2011 – reading tea leaves

It’s the end of Christmas but not quite January, that ‘no man’s land’ between family meetings, food stuffing and New Year champagne popping. You could spend the days watching old Warner Bros cartoons on YouTube whilst dunking Fox’s biscuits into endless rounds of brews (like…ooh I dunno….me) or fall back on that trusty standby of the festive period; the new year prediction game. It’s right up there with the elderly relative favourite, “Guess Which Programmes the Familiar Faced Actors Starred In”, available every Sunday afternoon from ten minutes into the episode.

It would be very easy for me to start with “LibDems will enjoy a massive resurgence in support when the knee-jerk anti-everything reactions die down a bit”. HOWEVER, I have stepped a few paces back to view the picture with a little less bias and have decided instead to predict….

It’s goodbye from Nick, but not the LibDems

Britain’s attitude to the Coalition has been interesting, as this is the first real experiment with coalition governance since the Second World War (it could be argued both cases were created through different definitions of ‘necessity’). There /is/ knee-jerk opposition for the sake of it from certain quarters, the type of “We wanted change from Labour but not this kind of change” blather which fills the comments sections of newspaper websites. The Coalition has achieved a lot since its formation (no, really, look beyond the blather and see what’s been done.)

Unfortunately (and this not going to be a diatribe), all that the Coalition is doing well has been overshadowed by the one big issue it has got completely wrong. On tuition fees for University students, the new Browne report influenced policies will have a detrimental effect on the finances of aspiring students. It’s not quite the Hell and Brimstone “class war” I’ve been hearing, but it’s not quite the place any LibDem supporters wanted to find themselves.

For putting us into Government and threading our fairness agenda through the Conservative-led programme for government, Nick Clegg has to receive a lot of credit. He has taken us supporters somewhere we never thought possible. But, and it’s a biggie, the way he has dragged over our party’s reputation such a large and dark shadow that no further ‘good’ can be completely out of this shadow of ‘bad’. Clegg remains an electoral liability when we need certainty and credibility; we cannot win the AV referendum with a man who called it “a miserable little compromise” leading the charge.

I therefore make the first prediction – that the man who took us into Government will step down before May to give us the best chance of coming out of that process with decent results and a referendum win.

(Okay, so…one-plus-a-bit predictions there, there’s no hard and fast rules about the constraints and such round here…)

Clegg is not the only “Nick” in politics, nor the only one whose leadership is mired in controversy and criticism. Having kept close eyes on the court cases and on-line reactions (always pays to lurk on internet forums), my next prediction has to be…

The slow, certain demise of the British National Party

This is a BIT ‘wishful thinking’ but forgive me. The BNP have been in serious decline for years. Their two victories at the European Elections (Nick Griffin in North West England, Andrew Brons in Yorkshire & Humber) was not followed up by any serious attempt to make hay while the country grumbled. In front of the Question Time audience, Griffin was an embarrassment, firing off his oft-rehearsed anti-everything rhetoric without once hitting a valid target.

The court cases brought against the BNP tell only one part of the story of its certain demise. At the general election, Griffin finished 3rd in the Barking constituency he targeted with more effort than any other. Running parallel to the cases, a general sense of malaise and leadership doubts, has been the upshoot in support for unelected protest groups such as the English Defence League (EDL). Rather tragically for Griffin, his attempts to rebrand his party as electorally credible has been compromised by the attraction of stomping through provincial town centres chanting “You’re Not English Any More” at anyone within ear-shot. The irony can’t be too easy to miss within the BNP.

My prediction therefore is for Griffin to downgrade the BNP to a lobby-group around May (when his party will suffer terribly at the polls, there’s another extra-prediction), though he will remain as an MEP. I suspect the many splinter groups who will come from the BNP before, during and following May will almost all disappear from existence before 2011 is out, leaving the far-right as electorally feckered as the far-left.

The world’s political scene is messy enough now so I darem’t poke a toe into any prediction waters. There are countless potential flash points – unrest in Korea, Obama’s reputation within and beyond the US borders, how the eurozone breaks out of the economic quicksand, Russia (….pretty much everything related thereto….) I’ll begin with…

Africa is the place to turn…towards Asia

Unrest in Côte d’Ivoire, almost certain unrest in Sudan even before the South Sudanese referendum is put, uncertainty in Egypt’s leadership, continued problems in Somalia and Eritrea….Maybe there is always going to be ‘easy pickings’ from looking at Africa and assuming there will be disquiet and disharmony.

2011 will be different, I think; there is increased international financial investment in African states with much to give (China, of course, being the biggest donating country). The ‘pull’ of northern, Arabic Africa from the rest of the continent must seem immense.

A reshaping of political and economic powerhouses is inevitable, as the move away from ‘the West’ to ‘the East’ continues. Europe especially will struggle to meet the challenges of the tipped balance. I worry that, militarily, the West will be pressed into action where there may not be obvious requirements yet today. Economically, Africa will look east.

Economic and political uncertainty across Europe has already manifested itself in riots and protests. I cannot see these dying down over night. There is fear and there is anger, vocal opposition in Ireland, France and the UK towards their Governments, and across Western Europe generally a mood of change is fresh on the wind.

Protests – but not revolution – will still be on the march

The nation states of Europe brought into ‘the age of austerity’ will continue to battle internal pressure and external economic constraints. Storms of uncertainty and unrest will feed the flames, so I cannot see London or Dublin or Paris or Madrid coming out of 2011 without serious and violent protests. The ‘long term’ view, espoused by some in Britain, that the protests are a curtain raiser for forms of ‘uprising’ are particularly silly (and just as “ideologically led” in their dreaming as the protesters allege are the cuts being proposed by government.)

Change and entrenchment of opinion is on the way, that is undeniable, though it seems still to be much light and little heat. Unions and protest groups such as “UKUncut” must keep public sympathy on their side. Similarly, the police will be under more pressure and scrutiny than before, and need to keep both the politicians and public confident in their ability and behaviour.

My prediction…predictions…That an event next year will fundamentally change the relationship between both protesters and public…and possibly between different elements of the protesters too….Not necessarily for the worse or better, just….altered. I am also very sure the police will make another severe mistake in their handling of the protests, one which changes the relationship between police and politicians, police and protesters, and importantly (most fundamentally) between police and members of the public.

(I am not anti-protest at all, looking with a wider view on the recent London protests shows there’s many subjects being stirred around the pot, from tuition fees specifically to anti-establishment generally. I’m not about to suggest that a National-Anarchist revolution is around the corner, heaven forfend…The amount of antagonism and how it manifests will be highly significant next year)

Right, so we have the politics out the way, what else do we have to occupy our time? Oh yeah, the Internet….

Google buys Twitter, Facebook fades, and as for censorship…

Twitter is what you make of it, just follow ‘slebs and you get what you pay for. Well, indeed, that’s the whole point. For all the real-time reactions and ‘two-screening’ (I’m not making that up) the cost is….nil. Though it’s not likely to increase from nowt next year, the business model missing from the centre of Twitter will need to be filled; I predict Google will realise it is missing out from all that lovely search revenue and put in a serious bid for the 140-character blogging bird before the days get shorter.

Whilst Twitter continues to advance, Facebook stumbles and stutters. There’s something not quite….all there with the social network that has spawned a film and a step-change in how we interact with friends and family. Its constant tinkers, complicated security and privacy settings and never ending hunger for more personal info (“It won’t be long before you can email your Info tab to future employers,” as a friend put it), has turned Facebook from the first visit of the morning to something fast becoming an afterthought. Got a Tumblr yet…? Just asking….(I haven’t, but if there’s anywhere to go after Facebook, there’s one very obvious place next….)

I predict further problems and issues as Facebook begins to lose its grip on the world’s social networkers.

Issues of net neutrality, and tighter whips for ISPs to crack (see what the UK passed prior to the election and proposals to restrict access to pornography show that the State has not yet managed to exhaust itself in the pursuit of greater control of its citizens on-line. China may be the “archetypal” national guard against the world wide web; I predict however that Western countries will put down their collective fists in 2011.

(It will be interesting to see how the ‘protest movement’ vibe runs into the ‘restricted internet’ debate, will “UKUncut” take on an additional meaning?)

And finally….There’s the small matter of sport and all that jazz, so in a roundup roundabout sort of way….

I’m assuming the Best Film Oscar will go the way of Inception (no, I’ve not seen it), though a cheeky fiver on Toy Story 3 wouldn’t go amiss for a curveball (no, I’ve not seen that one either). As this year seems to have been ‘the year 3D came back from the dead…again’, next year shows to signs of stopping. I’ll go for a 3D film winning the majority of Oscars in 2012, for a long-term pitch.

This season’s Premier League will be won by Manchester Utd…Yes, I know, it’s a bit obvious a shout, but all credible challengers are having a stumble and Utd have previous in making good when the opposition look away temporarily. So it makes me sound a bit Lawro, deal with it…..

…Right, so 2010 was a right old messy one, for all manner of reasons. Who can possibly predict what will come?

Thanks to all my readers, vistors and comment scribers. Here’s to the Missives still being the place to be next year…

Academy Awards

It’s that time of year again. Yes, the draw for UEFA 2012 is only 6 days awa…Oh, right, the Oscars. And after months of speculation surrounding the “opening up” of the Academy Awards to more “mainstream” movies than in years past, things haven’t changed to my mind that drastically at all…

Best Film is now open to 10 movies, increased from 5. The smart money will be on Avatar, natch, which suggests Best Director will go to Kathryn Bigelow for Iraqi invasion drama The Hurt Locker. Newspaper copy written right there, without much effort.

Of the others nominated for Best Film, Precious appears to have been far better received in the US than the UK, A Serious Man may well be the best Coen Brothers film not to receive the Oscar for Best Film, and District 9 is the only true “popcorn attractor” to get a nod despite the opening up of the field supposedly was done for that very purpose.

Great news for fans of The Thick Of It will be very pleased to see the film adaption, In The Loop, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Or as writer Armando Iannucci put it;

Bloomin heck. In The Loop nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Bonk me purple.

Okay, so neither Thick Of It, nor In The Loop, are quite Yes, Minister, but that has a lot to do with the times we live in. Yes, Gordon Brown, you unstable Stalinist walking disaster, I am talking about the likes of you with your sudden pre-election conversion to a pro-Labour voting system.

Anyhoo, the acting awards. Best Actor is probably a defo for George Clooney, whose role in “feelgood film of the moment” Up in the Air has been received in the same swooning fashion as all his recent roles. I must be the only one – or is it because I’m a bloke? – who wonders why Clooney is not treated with the “same old same old” criticism given to Hugh “Bumbling Englishman Out Of Context” Grant?

If you want to put a cheeky fiver on the Actor slot, I’d go for Jeff Bridges. You heard.

Best Actress will probably be Meryl Streep, because the Academy hasn’t awarded her in at least 5 minutes and it’s a kind of Hollywood by-law. If Americans have by-laws. They probably do. It’s the same one, or at least somehow associated, which has helped Helen Mirren receive a nod for a film about being married to Tolstoy. No, wait, sorry, “It’s about marriage, not being married” as I heard her explain to marshmallow-brained Christine on The One Show last week. Adrian seemed to be the only person bar Mirren who had even heard of Tolstoy. Bless. His long-long-long-lost decedent is standing as UKIP candidate for Witney, didn’t you know?

(Tolstoy, not Adrian Chiles. Can you imagine…)

Das weiße Band/The White Ribbon is the runaway (if that’s quite the right word) favourite for Best Film not in the English Language. Being a bit of a geek, I am more interested in the run down of films which didn’t even make the short-list in this category, so in no particular order, and with thanks to Wiki, here is an arbitrary list of films which didn’t make the cut. What is the Internet for – as Stephen Fry would no doubt say – if it is not for suggesting you all go out and find obscure movies in a language you’ve never heard spoken before?

* J’ai tué ma mère / I Killed My Mother [Canada, is an exposé on the complexity of the mother and son bond]
* 梅兰芳 / Méi Lánfāng / Forever Enthralled [China, follows the life of Mei Lanfang, one of China’s premiere opera performers]
* Келін / Kelin [Kazakhstan, ‘Looking like a cross between a goth goddess and a fairy-tale queen, Kelin (Gulsharat Zhubayeva) is about to be married. High in the Altai Mountains, her father bargains with two suitors who are each vying for her hand. Unfortunately, her true love, Mergyen (Kuandyk Kystykbaev), loses out to the richer bachelor, Baktashi (Erzhan Nurymbet). Before losing the competition, however, Mergyen takes a blood oath to eventually claim Kelin for his own’]
* El baile de la victoria / The Dancer and The Thief [Spain, ‘attractively shot, energetic romp, and a likeable genre-bending tale of crime and love among the lost and marginalised of post-Pinochet Chile’]
* Samson and Delilah [Australia, in English and Warlpiri, which as you know is one of the Ngarrkic languages]

All that aside, then, what else? Are these radical and different Academy Awards than usual? Is the likelihood of The Hurt Locker winning anything to be cheered? Will Terry Gilliam be upset at all for the almost total blanking of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, picking up as it does nominations for the “technical awards” of Art Direction, and Best Costume? Are we to be cheered at all by the 4 nominations – count them, FOUR – for Star Trek?

Insofar as these awards mean anything, it at least suggest cinema is someway healthy. Somehow there exists screenwriting and ideas away from franchises and sequels, torture porn and anything “staring” Will Ferrell. Sensible money should be put down this year, surprises seem abundant in the nomination process, but this is no “Heath Ledger” year, this seems to be a set up for someone saying “The Winner is…” without too many gasps at the end…