Monday 27 August 2012


Had I been organised I’d have posted my thoughts on what was
important for 2012 before the year was over half way through – in fact I’d have
done it at the start of the year. I did generate the thoughts, I just never
wrote them down. But better late than never:

At home, the economy is the most important thing: will there
be a double dip recession and if so will it be long standing, will inflation
start to reduce, and will public sector spending come under control? Much of
the outcome will be determined by what happens outside the UK:
- in Europe where uncertainty about the Euro and the public
sector deficits and the safety of banks in some European countries is
depressing confidence and economic activity;
- in the US, where a stand-off between Democrats and
Republicans over pretty much everything but especially how to deal with the
deficit, is again damaging confidence and therefore investment;
- in the Middle East, where continued instability is a
threat to the world economy (and much else); and
- in China, whose growth can impact the rest of the world
because of its scale although in turn it can be influenced by events elsewhere.
I thought that there would not be a double dip recession
(although I now know I was wrong) but that inflation would come down and the
public sector deficit would continue to be brought under control albeit slowly.
Concerns are that the Government has prioritised rebuilding bank capital over increased
bank lending and that the Bank of England seems to have no policy prescription
other than Quantitative Easing. This does not help economic growth.

Four other matters are of interest:
Will the coalition continue to work reasonably well?
As it nears mid-term and the warm glow of doing something
fresh fades away under the pressure of events, the coalition will come under
pressure particularly from disenchanted back benchers seeking a media presence
in the absence of a seat in Government. As long as it remembers why it is
there: to focus ruthlessly on getting public sector finances under control: it
should continue. It is in the interests of neither of the parties nor the
country to have a minority Government or an election.

The Leveson enquiry
It has been pretty unedifying and a bit tedious to watch
resentful celebrities and forgetful politicians parade before the enquiry but
this enquiry is important. This enquiry is important for the country; press
freedom is precious and in an over-hyped atmosphere it would be easy to see it

Feel good factors
The Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics ought to be good for
the country. I wish we hadn’t got the Olympics (too much of the original ideals
seem to have disappeared under rampant commercialism) but I hope we make the
best of them and the Jubilee should be something special. Hopefully the
spending around both events will offset the fact that many people won’t be
working during them.

Banks: as before, will we stop hating them?
See my 2011 comments.

Abroad, the factors I noted above will be important.

In Europe, the survival of the Euro (which I don’t doubt)
will lead to greater common Governance amongst the Euro area and potentially in
the Union generally. This will put pressure on the British position. Our
relationship with Europe is tense at the best of times – the facts that we’re
an island that’s never been successfully invaded, we have a common law culture and
an international economy mean that we approach the Union with a different
philosophy from the other major countries. Most of the political parties are
divided on the subject, and the coalition is particularly so. Although
renegotiation of our relationship is inevitable it is not a good time to do it
when everyone is in crisis.

In the US, the Presidential election is very close. The
Republicans have made America ungovernable and their candidate does not deserve
to win. But the Democrats have responded by ignoring the need to cut long term
spending commitments as part of sorting out the deficit. Obama inherited
probably the biggest mess ever but has not been able to sound convincing on the
economy. I hope he wins; I suspect he won’t.
In the Middle East, life is as ever a series of flashpoints. I visited Jordan and Israel earlier in the year, an excuse in due course to publish some of my pictures. The visit reinforced my view that the real danger in the Middle East is Israel: it may be closer to the West than the rest of the region but its intolerance could mean it will do something stupid in Iran.

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