The prospects do not look especially bright as we begin 2003. War looms; the economy is shaky; gun crime is increasing – and it seems to rain most of the time. But the temptation to be resoundingly pessimistic must be resisted. If we always assume the worst, the worst has a way of happening.
The prospects do not look especially bright as we begin 2003. War looms; the economy is shaky; gun crime is increasing – and it seems to rain most of the time. We will no doubt be addressing the serious issues arising from these dark themes in the coming 12 months. But the temptation to be resoundingly pessimistic must be resisted. If we always assume the worst, the worst has a way of happening.
To take one example, the predictions about the state of the housing market have taken on an almost hysterical air. On Friday The Times warned on its front page of a "housing catastrophe". Hyperbole might suit today's Thunderer, but we prefer a more balanced forecast for the year ahead. Britain, after all, has the fourth largest economy in the world. Unemployment is lower here than in the rest of the EU. The Government, unlike its counterparts in Europe, is increasing public spending, with improvements in schools and hospitals already noticeable. The level of most types of crime is falling. More students will be heading for universities, many with higher A-level grades than their predecessors.
Recent changes in people's purchasing patterns reveal that the public is capable of common sense. Rather than the weeping and gnashing of teeth that greeted the fall in retail sales before Christmas, there should have been relief at the fall in consumer credit. Much of the consumer boom in this country is powered by debts. Shoppers have finally decided that they must rein back – and not before time.
The slowdown in the housing market is no bad thing, either. House prices are starting to stabilise and might even fall, enabling schools, hospitals and police stations to recruit more teachers, nurses and police officers in areas where accommodation had been beyond their means.
But for those still keen to spend, other factors are causing a welcome drop in prices. New technology is one. Before long, recordable DVD players will be half their current price. We are also travelling more at home and abroad. Flights are cheaper than ever before, allowing more of us to leave our wonderfully mild climate for a blast of sunshine.
Some of the above may be a little on the subjective side. The Conservatives would argue, or at least some of them, that higher public spending is not a positive development. Lower house prices will alarm many. The increase in students is presenting the Government with a big political problem over how to fund the universities. And it seems to rain all the bloody time.
But there is an up side, and part of the cynicism surrounding politics means that the up side is rarely acknowledged. So before we return to the gloom, let us remember: the New Year is a time to look forward with hope, not with foreboding.Reuse content