Feeling a bit lost politically? Join the club. Meet the leading cast of promise-makers who’ll be grabbing the headlines this year
Words Greg Taylor
2016 was the year when everything changed and everyone got it wrong. When the UK rejected the status quo of EU membership to strike out alone, fuelled by populist rhetoric and nationalistic fervour.
When Donald Trump defied election logic and mainstream dismay to carpet-bomb his way to the White House. When Russian aggression, extremist muscle-flexing, demagogic rantings and street-level atrocities made the world feel shakier than it has in generations.
2017 must then be the year of renewal and rebuilding. For nations to focus on creating common, positive narratives of compassion and change that will bridge the bitter political, economic and social rifts that seem to grow ever wider. For governments and leaders to be held accountable and for people to feel more informed and more passionate about the direction our planet is heading in. For this, we need inspiring politicians, decent and articulate people who can provide effective and visible leadership that speaks to people who feel abandoned by what they see as an elitist, remote, self-serving system. These are 10 politicians to watch over the coming year. They have quite a challenge ahead of them.
Blair, the most successful Labour leader in history, is also one of the most divisive figures of our lifetimes. A savvy reformer and Europhile with a genius for public relations, he’s the polar opposite of Jeremy Corbyn. He has recently hinted at a return to frontline UK politics and, with his deep knowledge of EU characters and processes and the strong international relationships forged during and after his time in office, there are many worse people to have on our side at such a precarious time.
Clegg’s leadership of the Liberal Democrats took his party into government in 2010 and saw them crash and burn five years later, reduced from 57 seats to a lonely rump of 8 after taking the blame for perceived Coalition sins. But Clegg held on, and remains an experienced and charismatic Parliamentary debater. Now the Lib Dems have re-crafted themselves as the party of the 48% who voted to remain in the EU, he has a huge role in selling a revitalised party to the masses and pushing for an alternative vision of the UK’s position in Europe, and the world.
Cooper, a former Labour leadership contender, was recently elected chair of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee which investigates and challenges the government’s work. Her tenacity and intellect will serve her and the Committee well. She now has a highly visible platform for looking into important issues like immigration, asylum, hate crime and extremism and to publicly push for wise, compassionate ideas that both appreciate and bridge painful national divisions that these topics continue to expose.
Khan has been a decisive, impressive leader since his election as Mayor of London. He was the voice of calm, reason and compassion after the Brexit vote when the Government had seemingly disintegrated, and has focused on strengthening community relations, helping the most needy, and tackling London’s most pressing worries, particularly the cost of living and the lack of affordable housing. The potent symbolism of a Muslim as Labour’s most powerful politician is undeniable, and speculation on his next step will continue as he cements his vision in 2017.
Unlike David Cameron, Osborne has remained in Parliament to pursue his dream of an economically prosperous, hyper-connected and independently-minded north of England. This is to his credit. Anything he now says, though, will now be pored over forensically by the press, looking for schisms between him and the Prime Minister as she struggles with the most fearsome challenge in British politics. Osborne’s leadership ambitions are unquenchable and his carefully-nurtured support base is strong. Time heals all wounds, and an Osborne re-ascendancy is not something to bet against.
Sir Keir Starmer
Elected to Parliament in 2015, Starmer is a former Director of Public Prosecutions and recently became Shadow Brexit Secretary, tasked with challenging the government’s exit strategy. He has already proved more than capable, pushing Brexit Secretary David Davis with 170 questions on tactics, one for each day before Theresa May expects to trigger Article 50. It’s a publicity stunt to be sure, but it’s one that shows he plans to keep the Government very publicly on its toes. How successfully the UK jumps from the EU ship will define our country’s future, and Starmer’s efforts to hold the Government to account will play a huge role, including in his future career.
Street is the Tory candidate to be the first ever Mayor of the West Midlands, and unlike the Tories in Greater Manchester and Liverpool, he could actually win. The former head honcho of John Lewis has a credible business background and an infectious love of the area, but he faces an uphill battle to sell a Conservative vision to the staunchly Labour urban centres of places like Birmingham, Walsall and Coventry. If his campaign paints a clear, positive picture that can unite the region and generate excitement about local decision-making (no easy task) then Street could end up as one of the most important politicians in the country.
Sturgeon’s dream is division, of a glorious referendum revolution splitting Scotland from the UK. Brexit has reignited her vigour, but she’s playing a dangerous game. An independent Scotland would struggle in choppy economic waters and any hope of clinging onto EU membership would be quashed by a wary Spain keen to make sure independence movements within its own frontiers don’t get any bright ideas. Instead of chuntering for an agonising split, Sturgeon must knuckle down with May and her negotiators and agree a position that will work for all Brits. It will be fascinating to see if she can quash her inner Braveheart for the long term good of her country.
It may be unusual to see a former Belgian prime minister on this list, but we live in unusual times. As lead Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament, Verhofstadt will be crucial in deciding how the UK emerges from this unprecedented process in 2 years. Given he’s a huge EU lover who has already talked tough on UK stances on immigration and the single market, we shouldn’t expect an easy ride, though he’s balancing on a thin tightrope. Too tough and he risks angering friendly nations and stoking pan-European resentment against a vindictive bureaucracy. Too weak and others might be tempted to jump ship. Vehofstadt’s equilibrium – next year’s most exciting political drama.
The fiery and popular Democratic senator for Massachusetts is a charismatic and forceful flag-waver for America’s socially-conscious left. She had a modest upbringing, has an impressive background in law and academia, is economically literate and has been a crusader for the rights of consumers and critic of the economic status quo. If the Democrats are looking for a tough opponent to take President Trump to task in the run-up to the 2020 election, while appealing to the disenfranchised blue collar voters who put him in the White House, Warren may be their woman.
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