Top Trends in Government, energy & environment

1. Voter antipathy

Do you really care who wins the next election? — aren’t they all the same anyway? Perhaps this is why, in the UK, more people belong to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) than all three major political parties combined. Take another example. More young people voted on American Pop Idol than in the last US Federal election. But politicians in Lithuania have developed a novel solution - give away drinks at polling stations. At a recent election voting increased from 23% to 65% as a result.

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2. Global government

Will national governments survive the current century? There is already evidence emerging that power is shifting towards the local at the one end and the global at the other. We are also witnessing the decline of law and even security at the national level.

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3. Tribalism

Historically, international relations have been based on relationships between nation states but this is changing. Many of the current conflicts are between groups inside states. Moreover, the very idea of the nation state is itself under threat from both above and below. Local issues are seen by many people as more important than national politics because at least they have a chance of influencing outcomes. This may lead to the re-birth of city states as national politics is squeezed between powerful multi-national corporate and NGO interests on the one hand and locally politicised individuals on the other.

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4. Creeping conservatism

Are we all moving rightwards? A Harvard University poll found that 75% of students supported the armed forces compared with just 20% in 1975. Why the change of heart? First, September 11. Second, the Republican party has spent a lot of time and money recruiting the young and third, young people just love to do the opposite of what their (liberal) parents did. The result is that all sorts of things that would have been considered unthinkable twenty years ago are now perfectly acceptable. For example, 36% of US high-school students now believe that the US government should approve news stories prior to publication or broadcast.

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5. Transparency & trust

Do you trust politicians? Neither, increasingly, do most people. Can the problem be fixed? Yes, but not from the inside.

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6. Corporate power

News Corporation is a company that has the ears of Prime Ministers and Presidents. It is also, theoretically, able to sway the result of free elections through the editorial stance of its newspapers. And so it has always been, except that the power of the media and other companies used to be limited to national influence. Not anymore. But the problem isn’t just influence. Big companies are becoming almost  stateless organisations responsible to almost nobody but their shareholders who are not known for their social altruism or willingness to pay taxes. There are some very big exceptions - and some very philanthropic companies - but corporate power is increasing. Will we see a change whereby companies pay the same level of taxes as individuals? Don't bet on it any time soon.

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7. NGOs

Traditionally, politics was a battle between governments and Unions. More recently it was a battle between companies and Unions brokered by governments. But these days there’s a third force — Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Membership organisations and special interest groups are hugely powerful and will probably replace ‘Second Chambers’ in some parliamentary democracies.

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8. e-voting

You can bank online, bet on line, date on line and watch TV on line — so why can’t we vote on line? By 2006 you probably will.

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9. No new ideas

Historically, politics has been dominated by big ideas. However, that was then and this is now. The last big idea in politics was probably free market economics (Thatcherism and Reganism in the 1980s) but it’s been pretty barren ever since. So it’s nice to hear about an idea from a group of British politicians who think that what’s needed is a plethora of small ideas. The manifesto of small ideas includes: — Compulsory training for teenage fathers — Tax credits for successful marriages — 30 minute traffic-free periods in cities — Any building over 10,000 square meters must include a library — Chief Constables must walk the beat for 4 hours a month. Not quite what some people were thinking of, but at least it’s a start.

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10. Power shift to the East

By 2010 the global population should have increased to 6.8 billion (it reached 6 billion in 1999 and currently stands at 6.49 billion), but 95% of global population growth between now and 2010 will come from developing countries, most of them in the East. India will become an economic superpower but most attention will continue to be focused on the potential of its rival China. China is important for a number of reasons including its sheer size (geographically and population wise), its economic growth and its territorial claims. These in turn make China a significant foreign policy player. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget that China is a totalitarian state with, some would argue, the seeds of its own destruction already sown.

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