Making predictions is a mug’s game, so don’t worry – mine will be 100% wrong (again!)

IN his palatial City office in London’s Canary Wharf, my friend – chief economist of a major, global financial institution – sits behind a desk so gargantuan it could the solve the issue of Heathrow’s third runway.

Chewing the fat with him one day at the height of the 2008 banking meltdown, I asked this master of the universe when he thought the crisis would end.

Instead of answering, he just shrugged, then nodded towards an ornate plinth in the corner of his mini fiefdom, on which was mounted a soccer-sized crystal ball.

‘Take a dekko inside that,’ said my friend eventually. ‘You’ve a better chance of finding the answer in there than from me.’

I left, shaking my head and musing on the folly of making predictions.

This thought was rekindled last week, when I read an apologia from a financial whizkid, who wrote, ‘No-one expected this sudden, sharp drop in crude oil prices.’

His buzzword was ‘sudden’. Because, if the anointed experts had seen it coming, there would have been no shock.

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will forced movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un will be an Oscar winner

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will force movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be an Oscar winner for his role as Wonder Woman

In fact, looking back, the only person in my experience to make an accurate prediction was Madam Petrulengo, the palmist on Blackpool promenade, who forecast I’d get a ticket on my car parked outside on a double yellow line. She was right; I did.

So, generally, it’s been my firm prediction that the likely outcome to making predictions is the predictions will be totally wrong. And, so far, my record has been 100% accurate.

Nonetheless, since it’s that time of year, worst luck, when my arm is twisted into risking a spot of soothsaying, here goes…and heaven help us if I’m right.

Firstly, the nightmarish potboiler that’s a story of purblind Eurozone politicians will rumble on, with no consensus to ease the plight of the EU’s jobless, homeless and hopeless. Shovels will be issued to Euro commissioners, so they can did themselves into bigger holes.

Beyond-the-barmy, Right-wing parties – like France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbick and Greece’s Golden Dawn – will democratically vote to end democracy, while Brussels Europrats will take 2015 off and nobody will notice any difference.

Vladimir Putin will order Russians to bathe in oil, because – at $60 a barrel and sliding – it’ll be cheaper than water. The population of Moscow, barring oligarchs who can afford to import Evian by the tankerload, will assume a brackish, oleaginous glow, so they’ll be light-reflective. This will reduce the number of pedestrians struck down by drunk drivers at night, thus hailed as a health and safety success by the Kremlin.

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles banned, rickshaws will be London's most popular form of transport

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles facing a ban, rickshaw pullers will rush to become London’s most ‘eco’ form of transport

Americans will finally realise President Obama is actually a hologram, since he’s been as effective as one for the last half-dozen years. During 2015, he’ll gradually evaporate like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, with only a grin left behind.

Hillary Clinton will declare her intention to run as Democratic Party candidate for the White House and she’ll face Jeb Bush, brother of G Dubya and son of HW, who’ll fly the flag of the Republican cause.

US geneticists will then discover only members of presidential dynasties possess that unique strand of DNA – the two-faced, lie-through-the-teeth, back-stab helix – to be leaders, so there’ll be a nationwide hunt for descendants of Richard Nixon to stand in future hustings.

North Korean cyber-hackers will blackmail Hollywood’s movie moguls into relocating their studios to Pyongyang and the dashingly handsome Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be the next James Bond, Batman and Wonder Woman, a role for which he’ll award himself an Oscar.

A bloke called Nigel will decide who wins next May’s UK General Election.

No, not that Nigel – the UKIP Farage one – but Nigel Dodds, whom nobody outside Northern Ireland (and few inside it for that matter) has ever heard of.

But with an expected mish-mash outcome to the result, with neither of the major parties winning a majority, the minor cast members will be crucial players in deciding who rules. In short, reprising 2010, the tail will wag the dog.

Which is where Doddsy comes in. Tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the bunch invented by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, who brought the fire and brimstone of religion to bear on politics – Nige could even emerge as Deputy Prime Minister, depending on which way he throws the dice of his eight MPs.

After much cogitation, as a huge fan of Wallace & Gromit, he will come out in favour of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, since the Labour leader is a doppelganger for Wallace and Wensleydale is also the DUP’s favourite cheese.

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

The Tories will sack David Cameron, merge with UKIP to become the Conservative, Unionist and UK Independence Party and elect London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as leader, who’ll make Nigel – the Farage one – Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Nick Clegg will quit as head honcho of the Liberal Democrats; their core voters will switch to the Greens, who’ll demand a ban on all forms of petrol-powered transport, resulting in an influx of Hong Kong rickshaw pullers, in anticipation they will eventually replace London’s Routemaster buses.

In the Middle East, the Saudis will wreck the Iranian economy by driving down the price of oil to a bucket of camel dung a barrel and do a back-channel deal with Israel to buy the Matzoball Bomb – a doomsday weapon with a difference, since all infected by its fallout turn Jewish.

It will first be tested on the headbanging jihadi rabble of IS/ISIL/ISIS, thorns by any other name in the side of humanity, who will – en masse – discard their AK47s to become rabbinical students.

Pope Francis will be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his role in patching up the 45-year US-Cuba tiff; the Vatican will be given the worldwide concession to peddle Havana cigars.

Finally, the space probe, Cassini, will discover huge gold and diamond deposits on Saturn; FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup will be held there.

So those are my forecasts for next year. But they’ll be wrong all counts, because, from long experience, I learnt there’s  no future in making predictions.


Qatar: the West’s best of ‘frenemies’ – it buys our arms and funds world terror

IF money talks, then the pipsqueak, maverick emirate of Qatar has a voice like a foghorn.

However, it isn’t the ear-splitting volume of what’s bellowed that matters, it’s the mixed messages emanating from the capital, Doha, that beggar belief.

Because Qatar parrots from two scripts: one echoes the mantra of pro-Western, freewheeling capitalism; the other promotes a credo of anti-Western extremism, manifest in colossal financial support to terrorist franchises fomenting Sunni Islamist violence throughout the hellhole of the Middle East.

So, even by the Gulf’s duplicitous standards, few states are shot full of as many contradictions as Qatar, per capital the world’s third richest country – after Luxemburg and Norway – according to the International Monetary Fund.

Covering less than 4,500 sand-strewn square miles, its population of 1.8 million includes only 288,000 Qataris, the rest being expats and bonded foreign labourers, there to serve the absolute monarchy of the Al Thani clan and make the statelet prosper.

And prosper is an understatement. Sitting on the globe’s largest natural gas field and oil reserves conservatively estimated at 25 billion barrels, Qatar can indulge its sovereign wealth fund’s whims in a vast hash of investments.

They range from an airline and the TV channel, Al Jazeera – whose propaganda stretches far beyond the Middle East to Europe and the USA – to gargantuan chunks of international conglomerates.

JEWEL IN THE CROWN: Harrods is a flagship bauble in Qatar's huge investment portfolio

JEWEL IN THE CROWN: Harrods, the London store for the super rich, is a flagship bauble in Qatar’s huge investment portfolio

The £100-billion Qatari Investment Authority (QIA), for instance, includes in its share portfolio huge stakes in Volkswagen, Siemens, Harrods, The London Shard, Heathrow Airport, Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, Royal Dutch Shell, Tiffany, Sainsbury’s, BlackBerry, Barclays Bank and a cluster of other stellar institutions.

Currently, the QIA is trying to buy London’s Canary Wharf, though so far its overtures have been rebuffed.

But, with £25-billion a year flooding in from energy sales, Qatar can punch multiple times above its miniscule weight and uses its vast wealth to exert disproportionate influence in all manner of subversive ways.

That’s why the mini-emirate is the cuckoo in the nest of international affairs.

Under the autocratic rule of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who seized control of the country from his father, Khalifa, in 1995, Qatar’s brand rapidly expanded and it’s been further burnished by Hamad’s son, Tamim, who took over in 2013.

The 33-year-old emir has continued the deceit of being the West’s best of ‘frenemies’ by continuing to buy in Western expertise, weaponry and commercial assets, while exporting extremist Wahabbi Islam anywhere opportunity presents itself.

WORLD CUP WINNER: Tamim al-Thani, the young emir of Qatar, plays host to FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter

WORLD CUP WINNER: Tamim al-Thani, the young emir of Qatar, plays host to FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter

Though not official regime policy, Qatar gives a nod and wink to its host of obscenely rich citizens’ generosity to Al-Qaeda offshoots throughout the war-torn region and provides sanctuary to reviled hate preacher, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

The spiritual guru of the terror franchise – whose followers praise the Islamic State’s (IS) barbarities in Iraq and Syria as ‘great victories – once told Al Jazeera of his admiration for Hitler’s genocide of the Jews, vowing, ‘Allah willing, next time it will be at the hands of [we] believers.’

However, Qatar’s recurrent problem is misreading the runes, never more naively than in believing the Arab Spring would somehow herald an era of Sharia sunshine to replace the people’s yen for accountable democracy.

Despite Doha’s best efforts to prop up Egypt’s brief, Muslim Brotherhood government, the army’s counter-coup put paid to it.

A similar strategic cock-up besets Qatar in post-Gaddafi Libya, where it bankrolls Libyan Dawn, a bunch of jihadi thugs busy lining their own pockets through oil piracy in Tripoli.

Ditto meddling in Syria, where the emirate’s middlemen fund the Al Qaeda-linked cutthroats of Jabhat al-Nusra, only to have seen them seriously squeezed between forces loyal to the Al Assad tyranny and IS’s savages.

And Qataris could hardly hide their embarrassment when the Afghan Taliban were invited to open an office in Doha, only to hoist their inflammatory black flag over the building.

Then there’s the emirate’s funding of Hamas – long branded a ‘terrorist entity’ throughout the West – whose leaders purloined Qatar’s £250-million gift ‘to ease Gaza’s suffering’ to buy arms and build the network of terror tunnels which Israel destroyed in Operation Protective Edge.

Meanwhile, a six-star Doha hotel suite is where Hamas’s political supremo, Khaled Meshaal, calls home, counting his estimated £1.6-billion fortune, while his people scavenge through the ruins of their war-ravaged dwellings for the bare necessities of life.

It was reportedly at Meshaal’s request that Qatar allied itself with Turkey and laid down conditions for a ceasefire with Israel that heavily favoured Hamas…until, that is, Egypt pour scorn on them and sorted out a truce that reflected reality.

WORLD CUP LOSER: Qatar soccer chief, Mohamed bin Hammam, said to have paid out millions to secure the oily emirate's soccer fortune

WORLD CUP LOSER: Qatar’s disgraced ex-soccer chief, Mohamed bin Hammam, reportedly paid out millions to secure sport’s greatest prize for the oily emirate

However, the emirate’s mule-headed determination to stamp its authority on anything and everything in the Middle East still knows no bounds, whatever the neighbours say.

And several can barely contain their rage over Qatar’s obsession with its revolutionary buddies, however impeccably Islamic they are.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have already withdrawn their ambassadors from Doha and, in July, Bahrain detained three Qatari as spies.

Still, there was some good news for Doha last week when FIFA – who else, when money talks so loudly? – dismissed accusations Qatar had ‘bought’ the 2022 World Cup, despite an Everest of circumstantial evidence that the emirate’s disgraced soccer sheikh, Mohamed bin Hammam, secretly paid millions to buy the votes of football officials worldwide.

The sweeteners, claim FIFA insiders, were doled out not to influence the destination of the Cup, but for bin Hammam – now banned from the game for life – to replace the smug Swiss, Sepp Blatter, as soccer’s unassailable supremo.

Qatar, though, is not out of the dock yet.

Instead, it faces stinging condemnation over its ruthless treatment meted out to poor emigrant worker, at least 1,000 of whom have died while working on the £77-billion World Cup construction sites. And that horrific number is expected to reach 4,000 by the time the tourney kicks off in eight years’ time.

Most scathing is a report by Amnesty International, which stated workers were effectively slave labour, forced to work 14-hour days for months on end, without wages, in temperatures of up to 45C/113F, and without adequate access to water, safety equipment or medical care.

But, as the Qataris might say, that’s a small price to pay for the kudos of being the first Arab state to host the World Cup.

Forget Brazil – the real World Cup drama is how FIFA survives the Qatar ‘scandal’

TO whom it may concern: this is to inform you that, as of Thursday, I’ll be mainly incommunicado for a goodly part of a month, in a state of purdah so to speak – or, if you’re an England soccer fan, probably consumed by murder.

My wife will retreat to an adjacent room and a stack of DVDs, where she’ll revisit her favourite, fictional country pile and once again acquaint herself with the upstairs/downstairs antics at Downton Abbey.

Unlike me, the ending will come as no surprise to her, because the epicentres of my world will be locations littering Brazil, often with incomprehensibly names, like Manaus (apparently pronounced ‘Ma-naws’) and Cuiabá (locally known as Kujaˈba).

Luckily for perplexed TV viewers, World Cup match commentators have had years of experience in making sense of the exotic monikers of the English Premier League’s foreign legion, hence we needn’t bother trying to get our tonsils round the likes of Šime Vrsaljko, Ognjen Vranješ or Reza Ghoochannejhad.

So what chance England? The bookies odds of 28-1 offer some clue Hodgson’s hopefuls won’t be there long enough to excavate much of a hole in the Football Association’s wallet – and there are always a litany of excuses to rely on, like pitches having the wrong kind of grass, the climate too steamy and refs needing guide-dogs.

OOOPS! Even FIFA chief Blatter admits awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar may have been a 'mistake'

OOOPS! Even FIFA chief Blatter admits awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar may have been a ‘mistake’

This may sound pessimistic – and I sincerely hope I’m wrong – but the action off the field, in world football’s corridors of power, is likely to prove far more compelling than much of what England muster on it.

FIFA, the governing body, has long been something of a conundrum; not so much an administration, more a corporate cash-cow, amassing reserves estimated at $1.4-billion.

And that it situates itself in Switzerland, whose very name conjures up visions of financial mystique, adds nothing to the organisation’s image. Neither does the fact that FIFA’s president is the seemingly Teflon-coated Sepp Blatter, now in his fourth term of office.

Notably, Blatter’s CV includes a previous ‘presidency’ – that of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders, which tried to stop women wearing pantyhose.

If nothing else, this may provide a fascinating insight into the man’s peccadilloes, as does his remark in 2004 that women footballers should ‘wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts… to create a more female aesthetic’.

However, Blatter’s role as an administrator has garnered even more controversy than his sexism, with rumours of irregularities dogging him since his first election to the job in 1998.

Nevertheless, his survival instincts are supremely honed, never more so than when he displayed nimble footwork to equal Barcelona’s midfield in deflecting fall-out from an investigation into allegedly corrupt links with ISL, a marketing company which went bust in 2001, reportedly owing FIFA $100M.

Now, however, the small, bald, 78-year-old Swiss is up to his jowly neck in a virtual cheese fondue, amid allegations that Qatar ‘bought’ the 2022 World Cup for approximately US$5M.

The sandcastle-sized emirate – it’s actually smaller than Yorkshire – is more renown for camel racing, with robot jockeys, than soccer. And, with frazzling summer temperatures of 50C (120F), it one of the last places on earth to host a tournament where competitors will struggle to amble for five minutes, let alone run for 90.

Still, Blatter applauded Qatar’s ‘successful bid’ and helpfully advised gay fans they should ‘refrain from any sexual activities’ while there, since homosexuality is taboo.

CUP TIED: Ex-Asia soccer boss Mohammed Bin Hammam is accused of 'buying' the World Cup for the tiny Arab emirate

CUP TIED: Ex-Asia soccer boss Mohammed Bin Hammam is accused of spending $5M to ‘buy’ the 2022 World Cup for the tiny Arab emirate

However, the venality of how the oil-rich statelet came to be ‘awarded’ one of world sport’s most glittering prize first began to unravel when the Daily Telegraph revealed that Jack Warner, dictatorial boss of Caribbean football and long-time Blatter crony, trousered some $1.2M from sources not a million miles distant from Qatari, Mohammed Bin Hammam, then FIFA’s Asia’s soccer supremo.

To add tinder to the scandal’s flames, the aptly-named Chuck Blazer, an American member of FIFA’s executive committee, submitted evidence that Warner and Bin Hammam handed envelopes – each stuffed with $40,000 – to Caribbean football union delegates during a junket in Trinidad.

This, apparently, was only the tip of an iceberg of sleaze embroiling Bin Hammam, who also tried to overthrow Blatter, and last week the plotting was graphically detailed by the Sunday Times.

Among a catalogue of scathing allegations, the newspaper contends: Bin Hammam operated ‘slush’ funds to dole out thousands in bribes to African delegates of FIFA and paid the Confederation of African Football $1M to ‘sponsor’ its congress in Angola, thus stymying rival bidders – like Australia – from putting forward their cases for 2022.

More revelations appear in today’s Sunday Times, while an incandescent Warner – now banned from world football, along with his Arab chum – promises to unleash a ‘tsunami’ of evidence of corruption inside FIFA and how Qatar ‘bought’ the World Cup.

INVESTIGATOR: American lawyer Michael Garcia will report next month on his probe into how Qatar 'won' the right to stage the competition

INVESTIGATOR: American lawyer Michael Garcia will report next month on his probe into how Qatar ‘won’ the right to stage the competition

Naturally, the Qataris deny any wrongdoings and continue work on eight, lavish stadiums, which have so far cost the lives of 964 immigrant workers.

Bin Hammam, they insist, was not working for the ‘official bid committee’, although he flew around the world distributing largesse in a private jet loaned by Qatar’s royal family.

They will, however, have to convince Michael Garcia, an American lawyer appointed by FIFA’s Ethics Committee – yes, perhaps surprisingly, they have one – to investigate the 2022 bidding process, before he reports next month.

Meanwhile, even Blatter has begun to question the wisdom of a World Cup being staged by the pinprick Gulf state, admitting it may have been ‘a mistake.’

Feeble though it is, the admission vindicates the groundswell of learned opinion that believed Qatar was never a fit and proper place to host such a showcase event, when the award was made in December, 2010.

Overwhelmed by international criticism, Blatter now faces the problems of not only fending off any personal blows from Garcia’s probe, but how to ditch Qatar and re-run the 2022 bid without drowning FIFA in a floodtide of humungously expensive litigation.

Short of resigning, how the artful Swiss can mastermind this should prove far more intriguing than anything England contrive in Brazil.