I should have given up making predictions in June 2017.
Three months earlier, I had spoken at a conference on Brexit and suggested that the best way forward for Theresa May would be to call a snap election and strengthen her negotiating hand.
I don’t know how the Prime Minister got word of my advice, but it didn’t quite work out for her the way I had predicted.
This was just the latest in a long line of failed forecasts. While scores of journalists will tell you that they saw the Brexit vote coming, I will openly admit that it was a shock for me to watch the results unfold in the early hours of 24 June 2016.
I didn’t call the Conservative victory in the 2015 election either. And while I worried that there was a lot that could go wrong for Hillary Clinton in the final days of the presidential campaign (namely the personal crusade against her from Wikileaks and the inexplicable interference of the FBI 10 days before the vote), I still thought she’d probably swing it. I was wrong.
These days, when I’m asked what I think will happen, I tend to shrug. My favourite line on Brexit is that the more you know about what’s going on, the more impossible it is to make any kind of prediction.
Rinse and repeat for Donald Trump and the Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling, populist political forces in the EU, or just about anything else.
But according to the psychologist Philip Tetlock, after decades of painstaking research, the key to being a “superforecaster” (someone who actually gets this stuff right) is to reflect on past predictions and acknowledge your mistakes.
So in the spirit of self-improvement, here are some things I got wrong in 2018.
First, the Prime Minister’s unimaginable resilience. I have lost count of the number of times I have looked at the latest crisis facing May – mass cabinet walkouts, humiliation at EU summits, cringe-worthy PMQ sessions, nonsensical tautological speeches – and thought: “there’s no way she can come back from this”.
Yet somehow, she still stands. Even the leadership challenge that has been hanging over her head all year like the Sword of Damocles has barely scratched her.
I laughed last year when I heard her referred to as “Teflon Theresa”, but who would have predicted that a Prime Minister could spend a year alienating most of her party, come up with a deal hated by almost everyone, lose half her team, and still live to fight another Brexit day?
Oh, and if you’d asked me which party leader would be most likely to shimmy onstage to the tune of Abba’s Dancing Queen, my money would probably have been on Jeremy Corbyn.
Second, political drama abroad.
When it comes to Italy, I don’t feel too bad about my election predicting errors – I doubt that anyone bet on a coalition between the far-right League and the radical left anti-establishment Five Star Movement. But somehow these unlikely allies have formed a partnership to challenge the EU establishment.
Angela Merkel’s troubles in Germany were easier to foresee, and if anything it’s a surprise that she has managed to last so long.
But the dramatic collapse of Emmanuel Macron’s popularity, as the President plummeted from saviour of Europe to helpless observer of mass riots that have torn France apart, was a shock for me.
As a proud liberal metropolitan centrist, I desperately wanted him to succeed. But given the trends towards volatility we’ve seen across the European political landscape, I should have seen that one coming.
Moving away from politics, I wouldn’t have bet on Facebook’s fall from grace in 2018 – we all felt that it was on its way, but I didn’t foresee it happening so fast.
For the past 15 years, we’ve been happily handing our personal data over to the tech giants, with little thought as to what they might do with it. Yes, we knew that our Facebook data was being sold, but what did we care if marketers used it to send us targeted ads, as long as we got to use the platform for free?
The Cambridge Analytica scandal changed all that. Overnight, it dawned on social media users that what they put on Facebook could be used to influence an election – if it hadn’t been already, it undoubtedly would in the future.
Mark Zuckerberg lost his aura of invincibility and potential for a glowing political career, hauled in front of the US Congress and European parliament to explain himself. As the Hamilton song goes, “well you’re never gonna be President now”. (Although I still wouldn’t rule that out completely.)
Facebook clearly isn’t going away, but the tide has started to turn, and we are at last experiencing the reality of the well-known adage “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product”. It wasn’t hard to see the backlash coming, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon or so sudden.
Finally, one thing that I certainly didn’t predict for this year was that Trump would fix the situation in the Middle East.
On this, I am delighted to have been proved wrong – according to the President’s tweets this week, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria”. What a wonderful Christmas present to the world – how did we not realise it would be that easy?
Of all my 2018 mistakes, this is definitely the one to be most cheerful about. Here’s hoping I do better next year – just don’t ask me anything about Brexit.