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Happy New Year?

WHAT’S in store next year? Blood, sweat, toil and tears I’m afraid, because 2009 will go down as one of the bleakest years in British economic history. Prediction in this fast- changing world is a mug’s game. But for now, here’s my A-Z of what to expect.

A FGHANISTAN. It’s a make-or- break year for the War on Terror. Weak President Karzai has let the warlords rampage, and the Taliban are pouring in from bankrupt, nuclear-armed and terrorist-rich Pakistan. Our Boys are doing a great job, but it’s bandit territory in that country. Without progress next year, public support for our mission may be impossible to maintain.

B ORROWING. The great British game of opening a Mastercard to pay off your Visa bill is no more. For the first year on record, more of us will repay mortgages than apply for more cash. That’s why high street spending will dry up: No one actually had that much money in the first place.

C LIFF RICHARD has had a No1 in every decade since about 1520 (it’s in the Domesday Book) but not this decade. So he’ll make a bid for a Christmas No1 that straddles 2010 thus giving him seven decades of chart topping.

D EFLATION. The great Woolworths sell-off was a taster for what to expect next year, as retailers fall like ninepins. It will be one long closing down sale and for the first time in post-war British history prices will FALL. Everything must go — including, alas, jobs.

E URO ELECTIONS in June will be won decisively by the Conservatives — especially if the hated EU Constitution is back from the grave. Gordon Brown will remind Labour of his inability to win any English votes, then leadership rumours will start again.

F AILURE of Brown’s economic “rescue plan” will be painfully obvious by Easter. Alistair Darling will make a second rescue attempt in his Budget, sending the pound plunging further. And if the banks need another bail-out, we’ll all be in double trouble.

G 20 SUMMIT comes to London where we’ll have the “Meeting of the Messiahs” — Gordon Brown and Barack Obama plus 18 others who want Obama to sign their T-shirt. They’ll talk about saving the world economy but should save their airfare instead. Like all such summits, it will achieve precisely nothing.

H OLIDAYS. Seen the foreign exchange tables lately? The world is looking in horror at the UK economy and selling the pound — and when £1 is worth less than 1, the cost of a getaway will be too much for millions. So it’s looking like Blackpool or Butlins next year.

I RISH REFERENDUM. The Irish vetoed the renamed EU Constitution last year and they’re being asked to vote again. Great chance to reprise that old slogan: “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” Thing is, they voted “yes” to the Nice Treaty the second time. Yet I have faith in our Celtic cousins and predict they’ll again vote to protect their freedom (and ours).

J ILTED is how Brown will feel when he is NOT the first world leader to get an invite to the Obama White House. But he was asked to send 2,000 troops to Afghanistan and sent 300: What does he expect?

K ICK-START THE ECONOMY. Our MPs will talk about little else next year, yet I predict no one will come up with a decent plan. Not even the Tories will accept what’s needed — massive cuts to the bloated, tax-hungry, government machine that’s weighing us down.

L IBDEM LEADERSHIP BATTLE. All anyone can remember about Nick Cleggover is his claim to have slept with “no more than 30” people. That’s making the wrong kind of impact. Chris Huhne still has a hungry look and Vince Cable can’t get in doors with the halo around his head — expect some mischief there this year.

M ANDELSON. Might Mandy’s misdeeds in Brussels come back to haunt him, triggering a third resignation? I doubt it. Now he’s Lord Mandelson of Voldemort you just can’t kill him. Something Gordon should remember, if the two of them fall out (as I expect).

N O ELECTION. The longer Gordo waits, the worse the result will be for him. As the economy sours, the nation’s anxiety will turn to anger. So why wait? Because he doesn’t like gambling (except with public finances) and wants another year in power. With Lord Mandy around, you can’t rule out a surprise. But a June 2010 election is in my diary.

O IL. If prices stay low, the Russians will run out of cash — and won’t have all those missiles to threaten everyone with. The Iranians will be more timid, Hugo Chavez quieter, and petrol cheaper.

P UB CLOSURES. Boarded-up locals will be a trademark of the misery year, as the recession combines with the smoking ban and outrageous tax hikes to close down at least 30 each week, up from two a week in 2005.

Q UEEN. Her Majesty is good at cheering us up. She married in 1947 and was crowned in 1953, giving us great parties in economic bleak spots. So might she now persuade William and Kate to tie the knot?

R EPOSSESSIONS will soar at 200 a DAY with half a million homeowners behind with payments. The government safety net will prove useless. A large chunk of the casualties will be overambitious buy-to-let landlords, who will evict their tenants.

S PORT. Andy Murray gets to the Wimbledon final (but loses to Nadal), Man United win Premiership and Padraig Harrington wins the US Masters. All bets are off if Gordon Brown turns up to any of the events: His bad luck applies to sport as much as elections.

T EMPERATURE. The planet WON’T get hotter, for the tenth year in a row. The global whining brigade will start to look daft and we’ll get some sanity into the debate.

U NEMPLOYMENT. There will be a shocking six million claiming out- of-work benefits by next Christmas, of which about half will be categorised as unemployed. The jobless toll will be worse than under Thatcher.

V ICTORY is what America will see in Iraq, if Obama doesn’t throw away the gains of the surge with an over- hasty withdrawal. Some 4,200 American soldiers gave their lives there, as did 178 Brits. We owe it to them to finish the job.

W IFE WARS. After proving a hit on the Glenrothes campaign trail, Sarah Brown will be deployed more often. Samantha Cameron will retaliate, and see if she can go cheaper and chicer than Mrs Brown’s £7 Primark beret. There’s a svelte handbag in Poundstretcher . . .

X ENOPHOBIA isn’t a word you hear much in Britain — “fear of foreigners” isn’t in the vocabulary of this welcoming, open-minded nation. But with so many fighting for so few jobs, things may get fraught — espec- ially if the 8,000-a- week influx continues.

Y ES WE CAN is what Obama will say every time he’s asked to bail out a car company, forcing Britain to spend money we don’t have doing the same. Didn’t work for British Leyland, won’t work now.

Z EROS. There will soon be twelve of them after our trillion-pound national debt — with no payback plan in sight.

Happy new year? In our dreams.



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