PracticeConsultingStuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, says there are clouds but no thunderstorms on the horizon

Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, says there are clouds but no thunderstorms on the horizon

We did not hear from Nostradamus at the year's end, telling us what the future might hold, not only for a year but a century or a millennium.

However, we can be clear on what the year will not hold – no referendum on joining the single currency, no referendum on changing the voting system for general elections and no legislation to decide upon the future of the Upper House.

Hence Nostradamus can be sure of one thing – that with so many major decisions outstanding, a general election in May or June 2001 will be a certainty.

Tony Blair has held steady to his course of being the only Labour prime minister to win not two elections in a row but to serve out two full terms at the head of a Labour government.

His first mandate is bobbing along on a buoyant stream of good economic news and boundless enthusiasm for the new millennium. Growth is steady, unemployment is down, inflation is at its target level and the millions of empty champagne bottles littering the London streets after the millennium celebrations are a testament to good times.

Clouds on the horizon?

Rising house prices in the South East will lead to an increase in stamp duty on high-value dwellings, interest rates will rise to keep the cap on our consumer boom, export values will increase, but not so the volume, and stock prices will continue to fall except for those in the high-technology sectors.

An early election will be necessary to clear the route for the UK to join the single currency, and possibly to lay to rest any prospect of changes in the voting system. On these issues Tony Blair cannot be sure he will have the electorate with him; he may abandon his referendum on a change to the voting system and set aside a referendum on the single currency until late in his second term.

Such hard decisions may mean there are clouds on the horizon but not the thunderstorms that mean economic or political upheaval.

Perhaps it was wise for Nostradamus to stay silent after all.

Stuart Bell is Labour MP for Middlesbrough and adviser to Ernst & Young.

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