IT will be the ultimate exam question for students of politics and history in decades to come: Explain 2016.
A year which began with bafflement and then bewilderment at the rise of Boris Johnson and Donald J Trump on both sides of the Atlantic has seen the former become Foreign Secretary following a polarising Brexit referendum and the latter elected as the 45th President of the United States after the neo-liberalism championed by Tony Blair, amongst others, came crashing down.
Only time will determine whether the respective electorates were right to reject the political establishment’s overtures or were extremely foolhardy. Equally it is a time for calm heads as the Foreign Secretary challenges mournful European leaders to stop their “collective whinge-o-rama” about the unorthodox President-elect Trump’s victory – this is the same Boris Johnson who said the real estate tycoon was “clearly out of his mind”.
Yet it’s also important that the political elite, so out of touch when it came to acknowledging the critical views of manual workers and blue collar families ignored for so long, stop obsessing over whether any slight was caused by Mr Trump not telephoning Theresa May straight away. Perhaps it was acceptance that Britain and America will always have far more in common – economically, militarily and culturally – and that he has far more immediate diplomatic challenges than the ever evolving ‘special relationship’.
As speculation reaches absurd levels about whether acting Ukip leader Nigel Farage will act as some kind of emissary between Downing Street and the White House, the diplomats need to prepare for their own exam test and assess the upheaval created by their political masters. Far from being the beginning of the end, recent events could be interpreted as the end of the beginning when it comes to assessing 2016 and the still unfolding fallout.
STATISTICS on child poverty – or other challenging social issues like care of the elderly – need to be placed in wider context. There will be those who survived the Great Depression, or have listened to the recollections of their forebears, who will think that today’s generation has never had it so good. Equally others think it is morally reprehensible that there are children being brought up in extreme hardship, their family unable to feed or clothe them properly, when Britain boasts the world’s fifth largest economy.
Of course, the data produced by the End Child Poverty coalition carries a caveat. By excluding housing from the methodology that was used to calculate ‘poverty’ levels, its figures have even more shock value ahead of this month’s Autumn Statement when Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, will come under pressure to lift spending restrictions on child poverty. He’s unlikely to do so – Britain is still spending far beyond its means – but this should not prevent a mature cross-party dialogue on how to identify, and help, the most impoverished youngsters. It’s not easy, particularly in those bleak circumstances where the children concerned are being brought up in dysfunctional homes because their parents have abdicated all responsibility.
Yet society – whether it be the welfare system or concerned citizens – owes it to the country to reach out to such youngsters, like those whose clothing is literally falling apart, to see what more can be done to assist. The regret is the extent to which compassion has become so party political. This should not be so; it’s about doing the right thing for those who can’t fend for themselves through no fault of their own.
Prince of respect
AS THE Queen prepares to lead the nation in remembrance, as she has done so faithfully throughout her reign, many eyes will, inevitably, be on her grandson Prince Harry after Kensington Palace responded to fevered speculation by confirming that the fifth in line to the throne is now in a relationship with the US actress Meghan Markle.
A sense of proportion is required. Harry has already served the Armed Forces with distinction and has matured into a fine young man rather than the ‘party prince’ falling out of nightclubs. As he inherits more duties from his grandparents, and forges his own role as a compassionate champion for military veterans and the vulnerable young, he should be entitled to a degree of privacy in his personal life. The regret is those elements of the international media who have not learned from the death of Harry’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales, an emotional burden which he has already had to carry for nearly two decades.