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!    

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