Rebecca Coulson is a freelance classical musician and writer, and was Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham at the 2015 General Election.
As the last one at the restaurant table to place an order, you’re more likely to choose something different from your companions than ask for what you actually want. Similarly, in trying to analyse the past, or foresee the future — popular activities at this time of year — the desire to stand out counters the probability of getting it right.
Difference is increasingly difficult, however, now nuance has been killed off. In 2015, we admired politicians who showed integrity by sticking to what we thought they thought (regardless of what it was); we craved leaders who led how we thought people thought they should (regardless of the Overton Window); and we valued those who shouted loudest and longest (or had a beard). This was constant, except for a moment on 7 May…
Yet, prediction is apt. Indeed, in learning’s safe space, it’s offensive to consider astrology less credible than astronomy (though I’m with the Labour MP who tweeted that he wanted to be cynical about Tim Peake, “but it’s just so great”). All views are equal, these days. As long as they’ve been drunk from the grail of evidence-based knowledge (any provenance and vintage acceptable). And don’t oppose certain other views. Or condone views that favour certain other views, if those views differ from certain other views, themselves…because that would be offensive, too. Right?
So (to use a word literally not overused in 2015), here are some things that will definitely happen in 2016. If we can know that 2016 will definitely happen. And if we’ve decided what ‘definitely’ means. Which we haven’t, since we don’t believe in absolutes any more. (Phew.)
1. General elections (parliamentary or presidential) will take place in Mongolia, the Philippines, Austria, Georgia, Portugal, Slovakia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Taiwan, Ireland, and, of course, the United States (where The Donald won’t make it to the end, unless the GOP really loses out by him splitting the vote as an independent). Speaking of republicans, even the most ardent here will accept an artisan sausage roll when the Queen turns 90: any excuse for a celebration (depression spirit, and all). Speaking of democrats, Obama’s rhetoric won’t graze the NRA; the Supreme Court could.
There will also be elections to the Scottish Parliament (Conservative advances, thanks to Ruth Davidson), the Welsh Assembly (Labour depletions — as with councils, almost everywhere), and the Northern Irish Assembly. Sadiq Khan will win the London mayoral election (Boris’s gain being London’s loss; Conservative failure being less disappointing than if Syed Kamall were running). Police and Crime Commissioners will be chosen.
2. Some upcoming homeland (still the only TV show worth watching) developments. 2016 will see movement in the British Army’s major integration of regular and reserve soldiers. “Reaction force! Adaptable force! Committed force!” a reservist friend told me recently, suggesting this could be A Good Thing, and not simply a desperate response to troop cuts. Then, there’s the Charter Review, or Why We Learnt to Stop Hating/Loving and Began to Love/Hate the BBC. Nowhere is nuance more dead than in the assessment of bloated public bodies, but there’ll be a rejoinder to the Guardian’s campaign against the BBC’s overseas commercial interests. Scottish votes at 16 could inspire the rest of the UK. The Teaching Excellence Framework will make academics yet happier! Schools will define acceptable religion. And even Michael Gove will fail to fix the flawed prison system — though he might teach people the difference between the ECHR and the ECtHR.
3. 2015’s twin motifs have been the economy and foreign affairs. (The issues on which the messianic JC polls most feebly, thereby showing his insidious strength). In 2016, the UK will up spending, accrue further debt, and economics will remain the domain of politicians cherry-picking theoretical props, and ageing rock stars rehashing old books, courting everyone who can’t see that easy kindness isn’t always kind. Good times. Except that it will be: in 2016, people’s lives will continue to improve, across the world (if not become more ‘equal’ — overrated term of the year).
Where to start abroad? We know that more needs to be done about Syria, if not exactly what. But there are the less (yes, it’s possible) recognised disaster zones, like Yemen. The gradual collapse of the Middle East (is Iraq still there?), and the rise of indiscriminate (i.e. mostly Islamist on Islamic) terrorism, could finally lead to a little unabashed support for Israel (not just here, also amongst its neighbours). Oh, and Abbas might go. (But Assad won’t). Worldwide, there will be more vile, large-scale terror attacks, and more momentary social media campaigns instead of genuine collaborative action. Xi and Putin will further solidify their strongmen grip.
4. What about the arts, now the government officially appreciates this again? Aside from dreams of an insightful British novel to rival Franzen and Houellebecq’s 2015 offerings, Angela Hewitt’s second recording of the Goldbergs will be unthinkably excellent. And a live treat will be Australian conservative tenor (conservatives in the arts do exist!), Stuart Skelton, as Tristan at ENO (which will hopefully still exist, too).
Sports and broadband are the usual focus of ‘culture’, though. The Rio Olympics might remind us of South American corruption, and there’ll be a new UK Digital Strategy, aiming to extend the internet to ‘the last 5 per cent’. Segueing (don’t fall off) to science, the Bloodhound car will hit 1000 mph, immunology will dispense breakthroughs against cancer and drones will be chased by regulation.
5. Having moved from definite to probable (whatever that is), let’s turn to Europe. With the trickle of appeasement feeling like familiar desperation — whilst old favourites side with (old favourite, himself) David Cameron — it’s becoming hard not to tout for out. Hoping for renegotiation (the soothing friend of the Eurosceptic-Europhile) once seemed naïve; it now seems stupid. I can’t see the UK leaving, but I’m starting to hope I’m wrong. If the referendum doesn’t happen in 2016, perhaps I will be.
6. The Feldman Review drowned in the wake of the Mark Clarke scandal (from which there’s surely more nasty gossip to come). And Feldman’s conference speech, and Caesar-like appearances at Conservative events over the following months — vociferating against localisation (calls to combine dying associations, and build on the ‘brilliance’ of CCHQ) — appear retrospectively jarring. A proper review is overdue, not least to help those neglected areas, and the reeling teenagers.
Labour faces implosion, too. Might the sensible lefty voters gain real representation through the coalition of a few brave PLPers and extant LibDems? Reshuffles will come and go. As well as tracking the trajectory of BoJo, and any leftover Trots waiting in the 1980s to be promoted to the shadow cabinet, we’ll get better ideas of the potential (and, as yet, maybe ignored) leaders for 2020 (pre- and post-election for Conservative and Labour, respectively).
7. Finally: things that definitely won’t happen. Heathrow, because apparently 50 years isn’t long enough to make an infrastructure decision. Hubs are the way of the present, and air travel continues to boom; what’s the point of high spending, if you don’t look to the future? CAP payments will be late again, inducing yet more multi-million EU penalties: the prize for most shocking review goes to DEFRA. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act won’t be revoked, and boundaries won’t be altered, but no further dirt will stick to DC (he’s clearly nice and boring. Which is admirable, in a Prime Minister.) And we’ll all be evasive about climate change, again. (Could Tim Peake weigh in here?)