The year has been book ended by acts of terror that reminded us that however much progress we make in computerisation, medical research or space travel, mankind’s capacity for violence is still there. The murderous Parisian attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo came in January, the one on the Bataclan Theatre in November. In between the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees tested the European Union to its limits. Linking the terror and the refugees was the widening war in Syria. It led to a decision that the UK should bomb Daesh with as yet unknown consequences for British politics.
What we do know is that in all likelihood 2015 saw the establishment of Conservative government in Britain until 2025. The run up to the contest in may was marked by squabbles over the TV debates and a skillful March budget by George Osborne where he determined that the Tories would fight the election on their Long Term Economic Plan. It was effective in reminding voters of the recovery that had taken place already and casting doubt on their Labour opponent’s economic competence. Ed Miliband made little headway with his plans for a mansion tax and freezing energy bills. However the Tories believed until the close of poll on May 7th that they had not done enough to win a majority. They were helped over the line by the surge in support for the Scottish Nationalists. The prospect of Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond running the country drove wavering voters into the Tory camp.
General Elections are always a time when the old guard hand on to new faces so 2015 saw northern legends like Jack Straw, David Blunkett and William Hague leave the Commons along with lesser lights like Grimsby’s Austin Mitchell and Salford’s Hazel Blears. The Class of ’15 will take time to build their reputations but quick out of the blocks has been left winger Cat Smith in Lancaster and William Wragg, the new Tory MP for Hazel Grove.
The year has also seen the final passing of two of the twentieth century’s leading Chancellors, Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe. A miserable year for the Liberal Democrats was compounded by the death of their former leader Charles Kennedy.
General Election victory led to Tory hubris in the summer with plans for new laws curbing the unions, extra surveillance powers and cuts to tax credits. On the latter measure, by the autumn the Prime Minister was reminded that although he had a majority, it was only a slim one.
The most surprising consequence of the General Election was the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the most unlikely holder of the post since the 1920s. A combination of reckless decisions by some MPs in nominating him was followed by a surge of support motivated by years of frustration at the approach of New Labour. The Oldham by-election has entrenched Corbyn’s leadership with most of the parliamentary party in frustrated murmuring revolt.
It has been a bad year for the European Union. The long drawn out crisis over Greek debt followed by the divisions over the refugee migration may help turn Brits against the EU in such numbers that we vote to leave.
Devolution has moved on erratically across the North this year with deals being struck in Sheffield and Liverpool but Leeds and Lancashire still mired in disputes with North Yorkshire and Wyre Councils before packages can be agreed. Tony Lloyd was installed as interim elected mayor of Greater Manchester and as the year ended it looked as if Joe Anderson would head up the Liverpool City Region in succession to Phil Davies of Wirral.
But for devolution and the Northern Powerhouse to mean anything to ordinary people, it has to achieve things that matter. It looks as if transport might be the first such activity. After “pausing” the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester line in the summer, the government ended the year with substantial announcements on rail investment.
Have a peaceful Christmas.