With key votes in the Netherlands, France and Germany, there could be more upsets ahead
2016 has been a year of extraordinary electoral upsets, from Britain’s vote to leave the EU, to the election of Donald Trump, to Italy’s rejection of Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reforms.
While 2017 is unlikely to contain quite so many shocks, key elections in the UK and Europe could have far-reaching effects.
Here are six of the most important votes coming up in the next 12 months.
We’ll kick off 2017 with a by-election in Copeland, following Labour MP Jamie Reed’s resignation.
This is the first by-election in a Labour-Conservative swing seat since May 2015, when Reed beat the Conservative into second place with a margin of just 2,564. It’s a huge test for Jeremy Corbyn who — when accused of leading an unelectable Labour Party — trades on the fact that Labour hasn’t lost a by-election since he won the leadership.
Meanwhile, it’s a chance for Theresa May to demonstrate that she can extend the Conservatives’ reach after Brexit, when 62 per cent of Copeland voters supported Leave.
Both parties can be expected to throw the kitchen sink at the race and they’ll be joined by UKIP, who came third in 2015 and will be hoping to make good on leader Paul Nuttall’s promise to bring the fight to Labour.
The Dutch general election will be held on 15 March and it could be a defining moment for the European project.
All eyes will be fixed on far right hate pedlar Geert Wilders, whose PVV party is currently leading in the polls. Wilders has pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership if he becomes prime minister.
It’s very unlikely that Wilders will find his way into government. Even if the PVV gets the largest share of votes, it will be far short of a majority and a string of other parties will likely band together to keep him out of government.
However, there are other routes to a referendum and mainstream euroscepticism is on the rise in the Netherlands, as this year’s vote against an association agreement with Ukraine showed.
Additionally, a sizeable vote for a Wilders — who has been convicted of hate speech and supports outlawing the Koran — would be a huge victory for the European far right.
Speaking of the European far right, France will go to the polls on 23 April, for the first round of its presidential election.
At this point it seems overwhelmingly likely that two weeks later the run-off will feature Marine Le Pen and François Fillon — the far right and the hard right. It seems likely that France’s centrist compact will kick into action, and everyone to the left of Le Pen will get behind Fillon, despite his record of Thatcherism, Islamophobia and Russophilia.
However, if Le Pen does win, the scale of the crisis facing Europe can’t be overstated. Having a far-right eurosceptic in control of one of the EU’s keystone states would fundamentally shift the balance of western politics, particularly in the context of a Trump presidency.
This election, along with the German parliamentary vote later in the year, could significantly impact the Brexit negotiations, since Europe’s current leaders fear that giving the UK an easy ride will encourage eurosceptic voters elsewhere.
Metro mayor elections
On 4 May, elections will take place for the newly-created ‘metro mayors’ of Manchester, the West Midlands, Liverpool, Sheffield, Tees Valley, the West of England and Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
The northern elections will be particularly important for Labour, acting as a barometer for the party’s standing in its traditional heartlands, where large numbers of Labour voters backed Brexit.
Andy Burnham — the highest-profile Labour candidate — will expect a win in Greater Manchester, and Corbyn ally Steve Rotheram will likely take office in Liverpool. But in both cases, the margin of victory could be telling.
In Birmingham, Labour’s Siôn Simon will face tough competition from former John Lewis MD Andy Street, who will be running for the Conservatives.
Local elections England, Scotland, Wales
On the same day, elections will be held for councils across Britain.
In Scotland and Wales, local authority votes typically take place every four years, but last year’s were delayed to avoid a clash with the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliamentary elections. In England, just 34 councils and authorities will hold elections.
Sometime between August and October, Germany will determine whether Angela Merkel deserves a fourth term in office. The odds are very strongly in her favour, although her Christian Democratic Union will likely lose seats in the Bundestag.
Many will closely follow the fortunes of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the far-right party that has capitalised on Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, doing everything it can to foster resentment and division.
However, while the British press tends to fixate on Merkel’s refugee policy, this is far from a one-issue election.
Around the world…
Looking further afield, elections will also take place in Ecuador (February), Lebanon and Iran (May), Kenya (August), Argentina (October), Chile (November), and South Korea (December).
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.