Each new year brings hopes and fears – hope for good changes, fear that bad ones might arise. Mostly, we hope things will improve for family and friends who are struggling but worry about how events outside their control will prevent progress. All our personal futures are bound up with the wider world, so here are three of my top hopes and fears for 2024.
This is an election year. A general election combined with local elections in May would officially start on 26 March 2024, the last day of the Parliamentary term. That is my biggest hope: bring it on!
But Easter is early this year – Good Friday is on 29 March, which is a likely reason for the early scheduling of the spring budget. My fear is that Sunak will wait until the latest possible moment, maybe even until a week before next Christmas to call a January 2025 election. It is more likely to be in the autumn, meaning we’ll have months of ‘will-he, won’t he’ speculation and a pseudo-election campaign to endure.
Whether short or long, that campaign matters a lot, since the latest polling shows there is much to play for. Some 15 per cent of voters are still not certain who they will vote for, compared to 19 per cent who will opt for Conservatives. Tactical voting will be as important to the outcome of a general election as it has been in recent by-elections. Seeing the amount of money the incumbents have accrued, and their increase in the limit on spending, I fear a nasty, rigged campaign, led by familiar names from the old ‘Vote Leave’ crew, who had few qualms about twisting the truth, telling outright lies and making promises with no intention of keeping them. The Labour party are right to be cautious about the outcome, under such circumstances. Even so, I hope that if (I hope ‘when’!) Keir Starmer becomes Prime Minister (PM), he will rediscover his fire and commitment to social justice and the European Union that ‘hit the spot’ five years ago, before the disastrous 2019 election.
I fear that, if Labour do achieve a huge majority in 2014, the political roller coaster of the last five years could continue, just with a different flavour. Whatever the result, it cannot be worse, surely? We have said that at each recent change of PM, only to despair at the new depths plumbed by a succession of dire leaders. Despite it being a low bar, I put my faith, and hope, in the different opposition parties’ commitments to obeying national and international law, rooting out cronyism, to caring about the state of the planet and the least well-off in society: features that have all been absent from government for far too long. My overwhelming hope is to see a much-reduced Conservative party on the opposition benches in 2024.
War and Peace
War is terrible. Whenever, wherever it happens, it brings tragedy and disaster, with good people forced into choices they would not otherwise make, with sometimes dreadful results. Nobody wins outright and wars are said to be always easier to start than to finish, with some nasty surprises in between. I have long been conscious of my privilege, living in a country that has not experienced war first hand since 1945, which was before I was born. We have been involved in other people’s wars, for better or worse, but no foreign bombs or soldiers’ boots have disrupted our lives in that time – and I fear a change.
The closing months of 2023 have been dominated by news of war, particularly in Gaza and Ukraine, but there are multiple areas of conflict. Is it possible that any, or many, of them could spread and encompass or engulf not just neighbouring countries, but across the world, including the UK? I’d need the knowledge and analytical skills of our distinguished war correspondents, to answer such a question – I don’t know. I do know that many international bodies set up after the second world war to prevent the kinds of horrors seen then, are no longer effective. Civilians are suffering, as testified by horrendous and heart-rending images spread daily by social media and mainstream news. The United Nations (UN) has been emasculated by its constitution, with members of the security council voting against peace-making efforts. The International Criminal Court depends on others to arrest alleged perpetrators of war crimes, but neither it, nor the laws under which they may be tried, if ever arrested and brought before it, have powers of prevention. Current warmongers ignore its precepts with apparent impunity. I hope at least some of them are arrested and put on trial in 2024.
My most fervent hope would be for some international leadership, that could moderate the gratuitous violence and over-blown claims in all the wars, to insist (at least) upon civilian safety. That is unlikely: peace on earth and goodwill to all is a hopeless new year prayer. Russia has already directed some sabre-rattling towards UK, for supplying weapons to Ukraine, yet we depend upon that country fighting on behalf of Western Europe, fearing over-reach by Russia if they fail. We condemn the civilian casualties and displacement there. Yet, in Gaza, our government fails to condemn similar tactics by the Israeli government, pursued with even greater vigour. The terror attacks inflicted by Hamas on 7 October 2023 were, indeed, dreadful for the Israeli people; but defence of their country should not mean carte blanche to kill and destroy. What if this Middle East conflict does spread and the UK is pulled in? My greatest fear would be finding ourselves fighting on the side of a country whose attitudes and tactics appear genocidal at worst, and careless of civilian well-being at the very least.
The planet we call home
When all the data are in and analysed, we expect 2023 to be the hottest on record, with global temperatures reaching 1.46 degrees Celsius (C) above pre-industrial levels, perilously close to the ‘no-return’ limit of 1.5 degrees, of which scientists warn. The world has been 0.13 degrees C hotter than the eleven-month average for 2016, which is currently the warmest calendar year on record. Whilst not remarkably hot here, the UK was warmer than average for eight out of ten months and has just experienced one of the ten wettest years in record. We can expect fresh produce to be in short supply as a result, as planting was delayed, or the ground too wet for harvesting. Imports from former suppliers are unlikely to rescue us, in light of similarly wet weather in much of northern Europe, drought still affecting much of the Iberian peninsula and wild-fire ravaged areas across Mediterranean countries.
I fear climate change – and suspect that many who don’t, do not understand the seriousness of the situation. Some are in denial, of course, whilst others regard any disaster as an opportunity. Sunak declared himself to be ‘on the side of motorists’ in the wake of Conservative’s narrow victory in the 2023 Uxbridge by-election, which focused on London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Sensing that he’d found a potentially useful ‘wedge issue’, Sunak has since rolled back on several of the government’s earlier climate change promises, like the planned date for ending the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles (moved from 2030 to 2035) and his pledge to ‘max out’ the UK’s existing oil and gas reserves. As a result, one of the many toxic issues that we can expect in this year’s election campaign, is a succession of minimalizing claims about the impact of climate change. Sigh.
There will always be opportunists and disaster capitalists, just waiting to make a quick buck from other people’s misfortune. But there are very many good people around as well. There is hope in the way climate change is energising large numbers, especially young people who will, of course, be most affected by it. They are mobilising, creative and calling out the lies in a whole range of creative ways. I have been hugely encouraged, for example, by the way local activists have turned their attention to a wide range of related issues, like sewage outflows, drilling for (and spilling) oil in Dorset, sustainable transport and reducing the speed limit in urban areas.
So many good and decent people in this country are just waiting for an opportunity to point towards a better way of doing things – there is hope that 2024 will be a year of positive change. Happy new year, everyone.