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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 December 2003, 10:48 GMT
Vote on a prediction for 2004
What do the coming 12 months hold in the fields of culture, politics, technology, religion, royalty and transport? We asked a panel of experts to give us one prediction each for 2004.

Who would have thought, a year ago, that Iain Duncan Smith would be deposed as leader of the Conservative Party and replaced by Michael Howard? Well, since you ask, political commentator Tony Howard predicted just such a scenario in this column, this time last year.

So what do our panel of crystal-ball gazers foresee for the coming year? Read their predictions and then, using the vote form on the right of this page, tell us which prediction you hope will happen in 2004.

CHARLES AND CAMILLA TO MARRY

Charles and Camilla
Do we hear wedding bells?
Royalty expert Harold Brooks-Baker, publisher of Burke's Peerage, predicts that Prince Charles will marry Camilla Parker Bowles in 2004. "I think we're getting very close to it - it's very likely this year," he says. The Royals face no particular problems this year, and with the Queen in good health, he says there will be enough time for any negative public reaction a marriage to Camilla might provoke to wear off long before Charles becomes king. It will be a church marriage, he says, possibly officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but will be a small family affair with just close relations and foreign royals attending.

WIND-UP HANDHELD TVs

Mobile phone
Is it a wind-up, Trevor?
Inventor Trevor Baylis foresees another leap in mobile phone technology with handsets doubling up as mini televisions in 2004. Pocket TVs have been around for many years and colour screens on mobiles are now common - it's simply a matter of teaming up the two, says Mr Baylis, who dreamed up the clockwork radio. "You can play games and view pictures on your mobile, so it can't be long before they add a TV." The one drawback would be the drain on battery life. But, true to form, Mr Baylis has a practical solution - wind-up "dynamo" chargers, which are already available for standard mobiles.

BUSH TO BE RE-ELECTED

George Bush at inaugration
Will Mr Bush stay on at the White House?
A year is a long time in politics, but that doesn't stop commentator Tony Howard forecasting victory for George W Bush in November's US presidential elections. "The economy is doing well and Bush has an enormous treasure chest for TV advertising. He will easily outspend any opponent." The only candidate who could stop the incumbent, says Mr Howard, is former First Lady Hillary Clinton. But she won't step into the breach, he believes, at least not this time.

THE FIRST BLACK POPE

Francis Arinze
Will Francis Arinze be the first black pope?
Psychic Sarah Delamere Hurding says next year will see the election of the first black Pope of modern times. This will be, she says, "a controversial but important decision" for the Catholic church, giving a chance to "open doors", and repair damage done to its reputation following "scandal and abuse stories".

'RE-NATIONALISATION' OF RAIL

Train
Returning to the govenment fold?
Growing revolt over late-running trains will result in a radical plan for the partial re-nationalisation of rail, predicts transport writer Christian Wolmar. Currently, all 25 train operating companies (Tocs), such as Virgin and GNER, are run as profit-making companies. But, so far, they have relied heavily of government subsidies to turn in any profit. These grants now total about 4bn a year and the government has signalled it won't pay out more. Short of letting the railways go to the wall Downing Street has only one option, says Mr Wolmar: to bring the Tocs "in house".

THE 90s WILL FINALLY END

Spice Girls
Will the 90s end (in 2004)?
Cultural commentator Peter York says 2004 will be a "cusp year" - one in which the next set of phenomena and fashions will become apparent. Trends which started in the mid- to late-90s, such as the "dome-fever, young country, Cool Britannia" sort of thing will come to an end, marked by a single defining event. "I can't say with clarity what it will be," he says, "but some event will happen to set the seal on it. One such thing could be if Blair went, irrespective of who replaced him - the 'magic' would be gone." He adds: "This is an important year. People will reflect on what they want their nation to do."

Using the vote form on the right of this page, tell us which prediction you hope will come true in 2004.





VOTE RESULTS
Which prediction do you HOPE comes true in 2004?
Charles-Camilla to marry
 7.33% 
Wind-up handheld TVs
 12.20% 
Bush to be re-elected
 20.67% 
The first black pope
 16.69% 
'Re-nationalisation' of rail
 27.47% 
End of 90s 'cool'
 15.65% 
14873 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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