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The New Statesman forecast for 2019

Predictions for an uncertain year.

Politics

European politics will become transnational…

Yanis Varoufakis, economist and MEP candidate for Germany

Since our generation’s 1929 erupted upon us in 2008, Europe has been in the grip of a vicious dynamic. A banking crisis, disguised as a public debt crisis, shifted the losses made by banks onto the shoulders of the weakest across Europe. The establishment’s deflationary policies, imposed via increasing authoritarianism, begat political monsters everywhere – from Germany and Holland to Greece and now Spain.

This will be a pivotal year, and my party will offer something new to progressive Europeanists in the European Parliament elections: a transnational “European Spring”, a Green New Deal for Europe, and an antidote to the emergent axis of authoritarianism, the monsters of the xenophobic right, and the authoritarian establishment. 2019 will be another country, and another continent.

 

…but the European Parliament will become more Eurosceptic

Helen Lewis, journalist

Whether Britain is still technically a member or not, the European Union will go ahead with its parliamentary elections in May 2019. There are reasons to be worried about the results: many right-wing populist parties across the continent are opposed to the EU, regularly depicting it as the tool of a bloated, out-of-touch international elite. If their ranks swell in May – as you'd expect, given the success of parties like Hungary's Fidesz and France's Front National in domestic elections – then the European Parliament will become increasingly blocked and intractable. And if the executive responds by acting unilaterally, or heads of state begin to bypass the EU's formal structures, that will lead to more accusations of a “democratic deficit” at the heart of the European project.

 

Brexit-obsessed politicians will be easier to interview

Emma Barnett, journalist

I predict politicians in 2019 will continue to have their eyes too firmly fixed on Brexit at the expense of all else. Most ministers, governmental and shadow, are already distracted from their briefs and it takes very little probing to reveal those ensuing knowledge gaps to the British public. Theresa May says she doesn’t want the Conservative party to become a one-policy party, but all parties are falling prey to Brexit domination – at what cost?

The Emma Barnett Show is on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mon-Thu 10am-1pm.

 

We’ll find out if austerity is really “over”

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee

With 12 weeks before our exit the government will already be ramping up preparation and spending for a no-deal Brexit. Practically the government will need to either extend Article 50 or rescind it as time is running out. The Public Accounts Committee will be adding up the cost of preparing for all three Brexit options – deal, no deal and deal with a transition period.

The economic impact of the uncertainty over Brexit will put pressure on the forthcoming spending review which will also be looking at capital assets and incorporating recommendations from the modernising defence programme. So big ticket challenges, with little spare cash in the exchequer.

My guess is that the spending review will be delayed and refocused to reflect the impacts of Brexit. This will make it challenging for local government which continues to face cuts to funding and is limping along with one off funding injections. As we can see from winter pressures in the NHS late, one-off funds do little to protect frontline services.

 

Economics

Productivity will be crucial to the economy

Andy Haldane, chair of the Industrial Strategy Council and chief economist at the Bank of England

Since the global financial crisis, the UK economy has consistently operated below full capacity.  A decade on, it is good news that the economy is now bumping up against its capacity constraints.  This is the main reason inflation-adjusted pay in the UK economy is now rising, having stood still for a decade.  To keep pay rising consistently, though, we will need the UK’s supply-side capacity, or productivity, to keep expanding. Where productivity leads, pay follows. That is why productivity growth – or the lack of it – has risen to such prominence recently. 

Tackling the UK’s productivity (and pay) problem calls for a multi-pronged policy response. It calls for improvements in education, skills, investment, infrastructure and innovation. These are the raw ingredients of the government’s Industrial Strategy. Now is the time to deliver on that strategy, with the government’s new Industrial Strategy Council (which I chair) providing independent scrutiny and support. Delivering on that strategy is the best contribution economic policy can make to rising productivity among companies and rising pay among workers, in all parts of the UK.  

 

The EU will need to handle Italy carefully

Jim O’Neill, chair of Chatham House

Since I first started looking at Italy in 1982, I’ve heard concerns about Italian state debt. Through the millennium, occasional bouts of strong nominal GDP growth kept a lid on Italy’s debt growth, but following the introduction of the Euro its debt has become higher and more risky.

Italy needs structural reforms and stronger productivity, but the current government’s budget proposals are unlikely to help. The Italian government has agreed some changes to these proposals to comply with EU demands, but fundamental shifts of substance are unlikely, not least because the plans are part of the appeal that voters backed in electing a  peculiar alliance of populists from both the left and right.

However, the EU needs to be careful not to forcibly ignore democratic choices in its member countries, especially one like Italy. A true Greek-style crisis with Italian debt would have the chance of blowing up the whole of the Eurozone and have significant consequences for Germany. 

 

Pension contributions will quietly rise

Ros Altmann, crossbench peer and former pensions minister

April sees the final stage of pensions auto-enrolment begin, so workers and their employers will increase the amount they put into their pensions.

Hopefully, more employers will also help their staff to better understand the value of pensions. With Brexit dominating, it is unlikely that we will see major new pension initiatives, but the planned Pensions Dashboard would bring simpler statements and greater transparency to help people keep track of their pensions and understand how important they are.

 

Science, tech and health

Technology will create opportunities and threats

Martin Rees, astronomer royal

As a scientist I'm excited about potential discoveries, here on Earth and in the depths of space. But as an anxious member of the human race it's hard to be optimistic about the current scene. I think we will, collectively, have a bumpy ride in the coming years – not just fallout from the Brexit shambles.

Our interconnected world is becoming more vulnerable to disruption by individuals and small groups, empowered by ever more powerful biotech, cybertech and AI. The global village will have its village idiots and they'll have global range. I worry that whatever regulations nations formulate for restraining these technologies, they can't be enforced globally any more than the drug laws and the tax laws can. Whatever can be done will be done by someone, somewhere. Pressure to minimize this threat will engender growing tension between privacy, freedom, and security.

 

The NHS will need to make decisions on data

Ara Darzi, director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London

The ban on the purchase of new fax machines for the NHS, announced by the Department of Health last month, is a long overdue signal of intent: to push the NHS into the digital age.

 In my Review of Health and Care, published to mark the NHS’s 70th anniversary last July, I argued for a “tilt to tech.” We are on the cusp of a new revolution in robotics, artificial intelligence and digital applications powered by the NHS’s unrivalled sources of data.

With the use of digital techniques, we may speed progress to the next breakthroughs in medical science and transform care.

But we need to demonstrate why data sharing is a social benefit, as necessary to the public good as taxes. The challenge is to devise a system of data governance that protects the interests of patients, provides access for researchers, distributes the fruits of success fairly and wins the confidence of the public.

 

London will take a stand on air pollution

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

I’m sure Brexit will dominate 2019, but it will also be the year when we take the boldest steps yet to combat London’s killer air, which causes the premature deaths of thousands of Londoners every year.

I know from personal experience that the city's air is damaging people's health; I started suffering from asthma as an adult. It is particularly damning that our toxic air health crisis is harming the lung growth and the health of young Londoners.

 As Mayor, I simply refuse to stand back while Londoners breathe air that shortens our life expectancy, harms our lungs and worsens chronic illnesses. So, on April 8, we will be are launching the world’s first 24-hour “ultra-low emission zone” to help take the most polluted vehicles off central London’s streets.

 

Media and culture

News will become more about membership

Jasper Jackson, journalist

On 13 December, Dutch news start-up De Correspondent announced it had successfully crowd-funded $2.5m for an English language launch. Built around consultation and conversation with paying members, who suggest stories and even provide leads, the Correspondent points to a more hopeful direction for publishers still struggling to adjust to the internet. Others, such Tortoise, the slow news startup from former BBC News boss James Harding, and even the Guardian, are also focussed on tapping enthusiastic supporters as a foundation for longevity.

While the “mass” part of mass media (and its attendant advertising income) has largely been ceded to Facebook and Google, journalistic outlets old and new will increasingly use digital tools to focus on relationships rather than eyeballs.

 

Live comedy will lead the way

Deborah Frances-White, creator of The Guilty Feminist

The reason that women are creating some of the most exciting spaces in comedy and podcasting is that the traditional routes are often closed down to us. If any of my television pilots had been greenlit, I’d never have thought of The Guilty Feminist. It’s a space that has been shaped by me, my throbbingly talented co-hosts and the demands of our dynamic audience. We’re under no obligation to please exec producers, fit into a time slot or feature right-wing pundits “for balance”, so we’ve been free to create something that really fizzes in the Petri dish.

In 2019, expect to see even more female-created ,female-heavy mixed-gender spaces in comedy and podcasting. Cariad Lloyd, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Elizabeth Day are innovating in studio podcasts, and watch out for GrownUpLand, Jessica Fostekew’s X, Y, Z, Boom and live sensation Amusical from extraordinary comedy duo Jayde Adams and Kiri Pritchard-McLean. The age of one woman to five men is over. Live is leading, and television is following.

The Guilty Feminist: Live tours the UK from May to June 2019. For dates see guiltyfeminist.com.

 

It’ll be a good year for proper bookshops

James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones

For 30 years, I've been reading the same predictions; I'm absolutely confident that the death of literary fiction will be predicted, and we will sell more literary fiction than ever before. And that growth will come in a very traditional way, with proper books being sold largely through proper bookshops.

The extraordinary thing about our little world is that everybody is always thinking it's going to change – confusing it for music, or journalism, where things are tougher – but if we do our jobs properly we carry on perfectly nicely.

I could not feel more gloomy about Brexit, in part because bookshops represent a certain set of values that feel challenged at the moment. But book sales can remain almost unaffected by recession, and it seems even to have favoured booksellers in the past – the growth of Ottakar's and Waterstones happened in the teeth of the early Nineties recession. Books are an extremely affordable pleasure – our customers keep on reading, and perhaps even take refuge in books.

This article appears in the 04 January 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions