Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Stripping Fred Goodwin of his knighthood may be popular- it is also deeply wrong.

At a time when convicted criminals, such as Jeffery Archer, can still be called Lord Archer and still have access to the privileges of the peerage, to strip a man convicted of no crime, because what he may (or may not) have done is unpopular looks like the worse kind of witch hunt- it is giving in to the baying of the mob.

Many tabloid newspaper editors and journalists have been knighted or have received other honours- how come there has been no such outcry against them? Tabloids were not guilty of misjudgement, but as we now know, of crimes- presumably once the Leveson inquiry is over we will strip all the journalists of their awards- as Johan Hari has been stripped of the Orwell prize (and now, belatedly his job).

I think John Prescott is a lecherous incompetent- I think we should strip him of his peerage- indeed he should never have received it. In fact I think anyone on the Labour benches should be stripped of any honours they may have. Actually I don't like Tories much either- how come Patrick Cormack- as pompous to his own side as to everyone else- gets to keep his knighthood? 

Unless Fred Goodwin was convicted of a crime, how can he be dis-honoured like this?

The honours system has been a farce for years- now it descends into something much worse.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Another critical week

As Monday looms ahead, there is now the real probability that Greece could default this week. 

No one knows what happens in that event: the policy makers and many market practitioners now think they can cope- but the reality is that no one knows.

I think we are about to find out whether Mrs. Merkel's policy of masterly inactivity will actually work.

I don't think it has, and I suspect that the impending Greek default could well lead to the failure of Hungary and Bulgaria.

This feels like the calm before the storm.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Could France vote for Marine Le Pen?

France remains one of the cornerstones of the European Union. A founding member of the organisation, it has been French philosophy that has shaped the ideology of the bloc and French systems and vocabulary of administration- "conseil", "stage"- that dictate the implementation of policy. The EU, primarily conceived as a way of eroding the hostility of enemies, in practice has become a way for France to project its power and influence over the whole bloc.

The latest alliance- of President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel at first sight looks like only the latest in a long series of Paris-Berlin (or Bonn) arrangements that have come to constitute the "Franco-German motor" of the EU.

Yet the signs are there, for all who can read them, that all is not well.

The attempts to rationalise and reform the European Union that have been underway for over a decade culminated in the EU Constitution: a document primarily crafted be a former French President- Valery Giscard d'Estaing- and full of the phraseology that L'Academie Francaise could approve- or even understand. Yet as we know, the French rejected the document in a decisive referendum. Although another founding member- the Netherlands- also rejected the document a few days later, it was the French rejection that was fatal to the project.

Yet France has long possessed significant anti-federalist, even Euro sceptic, political forces. These have tended to group into the anti-capitalist parties of the extreme left and the ultra-Gaullist believers in the French nation state who shade into the Pujardist and ultra nationalist Front National. As the left continues its slow decay, it has become the Front National that has been the primary standard bearer of Euro Scepticism, based upon a certain idea of French identity and nationalism.

Yet the leadership of the Front National, under the ex-soldier, Jean Marie Le Pen has not made the political breakthrough that they hoped. In 2002, despite the strong hostility of the media, Le Pen was able to knock out the Socialist candidate for President, Lionel Jospin and enter the run-off against the incumbent President Jacques Chirac. - yet Le Pen was crushed in the second round as voters decided that even the compromised and corrupt Chirac was a better choice that the bluntly racist Le Pen. Alarmed by the rise of the Front National, the politicians of the Gaullist right adopted several key policies of the FN, and for a while the threat seems to have receded- certainly the FN did not perform well in the 2011 regional elections.

Yet in recent weeks, the opinion polls are showing an increasing momentum behind Le Pen's youngest daughter, Marine, in her campaign for the Presidency in 2012. At the moment the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande is ahead, even though he is usually described as a lacklustre or wooden figure, often outshone by his glamorous former partner, Segolene Royal.

Nicolas Sarkozy has proven himself to be a tough fighter- but he remains unpopular and is struggling in the polls- as Marine Le Pen continues to close the gap. The point is that Marine Le Pen does not have the blunt-to-the-point-of-brutal manner of her father. She is riding the wave of the the unpopularity of the Euro and the wider European Union project. 

At the moment the conventional wisdom is that Hollande and Sarkozy will face each other in the run-off. However, if Sarkozy were to lose to Le Pen in the first round, then the second round could be a rather different affair than in 2002. Chirac was able to appeal across the political spectrum- yet Hollande is too much a man of the left to be able to do that- at best, Marine Le Pen would score a higher result than her father did a decade ago.

What about at worst?

Though the chances may be small, I do not think we can rule out entirely a Le Pen victory. The concerns of Euro sceptics have only grown over the past five years- and I for one have heard forthright support for Le Pen from very surprising quarters. Of course such a result would be a political earthquake- but as the No vote in 2005 showed, the French are not afraid of political earthquakes- indeed they seem to enjoy rocking the establishment boat.

It may be a small chance today- but Le Pen has momentum and the French voters are in an angry mood- so even such a radical an idea as victory for Marine Le Pen can not be entirely dismissed.      

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Labour could still be doomed

Too often we forget that the British Labour movement is built upon a Socialist foundation. Although Blair and Brown sought to create a new, pragmatic version of Socialism, as Harold Wilson tried to do before them, the reality remains that the deepest instincts of the Labour Party remain collectivist and tribal.

Since the fall of the Brown government in 2010, the party has struggled to address the root causes of the financial crisis- which are as much about the follies of the state as about the follies of the bankers. Until this week, the leadership of Labour rejected the idea that the only way to recovery was through austerity, preferring instead to assert that a return to growth required continuing high levels of government expenditure. Even now the slight shift in the Labour attack on the coalition still leaves Labour on the side of fiscal incontinence. 

Yet even this pretty minor shift has been greeted with rage by the Unions, which remain the core of the Labour Movement and the primary backers of the party. Eds Balls and Miliband are still trying to have it all ways. Yet this intellectual dishonesty is now coupled with a sense that the Labour leadership is losing the plot- it is not just the personal attacks on Ed Miliband, which themselves reflect unhappiness with the direction of his leadership, as much as his personal qualities.

The problem is that Labour policy is based on the deepest instincts of the Labour movement- which are at heart anti capitalist. Len McCluskey's comments reflect a deep ambivalence about the entire capitalist economic system- yet offers no answers about what any viable alternatives might be. We have to get capitalism working again -even if we can include a broader range of ownership- such as mutuals- because there is no other system realistically on offer.

It is this intellectual failure by Socialists that undermines Labour as a viable alternative government. The failure of the New Labour project now leaves the party with nothing but the threadbare nostrums of a hundred years ago. The party is out of ideas and increasingly out of energy.

There has been much gloating over the supposed demise of the Liberal Democrats since they took the difficult and dangerous decision to join the coalition. The latest polls certainly make grim reading. Yet at least the party retains its intellectual vigour- and increasingly, whatever the problems for Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband's problems seem worse. A recovery in the Liberal Democrat's  fortunes can not be ruled out. 

Neither can a further decline in Labour fortunes. The strange nature of electoral outcomes in a three party system may yet condemn Labour to further defeat. They certainly deserve it.    

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remaking British politics

Many of my Scottish nationalist friends attack the so-called "Unionist" opposition to separatism because it seems so negative. "Overcome your fears" they say "and embrace a positive and constructive agenda for a separate Scotland". Yet for me, it is separatism that is negative and narrow. The SNP thesis is that the Union has failed and can not be repaired. In my view there is very much a positive message in the idea of preserving the common state.

The political union that was created in 1707 was a platform that not only created the worlds most successful global economy for a period of two centuries, it also created a political and cultural powerhouse that spread the our ideas of a liberal parliamentary system across the planet and disseminated our language even in places that did not come under the influence of the Crown. 

It was an expansive and dynamic time, and the Scots took full measure in it. Indeed part of the problems of the common state, as some in the SNP would see it, is that with the Empire now long gone, the common state is too small to give Scots the global opportunities that they crave. Taking that logic, the break up of the United Kingdom should be seen as the logical consequence of the break up of the Empire- "lost an Empire, never found a role, and ultimately broke up".

Yet I believe that Britain can rediscover a sense of national mission, and that the opportunities on offer to Scots are all the greater as part of this wider national project. 

What Alex Salmond and his cohorts have been doing has been to recreate all the faults of Whitehall- a centralized bureaucracy, inflexible thinking and old fashioned ways of government. The purpose of centralising all power in Edinburgh is to provide a critical mass of power to oppose London. Yet this centralization also opposes alternative power centres- both geographical, by taking powers away from local centres and political, by ignoring citizens initiatives that Holyrood can not control.  While proclaiming the virtues of diversity, the SNP is actually undermining it. To my mind a new political agenda can be set more freely when cities like Aberdeen share ideas with cities like Plymouth, which have similar problems of over reliance on a single employer, relatively poor transport links and larger geographical distances.    The SNP bitterly rejects this kind of collaboration, since it undermines their case that Scotland is unique and should be separate. Despite this, however, in the private sector, such links are routine, even universal. Only in the SNP dominated state sector is such work dismissed.

The decline of the Tories in Scotland led the SNP to discover the virtues of business ethics, however as Labour too sinks into decline in its former Scottish heartland as it has in the rest of the UK, the SNP is tacking back to the left- yet the state dominated thinking of the left is failing Labour electorally because it is intellectually bankrupt. The cost of the banking crisis has been to severely limit the ability of the state to deliver the unsustainable finances that the left demands. The SNP have fallen into a left wing managerialism that is only interesting because it demands a new stage for the same old play.

I believe that the Common state can create a new agenda- not precisely the "big society" of David Cameron, but certainly a more individual based community- an new format and at odds with the old fashioned leftism of the SNP. Radical Liberalism remains a powerful intellectual force and I believe that it can deliver- provided the politicians have the couragee to stop pretending that they can deliver to every interest group.

I am not one who contends that separation would be an economic disaster for Scotland- although it is fair to say that the outlook of a highly indebted, largely state sector economic would be problematic even with every penny of oil revenue- and no penny of bank debt- allocated to Edinburgh. It would be a gamble- of the kind that appeals to Alex Salmond who is well known as a betting man. I think it is irresponsible to place such a bet- especially since it is a one way ticket to a highly uncertain destination.

So before Scotland embarks on its gamble, I think we should work towards a new politics within the United Kingdom- I think it possible and I think it right: and it does not involve kidding on the Scottish people that they do not have to sign any checks for the RBS or the Bank of Scotland disasters- when they clearly do. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Tories have done enough damage to the UK: time they shut up

Alex Salmond may be a very successful politician. He may be an astute leader. He is also, however, wrong. Despite the recent failures of administration by London, Salmond's vision of Scotland is one that reduces Scotland's vision and diminishes its opportunities.

The policy of the Scottish National Party is to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. In this way, the SNP contends,  the Scottish people can achieve more prosperity and have a louder global voice than Scotland has as a full part of the United Kingdom. It is a view routed in the world that has emerged over the past twenty years- a world of fragmenting states and diminished great power rivalries. Put in that context, the SNP suggests that the break-up of the British Empire should now be followed by the break up of the British State.

This thesis is based on the false idea that Scotland was an unwilling junior partner in an essentially imperialist enterprise. The implication is that Scotland was, like other parts of the former Empire in some way occupied. Yet, as the long list of Scottish Prime Ministers and business and cultural leaders in Britain shows, Scotland was not the junior partner in anything. The ability of Scots to make their way in the wider state may have reduced the pull of Edinburgh, or Glasgow as political centres but it massively increased the opportunities available to Scottish individuals, who have taken those opportunities with both hands. From politicians to comedians, artists to inventors, the Scottish people gain hugely from the possibilities that the much larger British state has offered to them. Salmond's vision of a Scotland separate from the rest of the UK offers diminished opportunities to the Scottish people away from Scotland and condemns the Scottish economy to a limited market and limited growth.

The basis of the renewal of Scottish Nationalism has been that Scotland can function just as well within the European Union as in can within the British Union. Superficially it is an attractive prospect- the EU is a market of over 300 million. However, as the experience of the other smaller countries shows, there are significant limits to the influence of 5 million voters, against the determination of the Franco-German motor. Although Scots have been frustrated by the election of Conservative governments in London, they should note that virtually all the governments of the EU are out of the same mould. Furthermore, the resurgence of the right wing Front National could easily see far more conservative governments dictating terms to a government in Edinburgh.

The loathing of England and the English in large parts of Scotland is a bitter and unfortunate legacy of Margaret Thatcher's hectoring and suburban style of leadership. She impose the poll tax on an unwilling Scotland and when the experiment failed, refused to listen. Although the poll tax was the ultimate occasion of the end of her leadership, the sense that Scotland was unimportant and disqualified by the Conservatives led to a rebellion that continues to this day.

For that reason, the emergence of another voice which is equally suburban and hectoring, in the shape of George Osborne could hardly be designed to irritate Scots more. His accent grates, his attitude grates and his determination to force Scotland into an early referendum could hardly have more than one outcome: the break up of the very Union that Mr. Osborne purports to defend.

The Conservatives, having failed in their unyielding defence of the unitary United Kingdom, seem to have defected en bloc to the separatist camp. Yet as Germany, Spain, France and several other countries have shown, there is another alternative, in the shape of a federal or confederal Britain. That maintains the benefits of the common state- including the sharing of armed forces which is of such benefit to NATO and the wider security architecture of Europe- while allowing Scottish affairs to be controlled at home.

For the regions of Scotland, the emergence of centralized power in Edinburgh is possibly even worse than centralized power in more distant London. The SNP is so determined to create a rival power centre to Westminster that it has sucked the life blood out of Scottish provincial cities- and that will be damage that will continue even if the referendum to separate is defeated.

The SNP is dangerous, but they continue to benefit from the tin ear that Conservatives still have for Scottish politics. Osborne should butt out and shut up. If the common state falls I for one would be quite happy to put Osborne's head on a spike.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Estonian "orientation"

Edward Lucas has highlighted an interesting article on the ERR website by a former RFE correspondent, Ahto Lobjakas. The basic thesis is that Estonia has, as it did in the 1930s reoriented its foreign policy away from Britain and towards Germany. Then, as now, such a reorientation is a function of new trade and economic patterns. In the 1930s, Germany overtook the UK as Estonia's biggest trading partner, and over the past few years, the creation of the Euro as increased the significance of Germany to Estonia equally dramatically.

To my mind, though there is more to it than a shuffling of priorities in Estonia's government district, Toompea. Estonia has spent most of the time since independence was restored seeking to comply with the complicated rule book that sets out the terms of membership of both the EU and NATO. Once those goals were achieved, the next task was to comply with membership of the Euro. Once that was achieved, membership of the OECD and so on. Yet the fact is that Estonia has run out of clubs to join. The country has achieved as full a place in the international system as it can. This has left the political class somewhat adrift. In each political party there are signs of ennui, as though they are exhausted by the struggles of the past two decades.

The uneasy federation of nationalist Conservatives and Liberals in the IRL party has more or less fractured, with the ideological nationalists being squeezed out my more slippery technocrats. The result has been a series of increasingly serious corruption scandals- the latest concerning large payments being made by Russians in order to gain Estonian residency permits. Decisions being made by some IRL ministers seem based entirely on party political calculations- and this is causing significant damage both to Estonia's reputation for probity and competence. I have written about the increasingly mishandled privatisation of Tallinn Water in the past, but as both sides now settle in for a long legal battle, I can only view the miscommunication between the company, the economics ministry and the competition commission with something approaching despair. 

The Centre Party too remains under a cloud of suspicion as investigations continue into suspect donations from overseas (=Russian) sources. The controversial leader of the Centre Party, Edgar Savisaar has faced such allegations before, but the finger of suspicion is now being pointed in the direction of other parties. The Centre Party vote continues to languish, while former Centre politicians are trying to create a new political force that can appeal to both Estonian and Russian voters: the Social Democrats. Certainly the Sotsid  have the wind in their sails, yet this reflects the tired nature of Estonian politics: the Prime Minister is now the second longest serving leader in the EU, and people are increasingly bored with the stale sloganeering that has replaced the vigorous intellectual debate that was the joy of Estonian politics over the past two decades.

Huge decisions are going through Estonia's Parliament, the Riigikogu, with barely a debate. The decision to double Estonian national debt in order to support the Euro, was taken with barely a dissenting voice. This does not reflect unanimity- it reflects exhaustion. The parties are tires, and as allegations of corruption mount, it is clear that a political renewal is needed in the country. Yet here too there is a sense of ennui: the entry of the new Respublica Party a decade or so ago was supposed to sweep aside the old guard in Estonian politics- but ultimately it has failed. There is an urgent, growing need for a radical and uncorrupted voice in Estonian politics, but such a voice is not coming- at least not quickly. The growth of support for the Sotsid, reflects the hope for a new direction, yet the leadership of that party seem to be more interested in creating a new Centre Party- shorne of its controversial leader. Yet the policies of the Sotsid are the kind of tepid socialism that Radicals must have hoped would be long gone by now. 

So, Estonian politics is mired in political exhaustion. It may be some time before a new energy can be found- because although the older guard in Estonian politics is moving on, the new guard of smooth, hard faced and questionable professional political figures does not give much hope that things will change positively for the good in the near future.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Josef Skvorecky

It is with a heavy heart that for the second time in three weeks I have to report the death of a giant of Czech literature. Although less well known than his contemporaries, Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel, Josef Skvorecky was as good a writer as Kundera- and in a broader idiom- and as humane a political figure as Havel.

Forced to defect to Canada after the Soviet invasion to crush the Prague Spring, Skvorecky became a publisher who popularized his fellow Czechs in the West, while still writing warm and wise novels of his own.

His semi-autobiographical novels, the Cowards, the Tank Batallion and the Engineer of Human Souls are often laugh out loud funny, in the tradition of Jaroslav Hasek's Good Solider Svejk, while at the same time carrying serious and wise points. The last is certainly the equal of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  

It is hard to select a favourite, but for me, Skvorecky's obsessive interest in the genre of detective stories created a subversive version of Chandler, where his hero, Lt Boruvka, gradually gets more depressed as the solution to the crime hoves into view. He systematically tries to break the rules of the detective story- and the result is extremely readable.

Skvorecky was a humorous and warm writer- and his death, coming after the recent passing of Vaclav Havel should remind us of what heights Czech literature was hitting in the last decades of the twentieth century.

Some more self indulgence

At the risk of being accused of self indulgence, here is another attempt at saying something in a more compressed kind of way, normal service will be resumed shortly:

Coming back to bed
I understood in my confusion that I want and I don’t want.
I see, I thought (but I didn’t see).
You told me once, before you left, that I was… you paused… clumsy
I wondered if it was true and what you meant.

The full moon shines through the window,
A dusty ball of dirt, inert- yet it glows with a memory of you
It does not show hope or fear, or love, or distraction, though I think it does
The banal face of a rock I nightly screened my grief upon
So clumsy am I.

Yet I would have soared with the Apollo craft.
Made a small step upon the face of Tranquility
Our world of wonder, joyful under the jewel of Earth
Oh no, that could never be (you said), too… clumsy.
So I am marooned on the lunar surface of my pillow.

There is no movement on the lunar surface now
Your hair was scattered like a crater shadow across the bed.
Now long gone, and your soft breathing is on another pillow far away,
Only the cold moon shining
On the arid, empty landscape.

Were you ever here?
For longer than the moon has smiled,
It seems a dream I had but minutes since.
Your comfort, your presence, your cyan-blue eyes
But I was woken by a harder voice…”clumsy”

My dreams, of late, are silent as a vacuum
I no longer see your face, or hear your voice.
The smiling Moon is silent too, complicit.
So, I sit. I turn over and lie down. I see, as my eyes close (but I don’t see).
Downie covered, I remember, I remember.

I forget.

March 2011:

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Saxon Shore

The Saxon Shore

The Saxon shore: the shingle clad beach shouts the sounds of the Sea.
Here Cedd the sinner, storm tossed, lost, came to build on the stones of Othona.
The Light lasting as Kings and Caearls made Saxon swirls
To break Roman rigidity in a fresh imagination.
So Cedd brought the spark to shelter in St. Peter’s name here, on the sibilant shore.

The word, illuminated in vellum volumes
Preached to the marsh dwellers by the Blackwater where the curlew calls.
Cuthbert, Cedd, Chad chanting the rituals of the hours and the days.
English then being born in the dark age, flaming into light
The vibrant vitality of intertwined imagery: riotous and rich.

As Barbarians slowly learning a language for the light,
So we struggle to find a name for our days and ways.
As the Saints we seek but do not find, the certainties we can save
Our age is uncertainty, yet still we fill the gaps with fantastical monsters
Dancing in the spaces where the truth is not written.

Then who could speak to us from the rising waves in the darkening storm of night?
Not Bryhtnoth, the courageous politician, cursing the Danegeld and lost beneath the waves upriver;
Nor yet those who would have compromised and paid for comfort with another’s gold.
Not the priestly hypocrites, also fat on other men’s toil.
Surely we must judge ourselves- perhaps most harshly- if ever we might find a haven.

Sent by Aidan from the shore of Lindisfarne, we might follow Cedd’s long pilgrimage.
In ignorance or in faith he worked within the world, though hoped beyond it.
Can we too find such grace, peace, serenity, in the face of the storm’s strong surge?
Yet shoreward, eventually, we must come; the sun setting crimson beyond the evening mist
But will we know where our life’s journey brought us?

The bewildering babble of our millennium hides the truth in so much data,
Where once the Saints –who had so little- sought to find any truth at all.
If we could know all we might know, would we have a greater truth than theirs?
Or would our understanding fail us, drowning in a complex sea?
Then the silence of this Chapel might speak loud at last.

October 2010

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Closing the straits of Hormuz

In the Cold War, there were a series of existential nightmares that kept policy planners awake at nights. One of them was the cutting of the vital oil supply lines from the Persian Gulf to the West. Today, the Iranian regime has threatened to cut the straits of Hormuz, if the United States tries to returns its carrier to its base in Bahrain. Iran has also tested a missile that could sink a carrier in the precise same place.

Iran has also, rather mysteriously, shot down a US unmanned drone. The best technology to do that is in Russia. Russia, the logical conclusion must be, has supplied technology to Iran in order to do this. Closing the Hormuz straits would certainly increase the price of oil- which might save the increasingly unstable Putin regime. When one therefore thinks "cui bono?", the answer must be that Moscow and Tehran have several things in common.

"Some damn thing in the Balkans" was the policy nightmare a hundred years ago. Now, it is the cutting of oil supply to the West by an Iran supported by the criminal regime in Moscow. The fact that China also took a look at the drone cannot have gone down well in the US.

This is spectacularly dangerous.

If Iran tries to close the straits, the response will be overwhelming force. 

The slightest miscalculation will start the Third World War. 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Casting the Runes

Predicting the future is not something Human beings can do with any great accuracy, so the acres of newsprint devoted to imagining the year ahead before it happens are largely wasted effort. I do not intend to make any predictions, but I can see a few interesting "what-ifs" on the horizon.

There are some definite dates that we can play with: we know that France and Russia will face elections. At this point, the French candidates include the incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy, his great right wing rival, Dominique de Villepin, the Socialist Francois Hollande, and Marine Le Pen of the Ultra-right Front National. While many are prepared to make a bet as to whether or not M. Sarkozy can make it back, I think the story of the election may end up being the showing of the Ultra-rightist Le Pen. Polls are showing that her support exceeds that of her father at a similar stage before he humiliated the Socialist Lionel Jospin and forced a run-off with the now convicted fraudster Jacques Chirac. The impact of a strong showing for the anti-Euro Le Pen could not only turn French politics upside down, but up-end a larger number of basic assumptions about the entire European system.

In Russia, the conventional wisdom was already being challenged in 2011. As I have argued many times, the corrupt and mendacious regime of Vladimir Putin rests on shallow and unstable foundations. As the momentum of protest grows, the Putinistas will struggle to maintain control, and ultimately, if the Russian people insist on it, some real change can finally come to a country that has totally lost its way under the current government. A change in Moscow may not be proceeded by change in Belarus, but Minsk too may end up becoming a cockpit of protest too.

In Britain, the mechanics of the coalition have worked surprisingly well, but the Liberal Democrats have paid a heavy electoral price- that seems set to continue, and the party is braced for substantial losses at the May local elections. The decision of the Essex Police to send a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions concerning the alleged behaviour of Chris Huhne could lead to his departure- and the first significant reconstruction of the joint ministerial team. Look to the cadre of junior ministers, such as Ed Davey and Jeremy Browne to be promoted early in that event.

The Scottish elections will be examined particularly closely for evidence of the growing likelihood of Scottish separation: a defeat of Scottish Labour in their erstwhile stronghold  of the City of Glasgow will provide all the evidence that is needed that the UK is headed into very dangerous waters. The breakdown of Labour hegemony in Scotland would undermine any momentum the party would hope for in their attacks against the coalition- and may also provide a first glimmer of hope that the Liberal Democrats could ultimately recover.

As in 2011, the performance of the global economy seems set to maintain its stranglehold over the headline writers' imagination. Yet, the scale of the economic imbalances that were built up over the first decade of the millennium precludes any quick fix, although there is growing evidence that it will be the United States that will benefit first from the recovery. The radical restructuring that America has undergone has left its private sector in a strong position, and that is a big plus at a time when China will be slowing, and growing more introverted ahead of the up-coming change in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. China retains its capacity to surprise, and it is increasingly difficult to forecast the direction of a country that has been undergoing wrenching economic change.

If the zeitgeist of the past generation has been the creation of a culture of excess, it is becoming clear that recent years has begun to see a significant change in cultural norms. The age of austerity has yet to shape a more thoughtful culture, but I suspect that the coming year may see some interesting experiments. The technology that has helped to shape political currents in the Arab world could yet see a wider revolution in the ways that we see ourselves.

As for this blog, it faces a rather uncertain future- my ambition was to make the blog something like an op-ed column in a newspaper. It may not always be achieved, except in respect of the negative aspects of a columnist- possibly too repetitious and too strident- but it is increasingly clear to me that the coming year will need to see significant changes in how and what this blog seeks to do. I will consider how to proceed over the course of the next couple of months.

However, I still look forward to the coming year and wish my readers a Happy New Year!