Like many of you, I guess, I spend this time of year reflecting upon the past twelve months and making plans for the future. It has been a really special year for me, personally, as this was the year I finally married the man that I have lived with and loved for over sixteen years.
It was a small, but absolutely magical wedding, with a fabulous choir from West Ham Church; a massive dress that was a little too big, and a flower girl and page boy who got a little distracted walking down the aisle, causing a pile-up of bridesmaids behind.
Rites of passage and celebration are important for families and communities alike, which is why festivity and parties at times of religious significance, regardless of our personal faith, are important and special, which is why we vest time, effort and money in them. But they can also be times of real stress, when we recognise our loneliness or unhappiness and, often, buried tensions in families erupt.
And this is particularly so when times are hard and people are worrying about their jobs and businesses.
For, despite this being the year when a woman from Stratford won an Olympic gold medal, one of nineteen in a bumper year, a girl from Forest Gate took part in the closing ceremony at Beijing, and, amazingly, the year the first-ever black man got elected to the top job in Washington; the only real story of the year is the economy. It is the year when we have witnessed a world-wide crisis in the international banking system, and have begun to experience the knock-on effects to us all. And the story is likely to be similar in 2009.
When I started to write this column, I was upbeat and nostalgic about what had passed this year. I was thinking I would write of my hope for the future, our troops out of Iraq, the exciting prospects for Stratford and its development, the closing of GuantanamoBay; but, instead, I find myself sharing with you some of my own concerns about what the future holds for the economy in the coming year.
But in spite of this concern about the uncertainty of the time ahead, I know that this Government will do all it can to help people who are affected by the recession and will not leave those without a job to fend for themselves, nor will it offer platitudes about getting on bikes.
I am optimistic about the New Year. 2009 will offer challenges, but I feel energised and am genuinely positive that, as a country, we will see this recession through and emerge even stronger at the end. For my part, I am determined to keep plugging away to get better funding for Newham, to ensure the Olympics work for us, about welfare reform and getting more homes built. I hope you will join me by writing to me to give me the information I need to keep working effectively for you. Working together, I am positive that we can make this a Happy New Year.