We know that the coming year will bring elections in Iraq; another attempt to focus the world's collective mind on world poverty and Africa; and, very probably, growing concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and America's handling of them. Beyond that, any attempts to predict the big stories and issues of 2005 are likely to be proved wrong. Who could have foreseen that the final weeks of 2004 would be dominated by a love affair and a dispute over paternity between Britain's Labour home secretary (as was) and the married, US-born publisher of a right-wing weekly?
The following pages contain no certainties: even the British general election, to which we devote 11 pages, could be delayed until 2006, though that seems improbable. But we have picked out a series of themes that seem to us likely to grow in importance over the next 12 months.
First, we have a 14-page section on China, edited by Barbara Smith formerly of the Economist. China remains a huge mystery to most of us. We know that it is an economic giant, that its communist regime somehow survived the general collapse of communism and that its human-rights record is deplorable. We like the cheap Chinese-manufactured goods in the shops, and worry just a bit about the conditions in which they are made. We are most concerned about what it will mean if and when China takes its place alongside America as the world's second superpower.
Our writers, several of them Chinese, try to dispel the mysteries. Will a newly confident China be a threat to world peace? What is the true role of its Communist Party? How great are the inequalities in China's economy and society? How far will it go in embracing neoliberal economics, and with what results?
Then on a quite different note, we investigate the decline of sex, as advertisers find it ever less effective as a selling tool and science increasingly turns sexual gratification into a matter of mechanics.
Next, we look ahead to that likely general election in Britain, beginning with our very own four-page Labour manifesto, which we hope (but do not, to be honest, expect) that Tony Blair will adopt in full. In the same section, Nick Cohen considers the dilemmas of Labour supporters who don't like the government's record; Alice O'Keeffe searches for signs of a Tory revival among the young; and Richard Reeves considers how the real political divide today is between authoritarians and liberals who can be found in all parties.
Other subjects we look at include how workers are rebelling against the pressures of modern employment; how Radio 5 Live threatens the supremacy of Radio 4; how the self-esteem industry just carries on growing; how a planetary epidemic (or pandemic) could turn out to be the biggest story of all in 2005; and how fast food is increasingly challenged by its polar opposite, slow food.
Finally, our writers consider probable developments in new media in 2005 and look ahead to the New Statesman's annual New Media Awards.