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A year of realism and risks for UK

The year 2006 was full of unexpected and strange events for UK and crises for Tony Blair, writes Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2006 20:12 IST
Vijay Dutt

In the United Kingdom, 2006 overflowed with memorable events. Some were expected, some decidedly strange. Size 00 models were kicked off catwalks, the much ballyhooed multiculturalism was throttled by Labour, the same party which had begun propagating it barely nine-years ago, an improbable Bond was found in David Craig and became the latest pin-up, veils were described as 'un-British', even a security risk, London became grotesquely rich and absurdly expensive, the militancy of atheism revived religion, and a new interest in marriage as an institution expressed a genuine change in the social mood, the desire to seek any kind of stability in a dangerous world.

On the more predictable front, Chancellor Gordon Brown and the new youthful Tory leader David Cameron shared the limelight and hogged headlines, while Tony Blair stumbled from crisis to scandal, but as the year end proved he was one of the greatest survivors of modern times.

Going, going, almost gone predictions through the year proved wrong. He managed to hold on to his Downing Street tenancy, kept Brown away from the famous No 10 black door, suppressed the baying of his MPs that he clear out quickly.

Despite the dishonour of becoming the only Prime Minister in office to be interviewed by police over a corruption case - the cash for peerages row - he flew off to sunny Florida for a Christmas and New Year holiday. Here too controversy struck - it was alleged he was on a freebie. Downing Street denied it, claimed he was paying for his stay, leading to a complete loss of credibility when this assertion was contradicted by the wife of the landlord whose premises Blair was occupying.

The year has indeed been quite a sick one for Blair. His Teflon touch has deserted him, but he had enough resilience to soldier on, even if lamely and without real authority. Only 2007 will see him pack his bags and hand over the No 10 keys to Brown.

The Brownites, no doubt, will be ushering in 2007 with high hopes and dreams about the future. As one wag said, Brown brooded over 2006 like King Kong peering down at Fifth Avenue from the top of the Empire State Building. He is now on the threshold of getting the prize post for which he has been yearning for the last 12 years.

Tories too can now dare to fantasise about grabbing power once again, if not in 2007 at least by 2009. Cameron got his party a lead over Labour in the ratings after nine years. He has as yet the hard task of convincing voters that his party has changed. Still so far he has been listened to and is the most observed and followed British politician today. Women like him and they have a decisive say at the polls.

It was a good year for British Indians as well. Lakshmi Mittal hogged the limelight with his dogged fight to acquire Arcelor. He was backed by the British media as one of their own. This was a radical change from the media’s earlier suspicion attitude towards him because of his Indian passport, and repeated grouse that all his investments were in foreign lands, he did not provide much employment to workers in Britain. This sea-change in attitude was evidence of Mittal of having become the most successful businessman in Britain apart from being the richest.

The effort by Indians in London to be called British Indians - and not to be described by the generic term Asian - seems to be paying off. The Prime Minister’s office has communicated that the matter would be reviewed by the community relations unit. The next year could thus turn out be a milestone for the community.

A bit of realism is now evident in dealing with the minorities. Political correctness is being given a new meaning. And both Tories and Labour have started to appreciate that Indians are an asset. Not just a vote-bank.

But the most noticeable feature of the year going-by was - as the pursuit of risk in the city paid off, with traders and bankers getting piles of cash as bonuses, the common man too acquired a taste for risk. How else does one explain the fact that Britons, already burdened with debts, spent, according to a study, £800 (Rs 68,000) per second while shopping, the day after Christmas.

They have evidently high hopes for 2007.

First Published: Dec 30, 2006 20:12 IST