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5th December 2011

Here’s to you, 2011

Riots in Britain and revolution abroad – it’s been a turbulent year in politics. Andrew Williams looks back, and asks what might be in store for the year ahead

When we witness history, we almost inevitably fail to recognise the significance of events as and when they happen. Yet this has truly been a momentous year in world politics.

Sometimes, you just have to stand back to realise that you are living through a remarkable period. The Arab Spring, which began tentatively this time last year as one man in Tunisia took a courageous stand against his own government, has spread across North Africa and the Middle East, sparking a chain reaction of protests, uprisings and (in the case of Egypt and Libya) full-on revolutions.

We have seen nothing on this scale since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Who in their right mind would have predicted at the start of 2011 that Colonel Gaddafi would be deposed and deceased by now? Or that Egypt would be holding its first democratic elections before Christmas? The Arab Spring has irreversibly shifted the international paradigm, and with the Syrian uprising escalating it seems that the wave of demonstrations is far from over.

Meanwhile, Europe has experienced its fair share of turmoil, with economic crise0s in the Eurozone threatening to boil over into a full-blown catastrophe. The Greek bailout package has been the source of much contention amongst European leaders, fully aware of the severity of the crisis but equally determined to shield their respective countries from having to shoulder the burden of financial responsibility. The crisis has claimed both Greek and Italian Prime Ministers – so long, Silvio! – and is far from over.

In the United States, Barack Obama’s faltering premiership received a welcome boost as US forces finally captured and killed al-Qaeda figurehead and 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden. His death was seen as a symbolic victory for Americans after ten years of botched attempts to find the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted Terrorist’.

However, Congress left the US economy on the brink of collapse as Obama’s efforts to raise the debt ceiling were repeatedly blocked by dogmatic Republican opponents. It took a serious feat of brinkmanship to avert disaster.

Speaking of the Grand Old Party, a wacky field of presidential candidates was assembled as the race for the White House continued apace. Michelle Bachmann’s ‘hockey mom’ approach won early plaudits on the American right, only for a series of Palin-esque gaffes to derail any realistic hope of winning the nomination; Rick Perry, the darling of evangelical conservatism, announced his candidacy only for his campaign to follow a similar trajectory. Several thousand televised debates later, we are still no closer to finding a winner with the February primary season just around the corner.

On the domestic front, the full extent of the phone hacking scandal revealed itself, forcing the closure of Britain’s oldest and biggest Sunday newspaper, the News of the World. Revelation after criminal revelation left the Murdoch family with no choice but to wind up the legendary paper – a sensible decision in light of the ongoing Leveson Inquiry which has shocked us day after day with stories of depraved tabloid practices. The country was appalled as it emerged that celebrities were not the only targets of phone hacking; journalists had gone as far as hacking the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. A grim year for the media, and for News International in particular.

Moving on to Westminster, the angry response to severe austerity measures imposed by George Osborne’s Treasury has made life difficult for the Coalition government in its first full year. The abiding images of 2011 in this country are undoubtedly those of burning buildings, as furniture shops and department stores went up in smoke during the worst riots in a generation. The country was shocked: £200 million worth of damage was caused in August, a vivid reminder that these harsh economic times have created a sense of injustice and an atmosphere of unrest. There would be myriad further anti-austerity protests, from a succession of tuition fee marches to last week’s unprecedented walkout by two million public sector workers.

The government ploughs on, though, driven by a steely determination to get our economy back on an even keel, seemingly at whatever cost. Bonded by the ‘national interest’, the Coalition shows no signs of falling apart despite reviled Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s tremendous unpopularity filtering through to his party; the Liberal Democrats have polled as low as 12% in recent months. A resounding ‘No’ vote in May’s AV referendum set the tone for a bad year for Clegg and Co. Things, as the infamous political anthem went, can only get better.

Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams is The Mancunion’s Features Editor, having previously edited the Politics section of the paper. A PPE graduate, he is studying for an International Relations MA in a last ditch bid to cling on to his student days.For rants about football, obscure pop culture references and wine-induced streams of consciousness, you can follow him on Twitter @andyonpaper

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