Of the great institutions of state - monarchy, law, church and democratic government - none escaped tribulations in 1992. For the first three, the prospect that the new year will prove less painful than the old must be good. There are fewer royal marriages to be subjected to public scrutiny, fewer spectacular miscarriages of justice to be reviewed and the Church should get a shot in the arm from its decision on female priests.
Would that one could say the same for the Government. Apart from the ongoing saga of Maastricht, this year has again been dominated by the economy. Large and rising budget and balance-of- payments deficits, still rising unemployment, the ignominious end of our membership of the ERM and business confidence still about as low as this time last year can only leave most people concluding it would really be quite difficult for a Western government to do worse.
A successful economy is unquestionably important, but it is not the only factor in life and our present almost total preoccupation with it must surely be unhealthy. Lack of success in the economy, where the Government used to pride itself in its competence, is doubtless partly responsible for the deep disillusionment of the electorate. But only partly. The lack of clear direction on almost any front, the numbing complexity of so much legislation, the levels of incompetence of some ministers (and, indeed, of their Opposition shadows), coupled with an increasingly remote, over- centralised government machine, all contribute to the malaise felt by millions.
So does the continuing erosion of traditional social values. Evident in increasing homelessness, higher divorce rate, more single- parent families and a frightening level of youth unemployment, it represents a horrifying lack of framework for our future society.
But if it is hard for the Government to get the economy right, one must accept that it is at least doubly difficult for it to act successfully in areas that involve complex social issues.
If Hamish McRae's crystal-ball gazing in today's Independent is right, over the next five years our economy will again be in reasonable shape, whatever the Government may do in the meantime. And whatever any government might do, some of the social problems may get worse. They will certainly get worse if we concentrate solely on macro-economic factors, and while they get worse the voter's malaise will not go away.
Can anything be done to dissipate the malaise? If some politicians who repeatedly made crass mistakes would remove themselves (or be removed) from prominence, it would be immensely encouraging. It would help to restore the notion of accountability. If our political leaders could show they really cared about some of the more critical problems not directly involving the economy, and were to lead a meaningful and open debate about how they might begin to be resolved, it would be a wonderful start to restoring confidence between government and governed.
Too much to hope for in 1993?
30 DecemberReuse content