Friday, 21 December 2007

21 December 2007

It’s that time of year again … when I go into a trance and pretend that I can forecast what’s going to happen in the year ahead. It’s a silly game, I know, but it keeps me amused.

How did I do with last year’s predictions? Well, I feared that violence in Iraq would get worse, which it didn’t. I’m perfectly happy to have been wrong on that one.

I said Somalia would descend into more factional fighting, which it has done, not that anyone has taken much notice. I also said Gordon Brown would take over as prime minister (I claim no prizes for that one), that the SNP would probably emerge as the largest single party in Scotland, which it did, and that there’d be an increase in anti-Scottish sentiment south of the border, which there has been.

I also said that Mr Brown “might be sorely tempted to call a snap election in the autumn, both to establish his own authority and to wrong-foot David Cameron”. Which he was, and much good did it do him …

I noted that June would mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War in the Middle East and suggested that Hamas would not want to let that go unnoticed. And guess what, June was when they seized control in Gaza.

Finally, I noted that Romania and Bulgaria were about to join the EU and that Germany was determined to revive the debate over the EU constitution, sorry, reform treaty. Both turned into major stories of 2007.

So, what do my tea leaves tell me about 2008? First the US presidential election, and no, daft I may be, but not daft enough to predict the outcome of that one. Not even the most respected US political pundits are daring to forecast the winner at the moment, although I do intend to be in the US in early February when the picture may become a great deal clearer after a whole series of primaries and caucuses. Ask me again then …

I think the big story of the coming year will be the economy … because both in the US and in this country, it looks as if the decade of growth is coming to an end. So the big question in my mind is whether governments and central bankers can manage the downturn. And I’ll be watching for more bad news from the banks as they discover that the wave of speculative finance they’ve been riding so profitably for the past few years is now crashing down on them.

Which means even fewer smiles, I suspect, from G Brown. I predict that the opinion polls will continue to make gloomy reading for Labour, that the anti-Brown sniping from his own party ranks will increase, and that the Tories will still find it difficult to believe their luck. As for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, I fear they’ll continue to feel the pinch: on one side, a Tory leader who disobligingly describes himself as a liberal; and on the other, a Labour party that isn’t led by Tony Blair.

I think we’ll hear less about Iran and more about Pakistan. President Putin of Russia will become Prime Minister Putin of Russia, and I doubt that anyone will notice the difference. The Olympics in Beijing will be the occasion for much breast-beating about human rights abuses in China, and it wouldn’t surprise me if something goes horribly wrong.

I’m also going to be keeping a close eye on Cuba, which is already in the throes of a transition to a post-Fidel future, and on Venezuela and Bolivia, where there are growing signs of popular dissatisfaction with their populist leftist leaders. And finally, unfinished business in Kosovo: I expect a unilateral declaration of independence in February or March, and then a lot of grumbling and mumbling and gnashing of teeth from Belgrade and Moscow. But I doubt it’ll explode into a major conflagration.

As for what’s left of this year, I do hope you’ll try to catch the programme on Monday, Christmas Eve: it’ll be a bit different from the usual fare, because (i) we’ve already recorded it; (ii) it’s all about one subject; and (iii) no, you’ll have to listen to find out …

I’m going to be taking a break next week, so there’ll be no newsletter next Friday -- but the programme will be on air as usual (except for Christmas Day), so you’ll have no excuse not to keep up with world events. In the meantime, thank you for all your support – and comments -- over the past year.

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