Against the odds, we've high hopes for 2005

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The Independent Online

Optimism is the prerogative of young newspapers and young leaders. A few weeks from its 15th birthday, The Independent on Sunday looks forward to 2005 as a glass more than half-full, brimming with possibility. In this we may seem to share too much with Tony Blair, an irrepressibly and irritatingly optimistic politician. However, young as we are, we are not naive. Too much of the Prime Minister's sunny outlook for the coming year relies on people forgetting that he has been in power for more than seven and a half years.

Optimism is the prerogative of young newspapers and young leaders. A few weeks from its 15th birthday, The Independent on Sunday looks forward to 2005 as a glass more than half-full, brimming with possibility. In this we may seem to share too much with Tony Blair, an irrepressibly and irritatingly optimistic politician. However, young as we are, we are not naive. Too much of the Prime Minister's sunny outlook for the coming year relies on people forgetting that he has been in power for more than seven and a half years.

His optimism about the elections in Iraq next month simply bears too little relation to the blood-stained reality on the ground. We accept that there is no alternative to seeing through our responsibility to the people of Iraq, and we hope that the situation there will eventually stabilise. It is even possible that, however imperfect, the elections will be a small help towards that end, but this is one situation where optimism alone is in poor taste.

A modest and realistic hopefulness is more fitting in Israel-Palestine. In this case it is possible to see how elections next month - for a Palestinian president to replace the late Yasser Arafat - might introduce a sequence of events that could lead towards a two-state solution rather than away from it. If the Israelis do withdraw from Gaza and the four token West Bank settlements in 2005, that will change the reality on the ground, and in the opposite direction to that taken since the creation of the state of Israel.

We are even optimistic that the coming year may see a breakthrough to a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland. The fact that the irreconcilables on both sides, the Paisleyites and Sinn Fein, are engaged with each other suggests that we are at the endgame. Elsewhere, we cannot quibble with Mr Blair's priorities for Britain's presidency of the Group of Eight rich nations, which starts on 1 January, or for its concurrent presidency of the European Union that will run for the second half of the new year. The state of Africa and the threat of climate change are undoubtedly the two greatest challenges that face this generation. It may be patronising and simplistic to see all of Africa as one big problem, but Mr Blair is right to identify some common themes of governance and development that affect the poorest nations of the world, most of which are in Africa.

On global warming, we are less inclined to give Mr Blair the benefit of the doubt. For too long he has said how important the issue is without any sign that he understands that the price mechanism is the only feasible way to restrain consumption. The tacit aim of his G8 push is to create the sense of a growing scientific majority, in the hope that US opinion will start to shift. After seven years in which the EU has not even started to try to tax international jet fuel, this is a feeble and very late start, but at least Mr Blair is engaging with the world's greatest polluting nation instead of simply insulting it.

The coming year will probably offer a point of decision for the British people in May, in which Mr Blair's party should pay some kind of price for his misjudgement in joining the invasion of Iraq, and from which Charles Kennedy should gain some reward for his principled defence of international law abroad and civil liberties at home.

But we are unlikely to see a change of government, and there is much in Labour's domestic programme to sustain optimism. The combination of higher public spending and greater consumer power in health and education at last offers "the many" an escape from the polarising decline of the Tory years. The growing emphasis on personal responsibility for one's health, for example, is a measure of the extent to which NHS bottlenecks are ceasing to be the constraint on good health. Meanwhile, new treatments for degenerative diseases may continue to improve the quality of life for millions.

Culturally, too, many good things will happen. Next month Clint Eastwood opens in Million Dollar Baby and Julia Roberts in Closer. "Caravaggio: The Final Years" will be the blockbuster at the National Gallery. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be published on 16 July, and the last Star Wars film, confusingly numbered III, will be out. In cricket, England and Australia play for the Ashes. Mobile phones and computers will become cheaper and cleverer. More Britons will be better-off, better informed and better able to choose their happiness than ever before. Who knows? Fox-hunting may even be finally banned. But do not count on it. We wish our readers a happy New Year and look forward to seeing you in 2005.

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