Want a Democrat? Back Hilary

If you thought that the UK general election was a drawn out affair, steel yourself now. The next US presidential election won’t be held until November 2016, but the parties are already in election mode. Why? Because before the campaign-proper starts next year, candidates have to compete in primaries to win the nomination to be their party’s presidential nominee. Effectively, a successful candidate has to win not one but two elections.

Primaries are complicated affairs contested on a state-by-state basis, where candidates compete for the state’s delegates at the nominating convention. Some states have closed primaries, in which only registered partisans can vote; others have open primaries, which give everyone a say – even members of the opposing party. And then there are the caucuses, which are basically more deliberated primaries. The caucuses and primaries of each state happen at various times, so the game becomes about momentum. Doing well early on in Iowa and New Hampshire is a good sign, but is no guarantee of success if the candidate’s support burns out or the campaign is mismanaged. Once the parties in each state have voted, they go to their respective conventions, where the candidates with the most delegates wins. Well, normally. Occasionally a new entry or a drop out will shake up the convention and massive horse-trading for votes will ensue. If this all sounds complicated, it is (I can only recommend watching season 6 of the West Wing).

So for the next few months, expect to hear an awful lot about the primaries. The parties couldn’t be in more different situations if they tried. The Democrats so far have four candidates (it is unlikely that any more will enter the race) and, barring major upset, will nominate Hilary Clinton. The Republican field, by contrast, just keeps expanding. So far, 11 people have declared their entrance, with a further 4 possibly preparing to do so. And there is no telling who will eventually win. Obviously, some of them are complete no-hopers (who on earth is George Pataki?) but there are several who could plausibly be nominated, ranging from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio to Rand Paul.

Of course, the identities of the two nominees will shape the race in profound ways. But the fact is that any Democrat – from the moderate Clinton to the eccentric and self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders to the anyone-but-Hilary Martin O’Malley – is better than the most moderate Republican. Jeb Bush may wish you to believe that he occupies the centre ground, but he is in fact more socially conservative than his brother and father, the George Bushes. Marco Rubio is a darling of the Tea Party and Rand Paul intends to decimate the federal government he wishes to head. Give me Sanders any day.

Yet Sanders is unelectable in a country without a socialist tradition, and the Democrats are not crazy enough to nominate him. The best he can hope to do is pull the other candidates to the left on some key issues. O’Malley, too, can’t be president, if only because he’s too dull. The other Democratic candidate, Lincoln Chafee is unheard of and, well, used to be a Republican. And so we are left with Hilary.

We could do a lot worse. Admittedly, she presents some issues, from her hawkish views on foreign policy to the air of scandal which follows her around, whether on Benghazi or the Whitewater fiasco. Her claims to represent the middle-class are more than a little awkward when she is so wealthy. She is too close to Wall St, but what American politician doesn’t have undesirable ties to big business? The crucial fact is that she is the only Democrat with a solid chance of winning the White House. A CNN poll puts her 10 solid points above any potential Republican challenger, the kind of lead usually unheard of (Obama won by 4% of the popular vote in 2012).

So we have to forgive her faults and get behind her now, which it seems most people on the left are doing. Sanders, O’Malley and Chafee’s task now is to help keep her honest and engaged, not to pull her to a left-wing position from which she cannot win. With the Republican Party holding the positions it holds, in 2016, any Democrat will do. And that Democrat has to be Hilary.

Lessons from the year

My second year at university saw success on three fronts: more work, more reading and more writing. Somewhere along the way, I learnt quite a bit; about myself, journalism and politics. And so, having, like a lot of journalists, bemoaned the advent of the ‘listicle’ (which I still maintain should not be a word), I present you with the highlights of these lessons.

  • There is absolutely no point in reading an entire book that you don’t understand just because it’s required reading (in my case, political theory from the 18th and 19th centuries). Find one that explains the core text in intelligible English and save time, boredom and exam season stress
  • On a related note, John Rawls is god’s gift to politics students
  • Planning essays is the best way to revise
  • My academic interests lie in security studies, human rights, justice and feminism. I am probably a constructivist but I believe in moral imperatives
  • It’s probably high time I transferred my essay-planning skills to pitching articles (by which I mean: knowing what my point is before I start)
  • There is nothing as gratifying as reward for hard work
  • There is nothing as uplifting as well-loved friends making you laugh on a bad day
  • No matter how inconveniently-timed the urge to read a novel or write something is, do it and don’t feel guilty for not doing other things. You’re probably learning more than if you were writing an essay and the inspiration is fleeting
  • My heart lies with 20th century American novels, the Guardian, New Yorker and New York Times, and inexplicably compelling internet think-pieces
  • I am not an aspiring journalist. I am a journalist
  • Not to overdo things. Take a break if your brain is no longer absorbing information. Lie in if you know that extra hour will help you function at your best
  • Coffee is wonderful
  • I write best between 11pm and 1am. I do not know if this is a blessing or a curse but count me in for the night shift
  • Old friends are precious. So are new ones
  • General elections are simultaneously banal, depressing and riveting
  • Being open about my disability is, with the right people, very freeing
  • I do and don’t need a plan. I wish I knew what I wanted to do after university and what the best course of action would be, but I’m happy to take the time to work these things out – as I am always being told, I have plenty of time

Not bad for a single academic year. And at least I spared you the GIFs.

My writing challenge

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Thanks to essays and exams, time and brainpower have been in short supply. But how I have longed to blog! Yet now, with my second year at university finished and with all the time in the world, I am apprehensive. Should I gaze backwards and cover all the things I missed, or simply start again here, on the 7th June? Despite having much to say on the outcome of the general election, I think the latter option is best; old news is a contradiction in terms, after all.

In exactly a month, it will be my second day of my internship at the Guardian. I am unbelievably excited to be immersed in one of journalism’s most revered institutions – and one of the few in the UK with a strong liberal bias. The people who work there produce top quality writing, day-in day-out, and the newspaper has been involved in some of the most important investigative journalism of the recent past, from the Wikileaks War Logs, the Black Spider Memos saga and phone hacking to the Edward Snowden affair. What a record. To be able to spend three weeks there because some of them quite like my writing is pretty special. It’s also a special time for the paper itself; with Alan Rusbridger stepping down as editor-in-chief after 20 revolutionary years, the Guardian now has its first female editor (all the more reason to love it).

I hope that by the time I start there, I’ve got back into the swing of journalism. To this end I have made a daft promise to myself (and anyone else who cares): I am going to blog three times a week. I have never written so regularly, but after the boredom of exams my brain is up for an interesting challenge. In addition, I am going to try to be published elsewhere as often as possible, so if you happen to know any friendly (or mean) editors looking for a freelancer, please do let me know! This three blogs a week challenge seems a bit like climbing Ben Nevis to my current academia-boggled self, but I know that with practice it will become easier and more enjoyable. I am also reading as much as I can; the very best kind of writing prompt.

So this is post one of the challenge. The next one will surely appear soon.

Undecided

It’s term 3 here at university, which means that various unsavoury events are looming on the horizon – essay deadlines and exams creating dread in everyone’s minds. My fellow 2nd year politics students and I have been slogging away trying to write multiple essays, and it’s fair to say that at some point we’ve all wondered why. And that’s why, for me at least, the other thing looming on the horizon has come at the wrong time – yes, I am talking about the general election. I simply have not had the time to cover it as much as I’d have liked, although I did attempt to tweet my thoughts during the first leaders’ debate.

I have a small confession. Despite the wall-to-wall coverage, the fact that I am a very opinionated and my deep, potentially unhealthy obsession with current affairs, I have no idea who I want to win this election. I have in fact already submitted my postal vote as I am voting in my home constituency but I am going to honour the secret ballot and not reveal whose name I drew my cross next to (especially as for many disabled people the secret ballot is far from a reality). Suffice to say, the UK’s first-past-the-post system forced me to vote tactically and I felt slightly ill as I folded and sealed the ballot.

I am a natural liberal and economic centrist, so if I had to pick a party it would be the beleaguered Lib Dems (I seem to be a continuous holder of unpopular opinions). But it would be foolish to deny that their performance at the polls is going to be abysmal, although I am vaguely hopeful that they will still be propping up the next government and lending it some liberal instincts. So the choice is really between two equally uninspiring men and their parties, neither of whom I feel much of an affinity to. I am a political mongrel: pro-EU, in favour of (slow but steady) deficit reduction, distrustful of government but a firm believer in the safety net it provides. If I gain anything from this, it is the ability to see both sides of almost any argument (a useful skill for those aforementioned essays), but it also means I am continually arguing with myself. I am the definition of the floating voter, but neither party is winning me over. If the latest national polls are anything to go by, I am the embodiment of the country’s mood.

I am much more certain about what I don’t want to happen. Such scenarios include anything involving Ukip or the SNP (nationalism is the antithesis of my liberalism), although I’d readily take the Scots over the ‘kippers as they at least have a sense of human decency. Farage makes me feel distinctly queasy, Sturgeon would put a dent in the Westminster old boys’ club. (The Greens, though slightly barmy, appear relatively harmless, but might as well be discounted – they’re not likely to have more than one or two MPs). But I also dislike the idea of a majority government; I believe that coalition consensus-building is a good thing, restraining the worst impulses of the larger partner. Between a Lib-Lab and Lib-Con coalition, however, I cannot yet choose.

Perhaps someone will win me over during the next two weeks, and I will spend the evening of May 7th desperately hoping for one outcome over another. But it’s unlikely. At least that’ll allow me to enjoy the spectacle as a journalist, for whom, in the end, not being a partisan is probably a good thing.

And we’re off!

Today marks the start of Britain’s general election campaign. On this I have mixed feelings; any political journalist loves a good contest, with all its twists and turns, and I am no different. But there is always the potential for the worst of party politics to come out and dominate, with each side accusing each other of being ‘posh’ (Labour on the Tories) or ‘incompetent’ (vice versa), with the issues buried under screaming headlines, and reminding me why I find British politics simultaneously boring and irritating. We shall have to see.

Expect to hear Labour harp on and on about the NHS, convincing voters that the Tories cannot be trusted to look after the nation’s last remaining treasure – name calling dressed up as policy. Expect to be so familiar with Tory economic statistics that you can repeat them in your sleep (1000 jobs created per day in the last parliament, anyone?). And expect everyone to fall over themselves trying to outdo Nigel Farage’s ridiculous immigration rhetoric. It could all get very boring, especially as both PM candidates are unappealing characters whom it is hard to get behind. Despite major ideological differences, the only leader I fancy as PM is the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon – perhaps we could persuade her to jump ship to Labour.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband
Feeling inspired?

Yet this election certainly has the potential to excite. With just under 40 days to go until polling day, no one can yet call the result. Barring major upset (Ed reattempting the bacon sandwich, Cameron turning out to own most of Berkshire or whatnot), it’s going to be close. This may force the parties to actually discuss things; to persuade voters of the value of their ideas and to defend their records (indeed, Labour still hasn’t escaped the shadow of its last term). They certainly can’t rely on their images. Neither party is popular – the Tories burnt by austerity, Labour dragged down by its ever-misfortunate leader – so a majority government is unlikely.

This means that the main point of interest will actually come in the days after May 7th, when coalition-building occurs. Here, the dynamic is most different to how it was five years ago. Britain has gone from a two- to three- to multi-party system in a remarkably short period, and no one knows quite how this will play out. The options are multiple and far from promising. If Labour is the largest party, a deal with the SNP seems most logical, although the idea is so unpopular south of the border that Miliband had to rule it out. I hope he sticks to his pledge, but the lure of Number 10 may prove too strong. If the SNP are out, perhaps the Greens are in, although their early surge has burnt out and they’ve returned to the background. Next week’s seven party debate may help them regain lost ground. This is possibly the best outcome for Labour – the Greens will be pliable. Or perhaps, having forced Nick Clegg to walk the plank for his tuition fees-related sins, Labour will embrace the Liberal Democrats, its once natural allies. Despite everything this is where I would put my money – providing, of course, that the Lib Dems are not decimated at the polls.

The Tories have fewer options if they emerge as the largest party. If they are only a few seats short of a majority, they may shack up with Ukip – this is my ‘worst case scenario’ and should be yours too. Such a deal would be popular with old-fashioned backbench Tory MPs and local party activists, but would turn the leadership so green that it remains unlikely. So we could see ourselves back where we started, with a Lib-Con coalition. Many would be angry, and the irony far from negligible, but at least Clegg’s hide would be spared.

Of course, the largest party could choose to go it alone and form a minority government. This would be brave, especially for the Tories – Labour may be able to rely on a confidence and supply agreement with the SNP. It would also be quite stupid; the uncertainty would be hugely destabilising, and the government would almost certainly be doomed to failure. The last minority government lasted a grand total of five months. Let’s hope, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, that it doesn’t come to this. The prospect of doing this all again before Christmas does not appeal.

Over the next 37 days this may all become much clearer, although that would take a momentous change of feeling. As things stand, even when political journalists like me have stayed up into the small hours of May 8th to see all the results come in, it is unlikely that we will know which parties will form the new government. That will take a few more days of backroom dealing and fierce negotiating. The real question is whether, by then, many people will actually care. That is up to the behaviour of the parties.

The nuts and bolts of writing

This week I read a brilliant essay in the New Yorker. Written by one of their copy-editors, it is mainly about commas. It was a beautifully crafted, excellently punctuated piece, documenting how Mary Norris fell into a job at one of the most prestigious magazines in the world, and it resonated with me.

This is possibly because I harbour strong affection for the humble comma and the wonders it can do for a sentence. Use them wisely, and not only do they lend clarity to your writing, but they give your work rhythm and, occasionally, a distinctive sense of being yours – only you use them the way you do. Whenever I take up an editor-like role, I am vaguely exasperated by the perfusion of comma-less sub-clauses and find myself muttering darkly about matters of syntax to whomever is unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. The entire meaning of a paragraph can, I assure you, rest on a well placed comma.

It is possible that I am a little zealous in my comma usage. Sometimes I do have to take out a ‘, and’ and just put a full stop, which I find a little sad. To me, the comma is the best punctuation mark. So imagine by joy at finding an entire essay dedicated to the little squiggle.

But, of course, that’s not what really excited me about this wonderful piece. Really, it was seeing that someone could care so much about the writing process and the way that words work. Sometimes, when I am really into a piece, I am so concentrated on the idea that I only pay cursory attention to how I am portraying it – luckily for me, good prose tends to flow naturally, so I can get away with it. But during a recent idea drought, I took solace in the act of finding the best way to construct a sentence and ignoring everything else. In doing so, I came up with the title for this piece. But until I read Norris’s essay, I couldn’t get it off the ground.

Words are powerful. With the right phrase you can stoke a passion, kindle a political movement or fire the imagination. Not many other things can claim to do that. In fact, exquisite phrases, having stopped your skim reading mid-line, can stay in your memory for ever. Ever wondered why so many people can quote the last sentence of The Great Gatsby? In those few lines, Fitzgerald summed up so much of the human experience.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

My bout of struggling to write worried me deeply. But now, with the ability to draft blog posts in my head as I get dressed in the morning reassuringly restored, I am left more conscious of how I am expressing myself. My fingers hover over the keyboard as I decide on the passive or active, a simile or a metaphor and, yes, whether I really need another comma. As Fitzgerald undoubtedly knew when he compared all our lives to boats, it is the nuts and bolts of writing that hold a piece together and, sometimes, allow it to fly.

A vision for the future

This week, a group of bishops from the Church of England released an open letter to politicians, in which they called for the parties to set out a “moral vision” for Britain, creating the same sense of change that was felt in 1945 and 1979. The bishops’ ideas of what this moral vision should entail may be different from what many would like, and is certainly more partisan than they made it out to be, but they are not wrong in arguing for one. With apathy high and discontent higher, this general election is in desperate need of a purpose bigger than deciding seats on May 7th. The country should use the next 80 days to have an encapsulating debate about who we are, who we’d like to be, and how best to get there. We witnessed it in Scotland over the summer – a nation taken over by the buzz of deciding its future – and it was a sight to see.

This year, I have struggled through the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill, among others. It has, I admit, been tough, and not the most enjoyable part of my politics degree. But if their ideas seem outdated, their writing stuffy and their relevance somewhat limited, there is one thing we can learn from these brilliant minds – a willingness, and in some cases a compulsion, to share their vision for a better society, no matter what that may entail. The public intellectuals of today (for that is what these men were) are, by comparison, parochial, although a talk on atheism, humanism and secularism by AC Grayling, which I attended recently, offered some hope. He argued, with passion and compassion, for a morality based on personal choice and respect for the choices of others.

I guess that what I’d really like to see is a politics in which a party’s leader can appeal to people like Grayling in their discussions with the public, and not be labelled an intellectual snob by the press. Instead, we must put up with soundbite populism, where Ed Miliband is judged on his ability to eat a bacon sandwich, not his interpretation of social democracy and its place in the 21st century. This is the climate in which Ukip gets away with gaffe after gaffe after gaffe, simply because no one expects any better. They can poll at 15% on the merits of Farage’s drinking habit, and although the broadsheets lament it, they don’t offer anything as an alternative.

So for what it’s worth: here’s my vision – the one that I wish someone would articulate to the public.

It starts off with a return to some of the great liberal thinkers mentioned above, and a concerted effort to modernise their once-groundbreaking ideas. JS Mill’s works should be the starting point of politics in any serious liberal democracy. Freedom of speech should be an absolute, just as he wrote; it is the only way to ensure that we’re going in the right direction. Individuality should be celebrated – and money poured into education, so that equality of opportunity becomes about raising the troughs, not levelling the crests. Every child should be viewed as a bundle of potential – especially, as Mill showed us, girls, who continue to miss out at so many stages of life.

And if we’re going to extend the liberal vision throughout the century, we need to renew the determination with which we fight society’s greatest injustices. The 20th century was the time of political rights – the spread of democracy to 120 countries (according to Freedom House), women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. This should be the century of social rights – of women being free to control their own bodies, of LGBT+ couples’ being free to show affection in public without fear, of toleration of those with whom the majority disagrees. Instead of just vaguely hoping for some progress, wider society should harness the power and passion of hundreds of NGOs and campaign groups and really put some effort into creating positive change.

The trickier questions arise when we look outside our own culture and ask ourselves if we should expect others to honour these rights (and if we should enforce them – and how), or whether we should value our differences. On this I am still undecided – I want little girls to go to school no matter where they are born, but I am also all too aware that neo-imperialism is a nasty phenomenon and that you can’t force the adoption of values. This debate is perhaps the most central of our time, so why can’t we have it? After Paris and Copenhagen, it is more urgent than ever, as we work out just how to be a truly multicultural society.

Most questions in politics no longer have black and white answers; everything is a question of degrees. This means that we cannot simply entrench ourselves in opposing opinions and shout across the chamber – whether in the House of Commons or in the forum of public debate. Dialogue and consensus are necessary for progress. The bishops were right, politicians need to set out a new moral vision. We, as citizens, need to steer them in the right direction.

The ideas stopped coming

It was all going so well. A few weeks ago I had just been told that I would be getting paid to write, which in many ways is the holy grail of young journalists. My Twitter profile was actually getting some attention, thanks to two articles I’d had published on Comment is free, who emailed to say that I am free to pitch them ideas whenever I like. I submitted a piece for Prospect and sorted out the practical arrangements for my summer placement at the Guardian.

And then the ideas stopped coming.

It’s been two weeks since I wrote anything, and even in writing this, I don’t know what it is I am saying. I have a sneaking suspicion that the pressure of thinking up really, gobsmackingly good ideas for the Guardian (who I am just in awe of) taking a subconscious toll – so much so that I can’t even come up with mediocre things to blog about here. And the more I can’t think of anything, the higher the pressure mounts, and the cycle continues. If hell had a circle just for journalists, this would be it (with unresponsive email contacts thrown in for good measure).

I’ve done what they tell you to do. I’ve read, a lot. I’ve trawled Twitter. I’ve even listened to a few podcasts and chosen completely random playlists on Spotify, trying to break myself out of the familiar. And it’s cost me, too. Last night I finally succumbed to buying a New York Times subscription so that I could continue reading back entries of the Modern Love column once I’d hit the paywall (proof that people – even students – will pay for good writing if they have to). Of all the luxuries in life, my subscriptions to top publications are the ones I feel least guilty about buying. We shouldn’t expect quality for free (maybe there’s an idea here?).

And finally, I am just putting words onto paper; black against white. Forcing my brain through its normal processes of choosing sentence structures, selecting vocabulary and playing with punctuation. Maybe in concentrating on the nuts and bolts of writing, I’ll cease to overthink the content and just do it.

Yes, there it is. There’s the idea: the nuts and bolts of writing. I’ll assemble it tomorrow.

Remember Voltaire

Je suis Charlie. It really is as simple as that. Aussi, je suis Ahmed, the policeman who was killed. I am the people at the Kosher supermarket, and I am the million-plus people who marched in Paris this weekend. For the past six days, this is all I have been able to say, but that is not enough.

It is with sadness that I admit that I am alarmingly used to terror; it is everywhere, all the time. So when my BBC News app informed me, between lectures, that 11 (then 12) people had been killed in Paris, I winced, told a friend, and then carried on with my day.

It was not until I returned home and switched on the news that the name Charlie Hebdo registered, nor that those killed were mostly journalists and cartoonists. As I waded through the media storm in what became an increasingly concerned effort to find out as much as I could, I felt shivers go down my spine. I called home to talk of other things, but was caught off guard by my French mother’s audibly shaken voice. After I hung up the phone and went back to trawling the media, I began to cry.

I haven’t cried at a news story for a long time, and I was shocked at my own response. I chastised myself; did I only care because these were people, doing a job I adore in a city I love, whom I could relate to? Why hadn’t I cried at the Peshawar attack, or the horrible deaths IS have inflicted on Iraqi civilians? Even looking back to the 7/7 bombings, which happened in my own city, I couldn’t remember feeling like this. Sitting in bed, tears flowing down my face, I wondered how, at a time like this, I could see the world in such a self-centred way? And why, under all the sadness, was I angry as if I had been personally victimised?

Je_suis_Charlie_svg

I no longer think I was upset because the news hit a little too close to home. It has become apparent over the last few days that much of the world feels how I do – the shows of support for Paris have come from all corners, and people haven’t stopped talking about it. The name Charlie Hebdo is etched into the collective consciousness, and anyone who’s read a newspaper is now familiar with the names Charb, Cabu, Wolinski et al. We are all shocked, and hurt, and, I think, a little scared.

I now think that what hit home was that this attack was not so much perpetrated against our people but our values. Freedom of expression was gunned down, and two days later multiculturalism came under fire too. And so in our fear we are defiant; the words “je suis Charlie” can be seen at every turn, people all over the world have marched in solidarity, and world leaders gathered in a remarkable show of strength. In a week of gloom, we have much to be proud of.

The debate which the terror has sparked has been wide-ranging and fierce. Some of it has made me think, some has made my blood simmer, and some has had me nearly thumping the table in agreement. I do not know how we are going to counter Islamic extremism. I do not know how we are going to convince rightfully angry people that they need to direct that anger wisely, that French Muslims are as peaceful as their Christian, atheist or Jewish neighbours. I am as worried by the prospect of reprisals as I am copy-cat attacks, and I can only hope that France keeps it together, but I don’t know what will happen next.

There has also been much debate about where we ought to draw the line between the right to freedom of expression and an expectation of religious tolerance. I, like many, find the Charlie Mahammad cartoons to be in bad taste. The point though is this: I don’t like the cartoons – they are offensive – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with their publication. Incorporated in a journalist’s right to say whatever the hell they like is your right to be offended by it, to display your disgust with angry letters or protests or boycotts. No where is there a right to kill people because you didn’t like what they said. All those people who are handwringing over whether the cartoons were acceptable or not are missing the point: people died for drawing a picture. A certain Voltaire quote comes to mind.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

And so I find myself cheering the republication of images which make me wince, and prepared to go out and buy the next issue of Charlie, a magazine I had never heard of this time last week. I find myself angry with those turning the debate into one about self-censorship. I find myself with no answers, but strong convictions. Most of all, I find myself sad. Yes, je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie. And if you’re not, well, you’re just wrong.

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.