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18 December 2006

Reasons to be cheerful in 2007

The glass will be half full, not half empty, for leftists in 2007. And even though, according to the

By Kevin Maguire

War, scandals and megabuck welfare handouts to wealthy supporters finally come home to roost for wicked Uncle George on 3 January, when the 110th US Congress is sworn in. Yep, the Democrats will have control of the Hill for the first time in a dozen years, with the Republican gunslinger left sulking in the West Wing. The election of feisty Nancy Pelosi (left) as the first female speaker of the House is a tentative sign that the land of the supposedly free is catching up with the rest of the world. With luck, Bush could be succeeded by a President Clinton or a President Obama, neither of whom is a middle-aged white male.

Red Ken‘s inclusion of Notting Hellers in the congestion charging zone and his proposed fatwa on “idiot” drivers of Chelsea tractors will remind leftists why they twice voted for him as Mayor of London. Good for pedestrians and the environment while funding better public transport, February’s widening of the zone is radical. But not as brave as proposals to treble the £8 fee to £25 within a couple of years and end resident discounts for the 4×4 brigade. I’ve not felt such a tingle of class excitement since the hunting ban. Tally ho!

It’s finally goodbye to Tony Blair, off to collect his tarnished US Congressional Gold Medal and no doubt a well-remunerated role as international envoy for the Sun King, Rupert Murdoch. After years of wishing the Prime Minister would get a bloody move on and depart, his exit will be a significant moment in British politics and disconcertingly worrying. Will we welcome Red Gordon or the Iron Chancellor, the champion of social justice or the advocate of economic efficiency? Prime Minister Brown will obviously be a mix of the two, spending on improved schools as well as weapons of mass destruction. He’ll be tricky to pin down but, be honest, he can’t be any worse.

Cuddly David “Dave” Cameron (right) must be knocked off his bike in 2007, not by a 4×4 but by his lack of policies or, more pertinently, the need to have some policies. The Old Etonian posing as Mr Ordinary Joe freewheeled during an incredibly easy first year, a Tory leader whose smile exposed no fangs. The second year should be a steeper challenge for posh Dave, and if he slips in the polls, the right-wing Rottweilers will slip their muzzles and snap at his ankles. That, in many ways, is a bitter-sweet prospect for lefties, but Tory civil war is traditionally fun.

The inauguration of the leftish economist Rafael Correa as president of Ecuador and his promised “civilian revolution” keeps a bandwagon rolling in a continent once the playground of casino capitalists and CIA-sponsored death squads. Correa defeated a billionaire banana tycoon to join a lengthening list of left-leaning leaders, including those in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and, of course, Venezuela. Meanwhile, General Pinochet is shovelling coal in the fires of hell.

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Big tobacco will find it tougher to exterminate customers as smoking bans in bars, restaurants and public buildings are imposed. Wales stubs out fags on 2 April, Northern Ireland on 30 April and England on 1 July to catch up with Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and New York. The merchants of death are unhappy their clients will live longer, calculating that a brutally short fume-filled life is more profitable than buyers cutting down and living longer or – heaven forbid – kicking the habit. Junk food ads on kids’ TV will also be canned. Thank goodness for 24-hour drinking, without which we’d risk surviving to a ripe old age, knackering the NHS and triggering a new pension crisis.

New-tech showman Nicholas Negroponte‘s “$100 laptop” is to go on sale in developing countries from April, initially at $130, which is like a pound shop charging two quid. With a power cable doubling as a shoulder strap and a hand crank for when there’s no juice, it would find few takers in the west. Yet if Negroponte’s “One Laptop Per Child” initiative works, it could improve the economic prospects of millions of people in poorer countries. I just hope his computers aren’t sold with expensive PC World-style warranties that require a kid in Harare to walk to Timbuktu to get the machine repaired.

As Ian Paisley steels himself to be the F W de Klerk of Northern Irish politics, Dr No is under considerable pressure to become Dr Yes. Permanent peace in the province is a nod away and madmen like Michael Stone appear incapable of preventing the St Andrews Agreement earning its corn alongside the Good Friday Agreement. Repeat after me: “The Reverend Ian Paisley is a man of peace. The Rev . . .”

The misogynist world of French politics is braced for the first Madame la Présidente with the Socialist standard-bearer Ségolène Royal (right) in with a fighting chance of triumphing in this year’s polls. Her leftist politics are iffy but the prospect of not just a woman, but an unmarried mother-of-four who wears high heels, issuing orders from the Élysée Palace should quicken the pulse of any progressive. Ségo versus Sarko, should Nicolas Sarkozy secure the Gaullist nomination, would pit new France against old France. The presidency would be a small step for a man but a giant leap for womankind. Vive Madame la Présidente!

The political rhetoric is “It’s the environment, stupid”, or if you prefer “environment, environment, environment”. Concerned about the future of the planet? Feeling it’s not talked about enough? Then this is the year for you. No politician will open his or her mouth without spouting green phrases, and a series of international milestones lies ahead. Take, for example, the autumn. The agricultural equivalent of those mammy’s boys lurking on railway stations will complete a collection of three million seeds in Norway representing the diversity of the planet, and designed to withstand global catastrophes such as nuclear war or natural disasters that would destroy the planet’s sources of food.

The Turner Prize is to be hosted outside London for the first time, with Liverpool the (un)lucky city in October. This is evidence of the renaissance of a once-glorious port that the following year emerges phoenix-like from the industrial ashes to be crowned European Capital of Culture 2008. Or a sign that the Turner Prize is derided as such “conceptual bullshit”, as Kim Howells memorably put it, that even the arty elite behind the competition recognise the need to reach out to real people. It beats me, however, what a party place such as Liverpool needs with another unmade bed or flashing light.

If the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, is still with us, he’ll turn 50 (above, left). The UK-US retreat from Iraq will get under way later in the year – the invasion and occupation proved an effective recruiting sergeant for the Mr Big of international terrorism and his al-Qaeda franchise. The withdrawal of coalition troops and reassertion of authority by the elected Baghdad government will bring a reduction in the bombings and shootings, with life improving for millions of miserable citizens as warring Shias and Sunnis agree to live in peace and disband militias. Dream on, friend, dream on.