The Scottish independence vote and immigration into the UK were dominant themes in 2014, but for all the talk little has been resolved. The Scots voted no but the Scottish National Party could soon be holding the whip hand over a weak minority government at Westminster.
Then there’s the issue of our national identity. It is becoming clear that we are not going to be able to stop free movement of labour within the EU. So do we feel so passionately about immigration that we want to risk our economic future outside the EU?
Both these questions remain unresolved at the end of a year which has seen much debate on how we should be governed both nationally and in the North. Even before the Scottish vote Chancellor George Osborne had launched his northern powerhouse concept. It was the beginning of a period of extraordinary activity by Osborne on this subject. There can be few hi tech or manufacturing plants in the north of England that has not had a visit from George. It culminated in the devolution deal done with Greater Manchester and his insistence on imposing a mayor for the conurbation to be elected in 2017. Similar deals for Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool have not been concluded as wrangling continues about elected mayors and leadership.
The prospect of a powerful Scotland to our north has stimulated debate on what happens outside the city regions. There are signs that Lancashire’s fourteen councils may be getting their act together to bid for a county region and a Yorkshire Party has been formed. I remain of the view that a council of the whole north is the answer. It is already in embryonic form in organisations like Rail North and One North but it should have powers beyond transport.
The economy has continued to recover with unemployment falling along with inflation to the point where people are asking if a 1% inflation rate is a bad thing. Strange days indeed for those of us who lived through the roaring inflation of the 1970’s. But issues like low wages, the budget deficit, low growth in Europe, China and Russia remain dark clouds on the horizon.
Politically the year has been dominated by the rise of UKIP. In the North West and Yorkshire they secured six MEPs in the European elections, ending the long European career of Lib Dem Chris Davies in the North West. Tory Sir Robert Atkins also left the stage whilst Labour have a completely new team in the region, although little has been heard from them so far. In Yorkshire two stalwarts Richard Corbett (Labour) and Tim Kirkhope (Conservative) survived the UKIP surge.
Labour held its two by elections in the North West (Wythenshawe and Heywood) but UKIP’s John Bickley stood in both and came second, indeed he nearly won in Heywood and Middleton. UKIP also got councillors elected, spectacularly so in Rotherham. People keep asking if they have peaked. Not yet it seems.
So where do the parties stand at year end. The Conservatives have had a better year because of the economic recovery but still show no sign of getting enough support to win outright in 2015. David Cameron remains unloved by many of his backbenchers.
Ed Miliband has had a poor year as Labour leader, but may have picked on a gem of an idea in suggesting the Tories want to make deep cuts for ideological reasons to create a smaller state. However the people’s minds are largely made up against him and the party will have to try and win despite him.
There has been little comfort for the Lib Dems in the north. They did hold on to their councillors in places like South Lakes, Southport and Stockport but look set for the day of reckoning nationally in May. The Greens have begun to benefit by attracting disillusioned Labour and Lib Dem supporters particularly on the issue of fracking.
We marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War this year. Our horrors are on a smaller scale than theirs but ISIS and the Taliban remind us that we live in a world where we can land a probe on a distant comet but still resolve our differences in ways little changed from the Dark Ages.
Have a peaceful Christmas.