2015 a year in review - trends and the future

This is a review of the political events of 2015. Read my summary of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader here.

Parliament and party politics were more interesting this year than for a long time, but there were important trends outside the Westminster bubble. Questions over Scottish independence were clearly not settled by last years referendum. The SNP will call another independence ballot, but only when they are certain they will win. If Britain leaves the EU because England votes to go and Scotland votes to stay then this will give the SNP the excuse they need to break up the country.

In America gun massacre followed gun massacre and still Obama cannot get any movement on gun control legislation. If you are depressed about the state of British politics, then take a look at the US to feel better about things. The race for the White House rumbles on with Trump frightening the world more and more and Hilary Clinton being so bland and boring that an openly socialist candidate is making headway in an American election – further proof, if any was needed, that 2015 was a surreal year for politics.

2015 was also the year that a lot of prominent feminists were accused of being transphobic, sparking social media spats. This led to a healthy public debate about no-platforming on university campuses. There are already too many people telling students what they should and should not do, but my opinion is that people should be allowed to express their opinions unless they are openly and explicitly encouraging violence.

Online abuse, passing itself off as free speech, has caused numerous people to examine the issue of the limits of free speech. We have a right to freedom of speech but we also have a responsibility to do no harm with it, as much as possible. After so much abuse has been dished out and then defended as “freedom of speech”, I can see why students want more emphasis on the responsibility aspect of our freedom of speech.

Many of these debates – and abuses - have taken place on social media and one trend of 2015 is fashionable social media bashing. Social media used to be means to gage public opinion or engage with the public. Now it’s viewed as a nest of hysterical people, who must be ignored in order for their to be sane political debate.

One recent example is people taking to Twitter after the Christmas floods to claim about Tory cuts to the flood defenses budget. Most people would think that a debate about cutting flood defenses after a preventable flood has damaged peoples’ lives is a good thing. However in the world of “sane political debate” verses social media these people were labeled as idiots, rather than listened too. Here is a good example of someone dismissing discussion on Twitter out of hand and here is a good response.

Some good articles were written about how social media can be a left wing echo chamber and this might have cost Labour the election. For every nuanced thought about the role of social media there were many people dismissing out of hand a platform that gives voice to people, mainly young people, who find it hard to get their voices heard.

Social media is a great tool for collective actions, spreading information and holding the powerful to account. It has been used to spread hatred and disinformation by people of all political persuasions. I feel that the current fashionable bashing of social media is a way for journalists and politicians to dismiss the voices of ordinary people as just cranks and bullies.

Elements of the political and journalistic establishment do not like the fact that ordinary people hold them to account and would very much prefer it if social media is thought of as the domain of idiots and that it is everyone’s best interests that they are ignored. You will encounter opinions you do not like on social media, some of them will be stupid and ill-informed. Everyone has a right to an opinion. Fashionable bashing of social media is way for the privileged to conveniently ignore the opinions of everyday people.

2015’s most annoying trend was self-righteous articles about people moving out of London, such as this by Rafael Behr in the Guardian and this by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing. Yes we are all very pleased that you prefer Brighton to the capital but we really do not care. An opportunity to pop this balloon of pomposity was missed when one writer claimed that they cannot move out of London because the rest of the country is racist. Everyone looked like an idiot that week.

2016 will probably be as interesting as 2015, for better and for worse. There will be more social media spats and infighting in the Labour Party. There will also be more refugees than ever before arriving and we need a practical solution to what is to be done with all these people and we need it today. Terrorism is a fear, but I am hopefully that 2016 will not see a massacre in London similar to the ones we have seen in Paris.

The promised referendum of Britain’s European Union membership will most likely happen next year, because Cameron wants Britain to stay in the EU and he does not want this to be a vote on an unpopular midterm government – so the sooner the better from his point of view. The potential for both Labour and the Tories to trip over their own feet during the campaign is enormous and I am interested and slightly frightened to see how they both handle it. We can also expect sluggish economic growth and further cuts to public services. 2016 might finally be the year cuts and lack luster economic performance blows up in the Conservative Party’s faces.

At the Red Train blog 2016 we bring a new website design, new articles on a wider range of topics and a recommitment to cover as much politics as possible with our usual liberal dose of left wing bias.

Our society is still faced with some very large problems. I believe that the neo-liberal economics that underpin our current thinking and direction of our entire society is heading in is potentially disastrous. There are millions of people - poor people and social minorities - that no one cares about and have been left on the scrapheap by this government. The country needs an effective left wing alternative now more than ever. It is the only way we will meet the challenges of 2016.