Some notable friends of ‘The Spectator’ share their hopes, fears and predictions for the year ahead
Dame Eileen Atkins
I hope we start getting education right. Michael Gove is correct when he says we should go back to an emphasis on five basic subjects: English, maths, geography, history and a foreign language. These should not be purely the province of the naturally academic. I grew up on a council estate. It was not expected that anyone from my area would go to university. My honorary degree was one of my proudest moments. There is no use making education easy and then celebrating success if young people leave school unable to write or add up. And I privately hope that next year begins with the news that the three episodes of Upstairs Downstairs over Christmas have achieved bigger viewer ratings than Downton Abbey.
My second grandson will be another boy. The Hammers will go down, more thoughts will be criminalised, and the man at the Inland Revenue will take a look at my file and say enough is enough.
The new year should have the virtue of predictability: the debt crisis will worsen until the US and the EU take substantive and not just palliative measures to combat it; Chinese economic growth will decline and its neighbours will more clearly focus on containing it; global warming hysteria will continue to abate; the need for military measures to prevent an Iranian nuclear military capability will be ever clearer. On a personal note, the prolonged legal persecution of me will finally collapse, one way or another; my most egregious defamers, who shall be nameless, such as T. Bower, will be dragged into court in Canada and punished for their malicious falsehoods, and I will return to the UK, after an absence of six years, having launched a new business and a new book. I am looking forward to all of it.
Could 2011 be the year that the unbelievable oaf of a speaker, the dreaded John Bercow, falls off his chair in the House of Commons and is never heard from again? And that his desperate wife will go into the sunset with him? England of course to retain the Ashes, but with any luck that will have been done before 2010 ends.
We are in our worst financial crisis since 1929. If history is a guide — and of course it may not be — then smug Europeans will laugh at the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism (collapsed then as now), stick to fixed exchange rates (gold standard then, ECU now), then see fixed exchange rates collapse (Austria and Germany then, Ireland and Portugal now) and wait for the Yanks to come and rescue us. But there are no Yanks. The Yanks are bust. So what do we do?
The coalition will drop down five points below Labour in the polls. At least 50 more British soldiers will be killed in Afghanistan. Someone will finally admit officially that global warming isn’t happening, and climate change is and always has been a natural phenomenon, and then the whole house of cards will collapse. Also, Waterstone’s will go into administration.
My predictions for 2011 are very straightforward. Nationally, we will have more of the same: continuing sense from the Treasury and the DWP; continuing muddle from the rest of the coalition. Internationally, I feel that if we are unwilling to spend sufficient to defend ourselves effectively, our voice will be more muted, or ignored, in the world at large. And personally? Well, at best I will get older. At worst I may not!
In 2011 a Cabinet minister will resign in embarrassing circumstances and a new species of mammal will be discovered in south-east Asia.
Being quietly optimistic, I predict that Ed Miliband will be ditched as leader of a party which has to reinvent itself philosophically. Meanwhile, the coalition will use the cuts to rebalance the relationship between citizens and the state, coming up with imaginative ways of helping the poor to build up modest assets by revisiting mutualism. Non-lawyers in the Cabinet will recalibrate human rights law, so there is no further confusion (and related lawyers’ racket) of grave crimes and trivial grievances. Discussion of immigration will be in terms of cultural identity rather than what suits rich businessmen who do not live in the real world. And the biased BBC will slip further into hysteria.
The Liberal Democrats will be wiped out in the 5 May council elections (hooray). Kenneth Clarke will be fired as Justice Secretary (hooray). Unemployment will fall as Britain enjoys a mini economic boom (hooray). And Piers Morgan will be a huge success in the United States (boo).
David Cameron will fall out with George Osborne as it becomes clear that collapsing the public sector is not the best way to revive the economy. The Israelis will attack the nuclear facilities in Iran with consequences that are unpredictable.
David Cameron will continue to be photographed running through St James’s Park with his personal trainer, but he will mysteriously not lose any weight. Nick Clegg will be caught smoking cigarettes by a tabloid and will have to release a statement announcing that he is, under the terms of the coalition agreement, both for and against smoking.
What will 2011 bring? I’d say it is not impossible that the Lib Dems will split, Clegg and a small knot of his partisans becoming independent conservatives. I hope that Ken Livingstone outsmarts Boris Johnson by promising to rid London of those horrible new Mercedes taxis, and garners masses of electoral support as a result. And now that Eric Pickles has a stalker, I fully expect to see him on the front cover of Playgirl.
Next year will be a year of European uncertainty. Countries cannot be expelled from the euro, and for any state to pull out because of weakness would lead to a terrible collapse of their national economy. So I predict that if push comes to shove, several countries, led by Germany, may find themselves forced to set up a new super-euro. This would certainly signify the end of the European Union as we have known it. We would be unwise to gloat if this were to happen.
This is the year when wise parents will consider renting a cottage on the other side of Offa’s Dyke, declaring it their primary residence. The Welsh education minister has said that no student in Wales will suffer from the university tuition fees hike, for he will stump up the difference between £3,000 and whatever fees are to be charged when the dust settles. It’s a princely subsidy — around £24,000 for a four-year course — and one which can be spent at any university in Britain. As a Welshwoman born-and-bred, who boasted an actual leek in her wedding bouquet, I look forward to learning how the Assembly will define Welshness.
The coalition government will fall because of a Lib Dem split and there will be an election with no winner. There will be war in Korea, which will be short and will end in the fall of the mad North Korean regime. Obama’s popularity will rise again as Sarah Palin emerges as a front-runner for the Republican 2012 nomination, and enough Americans start to come to their senses at the prospect. The Middle East and Afghanistan will continue as now. None of the above predictions will come true, at least quite as stated, except this one.
I don’t do predictions.