2014 – gloom and hope

These posts are always hard to write. How on earth do you sum up a year while keeping the piece a length which doesn’t send people to sleep? I write this post every year, it’s a kind of a tradition, but it’s even harder this time around; the year has simply gone by at such speed that I’ve barely had time to process. I fear I can’t do 2014 justice.

It’s been a year of personal highs and global lows. Islamic State has established itself as a major, terrifying player in the Middle East, helping to pull Iraq and Syria apart and slaughtering hundreds in the process. Israel and the Palestinians went another round in their endless war, with 66 Israelis and over 2000 Palestinians losing their lives in the madness. In both cases, the West has failed to stop the bloodshed, but perhaps there are no answers in the world’s most troubled region. However the situation develops, it is not hard to predict that the chaos in the Middle East will dominate the year to come.

Chaos came a little closer to home, too. As we remembered the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, Russia’s President Putin meddled in Ukraine in ways not seen since the days of the Soviet Union. Having unilaterally annexed Crimea, he went on to send Russian troops into Eastern Ukraine, destabilising the region by bolstering the pro-Russian insurgency against the new, Western-backed government in Kiev. As EU and American sanctions were ratcheted up, doing serious damage to the Russian economy, many commentators wondered whether we were seeing the start of a new Cold War. As the year ends, this question remains unanswered.

Depressingly and predictably, the Republicans won the Congressional elections in November, rendering the Obama presidency potentially useless for the next two years. But Obama came back fighting, finally using his executive powers to move on immigration reform. He also promised some bipartisanship and a new attempt to close Guantanamo bay, an issue which became more pressing (as if that was possible) when the CIA torture report came out. In the dying days of his presidency,  Obama should concentrate on stopping the slide of American moral leadership, or at least leave enough of it in tact for the next guy to have something to work with. This year, too, we may see a glimpse of how the next presidential election will go. Personally, I am gunning for Hilary. Disagree with some of her policies all you like, she is the only Democrat with a chance of beating the Republicans – and I think a woman at the helm is exactly what America needs.

Here in the UK, the extreme right has surged, in the form of Ukip and its loathsome leader, Nigel Farage. The anti-immigration party (which I firmly believe is actually just racist) has seen its success mirrored by similar and even worse outfits across Europe – fuelled by the economic gloom which smothers the continent and the same sense of lost identity which has bolstered the Tea Party over the pond. I can only hope that as we head into a general election, our more liberal instincts come back in to play. All bets, however, are off. With the evident death of the old two party system, predicting election results is not an easy task. I expect a coalition will form (neither the Tories or Labour look strong enough to win a majority), but whether Lib-Con or Lib-Lab I cannot say. Unimpressed as I am with both of the main parties, I do not much care as long as we avoid the nightmare scenario of a Con-Ukip deal which sees us leave the EU, scrap the Human Rights Act and push minorities (women, LGBT+ people, disabled people and, really, anyone who isn’t white) back to the 1960s.

It could have been an even more raucous year for UK politics, but alas for Alex Salmond it was not so. Sense did in fact prevail, just this once, and Scotland voted by some margin to stay within the Union. Although I admit to viewing the whole independence idea as a bit daft, there was some good in the referendum. Firstly, the peaceful granting of the right to self-determination – something so many have fought and died for, handed over in the name of democracy and fairness. Secondly, we saw the kind of political engagement which people like me dream about – real mobilisation, real debate, real excitement. With democracy hardly living up to its promise, we need more of this if we are to reclaim politics for the people.

The gloomy news, though, still came. Police brutality in the US showed how racism still pervades the land of the free. The Peshawar school massacre in Pakistan showed that, even after 13 years of war in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Taliban still clings to its medieval ideology and its power. The ebola outbreak in West Africa showed how little the world has done to help developing countries create real healthcare systems or escape the scourges of poverty. Civil wars rage in South Sudan, in Syria, the CAR, Nigeria, Libya – and yet we do not talk of them, and nothing is done. 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram caught the world’s attention in April, now they are all but forgotten. You do not need to be an idealist to believe that we must and can do better.

And yet, good things happened this year. Tunisia held elections which weren’t won by Islamists. Same-sex marriages became legal in the UK. Iran and the US are talking to each other. Peaceful protests were allowed for a while in Hong Kong. Many of these things seemed impossible at the beginning of 2013, let alone the start of the decade. This alone is reason enough for hope.

For me, the grim news on our television screens has contrasted wildly with the goings-on in my own life. This year, I have really settled in to university. I passed my first year, became involved in Warwick Politics Society, and learnt just how much I can do for myself. I have also met friends who I am sure will be around next year and the one after – and in 10 years too. I have been watching a lot of Friends recently (what else is there to do at Christmas?) and it struck me how similar my life now is to those of the famous gang – minus the drama, of course. We do go for coffee an awful lot. And it’s great, really, to feel like I truly belong somewhere. That place, it turns out, is Warwick, having a debate about Ed Miliband’s chances of ever being elected, or worrying about impending deadlines while doing relatively little about them. Such is the life of a university student.

A personal milestone for me has been learning to trust my friends to help me, thus freeing me to do more without my carers having to follow me around (although being wonderful people, they are more than welcome to come along). I am so grateful to everyone who has wrestled with my coat, got me a drink, or picked up my phone when I’ve dropped it for the 5th time in a row. They’ve made me laugh until I cried more often than you’d imagine, made me happy and confident, and made me feel like one of the gang. And they’ve allowed me to say with confidence that this has been the best year yet.

It’s also been a good year for my journalism career. I’ve continued to blog for Prospect, where I also did some more work experience. I spent some time at the Week, where I learnt a lot about editorial decision making. Most amazingly, the Guardian named me as their Student Columnist of the Year, and I can confirm that my first piece for them will be published on Comment is free on the 1st January. And last but not least, you’ll notice that this blog has been re-homed from Topical Creativity to lucy-webster.com. A professional blog for a (semi-)professional journalist.

So that was 2014, the year that was. The year ahead is a blank slate; a story to be written. Although there is much to concern us in looking forwards, I am excited to see what opportunities come my way in 2015. Thank you to everyone who has read my stuff over the past 12 months, I wish you all a very happy new year.

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