Reflecting on 2008 and looking forward to 2009, it strikes me that over the last few months - many months in fact - we have seen some of the best of the USA. The presidential election was engrossing, not least for the fact that in popular vote terms it was a lot closer than the final result indicates. I believe that in Obama the world has (soon) a president who will approach problems without the lazy, blinkered ideology that has so cursed the terms of GWB. We have a hugely more politically engaged electorate there, for the time being at least. We may at last see some closing of the blue/red divide in the US. And the American system of checks and balances over its process of government may be slow and at times unsatisfactory, but at least it exists and performs.
What though of the UK, which I increasingly return to with an outsider's perspective? Our economy is in far more dire straits than that of the USA, as so much more of our trade has moved to finance and services, and our real wealth-creating (rather than rich-making) industries have withered. Our hapless belief in The City, which has now been exposed in all its ugly, greedy, uncaring incompetence, has led only to the usual hand-wringing and blame, not to any smart alternative ways forward. Our government, who in the run-up to this crisis had consistently and smugly ignored the warning signs even when they were being flagged by others, have been lauding our financial services sector right up until the fat went irrevocably into the fire. We desperately need some new ideas, an approach which can be honest about past mistakes, and a capacity to think above the panic and division fostered by our tabloid newspapers. But instead we get from our government the same old defensive, knee-jerk pandering to lowest common denominators and short-term fixes. If there were a robust Opposition things might just be different, but the Tories and Liberals are hopeless and unconvincing. Between them, they have managed to make Gordon Brown, the prime architect and defender of our built-on-credit economic woes, look like a statesman. 2009 does not look like being a good year for the UK.