Election night programme: I prepare with Newsnight's lighting and sound technicians to the background of Greek riot pix
If I look back at my email inbox for the first working day of January 2010 it contains the ominous Sunday evening exchange with Labour HQ entitled: "Please register me for CX Presser" - CX meaning the then Chancellor, Alistair Darling. Darling was about to launch an attack on the Conservatives for promising to spend £35bn more than they could budget for:
"Until they explain how they will plug this £34bn gap in their list of promises, they cannot credibly say anything about what they'll do on the deficit,"
said Darling the next day.
Well in a year a lot has changed. There is no longer a gap in anybody's promises but a meticulously detailed plan to shrink state spending by £113bn. And Alistair Darling is no longer in office, and emails from Labour HQ no longer get an urgent response on a Sunday afternoon.
The first big highlight of the year for me was Davos. Following a bleak 3 hour train ride through Switzerland I got to stay in a kind of youth hostel at £200 a night and the privilege of hearing various rich and famous people flail around for ideas, punctuated by sessions "sponsored" by fragrant middle eastern monarchies extolling the values of classical music for the needy.
At a breakfast with Darling and Peter Mandelson - or rather at a non-breakfast which their aides had forgotten to order - it was impossible not to be distracted by the sight of two camo-clad Swiss snipers, on the roof behind the two ministers, cheerily trying to unfreeze the bolt on their Barrett Light 50, which had frozen overnight.
But Davos was notable for one event: the looming Greek budget crisis was evident. George Papandreaou and George Papaconstantinou were both there and, amid the weirdness and inconsequentiality, stood like rocks - amid the roiling surf of journos and flashbulbs - trying to exude the confidence they would need to save their country.
By February I was in Athens, on the streets with refuse collectors and dockers. "We're family men, we don't do social explosions," they told me. Papaconstantinou admitted to me that the country was basically corrupt.
But the Greek crisis dragged on: unbelievably the Eurozone's politicians simply failed to muster the will to act in time so by the time Alistair Darling and the Labour government came to be judged the real issue, for everybody except America and China, was the deficit.
Between the Greek crisis and the first mega Eurocrisis I got the chance to tour Britain asking the question "What's wrong and how do we fix it?" It was not a happy country. I went to Margate - where "whats wrong" turned out to be, for the English-born population, migration. I went to Stoke, where the problem was lack of money in the economy. I met Londoners preparing to emigrate. I travelled on a train to West Wales with the Welsh rugby fans on their way to a match in Dublin.
On the Arriva train to Carmarthen, the rugby fans were drinking lager at 11am but profoundly polite. They filled the carriage, sharing it with mums, kids and pensioners: every time one of their songs came to an f-word they left it out. Then they generously sang "Ireland Forever Standing Tall", "O Flower of Scotland" and of course "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau", completing their musical tour of the British Isles with: "I'd Rather Wear a Turban Than a Rose".
As the election kicked off somebody high up in the Labour Party leaked me an important, as they thought, radical demand, demonstrating Labour's new commitment to its voting base: a "Cadbury's Law" to prevent predatory foreign takeovers of British firms. I will always remember the repeated phonecalls that night, right down to the wire, from senior Labour press officers: "We're steering you away from Cadbury's Law; you will look very foolish if you mention Cadbury's Law." That's what all governments seem to end up like, in the end.
When we consult the record of Twitter on the night of the first leaders' debate I think we may find I was one of the first journalists to use the word "Cleggmania": I tweeted it seconds after the debate ended, because I was following various realtime graphs showing floating voters' responses. Wow, was the response. As I said at the time, Clegg simply demonstrated he was the kind of bloke who might know somebody with a nose stud.
I was in the BBC's Millbank newsroom when that other memorable moment happened: we were all watching live as Gordon Brown was played back his exchange with Gillian Duffy. There was a collective groan - not of sympathy, I assure you; nor were there any whoops of delight: it was just like seeing Mohammed Ali floored at the end of his career only this time by a self-inflicted punch.
Post-Election weekend was a blur. Though in constant contact with various people involved in setting up the Coalition, at one point filming myself sprinting backwards shouting questions at Danny Alexander, also sprinting, down Whitehall - the main event was going on in Brussels, where Sarkozy was banging the table to try and save the Euro. This story famously got three minutes on Newsnight on the crucial day because there was so much drama in the election itself.
But the story would not go away. Deficit reduction set the agenda for the Coalition - indeed formed it.
That summer something unprecedented happened: Labour politicians who had risen to power without ever having to be nice to anybody suddenly had to be nice to a lot of people, including journalists. You could suddenly discuss things rationally with people who had confronted you from behind an Uruk-hai-like phalanx of advisers and spin-doctors. Other scarpered, never to be seen again until their memoirs came out.
During the post-election downtime I went for a refresher on the BBC's compulsory hostile environment course. Though what happens on that course has to remain secret, it is grueling and sometimes emotionally shocking and it reinforced my conviction that any politician who proposes to begin any kind of conflict - and I mean rebels, "community leaders", activists etc as well as Defence Ministers - should first go on that course and see what the collateral damage of conflict feels like.
Looking back over my diary this summer technology changes loomed large. I got Freesat installed, discovering true HD; I fell victim to the volcano cloud, missing a book launch in Perugia but doing the meeting remotely from my living room via Skype. Finally I handed back my BBC Blackberry and got an iPhone, convinced by my wife's Googlephone that the age of the unlocked, uncorporate device was irresistible. The iPhone opened a world of realtime publishing: I twittered more than I blogged by the end of the year; my jogging runs are pathetically logged in real time on my Facebook page; I took photos of my Gary Indiana trip using Hipstamatic - we will all have one of those stylized scratched, 50s-era photos of ourselves to look back on and remember 2010, thinking - "why did we do that?" (as in this photo of Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess, a band I stumbled on in Washington Square, right).
In July I remember a tetchy press conference exchange with the bosses of the Euro bank regulator as they launched their "stress tests": few journalists in the room felt the tests were worth the paper they were printed on and so it turned out. By the year's end the two Irish banks that had passed the test were to be nationalized, busted by the very thing the Eurobankers had refused to test for - the inter-action between sovereign debt and banking solvency where the banks are propped up by the state.
I'd been to Spain to document its debt woes, getting hauled in by the Spanish embassy to discuss my various misconceptions thereafter. Indeed Spain will be the crucial country in 2011 - because its politicians will either stop the rot on sovereign debt or succumb to it. They will have to be the legion that does not break, otherwise the Euro will. It's as simple as that.
After the Spain trip I made elaborate plans for a pan-European filming trip to explore the crisis there - but we ditched at short notice and re-allocated the whole project to the USA: I was becoming convinced that the Obama fiscal stimulus wasn't working and that, while the coverage of the Teaparty movement was finally getting near the roots of the discontent, it needed to be covered in depth, on the ground, looking at the social and economic conflict from both sides.
We set off into the deserted ruins of the former-industrial powerhouse of Gary, Indiana, documenting for a week the simple and prosaic failures of the Obama administration's economic strategy. I got to hear Glenn Beck deliver a 90 minute unscripted speech. We went to Georgia and Tennessee, exploring the layers of history and animosity that underpin the new sharpness in American politics. "Much of America," said one of my editors, glumly, reviewing the footage, "is basically a museum of the 20th century".
October-November were the months where reality finally bit into the post-election euphoria. Cleggmania evaporated; much of the social-liberal wing of the Conservatives, around Letwin and Maude, went quiet as the full realization hit everbody as to the sheer scale of fiscal retrenchment they had unleashed. The Big Society, inevitably, got turned around as a slogan by the government's opponents.
I remember watching Ed Miliband's stony, stunned face as he came out of the briefing room knowing he had won: a face that did not become any less stunned as he tried to deliver a speech, the implication of which was that Labour had spent the past decade going in the wrong direction. Listening to the reception to Ed Miliband's speeches, and hearing the incessant buzz of discontent among Labour members and MPs as autumn turned to winter, it became clear what an uphill task he has. Like Clegg he will probably have to reinvent the party he leads, finding a whole new set of people who agree with what he is doing now, rather than what the party stood for before.
The last two big events of the year, for me, came hard on each other's heels: Ireland and the student movement.
We sensed early that Ireland was in deep trouble and hauled the finance minister Brian Lenihan onto Newsnight to assure Jeremy Paxman that there would be no EU bailout needed. Then, over the weekend, my BBC colleague Joe Lynam broke the story that the bailout was, indeed, in process. We all rushed to Brussels for more stalling, stonewalling and denials from the Eurozone's panjandrums, whose performance on public platforms was commensurate with that of a cadre of officials who do not need to be elected.
Inbetween the Lenihan interview and Brussels I put my feet up on the sofa and switched on the Newschannel, only to see people smashing Millbank Tower. It was pretty obvious something big was happening - and not only from the level of violence and the policing failures on the day: a student occupation movement had begun that would, by the year's end, create a whole new zeitgeist in politics, finishing off Cleggmania and sparking a new cultural debate in the British intelligentsia. Even now there are arts movements, music, manifestoes, comedy etc being created that will probably shape British culture long after the exact events of Day X (10 November) become misty.
I ended up reporting on both the occupation movement and the final riotous student demo outside Parliament. I've been on many demos and public order situations and this was, on a scale of 1-10, about 7 in terms of violence at the point of conflict - despite the fact that the majority went with non-violent intent. It also, as I noted a few hours later, marked the entry of British "estate dwelling youth" into political protest. Basically the concept arts groups from the Slade and Goldsmiths found themselves dancing by the firelight of a vandalized bench with kids whose music is largely banned from all but pirate radio, and to whom enmity with the cops is not some shocking, new thing.
And that's the year. We switched from an entrenched, fearsomely efficient Labour political establishment to an initially laid-back Coalition who, in the early days were able to go to work by pushbike but who now have to have their party HQs guarded against arson attacks, and worry about stuff that comes through their letterbox.
The Euro crisis was stupendous and is not over. The incapacity of some of Europe's leaders equally stupendous.
America, a country full of friendship and warmth to outsiders - even ones like me who ask annoying questions - is angry with itself, and may yet tear itself apart politically.
Culturally I have seen some masterpieces: Bryn Terfel in Die Meistersinger at the Proms; the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern, vividly demonstrating how beautiful life can be once you give up stockbroking and chill out on an island; Mark Rylance mesmerizing once again in the revival of Jerusalem.
I've also been frustrated by the paucity of decent TV drama (ADD: I should have said "Jimmy McGovern excepted"); the predictability of much of what's on stage in Britain - and I mean the subsidized artistic theatre, not the West End. Few new novels have grabbed me: my book of the year is Stefan Zweig's autobiography - The World of Yesterday - which is a haunting account of the run up to both World Wars of the 20th century: and of the cultural revolution Europe went through in the last great period of globalization and individual freedom.
I'm ending the year with a strong desire for something to blow away the cultural cobwebs of Britain: its press dominated by the obsessions of middle aged men in cardigans; its TV drama stuck in a tawdry rut; its cultural establishment entranced by various overhyped novelists and concept artists; its bookshop windows full of the re-hashed tales of yesteryear.
As a journalist, a year's work gives you a privileged front seat at the spectacle of history. But if I think back through everything I have seen, nothing beats the seals and dolphins swimming through Ramsay Sound, Pembrokeshire, oblivious to the manias and fretfulness of human life, sentient only of the flows and currents of their freezing tidal raceway.
A peregrine on the Welsh coastline