A few random New Year's Eve thoughts before I set-out for a cycle ride an attempt to shift a week's worth of indulgence over the Christmas break.
2010 was the year that the public became bored with 'blogging' as much in Thanet as anywhere else. While rumours of its death may be premature, as people search for other means of expression, such as Twitter and increasingly Facebook, the citizen journalist is here to stay or perhaps the remaining survivors who had something to offer the curious.
In Thanet, the 'blogosphere' has been decimated since its height, with the 'mysterious' disappearance of Eastcliff Richard among others. Codes of conduct aside, several local bloggers, anonymous and otherwise, discovered in 2010, that the laws of libel and defamation extend to them as much as anyone else and the same is true for anyone leaving anonymous comments on their weblogs, as several recent courts cases have demonstrated. A court order is now sufficient to reveal the owner of any weblog, who remains accountable in law for the content and the process of defense can prove both stressful and expensive, in the many thousands of pounds, as several bloggers have discovered. What this illustrates only too clearly, is that offering a platform for single-issue anonymous nutcases is a risky strategy in the pursuit of a rather vague notion of free speech and that if one is prepared to publish a false or mischievous allegation as a 'citizen publisher', the costs of defending such a statement can be equal to the value of one's home.
2011 may offer some rays of sunshine with a stock market now back to where it was before the crash but there's no doubt it's going to be tough for all of us with a rise in VAT and excise duty on petrol forcing us to reconsider the value of the humble bicycle over the cost of petrol. I've two aircraft to operate as well as a car, so the consequences of a bigger fuel bill will be painful for my own business much like any other that depends on fuel prices. However, if we look to the opposite side of the Irish Sea and the VAT hike in the Irish Republic, things could be a great deal worse. The Labour Party and the Trades Unions simply don't grasp that to support a huge public sector of the type that has been built-up over the last decade, somebody has to pay for it and as the outgoing Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, wrote, with a small note for the incoming David Laws in May: "There is no money."
I will concede that there's an ideological struggle at the heart of policy this coming year. The Conservatives believe in smaller government with a larger and healthier private sector; think of Shanghai or Hong Kong as examples and Labour believes equally firmly in big 'Government' with lots of expensive non-jobs, with magnificent gold-plated pensions, the one's you see advertised in the Guardian newspaper, which suck the lifeblood out of the private sector in the form of taxation and regulation. A fundamental consequence of all this is the pensions 'Black Hole' where every penny you and I pay in council tax will soon be absorbed by the public sector pensions commitment of a rapidly retiring population without swift action to remedy the problem, which this Government now recognizes. Of course the Unions are having none of it and the RMT have already booked me to fly a banner over a Trades Union march in 2011, which is somewhat ironic, as I'm sure you'll agree.
So do I have a New Year's resolution? To be honest, other than shaking-off the Christmas dinners, I haven't thought of one yet. Be more patient with the opposition's rather limited grasp of the economy and local government finance perhaps? I'd be a little more encouraged if I thought any one of them read the Economist magazine or even shared an occasional copy!
Perhaps I'll think of something novel on my cycle ride!
May I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year?