As I write this column on Friday lunchtime, I can’t tell you how guilty I feel. Not just guilty, but apprehensive. You see I’ve done my usual trick of not starting my Christmas shopping until the very last minute. One year I didn’t buy a single present until Christmas Eve. The later I leave it, the more pressure on me there is to actually walk round the shops and buy something. I hate going Christmas shopping and returning virtually empty-handed. I like to do it all in one big bang! And this afternoon’s Big Bang time! I’m dreading it.
Why is it that TV series mostly end in failure? They always record one series too many. It happened to Dallas, Dynasty and now it’s happening to two of my favourites, Lost and ‘24’. Lost, for the uninitiated, is set on a pacific island and revolves around a group of twenty or thirty people whose plane crashed on the island. The first series was superb, the second series just about hung together, but the third series has tested the viewer’s patience. Surely they would have been rescued by now? Similarly, the concept of ‘24’ was brilliant – a thriller drama set in real time over a 24 hour period. But we’re now on Series 6, and even though I am totally addicted to it, it’s lost its spark. Kill it. Now.
The news that the Border & Immigration Agency is refusing to deport convicted foreign prisoners after they have completed their sentence comes, I suppose, as little surprise. They reckon that it’s just too much hassle to deport those whose sentences last less than a year, and their sentences can’t have been that serious anyway. This is what happens when government’s make quangos ‘independent’ of political interference. They become infested with leftist, ‘right on’ civil servants who steadfastly refuse to bow to the will of the people they are meant to serve. Gordon Brown said at the Labour conference: “Let me be clear: any newcomer to Britain who is caught selling drugs or using guns will be thrown out. No one who sells drugs or uses guns has the right to stay in our country”. Quite. But they are empty words if he does nothing to ensure that Border & Immigration Agency does what it should surely do.
For the very same reason, I am very wary of those who trumpet the brilliant soundbite that “we should take politics out of the NHS”. This is both trite and ridiculous. The NHS takes up one fifth of our public expenditure. For every £5 you give to Gordon Brown to spend on your behalf, he spends £1 of it on the NHS. This amounts to more than £100 billion a year – a truly staggering amount. Are we really saying that their should be no political accountability for the way that money is spent? If so, we’re stark staring mad.
As we look back on 2007 I suppose it is only natural to evaluate whether it has been a good year or a bad year for ourselves, our friends and our families. We remember those who have died and think of the future of those who have been born this year. In the political world it really has been quite a year. I think it’s summed up by this old chestnut of a joke. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Tony. Tony who? That’s politics. He’s only been gone for six months but we have almost had a collective memory loss about the man who governed us for ten years. There was never a truer thing said than ‘out of sight, out of mind’. In a way, it’s quite strange because after Gordon Brown’s performance as Prime Minister in recent months the people of the UK might be forgiven if they hankered after Tony Blair. I think even his political opponents would admit that David Cameron has had a stormer of a year, in which he went from hero to zero and then back to hero again. And as the LibDems elect a new leader the whole political world is wondering what impact he will have on an electorate whose volatility is unprecedented. My only new year’s prediction is that 2008 will be an even more volatile year in politics than its predecessor.
As this will be my last column before the New Year can I thank all of you who have emailed me during the course of the year responding to what I write. In the spirit of the Christmas season I’ll even extend thanks to those who have berated me for some of my views, especially the capabilities or otherwise of Glen Roeder! The EDP is Britain’s biggest and best regional newspaper and I am honoured to be able to write for it. May it go from strength to strength in 2008. A very happy Christmas and New Year to you all.