Had I said this time last year that 2015 would have seen an overall Conservative victory in a General Election in which Ed Miliband ended his political career with a disastrous result commemorated on an ‘Edstone’; that the Liberals would be all but wiped out; that the Scot Nats would win 54 out of 59 seats in Scotland, where Labour and the Tories would be level-pegging at one seat each; and that UKIP was flash in the pan; if I’d have predicted all of that, you would – quite rightly – have asked some questions about my political antennae.
Well the same applies to 2016. We will very probably have the long-awaited In/Out EU Referendum, which polls currently suggest is too close to call. The aftermath is the most interesting thing – a narrow vote either way might well not be the end of it. The subsequent General Election would be dominated by the existential question of the UK’s membership of the EU. A 40% ‘No’ vote, for example, would be more than enough to form a Government under the first-past-the post system. (The current government was elected with 37% of the popular vote.) And a vote to leave would herald all sorts of tortuous negotiations and arguments.
The economy and deficit-reduction plans are by no means out of the woods yet, and the Global economy as unpredictable as ever. Will interest rates start to rise? Will employment and prosperity slacken? Will the very necessary ‘austerity’ steps which we are taking so successfully here become less and less deliverable, meaning we miss all kinds of debt-reducing targets; and anyhow, will it matter much if France and Portugal, Greece the rest keeping racking their indebtedness up?
Will we degrade or defeat Daesh in Syria, Iraq and Libya? Will that end the migrant crisis? And what kind of regime will replace them? Will Assad survive, and will Putin test his new found international popularity by exploring NATO’s defences in the Baltic States or elsewhere? Will the Chinese keep up their provocation in the South China Sea; will Afghanistan fall to the Taliban, and what future is there for Pakistan and her nuclear weapons. The World remains as dangerous a place as it has ever been.
What of terrorism at home and abroad? Our most fervent prayer at this New Year must be that we never again see an outrage of the kind we saw in 2015 in Ankara and Sharm el-Sheikh; on the beach in Tunisia and above all twice in Paris. But do we really believe that we will not? Sadly I fear not.
They still produce Old Moore’s Almanack with all kinds of confident horoscopic-type predictions – about politics, the weather, the economy, sport and much else. It claims, for example, to have predicted the 9/11 attack. Which of us would feel that kind of confidence?
I think I would rather rely on the Minnie Louise Haskins poem quoted by the King at the outbreak of the Second World War. “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied ’Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way. “
I wish you all a safe and healthy prosperous and above all Happy New Year.