Well, what a year 2016 has been - in South Suffolk, Britain and the world. With Brexit and Trump, will 2016 go down as ‘one of those years’? Will 2016 be noted as an epoch-making- game-changer to rank with 1789 (French Revolution) or 1989 (Berlin Wall)?
Personally, I don’t believe 2016 will be seen in those terms. If anything, the year most suited to such transformational status has already passed, and it was 2008.
For it was in 2008 that the global economy not only crashed, smashed into smithereens by the sudden unravelling of our unsustainable debts, but showed itself to be a very different place for those in the ‘wealthy’ west.
In 2008 we were exposed, in my view, to the stark reality of how our place in the world has inexorably altered with the rise of China; how we, and our long-standing allies in the USA, are no longer guaranteed endless prosperity, and I would argue that Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, Farage and all the other populist or non-mainstream events and actors who have occupied the political stage of late, are all participating on a path rooted in the credit crunch.
Certainly, it should be a profound worry for all of us in politics that a deep freeze has taken place since 2008 in the earnings growth of a big chunk of our nation – but the same has been true in other countries, most notably Trump’s America.
So when we are marvelling at the wonderful Christmas lights we are able to enjoy this year in Sudbury, Long Melford, Clare, Cavendish and elsewhere in South Suffolk, should we see that brightness as a mere passing festive glow, or is there reason to be more optimistic about our longer-term future?
I am by nature a ‘glass half full’ person. I happen to think that many of the greatest challenges we face are as a result of our success, and can be solved if we are truly honest with ourselves about the implications.
For example, it is the result of medical technological progress that we are living far longer than ever previously expected, with many years in retirement.
But that huge advance in society also brings challenges – not least how to pay for pensions and social care when longer life expectancy equals far greater cost.
If we can use the current sense of political upheaval to push for radical reform in how we fund the welfare state so that it is sustainable for future generations, that would be a huge step forward.
Suffolk is a wonderful county where the Yuletide spirit feels at home. So I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, and are able to look forward to a peaceful and prosperous 2017.