A year everyone wanted to forget is suddenly producing reasons to be cheerful, writes TERRY MURDEN
After months of lockdown misery, drifting on a sea of uncertainty, the fog may finally be lifting. Just a week ago this looked like a year to remember only for the virus, economic catastrophe and desperate foreboding. Yet what a difference a few days can make. Could 2020 actually end with a feelgood factor?
It began with last weekend’s US elections, and what many saw as a victory of hope over protectionism and bombast, before we were carried on the shoulders of a scientific breakthrough and soaring stock markets to success on the football field. Suddenly the skies are clearer and even in chilly November a warm glow of optimism has helped put a smile on everyone’s face.
Joe Biden may not be welcome at the Kremlin or even in Downing Street, but his election to the White House over Donald Trump was greeted by world leaders with relief that they could once again do business with the US. Trump promised to make America great, but he did so by making too many enemies. The new president will end its isolation and re-engage with the global community. He has promised to end the tariff war with China, and rejoin the World Health Organisation and the Paris climate agreement.
Biden’s triumph injected some renewed vigour into stock markets, though they were to have an even greater cause for enthusiasm when on Monday lunchtime pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer announced that its Covid-19 vaccine actually worked. Investors pushed stock markets to their biggest one-day gain of the year. Even as analysts warned that it may not last, the buying continued, adding £123 billion to the value of the UK’s listed companies in just two days.
Despite a sell-off on Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wall Street is up 2.67% in the week to date and central bankers are talking about the vaccine giving reason for them to be cautiously optimistic about a global recovery.
The vaccine has given hope, if somewhat premature, of light at the end of the tunnel and even the prospect of the lockdown being eased. While scientists and even government ministers continue to caution against getting carried away, the thought that the war against the invisible enemy may soon be over is enough to provide some early Christmas cheer.
As if we could not get enough of all this good news, Scotland’s footballers served up the perfect ending to the week with a nail-biting victory over Serbia that gives a generation of players and fans starved of seeing the country play in a major tournament a reason to look forward to a major tournament for the first time in more than two decades. From national embarrassment to overnight heroes. Suddenly everyone wants to get a call-up.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was among the hundreds who tweeted their congratulations, and so she might. Pollsters will be looking to see how this renewed faith in the nation’s prospects will influence voting intentions, in particular how it might add a few more percentage points to the pro-independence campaign.
Tempering all this enthusiasm is a pandemic that is yet to be beaten, but at least it now knows it is in a fight. Now we hear that travel quarantine is to be cut from two weeks to one under plans to get Britain flying again. A taskforce set up by ministers has concluded that increased use of Covid testing could allow the current 14-day restriction to be slashed next month. More stimulus packages are under consideration to prop up other parts of the economy.
On top of that, everyone’s favourite pantomime baddie – Dominic Cummings – is to leave Downing Street. Oh yes he is! The Downing Street deceiver is on his way following a bust-up in Number 10.
So what’s left of this feast of positivity? Could Britain even reach an agreement with the EU and banish the prospect of a No Deal Brexit?
Having passed a number of deadlines, the two negotiating teams are now in their own period of time added on and it looks like a penalty shoot-out is beckoning. Will UK negotiator David Frost save the day? That really would be reason to look forward to a happy new year.