cutting a measured tone but still quick to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on its Brexit strategy. He’s been touted as a future Labour leader – quite a progression for someone only elected to Parliament in 2015. And it’s easy to understand why. Sir Keir has been the most prominent Labour front bencher of recent weeks, Jeremy Corbyn included.
Sir Keir has the opportunity to further his reputation this year, while playing a pivotal role in confirming the role of Parliament in Brexit negotiations. And if Len McCluskey goes, those leadership rumours will only gain pace.
It’s hard to consider the Tory leader in Scotland as anything other than a rising star in her party, and 2017 is a year in which she could see her stock continue to rise if she’s able to navigate a difficult path between party responsibilities and the views of the Scottish electorate.
Ms Davidson was arguably one of the more impressive figures within the Remain campaign last year. And achieved considerable success for her party as the Tories wrestled official opposition in Scotland away from Labour and denied the SNP a majority in the Assembly.
The Scottish Tory leader has a tough task in 2017. She will have to push back on continued suggestions and perhaps even demands for a second independence referendum from Nicola Sturgeon. But equally, with Scotland voting to Remain last year, she will need to be part of the case for more powers for the Scottish Assembly to quell the march to independence. Achieve that balancing act, and Ms Davidson’s stock will only rise further.
It’s been a difficult first 18 months in post for the Lib Dem leader. After the routing his party suffered in the 2017 General Election, the Lib Dems have struggled for airtime on the Westminster stage – albeit continuing to trumpet individual issues such as mental health (vociferously championed by former health minister Norman Lamb).
With Labour having struggled to find its voice on Brexit (over to you, Sir Keir), the Lib Dems could have hoped to make more of a noise on what the future should look like. Mr Farron’s tasks this year are, effectively, two-fold. First and foremost, he needs to ensure a successful set of results for the Lib Dems in the local elections. Failure to do that (particularly given the Party’s effectiveness in local politics) will thoroughly torpedo suggestions by the Lib Dems that they’re on their way back – irrespective of the Richmond Park by-election. And, secondly, Mr Farron has to get his band of arch-Europhiles more vocally involved in the Brexit debate, which will help secure a degree of prominence in the build up to the General Election in 2020.