Friday, 6 July 2007

6 July 2007

Yes, here it is. Your personalised, limited edition, souvenir 100th newsletter, something you will want to treasure and pass on to your children and grandchildren. A unique moment in history. And how better to celebrate than by welcoming home Alan Johnston, free at last after 114 days as a hostage in Gaza. Thank you, all of you, who signed the petition calling for his release and sent messages of support. We now know that he was aware of the campaign because he was able to listen to the BBC World Service in his Gaza dungeon … so it did make a huge difference, to him if not to his wretched kidnappers.

My very first newsletter was written on 8 July 2005, one day after the suicide bombings in London that killed 52 people. This one, almost exactly two years later, comes in the immediate aftermath of the attempted car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. Who says there’s no symmetry in history? (And although maths was never my strong point, am I right in thinking that if I’ve written 100 newsletters in two years, it must mean that I’ve taken only four weeks holiday in that time? I really should get out more …)

Gordon Brown may have been planning his first week as Prime Minister for years – but he could never have planned for what his first weekend was like. A major security alert, a raising of the national threat level to “critical”, which is as high as it gets – it was certainly a brutal introduction to the reality of being at Number 10.

All the commentators – and the opposition parties – seem to agree that he’s acquitted himself pretty well. And they seem to have been particularly impressed by his new Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith – but I thought I detected a slight whiff of: “Well, well, who would have thought it? A woman can do the job of Home Secretary.” And there was me thinking we’d moved on from there …

But as I remarked last week, political honeymoons don’t last long these days, and I fancy that when trouble comes for our new PM, it will come from two directions. First, he should remember that old parliamentary advice: “Your opponents may be in front of you, but your enemies are behind you.” (In other words, among his own backbenchers.) True, he has one advantage over Tony Blair – he doesn’t have a Gordon Brown scheming next door all the time. But wait till the autumn … the grumbling will soon start.

Even more ominous, if I were Mr Brown, I’d be keeping a very close look at the property pages. Because if house prices start tumbling, he’s going to be in big trouble. Interest rates go up (and, of course, there’s nothing he can do about that any more, since he gave the Bank of England full independence over interest rate policy), property prices go down … result: tens of thousands of very unhappy voters. If their pockets start feeling emptier than they have been for the past decade, they’ll stop buying so many giant flat-screen TVs and cheap flight holidays. And before you know it, the economy will be stalling.

And whom do you think they’ll blame? Remind me, who’s been in charge of economic policy for the past 10 years …?

I’m not making any predictions, simply pointing out where the political storm clouds may be gathering. Opinion poll “bounces” are all well and good, but bouncing balls return to earth soon enough, no matter how high they’ve bounced.

But enough of the doom-mongering … this is a weekend to celebrate my centenary. So I am delighted to be able to announce that I am now to be found online on Facebook (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask someone you know who’s under the age of 30). The idea is that I can jot down inconsequential musings whenever the fancy takes me, and keep you up to date with what I’m up to. I also hope to be able to reach a lot more people with these newsletters, and I hope that you, and whoever else joins me there, will chat back and we can form a nice big friendly World Tonight family.

It’s called “social networking” and thanks to Facebook, I’ve already been able to wish a happy birthday to a listener in Paris whom I’ve never even met. If you like the sound of it, do join up and get in touch. (Just type Facebook into your search engine and take it from there.) If it doesn’t appeal, perhaps you’d be kind enough to pass the word to anyone you know who you think might enjoy it. I think it could be a lot of fun.

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