A roundup of the best of 2015’s news, culture and lifestyle as reported on by The Mancunion
What a year 2015 was—a year that opened with terrorist atrocities at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the continued rise of the barbaric Islamist group who call themselves IS, saw the Conservative Party take a majority in May’s General Election—as well as resignations among the leaders of the other political parties (and one reappointment)—witnessed cultural phenomena through film, music and the internet, the picking of a new leader of the Labour Party, a refugee crisis on the shores of the UK and across Europe, the beginning of tense and controversial campaigns for the US presidency, and end to China’s famous one-child policy, and much, much more—both heartwarming and chilling, or anywhere in between.
For students and residents of Manchester, too, 2015 has been a year of upheaval and controversy. From the state visit by President Xi of China to heated on-campus disputes around freedom of speech, here is our year in review. Happy New Year.
Following the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo by gunmen leaving 12 dead and more injured, capturing the attention of news sources across the whole world, up to 3.7 million rallied across the world in solidarity. A guest contributor of ours, Dalal, talked about how the attacks, along with other atrocities including the murder of Lee Rigby and the actions of Boko Haram in Nigeria, robbed him as a Muslim of his identity and were not in his name.
The satirical magazine produced its next issue, depicting the prophet Muhammad holding a sign with the slogan that had spread across the world saying “Je suis Charlie”, of which 7.95 million copies were released compared to its usual 60,000. This cover yet again raised controversy, and when the Free Speech and Secular society proposed bringing a copy to their stall at the Refreshers’ Fair, it was banned by the Union under concerns it “may cause distress and insult.” This was then picked up by popular atheist and humanist Richard Dawkins on Twitter, who described Union officials as “priggishly officious offence junkies.”
Separate from this, January saw the left-wing, anti-austerity Syriza party take power in Greece. Their aims to create a new kind of Socialism for today’s youth motivated a group of students, including then-Education Officer, to travel to Athens to meet with the party’s youth arm, “to see what [they] could learn about their political success.”
In February we revealed that the University of Manchester’s investment portfolio in fossil fuel companies totalled around £40 million. A series of Freedom of Information requests by the Fossil Free campaign showed that the university had invested “£29.5 million… in the 10 FTSE 100 fossil fuel companies via the university’s pension fund” as well as shares in oil and gas companies totalling almost £10 million.
A report from academics at the University of Manchester and Leeds Beckett university found that BME students are less likely to get into the prestigious higher education institutions, even with the same A-level results as their white peers.
The sold-out production of the Vagina Monologues held in the Students’ Union was an enormous success, raising £1,278 for Manchester Rape Crisis and Manchester Women’s Aid. On top of this, Manchester held the UK’s largest-ever Reclaim The Night march, with over 2,000 turning out to march down Wilmslow Road in protest of sexual harassment, victim-blaming and rape culture.
In music, the eventual winner of our Top 10 albums of 2015, I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty was released. Henry Scanlan also offered his input on fandoms after witnessing a One Direction concert—learning that perhaps those who see themselves as a cultural elite are in the wrong, turning their nose up at anything mainstream more in an attempt to look cool than truly appreciate an artist.
And after the murder of three innocent Muslims by “gun-toting atheist” Craig Hicks, Joe Evans explored America’s addiction to firearms.
Further Freedom of Information requests from the Fossil Free campaign showed that the University of Manchester was awarded grants in the 2014/15 year worth just under £657000 to carry out research into shale gas extraction, or fracking. A Mancunion investigation using this data suggested fracking research grants were given to universities in areas where fracking is under consideration rather than on merit, particularly since the Prime Minister’s announcement at the beginning of 2014 that he was going “all out for shale.”
March saw the conclusion of Executive Team elections and the official beginning of campaigning for the General Election. The Union elections saw the largest turnout of voters at any UK students’ union elections in history, giving the team the largest mandate ever held—in particular, the Activities and Development Officer elections had the highest votes of any position, giving Joel Smith the highest mandate of all. It also saw the election of Naa Acquah to General Secretary, the first female BME Gen Sec in the history of this Students’ Union.
Regarding the nationwide election, 92-year-old political activist and war veteran Harry Leslie Smith called upon students to register to vote after data suggested only a quarter of 18 – 25-year-olds turned out at the last election. “The defining moments in our country’s history have been decided by elections… if power is held by the few the many will suffer a lifetime of misery.”
At an event held in early March hosted by International Affairs Society, John Stayner, chairman of UKIP NW, said he would “like to see a United Nations nuclear deterrent.”
A report by UCU revealed the pay levels of Vice-Chancellors across the UK, with an average salary of £260,000. In the same data it was revealed that Dame Nancy Rothwell claimed more than £22,000 worth of flights on expenses despite having a salary of around £290,000.
We also published some challenging and striking opinion pieces, namely one critique of feminism, a call to be sceptical towards nationalism, and an attack on the speculative and dangerous forms of reporting that many news sources have engaged in since the advent of instant media.
Election campaigning and debate continued into April, with appearances from MPs and another controversial statement from a UKIP representative. Mark Davies, the candidate for Manchester Withington, said in a hustings event in the Roscoe building, when questioned about cuts to disability allowances, “[UKIP] believe that society should treat the weak humanely.”
Combatting apathy at this important time was a common theme—with Kris McDermott calling upon us to use our vote and Joe Evans pleading that we look past the personalities of the candidates and regard their policies instead.
We spoke to famous human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell—who was discussing ‘What Next for Democracy?’ at the university that month—in which he called Russell Brand’s Paxman interview a “masterful critique of the establishment system,” and called for an upheaval of our voting system.
At a talk held at Manchester Metropolitan University to students, academics, healthcare professionals and the general public, then-Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said that “the next Labour government will start by saving the NHS.” He also expressed opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
It was against this trade proposal that a group of more than 80 protestors dressed as zombies demonstrated by marching, or shuffling, through the Arndale Centre with banners reading ‘Time is ticking for TTIP’ in a demo organised by Stop TTIP MCR.
Beyond politics, we talked to physicist and popular science writer Simon Singh about his book regarding the brilliant mathematical references contained in The Simpsons, and how he communicates complex ideas to encourage young people to study science.
As we entered exam season and the summer break was in sight, much of what was happening at university began to wind down. However, a group of students protesting the marketisation of education occupied the Harold Hankins building in MBS, similar to other occupations at LSE and Lancaster.
Jenny Sterne spoke to then-Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna only a few days before the General Election. He said that “the graduate tax… is something that we are very much still in favour of.”
And, as Ed Miliband’s campaign reached its end, his attempts to connect with young people by taking time to sit down with Russell Brand was labelled “brave and effective.”
The Gigantic Indie All-Dayer was held at the Manchester Academy, and saw a “stellar” line-up of indie veterans play to packed venues of fans who had come from all over the country.
June saw the final Pangaea Festival of the year, Disco Apocalypse, headlined by 70s legends Sister Sledge, before the large bulk of students headed back to their respective homes to recover and rest for the summer.
News also came that Manchester Student Homes, the letting agency run by Manchester’s universities, was considering introducing a citizenship test for students leaving halls, described by a spokesperson as an “outduction” for first years.
In the budget announced this month, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that maintenance grants, given to those from households with an income of under £25,000, would be scrapped and replaced with higher loans. This has continued to cause uproar amongst union representatives who see it as burdening those who can least afford it with ever-more debt.
We also talked to a Manchester alumnus who was crowdfunding to get herself onto a highly selective LL.M. course in Austin, Texas, in order to take on the death penalty with the ultimate goal of its abolition.
The state of student accommodation was named a “crisis” by the NUS, after a report showed that student rent prices rose between 2010 and 2013 at a rate 12 per cent higher than general housing costs. Shelter also revealed that 50 per cent of students struggle to pay rent.
As A-level results were released, it revealed how application numbers had been affected by recent developments in the education sector. Surprisingly, admissions to UK universities hit an all-time high after the cap on intake was lifted, and revelations that the results of thousands of exams which are lost in the post or put into the wrong envelope are “guesstimated” caused uproar. And a straight-A* student who had lived in the UK since 2006, but whose immigration status was “discretionary” and not “indefinite” was denied a student loan.
As students returned in Welcome Week, so did The Mancunion, beginning our semester-long print run again with a new and exciting team. The NUS called for “all-out defiance” of Prevent, part of the government’s counter-terror strategy that involves encouraging public service workers, including university staff, to report any possible radicalisation they encounter. It also brought legal action against the government after the announcement that grants would be scrapped.
The “self-serving” Ark homeless camp, formerly under the Mancunian Way road bridge, was removed from its position. A video showed activist Jen Wu, whilst being removed from the scene, being dropped on her head which led to her being hospitalised.
A Mancunion reporter travelled to the refugee camp in Calais to meet with those that live there and see how they live. He talked to some residents of the camp about what horrors they had been through, and reported on a large protest at the gates.
The Labour leadership race got underway, and Grace Iona Annesley-Mair discussed whether feminism had a place in the election, with the deigned “feminist” candidate Yvette Cooper having made political moves that could hardly be seen as defending the marginalised.
Eventually, the winner was revealed as veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North. We talked to students to hear their reactions to his selection. Isaac Atwal said that after receiving such an enormous mandate, Corbyn’s real challenge had only just begun.
And in cultural phenomenon news, walking meme, flautist Azeem Ward came to the Students’ Union to perform at the Club Academy.
In regards to one of the biggest sports stories of the year—regarding Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro, sacked after rushing to help Eden Hazard on the pitch—Will Kelly wondered how much the beautiful game really did care about her, and questioned fans and the press on how they have treated her.
Gemma Sowerby discussed mental health at university, and how important it is to care for it, with some sound advice on how to, while Jack Howell raised important concerns about initiations, following the headline-grabbing allegations made against David Cameron regarding a pig’s head during his time at university.
October was both Black History Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Our Fashion section produced lots of great content raising awareness of breast cancer charities and how we can help ourselves (1 2 3 4).
The Conservative Party Conference was held in Manchester City Centre. An estimated 60,000 protesters marched in a demonstration organised by the People’s Assembly. There were a handful of negative events, however—University of Manchester student Colm Lock was hit in the head by an egg; the screenshot from the video made national front pages the next day. He also contributed his experiences in this piece. Journalists were also spat on and threatened, though the vast majority of protesters remained peaceful.
At a parallel event designed to compete with the conference, Jeremy Corbyn spoke in Cathedral Gardens to thousands, alongside Owen Jones and Abby Tomlinson.
It also came as junior doctors marched against drastic contract changes proposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
This month, much debate and controversy was caused when a proposed event titled ‘From liberation to censorship: Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?’ featuring Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos had both speakers barred, first Bindel then later Yiannapoulos, under the Students’ Union’s Safe Space policy.
A report showed that the University of Manchester and Oxford have the highest level of world leaders amongst their alumni.
Michael Segalov, who had protested at Sussex University in 2013 and been accused by the institution of “intimidating behaviour, theft, damage and violence” was awarded £20,000 in damages by Sussex and given a full apology.
Towards the end of the month, local poet and writer Lemn Sissay was installed as Chancellor of the University of Manchester.
And plans were made to protest relaxed gun laws on the campus of the University of Texas by carrying dildos strapped to students’ bags instead.
Yasmin Mannan argued that we cannot wash our hands of the responsibility of detention centre Guantánamo Bay, where until recently British citizen Shaker Aamer was indefinitely detained.
To celebrate Black History Month too, Will Kelly reported on a talk from Viv Anderson, the first black player to represent England, in 1978 and Sport profiled Walter Tull, the first black professional outfield football player.
Music also ran a Prog Rock week, exposing a prog newbie to the style, and a discussion of one of the widest and most complex genres.
In November, junior doctor disputes continued, with a new offer proposed by the Health Secretary rejected by the junior doctors. Later in the month, 98 per cent voted in favour of landmark strike action.
Looking back at Black History Month, Ariel Nash told us how the month reminds her of how important the voices of BME people are.
At a national student demonstration against grant cuts in London, anarchist protesters were engaged in violent altercations with police, resulting in 12 arrests. At the same protest which saw 10,000 march, the Students’ Union’s Women’s Officer Jess Lishak held Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s megaphone as he addressed the crowds.
The government then revealed a green paper on education, one which suggested reforms that could have wide-reaching consequences—such as giving the Business Secretary the power to set tuition fee caps, and introducing a Teaching Excellence Framework.
Liam Kelly sung the praises of Uber, and argued that its opponents should be upping their game rather than calling for harsh restrictions just to level the playing field, and the benefits of veganism were outlined by Matthew Perry.
Tori Blakeman talked to Professor Nutt, the scientist who compared the danger of illegal drugs with horseriding and was sacked from his position in the government.
After attending the first of the Students’ Union’s new Senates, intended to improve the decision-making process, Joe Evans analysed what went on and concluded that its structure was “fatally flawed.”
One of the biggest films of the year, Spectre, was released to huge box office success. Dominic Bennett told us, however, how critics should stop heaping praise on unimaginative and profit-oriented blockbusters for fear that independents will be crushed in the process.
After Jeremy Corbyn received criticism from the tabloid papers for not bowing low enough at the Remembrance Day ceremony—despite spending time with veterans after the ceremony rather than attend a ‘VIP’ event—Adam Merrill asked “can we just remember why we’re here?” while George Bolton argued that Corbyn should “play the game,” and can’t win over the support of the majority by sticking to every single one of his principles.
Andy van den Bent-Kelly attended a talk on Socialism and Space—and reported on how looking to the stars doesn’t have to be motivated by capitalism, profit and the market.
There was a tragic attack by IS in Paris, in which 130 died. Our reporter in France itself, Gemma Sowerby, outlined her experience of the days following the massacre, and talked to other English students studying in France. A vigil at Piccadilly Gardens had unprecedented attendance, and was covered by Fuse TV. And the sporting world stood together in solidarity.
After ex-footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville opened the doors to the Stock Exchange to rough sleepers, the City Council followed suit, allowing the homeless to live in empty council-owned buildings.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance released data showing the highest paid staff at UK universities. It was revealed through this that one per cent of staff at the University of Manchester earn over £100,000. The highest paid higher education staff member in the country (of the data that was provided) was an unnamed academic from Oxford University who earns £690,000 a year.
Following controversies including Charlie Hebdo, Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannapoulos, the Free Speech and Secular Society formed the Union-independent Manchester Free Speech Association, later holding the previously-cancelled debate with extra panellist Jane Fae.
Harry Newton discussed male suicide ahead of International Men’s Day, coming four years after Gary Speed tragically took his own life, and we looked at the hidden health problems LGBT* people still face.
Features Editors Liam Kelly and Joe Evans talked with Peep Show writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, to find out some of the secrets behind the writing.
And Astrid Kitchen recounted the holiday from hell when she stayed with a man in southern Spain named Steve.
In further reaction to the barring of speakers across the country under Safe Space policies, Ryan Khurana, who organised a meet and greet with Milo Yiannapoulos around the time of the reorganised debate, told us why safe spaces “trigger me.”
The second Students’ Union Senate of the year took place, during which a student, who had brought the motion to abolish the Safe Space policy, had to be asked to leave and then escorted out by security after defying procedure resulting in multiple warnings. The Union successfully launched its shuttle bus service intended to keep students safe at night. The bus runs from outside the Main Library hourly from 9pm to 3am and the money raised funds a support worker at Manchester Rape Crisis.
After factions in the Labour Party became more pronounced following the Corbyn victory, a new society for the left wing of the party was set up at the Students’ Union, to be“explicitly pro-Corbyn and advocate membership of and involvement in the Labour Party and Labour Students.”
Andy van den Bent-Kelly recounted the time he spent in a fully anechoic chamber for the Science Festival, possibly one of the quietest places in Britain.
The Students’ Union began to plan a partnership with Alcoholics Anonymous, as student-related drinking problems begin to rise to worrying levels.
And Katie Hopkins, at a debate she was invited to about the welfare state, was left speechless after students turned their backs to her before walking out of the hall en masse.
Henry Scanlan took to the streets along with a Greater Manchester Police officer to live-tweet what he witnessed on a standard party-heavy night, and share invaluable safety tips from those in the know.
Music ran a comprehensive takedown of the NME, lamenting its loss of quality after becoming a free publication, calling upon us to dump it, and, actually, that we should stop pretending that it was ever good. They also named 2015 the year “pop was cooler than rock.”
The unarguably most popular film of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was released in December, to some of the most unanimously positive reviews of any blockbuster.
A new second-hand and specialist book shop, the Alexandria Library, opened up on the Curry Mile. Yasmin Mannan went and found out what it was all about.
And a group of our writers lost their “Ann Summers virginity,” finding out what one of their infamous parties really entails.