Essays and discussions

Review of 2009

This year started with the election of Barack Obama to the White House in a blaze of glory. I'd suggest that the award of the Nobel peace prize was somewhat premature but even Nobel committees are allowed to get caught up in the moment occasionally. Although he made a good start to his presidency, promising domestic health-care reform and to close Guantanamo, this hasn't necessarily been a good year for him. He has already admitted that his goal to close Guantanamo before the end of 2009 will be missed and his health-care reform bill, although well on its way to the statute, is a pale shadow of what he wanted. He has also been accused of dithering over Afghanistan and ineffectiveness in the Middle East. However, the man has a lot of resources available to him, not least his charisma, and I hope that he has a chance to get some real reform done both within and outwith the US this coming year.

The economy has continued to be a major news story this year as well, with the recession (or depression or whatever) continuing to bite. This coming year will be a difficult one for all of us, my own field of higher eduction not excepted – cuts have already been announced in England, and my own institution is currently in the middle of a hiring freeze (for non-academic staff, at least). Other European countries are slowly emerging from the recession but Britain is still languishing, something that is sure to become a major issue in the general election that must be held before the middle of 2010.

And speaking of the upcoming election, it seems that the campaign has, unofficially, already started. I'm guessing on an early May election so this will be a long period where little will get done, but there'll be a lot of political grandstanding. And what little work that Parliament will do before then, will be taken up with bills such as the Digital Economy Bill, a hideous mish-mash that only the entertainment industries are pleased with. Frankly, though, I've mostly given up writing to my MP about things, since he either tends to ignore me or parrot some existing New Labour sound bite, without taking the time to analyse the issue in detail. Even if the Tories do get elected, as almost everyone is predicting, I doubt that there'll be any shifting him. And the spectacle of a Conservative government in Westminster and an SNP one in Holyrood could make for some interesting power play.

Whoever wins the next election, the shape of the House will be very different to the current one, with huge numbers of MPs standing down at the next election, not least due to the expenses scandal of 2009. Although it went on and on, dominating the news for months, it was still an important event. I think that a degree of resentment towards MPs had been building amongst the public for some time and this was the event that made it boil over. For me at least, it was the constant attempts to hide what was going on and downplay what did come out that was worse than the details of the expenses themselves, duck houses and all. I must confess that seeing Parliamentarians discomfited did provide a frisson of schadenfreude – I just hope that lessons were learned; and not just the lesson that they have to hide things better. There was, for example, almost no scandal in Scotland regarding expenses, since the Scottish Parliament has had these open right from the start.

Speaking of the Scottish Parliament, the SNP in Scotland remain committed to its referendum bill for Scottish independence but despite the earlier “bring it on” comments from Wendy Alexander, Labour, like all the other main parties, oppose this bill, meaning that it is very unlikely to ever happen. Personally, I don't think it's any bad thing if it does happen. If it happens and there's a No vote, then that'll be it put to bed for another twenty or so years. Apart from their main policy, I must confess that I think the SNP government has done pretty well for itself during the course of this parliament, much better than I was expecting.

This year saw my first visit to India in about a decade, and not just one for 'pleasure' but with the objective of finding me a wife. In addition to the overwhelming experience of India itself, I found this very stressful and although I returned still single, it was certainly not something that I'd wish to repeat. Apart from this the year has been pretty quiet. My flatmate of about six months moved out at the start of the year and I have been very much enjoying living on my own again since then. Moving away from reality, after about five years, we've reached the beginning of the end of our D&D campaign, something that I'm not looking forward to, although having had a taste of the superhero game that George wants to run next, I'm less apprehensive than I was.

We're also in the early stages of a massive restructuring exercise at work and although it's been stated that it's not an exercise to shed staff and it won't affect me directly, it will certainly affect my work – just about all of our systems will have to be modified to cope with. Combined with the ongoing project to replace our HR system, I'm certainly not going to have a lack of work this coming year.

— 30 December 2009

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