I was glad to see the end of 2016.
Whether it was Brexit, Trump, Aleppo, false news, cyber-attacks, terrorism, the deaths of so many entertainment icons, Leonard Cohen to Carrie Fisher or something more personal, for many, like me, it was a grim year. I cannot say I have high hopes of 2017. I know all too well the difficult choices and decisions to be made in the coming year both at home and internally. But even I was not expecting to spend the first day of the New Year writing yet another letter of condolences and support to the Turkish Ambassador following the murderous attack in the Istanbul nightclub. The temptation is to call such attacks senseless; they are anything but. They are targeted at all of us. The aim is to make us all fearful. Will it be me next in the shopping street, the concert, the underground, the pub? The aim is to divide us, to push religious and cultural divides and encourage isolation and ostracised. It is to build disharmony, distrust and hatred.
So there we go. A new year’s resolution, to refuse to go down the route of fear, division, disharmony and hatred. If only we could all do that resolution it would be a better world. My usual resolution to exercise more never lasts longer the first train back to Westminster as the diary crowds out the promised walks along the embankment and through the parks on the way to and from the Commons.
The year ahead brings many challenges and changes. The inauguration of President Trump takes place on January 20th and then ….. . Who knows? The new Presidents relationships with NATO, Russia and North Korea are of immediate interest to us all. At a time when our special relationship with the US is under question we have a strained relationship with our other key allies in Europe.
In 2017 we have a promised vote on Brexit and local government elections here in Wales while France and Germany hold national elections, possibly bringing new leaders to the world stage. We have promises of a peace deal over the war in Syria which could alter the balance of alliances and allegiances’ across the Middle East. Threats of further terrorist attacks launched by ISIS across Europe and the Middle East. Increased cyber-attacks by states and criminals and false news designed to provoke outrage. They all fall into the Donald Rumsfeld list of known unknowns. We know these events are planned but we don’t know the outcomes.
Much more difficult are the unknown unknowns. The things we are not expecting. Which of us expected the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers. Who knows how the health service will cope if the weather changes from this unusual mild winter to a bitterly cold one. While the economy is doing well the pound is falling in value making imports and travel abroad expensive our exports and inbound tourism are attractive. Will that be sustainable? How are we going to successfully tackle the widening gulf between cultures, young and old, sick and well, rich and poor, the home owners and the renters? I worry that these urgent unknowns will be crowded out by a relentless focus on Brexit.
Politics is about deliberation. In politics we are always asking what is needed to create a better future, a better country, a better society and how do we get there? Because the future is unknown there is no one answer and many options to consider, examine and discuss. If you watch the Parliament channel at the moment those debates are going on. What is worrying is who is calling the debates and how binding are the votes. Too much of Parliamentary time over the last six months has been around opposition or back bench business debates with votes that are none binding on the government. They can ignore the debate and the outcome of the vote.
One of the fun things I did to start the New Year was to talk to the Newton WI. We talked about new words and understanding the business of the House and how you are to track how the Government is working. Statements, urgent questions, opposition debates and back bench business are not legislation, are not binding on the government. Their role is to gain insight into government strategy and policy direction. If you want to start 2017 following all of this, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to my weekly roundup of events in the Commons.
My Best Wishes to all of the Gem staff and readers for a Happy and Peaceful 2017and may all of our unknown unknowns, be small, positive and harmonious.