Gale`s View – 28th December 2016
“Happy New Year”, we said at the turn of the last year.
I am not an Astrologer. I had, though, a wildly eccentric Godfather who was and I was once taught how to cast a horoscope but I do not believe that even in the gleam of the wisest soothsayers eye was there much of a hint of all or any of what was to befall during the past twelve months. “Happy”, though, for very many people it has not been.
In Westminster we pride ourselves, particularly around the table of the early morning “breakfast club” on our ability to read the political runes and you do not need a degree in rocket science to work out that the Middle East is at present a basket case. Did we, though, predict the catastrophic tide of misery that, on the back of Russian “help” for President Assad and his `Government Forces,` would flow from Syria? No. Neither did we truly foresee the impact of that human tsunami upon the rest of a Europe so obsessed with its own inadequacies that when the time came we – and we need to remember that we are still Members of the EU and therefore carry our own share of responsibility for its failings – have proved totally incapable of responding in any politically meaningful manner to this crisis.
Confronted with a `rabbit-in-the-headlights` paralysis on the part of what passes for “the free world” it is not surprising that the neo-Soviet`s President Putin has been emboldened to act with virtual impunity not only in Syria but also closer to home in Ukraine and other neighbouring states. Will Putin face charges for the war crimes that he has perpetrated against so many civilians, innocent or otherwise? No more than will Mr. Blair be held to account for acquiescing in war in Iraq on the basis of misrepresented intelligence.
It has therefore been left to that much-maligned state, Turkey, to mop up several millions of refugees from Syria and to try to house them in vast refugee camps. I hold no brief whatsoever for President Erdogan and his over-reaction to the attempted coup against what was, certainly, his democratically-elected government .He is in danger of delivering another pariah state that might yet form an unholy alliance with Russia to the detriment of the security of the West. You can, though, understand that faced with that coup attempt, with tanks on your streets, with hundreds of thousands of refugees, some of whom are of course terrorists, in your camps and with your own internal terrorist problems posed by a PKK resorting to suicide bomb attacks against your own people, even a moderate President, which Erdogan is not, might be just a little jittery.
Did we predict the appalling attacks upon the citizens of France? After the Bataclan and other atrocities in Paris in the autumn of 2015 further assaults on civilians were on the cards, of course, but France has born more than its fair share of violence and even the distracted President Hollande must be forgiven for maintaining an almost permanent state of emergency. To date we, in Britain, have been fortunate and that `good luck` relies no doubt heavily on the dedicated and dangerous work of our surveillance and security forces. The more vigilant you are the `luckier` you get. As the guardians remind us, however “We have to be `lucky` every time: they only have to get lucky once”. The Commissioner of the Met Police has said that “it is not a case of if but when” and sadly he is almost certainly right.
At home the full impact of the unexpected result of the midsummer EU referendum will not be felt for several years. Again, few predicted – although many now claim otherwise – that Britain would vote to leave the economic and physical security of an organisation that for all of its very many and real faults has maintained some peace and stability during our forty years of membership. We had, though, reckoned without the anger, particularly in those unexpected Labour heartlands of the North East, against immigration and a feeling of being `left behind`. Those of us in parliament have now, from a standing start because no plan has been left by those who wanted us to `Vote Leave`, to pull together a negotiating policy to see us as a nation into and through an uncertain future. Did we believe that the referendum would bring down Prime Minister Cameron? No more than we believed that the landscape after his resignation would soon be littered with the bodies of leading Brexiteers like Johnson and Gove and Leadsome , while Theresa May, one of our longest serving Home Secretaries ever, would emerge as the second woman to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
By the time that the day of the American Presidential election finally arrived the writing was on the wall. The Tea-Room`s tame Hillary cheerleader stuck to his script and believed that Mrs. Clinton would scrape home to become The first woman President of The United States but we were much less certain that the American Colonies would not vote to send Mr. Trump to the White House. And so, as we now know, they did. It is true that the States uses an electoral college system designed for a horseback era when delegates rode across the land to cast their votes for their mandated leader and that Mrs. Clinton actually received a couple of million more votes than her rival but those are the rules under which the American Election game is currently played. As a result President-elect Trump is putting together his interim administration and, barring assassination or impeachment, will be sworn in early in 2017. In the present foetid political atmosphere anything is possible.
At the time of writing none of us knows what further upheavals are in store for Europe, America or the World next year. At present we believe that our Prime Minister will be, following a massive Commons majority vote, in a position to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and commence, by the end of March, the process by which we leave the EU. The Supreme Court and other actions could derail that process though. Mr. Hollande will not be President of France by the end of next year but will it be the Republican Manual Valls or the Front Nationale`s Marine le Pen in the Elysee Palace next? Will we see the rise, in Germany, of the Alternatif fur Deutchland, born of the remnants of the Nazis, against Chancellor Merkel? And, of course, will there be a snap election here in the United Kingdom?
Above all else, will anything approximating peace begin to settle over Syria in general and the poor remaining people of Aleppo in particular?
Those of us engaged in International politics - and as the Leader of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the forty-seven Member State Council of Europe (not to be confused, please, with the European Union!) I have to be - will do our best to battle for harmony where there is, at present, little. Wish us well, and luck, both at Westminster and overseas, because in 2017 we are certainly going to need it! In return, may good health, happiness and as much peace as you can muster be with you and yours throughout the coming year.