by Larry Neild
LONDON, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- Dare the leaders of Britain's three main political parties gaze into a crystal ball on New Year's Eve to see what lies ahead in 2014?
Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservatives, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor Party, each face what is likely to be a critical roller coaster year.
It's likely to be the most crucial 18 months for at least a generation in the UK's political landscape.
The next British general election when all 650 Members of Parliament have to be elected will take place in May 2015, and that will set the scene until the start of the third decade of the 21st century.
A year ahead of that all-out election comes May 22 when British people vote on who should represent them in their town halls and city halls around the country. More importantly will be the European elections on the same day when voters across all corners of Britain decide who to be sent to Brussels to represent them in the European Parliament.
The European election promises to be a barometer of things to come, thanks to the new kids on the political block, UKIP, or the United Kingdom Independence Party. Established only 20 years ago with a mission to bring Britain out of the EU, the party is riding high in the political race.
UKIP is predicting major successes in both the local and European elections, doubling to at least 20 its number of MEPs in Brussels. If that prediction proves to be true it will send shock waves through the political establishment among the big three who have enjoyed a love-hate monopoly for decades. The party is also likely to win many more seats in local town hall elections.
Just to throw a spanner -- or should that be a set of bagpipes -- into the works, the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum on Sept. 18 to decide whether to part company with the United Kingdom, turning the clock back to the 1600s when Scotland was a self-rule kingdom.
To make matters worse, politicians have slumped in the popularity stakes, thanks to an expenses scandal that rocked Westminster. Just to emphasize the fall-out from that dark episode has yet to settle, former Labor minister, one-time journalist Denis McShane, has just become the latest politician to go to jail for fiddling his expenses.
Record numbers of people being fed from food banks, drastic welfare reforms which have meant thousands of people unable to pay their social housing rents, and massive cuts in public spending have piled even more agony on the shoulders politicians.
It doesn't help that MPs are being forced to accept a whopping 7,000 pound (11,500 U.S. dollars) yearly wage increase at a time when public sector workers face yet another pay freeze, or a one percent rise if they are lucky.
Modest improvements in the economic recovery could help Cameron this year, but members of his party are at loggerheads over continued membership of Europe which has seen massive migration into Britain from some of the newer EU member countries.
On New Year's Day, Britain will open its doors to migrants from the newest EU member states Bulgaria and Romania.
Growing numbers of British citizens want a brake to be placed on immigration, saying the country can no longer afford thousands of newcomers, especially if they seek welfare benefits once they arrive.
All eyes will focus on the Liberal Democrats, junior partners in the current coalition government running Britain. Nick Clegg's party has been severely punished by an unforgiving electorate for climbing into bed with the Conservatives. The party has slumped in the ratings trailing behind UKIP.
UKIP Deputy Leader and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Paul Nuttall told Xinhua that 2014 is likely to be the most important year in his party's history.
"This year more than ever a political window has opened for us. We are riding high in the opinion polls, we have made so many gains on local councils across the country and I believe we will double the number of our MEPs this May to more than 20, possibly 25."
"The big parties are running scared because we are becoming increasingly popular as a classless party, popular in working class areas as well as up-market areas."
And while the big three leaders may be tempted to peek into that crystal ball, political party strategists will be doing the adding up to work out who will be the winners and losers in what is a critical year for British politics.