I wish you a happy new year, conscious that internationally, 2019 starts on an unsettled note.
The U.K. is focussed on Brexit and the concerns and opportunities this represents.
However within the European Union there are many challenges aside from Brexit. Italy has major tensions with the EU while its Government tries to end over a decade of economic stagnation. In Eastern Europe populist Governments are making their presence felt: countries of the old Soviet bloc who want the economic benefits of the EU but neither open borders nor to by tied to Western constitutional norms. Closer to home France is suffering deep political discontent, manifested in the “gilets jaunes” movement and pre Christmas rioting. In Germany the parliamentary opposition to the Left/Right coalition Government is formed by a populist right wing party which questions the Euro and immigration policy.
Outside Europe the various dramas of the Trump Presidency continue while mainstays of the administration depart the field and a post-mid term elections hostile Congress is about to take office.
We should not be surprised with this political turbulence. For 50 years we have witnessed the growing impact of globalisation. A process that links billions together has reduced world poverty and made us materially more affluent. However many Western countries have not benefited to the same extent as the U.K. where under one young person in 20 is unemployed: in France it is one in five, Spain and Italy one in three, in Greece nearly one in two.
Globalisation despite its successes, has fuelled discontent and for some a loss of national identity.
The industrialisation of the 1830’s led to major disturbances in Horsham and elsewhere in England – globalisation and the next industrial revolution has similarly led many to question their role in a new economic order and how the West should react.
The challenge we all face in 2019 is how to respond to globalisation in a way that maintains the economic growth which is critical for us to improve living standards and maintain increased investment in our public services. How too can we ensure that international co-operation on issues such as global warming and preventing nuclear proliferation is strengthened, not weakened, as part of that international response.
In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy and Western values were seen to have “won” so convincingly that one historian smugly declared “the end of history”. However in 2018 it was not the democracies but the authoritarian regimes of China, Saudi and Russia that were assertive.
Democracies must do better. Democracy remains the best system of Government the world has produced: the system least likely to provoke war, most likely to advance the well-being of the greatest number. In a world of “fake” (and self selecting) news and of low levels trust, it is not an easy task but Western Democracies need to regather their confidence and sense of purpose. Democracies’ strengths lie in the common sense and perspicacity of their electorates: I am hopeful that 2019, globally, may be a year of less fiery rhetoric and more solid delivery on the many issues that confront us all.