- Whiterock Wales
2016: a look back in anguish
Historians will probably describe the last 12 months as ‘significant’. We probably each have our own thoughts on that. I’m just glad that I decided at the outset against making any predictions.
The year started – in the same way that it ends - with speculation that the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project may yet be beached by the UK government. We will learn soon if anything has changed.
The regeneration scene has been a busy one. There was excitement over plans that will reshape Swansea’s city centre. Terry Matthews, chairman of the Swansea Bay City Region, was particularly enthusiastic.
The latest word is that funding options have given the imaginative scheme a fresh impetus - which is more than can be said of the Region partnership, now that City Deal is the latest game in town.
One partnership that continued to thrive was the outfit behind Swansea’s successful regaining of Purple Flag status for a safe nightlife, even though judge Peter Heywood thought the best thing for Wind Street would be for the place to close down.
We were told that Swansea will be one of first cities in Britain where residents will be able to enjoy ultra-fast broadband with download speeds up to 10 times the UK’s current average. No doubt we’ll be told again (and again).
On the political front, the Wales Bill began clunking its ponderous way through parliament with all sorts of heavy weather about constitutional issues.
Attention quickly switched however to a beaming David Cameron when he announced that we’d be voting in June to decide whether the nation’s future should remain within the European Union or not.
Although media headlines clamoured about the Panama papers, the BHS scandal and a looming Tata steel crisis, the big story was inevitably Europe.
Welsh politicians valiantly struggled to ensure the Assembly elections did not descend into a sideshow but with little success.
In the event, June produced a referendum result that defied popular predictions.
Brexit prompted a change of prime minister and several changes of underwear for financial markets.
Labour went into meltdown as MPs decided that the whole democracy thing was overrated and Jeremy Corbyn’s election was actually a clerical error.
Hillsborough victims and their families received justice. We remembered Aberfan. We read that an MP had been murdered for political reasons and wondered what our country had become.
We saw Wales perform incredibly at the Euros backed by thousands of fans who still don't want to be sent home. We watched UK athletes excel at all levels in Rio.
We lost names we'd grown up with and dug out or downloaded their music, movies and poetry to remember them.
Elsewhere, we learned of events in Nice, Paris and Berlin and the world became yet a little more dangerous.
2016 seemed to be a year with considerably more low points than high. The news never stopped coming and most of it seemed bad.
For me, it was year that democracy was effectively weaponised. Or maybe it’s been that way for a while and I’ve only just noticed.
One of the lowlights of the year, if social media is any sort of reliable guide, was the election of Donald J. Trump as US president.
The confrontational billionaire got to the White House on an ‘anti-establishment’ ticket and has since lived up to the pledge by hiring a dozen other billionaires to serve in his cabinet.
It was Hilary Clinton’s election to lose and she somehow managed it. Along with her unexpected defeat went notion that the world’s largest economy should be the greenest and most globally responsible.
There was a lot of talk beforehand from the Republican candidate about “taking back the country”. Most people thought he meant foreign nationals although it’s now possible he was referring to Republicans in Congress.
A big chunk of Trump’s support came from middle-class, middle-income, college-educated electors who saw him as the last chance at grabbing what’s left of the American Dream. For the less affluent, it remains the stuff of nightmares.
And so this is Brexit
Perhaps I’m overstating things but 2016 more or less seemed to be about political leaders calling for unity and achieving something a lot less.
It’s claimed that the most popular Google search recorded a few days after the referendum result was “What is the EU?” – although this information is admittedly about as reliable as any other ‘fact’ quoted during the campaign and since.
Taking back control and putting £350m a week into the NHS instead of paying out to Brussels was a simple message. If only doing it was just as straightforward.
It’s a state of affairs not helped by mixed messages from Downing Street over what kind of Brexit consistency we can expect or by those who steered things thus far suddenly deciding to let go of the helm.