Editorial: 2013 is the year to rebuild trust in our institutions

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The Independent Online

Were it not for the Olympics, and the Queen's Jubilee, the past year would have been a decidedly more miserable affair – with the result that, although the economy is predicted to do a little better in 2013, there may be little sense of general improvement.

Change is, of course, inevitable. This will be the year, for example, when the number of internet-connected mobile devices will overtake the number of desktop and laptop computers. But on both the economic and the political fronts, the outlook seems set for more of the same.

Forecasts for growth, after a temporary Olympic fillip, have been revised down to a grim 1 per cent for 2013. The Coalition Government is sticking with its commitment to deficit reduction. But we are surrounded by once-respected institutions – banks, police, the media and the Church – trust in which has been severely dented.

Ring in the changes

Yet after the debacles of 2012 there are still grounds to hope that 2013 will bring the occasional turn for the better. After all, in the next three months, a new Governor of the Bank of England, a new Director-General of the BBC and a new Archbishop of Canterbury will all take office. It is perhaps over-optimistic to imagine that they alone can usher in simultaneous economic, cultural and spiritual renewal; but each still offers a reasonable hope of improvement.

At the Bank of England, Mark Carney arrives with an impressive track record. As head of Canada's central bank, he had a better crisis than any of his peers. In part, such success was due to specifics of the Canadian financial services industry, not least that its institutions were smaller, better-capitalised and governed by rules that discouraged risky loans to property speculators. Canada also had the benefit of a budget surplus and is rich in natural resources.

We should not, therefore, expect miracles. But from this year the Governor in Threadneedle Street will take on regulatory oversight of the financial sector from the Financial Services Authority – making Mr Carney chief regulator as well as the overseer of monetary policy. With considerable experience in both areas, the in-coming Governor is well-suited to a challenge which needs banks prodded into lending as well as inflation kept under control.

A crisis of trust

Culturally, the crisis of trust is spread painfully wide. The Leveson Inquiry has shown press, police and politicians embroiled to an inappropriate degree. But the BBC has been centre stage, following the Jimmy Savile and Newsnight affairs, and what the Pollard report called "one of the worst management crises in the Corporation's history".

The BBC is the gold standard of British journalism. In part, such status is thanks to its charter requirement for impartiality at elections and other public service broadcasting values, but it is also in part quite simply for the quality and creativity of many of its programmes.

Trust in the institution, which has been so shaken, must now be restored. And the new Director-General, Tony Hall, has – on paper at least – the right combination of attributes. After 25 years in news journalism, and more than a decade at the Royal Opera House (where he sorted out an organisational, financial and artistic mess), it can only be hoped that Lord Hall will bring an outsider's critical scrutiny to the BBC's over-management and structural faults.

A divided Church

The Church, too, has crises to overcome and deep divisions to heal. Society has repeatedly led religion on issues such as women's rights and gay marriage, both in terms of equality and compassion, and the events of the past year have shown all too clearly that the lag remains. With census statistics showing that the number of self-professed Christians has dropped from 72 per cent to 59 per cent in just a decade, there is much for Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, to restore the relevance of the church.

A Christmas address warning Synod activists against becoming obsessed with "our own small battles" hints that he may be the right man for the job, though. So do his condemnations of the "paranoia of the ultra-rich" and his calls for society to follow the example of those Christians who "reach to the jagged edges" with homeless shelters, food banks, and care for the dying, "valuing all those who have no economic contribution to make, or are too weak to argue for their own value".

Reasons to be cheerful

As to the rest, it will rumble on. For the Conservatives, there will be continuing division over gay marriage and, tougher still, over Europe. The Liberal Democrats will struggle on with the contradictions of power and the very real possibility of being eclipsed by Ukip as Britain's third political party. The survival instincts of both Coalition partners will, however, keep the partnership together. The battle over Scotland's independence will heat up. Croatia will join the EU. The economies of the emerging world will continue to outperform the West. But the possible fresh starts on the British scene are sufficient to justify some small optimism to those who are realistic but unjaded. Happy New Year!