"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Who wins between Trump and Biden? It's hard to say but expect some fireworks and bizarre twists."
Consider this. If you think 2023 saw a fair amount of political turmoil, in 2024, 50 countries will hold national elections. It has never happened before that 75 per cent of the places that consider themselves democracies will vote in the same year.
Add to the mix, the world is now suffering more wars than at any time since 1945. Also, a vast gap has opened between Washington's rhetoric and the reality of its actions as the world's enforcer. The unipolar world of U.S. dominance is ending.
Happenstance, many unknown variables and unexpected events could conspire to make 2024 a remarkable year. Let's take a canter through some notable elections and related events.
The United States
"The cognitively impaired Grandpa Biden will face off against the strident Trump."
The big one is the U.S. presidential election, with probably two old men fighting it out. Barring a major medical emergency or Trump going to jail, the cognitively impaired Grandpa Biden will face off against the strident Trump.
Don't be fooled by the recent decision by the Colorado Court to bar Trump from running. He doesn't need Colorado to win. Plus, the final decision rests with the Supreme Court, which usually holds that the people, not the courts, decide elections. Also, the fact that Trump filled the court with his mates won't hurt his chances.
And don't make the mistake of 2016, when the media and commentators misjudged Trump and the level of support he enjoys. This time around, Trump owns the Republican Party machine — he's commanding the scene. His disdain for the other republican candidates is such that he won't even debate them.
Who wins between Trump and Biden? It's hard to say but expect some fireworks and bizarre twists.
"India has emerged as a world power."
India, the world's most populated nation, will also go to the polls. However, its democratic credentials have been somewhat damaged by Prime Minister Modi's suspension of 141 opposition parliamentary members. They've earned his wrath for chanting and brandishing placards in parliament.
Modi has a vision for India as a Hindu state. In 2019, he passed a citizenship law that provides a route to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan that excluded eligibility for Muslims. Following trends elsewhere, he's asserting a nationalist agenda, although, in this case, with a Hindu foundation.
Further, as one of the BRIC nations, India has not agreed to U.S. demands for sanctions on Russia, while relations with China are problematic following border clashes in 2020.
India has emerged as a world power not least because of its nuclear weapons, population size, and accelerating economy. No longer caught in the poverty trap, India is an important international player, and the election in 2024 is significant. Modi will likely win to continue his vision for India.
"Nationalist parties are gaining ground"
Across Europe, nationalist parties are gaining ground on an anti-immigration agenda. Holland, France, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Germany, and Belgium have all seen nationalists advance to a position where they will either win or influence elections at a national and local level. This trend will have consequences for the E.U. consensus that traditionally welcomed migration.
In short-sighted coverage, some of the media seek to portray these parties as 'far-right'. A closer look at their policies reveals a focus on national identity with a desire to curtail the excesses of the multi-culture drive. But in many other aspects, their policies are moderate centralist.
Much of the swing to nationalist parties is driven by a perceived collapse of the social contract as economies stall and funds for services dry up. Fuelling discontent is the view that indigenous people cannot access medical care or housing, while migrants are viewed as getting a free ride.
Some of the liberal elites seek to portray those complaining as racists. This rhetoric kindles more anger that genuine concerns face dismissals by the sheltered privileged.
Simultaneously, the costs for climate initiatives fall disproportionately on the lowest paid communities who are also most hit by migration. Like the U.K. Brexit vote, the public, when alone in the voting booth, will take the opportunity to punish politicians and institutions they perceive have misled, patronised and failed to deliver.
The United Kingdom
"The U.K. is a country living off its past, not investing in its future."
The Labour Party holds a commanding lead in all the polls and should win when the election is called. An election is due before January 2025.
Meanwhile, the shambolic — governing in name only — Conservative Party is busy fighting itself over a policy that is unimplementable. The Rwanda policy for deporting illegal migrants has seen the U.K. fork out millions, with not a single unlawful migrant removed. And even if the policy comes to fruition, only about 250 migrants would go a year. This number is against a background of net migration to the U.K. at a record high of 745,000 in 2022. The stupidity of the policy speaks for itself.
Hong Kong contributed to the U.K.'s net migration with 191,000 people applying for the British National (Overseas) visa since it commenced in January 2021. Yet, the number of applicants has fallen dramatically. Stories of hardship allied to a growing sense that the U.K. is not welcoming, with a poor economy, has curtailed enthusiasm.
Similar factors affected the pre-1997 departures, with a good number eventually returning to Hong Kong. Studies suggest that between 30 to 40 per cent of migrants returned or existed as Taai Hung Yan (太空人) - Astronauts - moving back and forward.
The BNO scheme is due for a review in 2025. It may lapse. And by then, it is unlikely to have attracted the millions that some advocates fancifully claimed would go. Indeed, I suspect that had it drawn that number of people, the Brits would already have slammed the door shut.
What the Labour Party intends to do about migrants is unclear. Indeed, Labour policies in many areas are vague. Their leader, Keir Rodney Starmer, is not attracting great confidence. Still, he's already made it clear the funding taps won't be turned on if he gains power. Further, his shadow health secretary has declared, "The NHS is a service, not a shrine." These statements suggest that Labour wants radical reform that may not play well with the public if funding is tight.
In truth, there are few easy options for the U.K., as made evident in this report - “Ending Stagnation”. Britons have been living with stagnant wages for the last 15 years. Moreover, income inequality in the U.K. is higher than in any other large European country.
Middle-income Brits are now 20 per cent poorer than their peers in Germany and 9 per cent poorer than those in France. Worse, low-income households in the U.K. are now around 27 per cent poorer than their French and German counterparts.
What is the big vision for the U.K. now that the promise of Brexit evaporated? Startlingly, the report concludes that "The U.K. is a country living off its past, not investing in its future."
Renewing the U.K.'s economic strategy will be far from easy, with questions remaining about whether any politician has the stomach for the job. Blunt honesty with voters may lead to electoral oblivion. After all, turkeys rarely vote for Christmas, and that's the drawback of a democratic system.
"Taiwanese voters don't want to antagonize China"
The first nail-biter election of 2024 is in Taiwan. The election, on 13 January, is between the pro-independence, U.S.-backed, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT).
Taiwan faces several challenges. Topping the list is stagnant wages, a sluggish economy, a shortage of affordable housing, energy security, and defence policy. Eight years of DDP rule has been unable to solve these issues, disappointing many voters.
Polls suggest the race is neck and neck. Yet even if the incumbent DPP wins, voters could reduce their mandate as they signal that they don't want to antagonise China. Perhaps Taiwanese voters are taking heed of the bigger picture.
"What is the end game?"
As Gaza holds the world's attention, Ukraine's leadership is struggling to maintain focus on its conflict. Presidential elections are scheduled in Ukraine on 31 March, although these will likely be postponed.
The much anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive of 2023 failed. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Western public has been sold the story of NATO tanks, planes and assorted military hardware winning the war in a total military victory over Russia. That narrative is in tatters as war fatigue creeps in.
With the Russian munitions industry now cranked up and European weapons stocks depleted, the war of attrition favours Putin. Consider that the Russians fired the equal of the entire U.K. artillery stock in a two-day offensive.
If Putin comes to the negotiating table again, will the U.S. and others stand in the way? Will the slaughter continue? In that case, what is the end game?
The Ukrainian people have outperformed everyone's expectations, and Zelinsky has proved a stellar leader. Yet, the hard truth is they can't win. And if Trump enters the White House, he may push the Ukrainians to accept a deal with Russia.
The Big Stuff - The Geopolitical Stage
"In offering unconditional support for Israel, Biden has granted Putin a significant win."
For sure, Washington's leadership of the world order is diminished in a rain of bombs on Gaza. As the rest of the world called for a ceasefire, Washington exercised its veto to block a vote in the U.N. as innocents continued to die in their thousands.
At the start of the onslaught against Hamas, I felt compelled to support Israelis actions given the horrors of 7 October. That support is now faltering in the face of indiscriminate bombing that the U.S. facilitates by policy and supplies of weapons.
In offering unconditional support for Israel, Biden has granted Putin a significant win. Washington cannot, in all seriousness, call out the Russians for their actions in Ukraine when they agree to worst in Gaza. Biden's claims of a ‘rules-based’ world order ring hollow — a fact the rest of the world is now acknowledging.
To illustrate the point, Saudi Arabia greeted Putin with full honours in early December in a remarkable snub to Biden. Further, all the evidence suggests Western sanctions on Russia aren't working. Indeed, Germany and others suffer more as their economy falters without cheap Russian gas.
And what of relations with China? The West has replaced talk of "decoupling" trade with "de-risking." This ambiguous approach recognises that "decoupling" failed; so to hedge its bets, the more flexible term "de-risking" recognises that the West can't ignore trade with China.
In an attempt to blunt China’s rise, Biden imposed restrictions on technology exchanges. Beijing responded in kind, banning rare-earth metal exports needed for EV batteries and other technology. With its monopoly on mining and refining such metals, China is proving it can hit back and make it hurt.
For sure there are some headwinds for the Chinese economy, yet in 2023, China displaced Japan as the largest auto exporter. China’s EV exports are continuing to accelerate at pace that will dwarf the rest within five years.
After the Cold War, with premature zeal, the West, especially the Americans, proclaimed victory. In truth, the demise of the Soviet Union proved a staging post for the next evolution, with the old geopolitical issues unresolved.
In 2024, the withering of America's reach will open space for China, India and others to shape the world order in their image. Lastly, if you are arguing for a rules-based international order, you can't deploy the rules when it's convenient and ignore them when your allies do bad stuff.
Such affected piety wins you no friends. Hold on because 2024 will be a bumpy ride.
"Morgan and others may have committed perjury when giving evidence at the earlier Leveson Inquiry"
Love him or hate him — fair play to Prince Harry. His relentless pursuit of Mirror Group newspapers has laid bare what we always knew: a part of the British print media operated as a criminal enterprise. Yesterday, a judge concluded that executives, editors and many others knew about phone hacking. Further, they concealed it, allowed it to continue and destroyed evidence.
Following Harry's victory in court, Piers Moron, former editor of the Daily Mirror, is now fighting a rear-guard action. He's refuting claims he was part of the phone hacking criminal activity.
Well, Piers, here's what a Judge has concluded — you did know. Many pieces of evidence support this conclusion. These include Morgan playing to the Mirror newsroom a voicemail from Paul McCartney singing to his wife in 2001. Then witness after witness gave testimony of Morgan boasting about phone hacking.
In typical Morgan style, he's gone off on a tangent by lashing out at the witnesses, the evidence and the fact he did not appear as a witness in the case. But here's the thing, Morgan could have come forward to his account.
Plus, if Morgan is so adamant about his innocence, I look forward to him seeking damages for defamation. Such an action would allow Morgan's cross-examination. Yet, something tells me he'll do everything in his power to dodge such probing.
Also, Morgan needs to answer this: as an editor, if he didn't know about phone hacking as the source of stories, he'd either fail to do his job or be incompetent. Which is it?
Following the judgment, there are calls for the police to investigate. The suggestion is that Morgan and others may have committed perjury when giving evidence at the earlier Leveson Inquiry. Besides, was a parliamentary committee examining press ethics also misled and did executives deceive shareholders ? Looks like it.
So, will the police step up to do the job they should have done years ago? I'm doubtful. They don't have much appetite for an investigation given that they've failed to put their own house in order. For certain, wading into the media will invite further scrutiny of dodgy coppers by the press. That's a fertile hunting ground.
Likewise, compromised UK politicians, beholden to the media barons, will be less than keen to push the issue. One of the notable admissions from Alastair Campbell's podcast "The Rest is Politics" is that Tony Blair went cap in hand, in July 1995, to beg Rupert Murdoch for support. The Leveson Inquiry exposed how symbiotic is the media/politician relationship, while the public is fed a lie of journalists holding politicians to account.
Still, even if the police and politicians elect to look the other way, this may not change things. Harry's victory is the first in a series of pending cases, coupled with further allegations, could see the Mirror newspapers bankrupt. This is just the foothills of saga that has longer to run.
Harry's compensation for damages is only £140,600. Yet, the Reach Group (which owns the Mirror and other newspapers) has settled more than 600 hacking claims for £106 million. Also, they've spent millions fighting court actions, and more is coming down the tubes.
Last month, the Reach Group laid off 450 staff (ten per cent of their workforce). Waning readership is to blame, with steep payout for hacking not helping the bottom line. What a shame.
Harry has achieved what Leveson failed to do by hitting the newspaper barons where it hurts — in their pockets. Meanwhile, Harry and others are also suing News Corp UK (one for Murdoch's outfits), the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, and the Sun. Perhaps all the bad press heaped on Harry can now be seen in context.
With Harry about to enter the breach again, I suspect more abuse will be coming his way. After all, the media barons, aided by their tame politicians, are keen to shut him down.
No wonder we can't trust the media.
"A demand to know why we hadn't arrested a monkey for burglary led to a lengthy discussion on the law's applicability to our simian cousins."
I spent much time in district council meetings. My role as a district commander necessitated attendance each quarter. It was not unusual for the meetings to last six to eight hours as various departments answered questions, with each councillor keen to get a question in.
I had no issue with the lengthy meetings. It had one distinct advantage: the police came late on the agenda, so enthusiasm was flagging with councillors anxious to leave. So, unless a particular crime or policing subject gripped the council, I'd face only a few questions with long answers discouraged.
Still, this didn't stop challenging moments. For example, a demand to know why we hadn't arrested a monkey for burglary led to a lengthy discussion on the law's applicability to our simian cousins. Likewise, seeking to address a noise complaint arising from the dawn chorus, I observed that birds couldn't face police sanctions for doing what came naturally to them. I declined a request for increased police patrols to move the birds on.
During my time, the councils provided a valuable opportunity to engage, explain our actions, and take the community's pulse. Then, towards the end of my tenure, as the radical pan-dems took seats, the tone changed and not for the better.
Instead of dealing with local matters, the strident types sought to address ideological issues beyond the council's scope. They'd then feign indignation when the council declined to play their game. This was a taste of things to come. It all reinforced my view that anyone who wants to be a politician is very obviously unfit to be one by wanting the job.
Still, I voted in the district council election on Sunday. I did so because you can't gripe about the system when you fail to take the opportunity to engage and have some influence.
Moreover, the councils provide a nursery for our politicians and can help reflect public sentiment. Of course, the naysayers will level their usual charge that the election is hardly fair with debarred candidates.
Well, having seen the violence and mayhem that those debarred brought to our city, I'm not disposed to offer them much sympathy. They sought to turn the consultative process into a battleground, giving support to the rioters and thugs, who aimed to torch our home with their "Lam Chau" (攬炒) strategy. "I burn, you burn". And in pursuit of that plan, they literally set fire to critics who dared to confront them.
Nury Vittachi documents the horrors in this clip plus how the Western media ignored the evidence before them. Warning: the clip contains footage of an innocent woman beaten by so-called 'braves' for the crime of being a 'mainlander'.
It is important to remember that for most of British rule, officials populated the district councils with appointed persons deemed loyalists.
Next, the critics will jump upon the turnout rate to suggest public apathy. Such conclusions may have an element of truth, but not for the reasons the naysayers cite. As we recover from Covid, more focus on livelihood issues and a less strident atmosphere has dampened public sentiment around politics.
Anyway, while the turnout is lower than in earlier elections, it matches the election turnout in other jurisdictions. Mayoral races in the U.S. attract turnouts as low as 6 per cent; in Washington, DC, the turnout is 20 per cent, and New York City recorded 14 per cent.
Anyway, instead of agonizing over events here, I would suggest the critics ask themselves how things are in their immediate vicinity. Democracy, you say. Never trust anything invented by the Greeks. After all, they built an economy on plate smashing, which has recently not faired well.
" Bastardis mendacem"
“I can’t remember”
“I can’t recall”
“That’s not my recollection of events”
“I’ve no idea how 5,000 WhatsApp disappeared from my phone …Factory reset quod agis?
“The problem is, actually, err, I found it hard to conceptualise …Ego eruditionis habes.”
“The scientists knew Covid was coming, the media knew Covid was coming, the public knew Covid was coming, and Socks, the Downing Street cat, knew Covid was coming. But no one told me.”
Best comment of the day “Boris Johnson is to politics what Basil Fawlty is to the hospitality industry.”
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.