Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 becomes 2009...a year in review

. So, it is New Years Eve and one can't really avoid reflective and prospective blogs because after all tis' the season. I am told by my (much) better half that the fact that I attach perhaps greater meaning to this Eve than the one the previous week is a bit odd so maybe during the course of this post you will have to indulge me a little. Speaking personally for a second; don't worry there is politics coming-up, I have come an awful long-way in a year and an awful lot is due to my partner. I remember vividly being so glad to see the back of 2007 on a personal level but this year I can look back on an awful lot of personal happiness. Thank you so much Hannah, love you so :).

Right to business; politically I hadn't even joined the Liberal Democrats this time last year although I was flirting with the idea. It was something I was going to do if i ever wanted to get back into politics in a major way so, here I am. It is often the case that the end of years are what they are remembered by and this will be the case for 2008 as a political year because the single most defining event has been the major collapse of not just our economy but the international one. Obviously the consequences of this will be felt into next year and beyond; in many ways it has, paradoxically, enlivened political discourse because suddenly people want to know what is wrong and what can be done. This debate is going on with a heated sense of urgency as the effect is felt in everybodies lives; it really is a cliche but this has been the most decisive event of 2008 and it really has changed everything.

Significantly it has seen ideology once again become a big part of political discourse. Nick Clegg told us why he was proud to be a liberal while the right-wing press have been using the 's' word so much it almost appears it was never out of fashion. Barack Obama drew strongly on the appeal of 'hope' and 'change' to win a historic victory in the US. While not strictly ideological concepts (they don't express allegiance to a systematised body of political ideas) they are 'big' ideas and their inspirational power proves there is still a place for big ideas in politics.

It is quite amazing to look at the issues that occupied this blog when it started; Hillary Clinton being a big one but through the myriad of all the issues, the twists and turns that politics has taken this year, it is possible to pick out some common themes. Labour has been for the vast majority of this year a government of crisis; from 10p tax through Crewe and Nantwich and the bail-out of Northern Rock it is impossible to not conclude that this government is reaching the end of it's natural life-span. True, the economic crisis has boosted it in the polls but the reality is that what has really happened is that in this time of crisis the 'core vote', the faithful have rallied to the cause.

Nobody in No.10 should be under any illusions that this is enough to win a majority for Labour but equally nor should they entertain the hope that things will get better; when the real suffering starts the 'core vote' will be angry. However, this does not necessarily mean the Conservatives will benefit automatically like they did after the 10p tax debacle. I don't think they have done enough to win the confidence of this constituency; the 'do nothing' charge is sticking.

If Labour would be deluded to think it can sweep to power riding on the coat-tails then the Conservatives would be equally naive to think they can ignore it; electoral success is based on collation building and your tent has to be big enough to fit-in at least 40% of the electorate. Earlier this year the Conservatives were making overtures to the trade unions and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election saw them launch a real attempt to make push 'One Nation' Conservatism. However, the loss of direction during the economic crisis has seen the message become garbled to the point David Cameron felt the need in his New Year's message to reassure people he intended to continue to be a 'compassionate Conservative'.

It is not as if the Conservative 'core vote' is particularly convinced of this approach and Cameron is in a more precarious position than Tony Blair was in the run-up to 1997. So, where does that leave us?? It should leave us higher in the polls than it actually has and that has caused not a small amount of debate. We are facing real challenges in an environment where our message simply isn't getting across and frankly it is naive to hang on the hopes that a general election will give us better 'expose' and thus higher poll ratings.

Finally, Israel provided us with a sombre reminder at the end of the year that we cannot escape from the impact of international affairs. It's deplorable actions have been met with protests around the globe and a bitter propaganda battle for hearts and minds. Excluding the moral dimension; the brutal barbarism of Israel's treatment of the Gazans, it's actions are reckless in the extreme. If ground troops enter Gaza then it will be wide-open to the opening of a second-front by Hezbollah. If, as is likely, the Israeli force actually takes heavy casualties then the prospect of an enforced humiliating retreat become very real. If this occurs before Israel goes to the polls in then Likud will sweep to victory, an outcome that is likely in any case, expect Likud to not take defeat too lightly.

As at least the British occupation of Iraq draws to a close we are now counting the cost of the 'war on terror' not just in the almost constant military fatalities but also in the continuing instability in the Middle East. Whether people like it or not; the Afghanistan and Iraqi adventures have seen both Britain and America take their 'eyes off the ball' in the Middle East and we are now seeing the concrete results of that neglect.

China hosted the Olympic Games but also thoroughly discredited itself in alot of things as did the ruling cliques in Burma and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Russia announced itself as a power once again on the world stage as the West sat helplessly by as the situation in Georgia spiralled out of control. Iran benefited hugely from our misdirected efforts and when we look at the balance sheet we have to ask ourselves what we have gained; in Afghanistan the Taliban is ascendant, Al Quaeda is still vibrant and alive and kicking in Pakistan which is running out of patience as a willing ally in the 'war on terror'.

A certain symmetry exists between an economic system that can no longer continue as it has and an misplaced ideological crusade which, in a similar vein, can also no longer continue as it is. 2009 is going to be a tough year; there is no doubt about that and it is going to see alot of changes. How we adapt to and meet these challenges will determine our success at the polls in the year to come....

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