What to expect in 2015

The political landscape here is uncertain. The geopolitical picture abroad is treacherous. Saddle up for a bumpy ride!

Wednesday 31 December 2014 21:47

Outside fairly narrow bounds, prediction is a fool’s game. That does not mean, though, that we cannot look forward to what we hope for, and what we fear will transpire. Much that will happen is happening already: Ebola, Isis, a wobbly global economic recovery. We know that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un will continue to provoke; and we know, too, that a lame-duck President Obama is in no position to do much about them or anything else. Even so, we may look enviously at the US as we undergo dizzying political gyrations over here.

Politics, and not as usual

Serious allegations about a paedophile VIP ring operating at the highest levels may well come to dominate politics, and rightly so. As in the early stages of the Jimmy Savile scandal, reliable witness statements and evidence are so far scant, but the allegations and ramifications could scarcely be more serious and dramatic. After the expenses scandal, which will look tame by comparison, the public will discover new reasons to despise those who rule them: natural, but not healthy for democracy.

Still, the single most important set-piece political event will be the general election; or rather the first of what may turn out to be two in one year. What seems near-certain is that the election will fail to produce a winner, in the sense of a single party, or even two parties, able to command a working majority. Instead, we will have a rainbow parliament, comprised of more parties than at any time before: Ukip, the SNP and the Greens will never have had it so good.

The Liberal Democrats, once the receptacle for the protest vote, face a meltdown, scant reward for their decision to put country before party and enter into coalition in 2010. Poignantly, the Tories will be the main beneficiaries of that, but they will be damaged, as we have seen, by the rise of Ukip, as we saw in Clacton and Rochester last year. Nigel Farage will lead a flaky group of MPs who will probably be strong enough to push debate farther to the right, but not large enough to push Britain out of the European Union. Ukip, and the bias in the electoral system, as well as its own failure to connect with voters, will deprive the Tories of a majority.

Scottish elbows

Alex Salmond will transfer to Westminster, and so confident does he appear to be that he has already told this newspaper that he intends to set aside his party’s traditional policy of absenting itself from votes that affect England – an inflammatory move. Scotland will stay on the agenda, as will the vexatious question of English Votes for English Laws, and there is something in the dynamic of all this that seems to be inexorably drawing Scotland out of the Union. The Parliament of 2015 will be ill-equipped to broker a historic compromise.

A united front on the climate?

The most important international conference this year will be the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, which constitutes the final fling of international diplomacy against the dangers of global warming. Despite the poor track record of these confabs, there is, at last, some cause for optimism. China and America – the two worst polluters – have taken a belated and necessary lead in the past 12 months, and, following progress in a preparatory conference in Peru only weeks ago, their influence may bind the world to setting crucial emissions targets.

America goes AWOL

Not the smallest consequence of the paralysis that has overtaken the governance of the US is that President Obama will find it difficult to respond to the distressingly numerous threats to peace and the security of the world. Americans, and the world, will be much exercised by the prospect of another Clinton (Hillary) vs Bush (Jeb) contest in 2016.

In Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, the fight against Isis will drag on, with the changing tactics of jihadis – who have gone to ground to avoid air strikes – necessitating a greater focus on training up and arming soldiers ready to take the fight to them in close combat. As widely predicted, US intervention in Syria has strengthened Bashar al-Assad and hurt what remains of the moderate revolutionary forces – the same soldiers the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, wants to use as “boots on the ground”. So the quagmire looks like it will become only harder to navigate.

In Iran, Mr Obama holds out hope for a vitally important nuclear accord. That may be his best bet of a significant score in the final quarter of his presidency – repeated delays have, at least, not extinguished the enthusiasm of negotiators. Russia has tested the West’s resolve in Georgia and Crimea, and the West was found wanting; it will be tempting for the Kremlin to try more of the same, despite the collapse of the rouble.

Strange to say the only bright spot may be the Ebola outbreak, as work on vaccines and limiting the spread of the disease intensify.

What recovery?

Britain’s economic recovery seems set to run on – with wages at last catching up with price rises, mortgage rates still low and jobs being created at a remarkable rate – none of which, though, seems to be raising much in the way of new tax revenues.

The biggest danger is a renewed downturn in Europe; weaker economies such as Greece are far away from restoring their competitiveness, and Germany has slowed markedly. Japan is mired in stagnation. Oil and commodity values have slumped, a mixed blessing, as it weakens regimes from Venezuela to Equatorial Guinea which hardly need destabilising.

We cannot know when, where and how these various pressures will erupt – it may not be the banking system again – but if they do, then even the most cautious predictions about this year will prove unduly optimistic. Two thousand and fifteen will not be dull. However it turns out, we hope it is a happy one for all our readers.

Happy new year to all our readers.

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