How did I do? Auditing my predictions for 2023

Alastair Meeks
7 min readDec 28, 2023
Lake Balaton at Badacsony, picture taken by the author

Most years, when I can be bothered, I like to put together my predictions for the year ahead. I don’t do this because I think I’m some kind of superforecaster. I’m not. I’m an ordinarycaster. I am blessed with no special powers of foresight and if I have any talent it is for observing the obvious and making obvious deductions (it’s surprising how few people do even that).

So if I don’t make predictions to tout my brilliance, why do I do it? I do it because it’s useful to see what my expectations are. This means that the most important part of the exercise is to see how my expectations matched up to reality and to see what I got right and, more importantly, what I got wrong and what I can learn from my mistakes.

So, here is my predictions thread from last year. How did I do? As we shall see, not too badly.

1. Rishi Sunak’s current relative popularity will subside to join the Conservative party’s own awful ratings

It’s easy to forget this now, but this was very much a minority view. At the end of last year, the mainstream view was that Rishi Sunak would in due course close the polling gap with Labour to some extent, trading off his reputation for competence. Memories of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss would fade with time as Rishi Sunak burnished a pewter reputation for quiet governmental efficiency.

Rishi Sunak himself is now polling almost exactly the same favourability ratings as the Conservative party itself. I can chalk this one up as a clear win.

The lustre has come off Rishi Sunak. He is no longer perceived as dull competence. This is partly down to the dismal economic circumstances, partly down to the ungovernability of the Conservative party and partly down to Rishi Sunak’s own ineptness. Honestly, he has been far worse in the job than I expected last year. He failed to understand his own USP and by frantically grabbing at other options, he has thrown it away. The only thing he now offers the Conservative party is some semblance of continuity. Replacing him again now would smack of blind panic. But perhaps blind panic is now needed.

2. The government will try to put together a 35% strategy for the next election. It won’t have worked by the end of 2023.

I can chalk this up as another win. Again, this was a minority position. Most sensible people were expecting the polls to close. Indeed, one regular collective prediction last year had a majority of participants plumping for an eventual Conservative majority in October 2024. Unsurprisingly, they’ve changed their tune this year.

The Conservatives have in fact gone backwards. A year ago, they were polling 27–29%. Now they are polling 25–27%. Labour’s polling has fallen back too, but for reasons I will explain in this year’s prediction thread, that is less important than the Conservatives going backwards.

The government has followed the kind of strategy I outlined (to gather together knee-jerk Conservatives, spiritual Leavers, those who don’t like unions and those who really don’t like immigrants) but it has not done so with discipline or focus. When this approach failed to bear fruit, Rishi Sunak first swung towards presenting himself implausibly as an insurgent, then reshuffled his government to install establishment figures of whom David Cameron was only the most visible, then swung back towards plangent populism.

It should not have been beyond the talents of government ministers to strike a tone of sympathy with those who want to come to this country while insisting on the government’s right to control incomers. Instead, Rishi Sunak has allowed the public to get the impression that he controls neither immigration nor his ministers’ bloodlust. All this has done is excite the appetites of the most anti-immigrant section of the population without satisfying them while appalling a much greater part of the public who may or may not be comfortable with current immigration levels but really don’t want immigrants to be dehumanised. The predictable result is that neither group is happy or trusts the government.

3. Boris Johnson will be censured by the Privileges Committee, its recommendations will be upheld, he will face a by-election and leave Parliament, for now at least.

Yet another success, and on this one I was in a tiny minority. I’ve already written a post about the success of this prediction.

I won’t repeat myself (much). But the failure of journalists to examine their own failures of foresight on this remains extremely disappointing, if entirely predictable. My prediction about Boris Johnson’s fate was not difficult to make. Journalists proved unable to look past the spin. Some reflection really is in order.

4. There is a much higher chance of the government falling than is generally appreciated. The flashpoint may well be the Northern Ireland Protocol, if Sir Keir Starmer has the wit to support whatever amendments Rishi Sunak secures.

The wheels start falling off the wagon round about here. And that makes everything more interesting. My turn for some reflection.

The government did get changes agreed with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the government survived the brouhaha. So that was an abysmal failure of a prediction.

What did I get wrong? I got three things wrong here and they’re all interesting. First, I underestimated the EU’s willingness to work with Rishi Sunak’s government to find a way forward. The EU went a lot further accommodating Rishi Sunak than I expected a year ago. This is good news because it suggests that the EU may be able to show more flexibility in future in its other dealings with Britain than it had previously demonstrated.

Next, when it came to the crunch the irreconcilables in the Conservative party that put Brexit purity ahead of the viability of the government were few in number indeed. Boris Johnson sought to insert himself into this but to no effect. The passage of the Windsor Agreement marks the point where Brexit could be said to be definitively past its peak, even for the ultras. That too is good news.

Thirdly, while Conservative MPs definitely feel more like a brokered coalition than a political party right now, that coalition held better than I expected last year, and still — just about — is.

The government continues to test this. The Rwanda Bill was intended to be a wedge, creating havoc for the opposition. Instead it proved to be a wedge within the Conservative party, dividing those who were horrified by it from those who were horrified it didn’t go far enough (the only sane position, that of James Cleverly that the idea is batshit crazy, is apparently outside the Conservative Overton Window). Despite the ridiculous stuff about the Star Chamber and the Five Families, Conservative MPs have so far chosen mutual survival over immediate oblivion.

It would be good to understand better the reasons why. I hazard a guess that a large part of it is that no one faction is confident that it would gain the ascendancy in the fall-out, especially if it were perceived to have caused the chaos.

Andrew Bridgen offers a cautionary example to those on the right who might think about their options. He has passed through Reclaim without noticeably creating any momentum for his blend of Brexit libertarianism and anti-vaccine agenda. The history of British politics is littered with the graves of political parties that aspired to break the mould. Perhaps a Reform party invigorated by a return of Nigel Farage might do the trick. Perhaps. Any MP thinking about joining Reform should remember that it is wholly controlled by Nigel Farage (in the same way as football clubs aren’t clubs, Reform UK is a political party whose members are not members), and Mr Farage has a long track record of falling out with former allies.

Anyway, it means that future predictions need to take into account (i) there are now set limits to Leaver fever and (ii) Conservatives have not yet reached decoherence. I shall try to learn those lessons.

5. Ukraine may well have strategically defeated Russia before Russia is able to launch its second spring offensive.

Again, clearly and instructively wrong.

Why was I so wrong? Quite a few contributory reasons here.

As a matter of simple observation, the Ukraine/Russia front line is enormous and neither side has unlimited manpower, so it is fundamentally unstable. I was not expecting such an instability to endure as long as it has. Yet the front line today looks strikingly similar to that of a year ago. I underestimated the ability of both sides to endure and defend.

Russia launched its spring offensive far earlier than I had anticipated. At the time it seemed colossally wasteful in manpower, but in fact it appears that it bought it sufficient time to reinforce its defences effectively for the moment when Ukraine launched its own offensive. That time was bought at great cost but I expect Vladimir Putin currently sees that as a bargain that was worth it.

Ultimately, I know relatively little about military matters so I was digesting the opinions of others and recent past experience. I need to recognise better when I don’t know what I’m talking about.

This does cause a practical problem when, as here, the point under discussion is so important to everything else going on in the world. I am not going to stop having views but I need to recognise more clearly when my views are low confidence views. And perhaps express them less often.

6. If Ukraine indeed wins, the world economy should pick up a lot quicker than expected. However, Russia’s internal politics will only get worse, with the paranoia followed by defeat and a huge number of battle-hardened and pissed-off men returning home with grievances.

This was also wrong for 2023 and follows on from the previous error. The Prigozhin mutiny shows that I was on to something here. This may have been not so much out-and-out wrong as premature.


A 50% strike rate. Since I made a series of fairly punchy predictions, that’s not that bad a strike rate. I should try to stick to UK politics in future whenever possible. When that isn’t possible, I will be even more aware of my fallibility.

My next post will be my predictions for 2024. It’s a big year ahead. Should be exciting.