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".
As I write, in solsitio brumali, I am much in need of a light to see clearly into 2008. For bookmakers, clairvoyants and bloggers, prediction is a risky business and always likely to lead to copious amounts of egg on the face. But no one could say other than that 2008 will be another fascinating year.
The death of Benazir Bhutto inevitably dominates one’s thoughts. In early Autumn an American commentator on the BBC, whose name I cannot now recall, but who spoke plain, sound common sense made one short but telling point which drew my attention: “the one thing that really frightens me is Pakistan, it keeps me awake at night”. His analysis was both sobering and chilling and, as it turns out, prescient.
Pakistan is surely the tinderbox upon which the West must deploy its greatest skill to encourage it to stability. The alternative, that it and its nuclear arsenal might fall into the hand of Muslim fundamentalists, is too awful to contemplate. With some signs that the Army is not entirely loyal, especially on the NW Frontier where Al-Qaeda has its bolt-holes, the chances of a major collapse of the existing order cannot be discounted. Failure is not an option for the West.
In November climaxes the almost permanent campaigning for the White House these days. I am fascinated by the USA’s political processes and electoral system which have some echoes of our own but are largely so different. I love the idea of the caucus which our Conservative party in Britain might with advantage adopt for candidate selection.
Pay careful attention to the role of the internet in general and blogging in particular as I believe both will play an increasingly important part in politics both there and here.
How would I vote? In the Democratic primaries, my vote would go to the deeply poisonous Mrs. Clinton on the grounds that she will have the effect of uniting her Republican opposition and getting their vote out that much easier. Of the Republicans I would choose Giuliani. He made a good fist of New York’s Mayoralty, strikes me as a pragmatist and, though tough, is no ideologue.
Romney and Huckabee would make any Englishman uncomfortable as we avoid mixing politics and religion, an irony considering that we have an Established State Church and the USA specifically does not.
Huckabee, as I understand it, is one of those gentle but intellectually challenged souls who believes the Bible literally to be true: that is a matter entirely for him, of course, but I do wish he would tell us how Moses managed to get two of every animal, plant and so forth that has ever existed on Earth into one vessel and just how big it was…
In the Presidential Election I would be a natural Republican supporter, though not if the candidate was again George W. Bush. His tenure has not been illustrious: his handling of the economy has been inept, he has managed to make a hash of an eminently winnable and justified war and I would find supporting someone who fell in love with Blair so much almost impossible.
Turning to British politics, we have just come through perhaps the most extraordinary nine months: one wonders how 2008 can match it. Brown’s transition, as Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats so pithily put it, from Stalin to Mr. Bean who, instead of bringing order out of chaos, has brought chaos out of order, has been astonishing. I liked this in The Daily Telegraph which, I reckon, hits the nail on the head.
Brown is essentially a creature of the 1970s by which time he was engaged full-time in Scottish Labour politics. Apart from a short period in his late twenties and early thirties when he was a Politics lecturer and then a Broadcast journalist, he had no experience in his formative years of the real world outside the narrow confines of tribalist Scottish politics.
Worse, for seventeen of the twenty-four years as an MP he has held, as shadow or in office, a Treasury brief. Since 1992 he has done nothing else, contributing, one suspects, to the lumpen way he has responded to the exigencies of being Prime Minister, an office which requires a breadth and depth of experience and vision which his career path could never give him.
I will stick my neck out and predict that he will fail to recover his position in 2008. The economy looks set, at best, for a difficult period which will fatally undermine his record for economic competence. He has a modus operandi which may have served well in the Treasury but which is wholly unsuited to the Premiership and which he is organically incapable of adapting to its needs.
He has chosen his Cabinet on the basis of excluding any potential rival (David Miliband was carefully exiled to the Foreign Office where it is difficult to build a powerbase and which offers many opportunities for blunder) and has therefore ended up with a select group of inexperienced and incompetent nobodies who will serve up a string of disasters upon which his administration will be wrecked. It is possible he might yet be deposed as Labour MPs contemplate oblivion.
In the meantime David Cameron’s star will, if he works hard and keeps a clear head, be in the ascendant.
My one wish from him is a consistent policy on the Treaty of Lisbon. He has promised a referendum on the unratified Treaty and that he would campaign against it on the basis that it is not in Britain’s interest. Yet he and William Hague have fudged so far what their policy is on a Treaty that had come into force by the time he wins an election. The Treaty does not cease to be against our interests by coming into force: indeed it becomes more inimical. We must persuade him to offer the possibilities of renegotiation, derogation or denunciation, for doing nothing would be dishonourable and dishonest.
Hopefully, any world economic downturn will be mild and short in effect. The Northern Rock collapse sent a chill down the spines of many. The world ‘credit crunch’ is a cause for alarm in the UK in particular given the extent to which Gordon Brown as Chancellor has allowed debt to build up throughout the UK economy. His plan for a wholly premature general election, later cravenly abandoned, prompted the question: what does he know about the economy in 2008 which might make him want an election now?
Elsewhere keep a careful watch on the military build up of both Russia and China. Each of these is a potential enemy for the middle quarters of the 21st. Century. The USA and the UK must not allow themselves to be totally distracted by Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and in particular must not allow their Armed Forces to be dominated in terms of doctrine, equipment, training and outlook by the sort of light wars now being fought in the Middle East.
Lastly there is Belgium.
One’s attention is drawn to two things.
Firstly that power has been devolved both downwards to Flanders and Wallonia and upwards to the EU to such an extent that a modern industrial state can run for six months without a government. This is a stark reminder of the extent to which the nation state has been emasculated within the EU.
Secondly, how can one call an election legitimate that leads to the acknowledged losers being rewarded with a new mandate? That is the unsatisfactory result of Belgium’s 2007 General Election which may be a short-term fix but will do little to enhance the validity of a system already struggling against a serious democratic deficit.
Belgium’s political crisis may just be beginning in earnest.