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Thursday, January 01, 2004

PREDICTIONS 2004 So, what do I guess, hope, expect, suspect, fear, will happen in the year 2004? (And yes, I know that dividing time up into units called years is entirely arbitrary and a purely human construct unrelated to structural developments etc., so don't even fantasise about pointing this out to me with a sense of intellectual superiority and smugness.) Other people have also been voicing some change of year thoughts, of which I would recommend Jackie D's and Daniel Johnson’s.

And here's some of my own guesses:

We'll be saying goodbye to Tony Blair as Prime Minister. I'm not sure yet why, it's just a hunch. Heart attack? Back-bench rebellion? Will Labour figure that even Michael Howard can't dent their power and decide on a splurge of tax and spend the Blair won't go along with, but for which Gordon Brown will be quite ready for? Let's see, but he's going.

There will be no attempts whatsoever to bring any sort of reform into the public services, as Labour either remains too complacent about a challenge from the Tories or spends the year with infighting. Public mood will however become hostile during the end of the year about the huge spending increases and no accompanying performance improvements.

The European Union's expansion into the East will be remarkable smooth, making many people wonder aloud what all the fuss was about. There will be some half-hearted attempt to resusciate the constitutional debate, but for this year the issue will remain sleepy as enlargement rightfully gets all the attention.

The situation in Iraq will get a little worse, before it starts improving significantly. Our troop levels will start going down rapidly towards the end of the year, the proof for the link between Saddam's regime and 9/11 will surface and we will discover a huge heap of deployable wmds. I think that's the best case scenario, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of highly delusional, wishful thinking. And if not? Well, Iraq is free-ish, Gaddafi is scared enough to pre-emptively disarm himself, ditto soon Syria and Iran.

There will be some headaches and heartaches but at some point, and in some way the rule of the loons in Teheran will come to an end, Iran will see its own regime change, hopefully and quite possible conducted by itself. If not and Iran's nukes get close to the ready-for-use stage Israel will be forced to nuke them, not a nice prospect, which the US and the UK would presumeably preempt by going in ourselves to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. That would be a very dissappointing outcome and would disgruntle the Iranian revolutionaries in spe. So let's wish them well.

In the US the big question will of course be: Will George Bush be reelected? Well, I don't really know. At the moment it looks more likely than not. Whether this is a good thing I don't know, depends on his potential replacement. I'm not familiar enough with US domestics to say who is or isn't cool, but given the rapturous reception Howard Dean is getting in the German media I would guess he would be a catstrophe. But I may be wrong.

The war on terror will probably run along as it has before, the West still won’t pay enough attention to Africa, drugs will not be legalized, there will be no voice in British politics calling for a welfare reform that would replace the over-complicated and useless current system with a single type benefit and we will no closer to resolving our orientation and identity crisis. I’ll hand a closing space to Mark Steyn:

The real story of this past year is not Saddam, but something deeper, symbolised by the bizarre persistence of the "anti-war" movement even after the war was over. For a significant chunk of the British establishment and for most of the governing class on the Continent, if it's a choice between an America-led West or no West at all they'll take the latter. That's the trend to watch in the year ahead.

Don’t view this as pessimism, but as sober reflection of the challenges ahead: Happy New Year!

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