If you were of a gloomy disposition, the start of 2019 would give you plenty to be gloomy about. No matter which side of the argument you may be on, Brexit looks a trifle choppy for a few months to come at very least; a minority government will find it hard to do very much in Parliament. It is true that the economy remains strong, which, as we used to predict in the City Markets, means that it has only one way to go - down. The EU is looking pretty sick, with no answer to the Italian Budget conundrum; Merkel having lost her authority, Macron a grave disappointment to all; perhaps we are leaving at just the right time? President Trump seems unable to hold his administration together; the US is in shut-down over $5 Billion to build a pointless and porous wall with Mexico; their withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan seems premature and unplanned; and their trade war with China a potential disaster. The Middle East remains on the brink of Armageddon; and the migrant crisis moves ever closer to home.
It’s going to be an exciting year. Or, as old Jock Fraser used to say in Dad’s Army “Ye’re all doomed’.
Yet even a little travelling - across Europe, and even more so in Middle East, Africa, South America - should be enough to remind us how very lucky we are. We have huge prosperity by comparison with most places and most times in history. We are, after all, the fourth or fifth richest country in the world. I remember my father reminiscing about how he was the only boy at his primary school in working class Coatbridge to have shoes. The others went barefoot. Nowadays we consider ourselves poor if we don’t have the latest designer trainers. We have free education and healthcare, which have their problems but are overall the envy of the world. We moan about potholes, but frankly our road networks are better than most; our trains a little late and the sandwiches curling; and train travel costs a pretty penny. Yet we are lucky to have them; our airlines and airports (drones permitting) are amongst the best and the busiest in the world. We have effective full employment, with more people, more women, more young people employed than ever in our history; we have super-prosperous businesses; first class apprenticeships and University education; a beautiful environment and countryside; decent defence and law and order. Of course, we can moan and groan about most of those things. But the truth is that by comparison with most people anywhere in the world and ever in our own history we really are exceptionally lucky.
Not only all of that, but the future looks even brighter in so many ways. Our young people have the health, dynamism, education and long-life expectancy to play a real role in the world; our economy, industry and commerce top most charts; our innovation, inventiveness, entrepreneurship the envy of most. And it’s my view (although not all will agree) that Brexit is the opportunity to build on all of that and create a truly prosperous, healthy and happy UK for generations to come.
So, let us not be too gloomy. It really is all there to play for. We are amongst the most fortunate people in the world, and we have the capabilities to make ourselves truly world leaders in every respect. Greatness is there to be grasped. Let us make 2019 the year when we do so.
With my very best wishes for a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year.