So what should we make of the world in 2024? It’s a leap year and it’s an Olympic year, but with conflict raging in Ukraine and Gaza and growing fears over climate change and other impacts, it’s difficult to get too excited. 2024 has been described by many as a landmark year, but not for these reasons. It is rather because this year sees a record-breaking number of elections globally. From the US and Indonesia to Russia, El Salvador, South Africa and India, more than fifty countries (almost a third of all nations) have elections. It feels like a year that most of the world is going to the polls and that the whole world is being asked to make a decision about the direction of travel globally, for the next five years.

There is a considerable sense of trepidation, as if we are holding our collective breath, because there are so many governments potentially changing at once. Will it fuel a continuing rise in far-right wing extremism that we’ve started to see in America, in Germany, France, Italy, and even the Netherlands? Will it see the election of bullies and egomaniacs? Or will people be more drawn to candidates for peace, empathy and moderation?

Here in Britain we will also have choices to make ahead of the anticipated UK general election. There is the continuing cost of living crisis. Fuel prices are still high and food prices forecast to get higher. The NHS is still struggling. The police, fire and ambulance services are all severely underfunded. Our schools are still struggling. Local authorities and Universities have all run up huge deficits. Leisure centres and libraries are being shut and our roads are full of potholes.

So, what exactly is going on? To me the answer is fairly straightforward. Fifteen years of austerity, cuts on cuts on cuts on cuts, means that most of our institutions and public bodies have run out of money, and are simply limping along towards an ever more threadbare future. Many critical services are severely underfunded, yet none of the public dialogue seems to be about how to find more money.

Despite this being an election year, there seems to be very little excitement or inspiration, and hardly any ideas or new thinking. Society seems more concerned with reacting to partisan polemic and squabbling over the little funding that remains.

But if we are only reacting and in-fighting, then we are not leading. If any of this is to change, and we are to turn our fortunes around, then we need new thinking, and collaboration not division. We need people in public life to stand up for public good. To demand better. And to show leadership.

2024 will succeed or fail by the quality of leadership on offer. If this goes badly, then globally it is likely the bullies and dictators will win out, and voices of division, who are looking for excuses to blame people they don't like, will grow in volume.

If we want a different future, I think it is vital that we hear from and empower those leaders who believe in the morally right things, who are prepared to lead, who can offer an alternative vision, to challenge, to set a path and not simply react to short term public opinion or focus groups.

Perhaps this is the year, more than ever, that we need to step up and take responsibility for our communities and our society. A year to rebuild empathy, which I think has struggled since COVID. And to build back a country we can be proud of, not embarrassed by. The politicians I’ve met don’t really want to be spending their entire time arguing over what to cut next either. So what could 2024 change for the better?

This year could be a chance to reset society and rebuild, but for that to happen we need to fund public services. We need to stop subsidising the wrong things and start subsidising the right ones. We need to inject more hope and inspiration, by showing the determination and commitment to tackle some of the big issues, and not sweeping them under the carpet.

Wicked complex issues like climate change and biodiversity loss are not just scientifically evidential, but solving them is the morally and ethically right thing to do too. They shouldn’t be seen as politically optional. We need to reinforce this fact, not allow them to become political footballs or we will all lose out.

It is the poorest in our country who suffered the most during Covid, who are now suffering the most from a cost of living crisis, and who will continue to suffer the most from climate change. We have to rebalance our economy to be fairer and more just. We need a vision that includes everyone and doesn’t exclude large swathes of our society.

I hope that in 2024 we can seek out more voices of good, of co-operation and empathy and not trust anyone who simply wants to blame or victimise people without power. I hope we can hear more voices of kindness and altruism during 2024, and hear less from the polarising figures at the margins of opinion, who get too much airtime and are driving us apart.

In 2024, we could choose to become more energy secure. To house our young people and insulate every home. To rebuild the health service and our schools. To improve our trains and transport options. To reskill our workforce for the future. To end poverty and food insecurity. To invest in the future and stop borrowing from it. Above all this will require more collaborative leadership. A better vision than simply ‘more of the same’. But we need the funding to deliver it.

With so many elections around the world taking place in such a short space of time, 2024 might simply lead to more of the same, but that feels inadequate. It could become a year when we see the rise of the tyrant, and we become ever more polarised. I hope not. But, done well, perhaps 2024 could be the first year of a brighter, more sustainable future.

But with the world going to the polls throughout 2024, it feels as if the choice is ours.