Letter from the Editor: Global influences have made our lives unpredictable


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The Independent Online

A couple of years ago, I met Sir John Major quite by chance at a book launch. The Coalition Government was enduring an especially torrid week, so I asked him what he made of its travails. He said he felt overwhelmed with sympathy.

I presumed he just meant that he knew, from his own difficulties in No 10, how thankless power can be. But he went further. The fundamental difference now as compared with then, he said, was how global in nature all our problems are – and how much harder that makes them to solve.

History will look more kindly upon Sir John than his contemporaries did. As we plan ahead for the news agenda in 2015, it is precisely the global nature of Britain’s problems that makes them so hard to solve – and predict. Take just two: our economy and our energy.

Britain’s economy is beset by forces it cannot control. The near-doubling of the global supply of labour and the rapid rise of automation and digital technology have put huge, irreversible pressure on our wages. We are hugely vulnerable to a crisis-prone eurozone, never mind everywhere else.

On energy, nobody foresaw the extraordinary drop in oil prices. But the fact is Britain is a bit-part player in the battle between sheikhs and shale which is reshaping the energy map. How can you get global co-operation on climate change when the economics of it are so unpredictable?

Many of our other great challenges, from organised crime and cyber war to Islamic terrorism, are similarly global in nature and local in their effects. And the cause which this paper was founded to uphold is the same. I’m talking about the global threat to democracy.

The worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried – as Winston Churchill, who died 50 years ago next year, put it– is in terrible shape. America’s constitution seems ever more anachronistic, and Washington has spent years in gridlock. The standard of leadership in France is dismal. The Spanish have betrayed their largely unemployed young. Brussels is ever more labyrinthine, and Turkey, which once promised to reconcile Islam with democracy, is sliding toward authoritarianism. Meanwhile the Arab Spring is long gone, and Russia and China have strongman leaders who disdain people power.

And we in Britain can hardly talk. Our electoral system is out of date; trust is at an all-time low; populists are on the march; party membership has collapsed; and Westminster is reviled. For these reasons and more, we are five months away from the most unpredictable election in our history.

The world has never been more complex, as Sir John had the wisdom to recognise. The only certainty in 2015 is uncertainty, and we will do our best both to make sense of it all, and to fight for that cause – democracy – in which we so strongly believe.

On behalf of everyone at The Independent, we wish all our readers the very best for 2015.