This will be my final column before the end of the year, so I wanted to take the chance to consider the year that is drawing to a close.
We always knew that 2015 would be a politically momentous year, with the date of the General Election having been fixed five years ago at the start of the Coalition Government. The result of the election, though, was a shock to the political establishment and the pollsters, who had all predicted a hung parliament with a good chance that Labour would be able to squeeze the Conservatives out with a coalition deal of their own. In the end, of course, it ended up with a Conservative only government with a majority of 12. It is easy to forget, more than six months later, just how significant an achievement the General Election result was. Governments rarely increase their level of support in successive elections, particularly when attempting to break out of a coalition and secure a mandate on their own.
Indeed, politics in December looks a world away from the eve of the poll in May. The SNP swept the board in Scotland and have set about spending their first few months in Parliament throwing their weight around. The greatest shock, though, was of course the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. No-one, least of all Corbyn himself, genuinely believed he would emerge from the contest victorious. But through a variety of factors he was able to appeal above the heads of Labour MPs to the membership.
His election requires those of us who disagree with his socialism to challenge and defeat the ideas he will be putting forward. Yet it is important to understand that although he is out of step with the majority of his own MPs, he is supported by a huge majority of ordinary Labour Party members. The Labour Party has moved dramatically to the left since the election as it has accepted new members with far more radical views than the party held under its previous leaders. This changes the nature of the debate within the party and consequently the landscape of politics in Parliament.
There is no doubt that the main political challenges in 2016 will be broadly in line with those of 2015. Although the economy remains strong and the deficit continues to fall, there are clearly still difficult decisions for local and central government to make about how we spend taxpayers’ money efficiently. The demographic pressures of an ageing population will continue to exert strain on health and social care and public services will need to keep coming up with innovative new ways of working.
There is cause for optimism in both Britain and Rutland more generally, however, as we end the current year with continuing economic growth and stability. Before we welcome the New Year, though, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Rutland Times readers a very Merry Christmas.