The Year that Was 2016: Part 1

Alex Mitchell
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It’s not hard to imagine what 2016 will be remembered for with Brexit, Trump and the (still increasing) number of celebrity deaths, 2016 is turning out to be a pretty grim year (unless, of course, you supported Brexit and Trump, and enjoy attending celebrity funerals). However, in the world of sport, 2016 has been full of pleasant surprises with the huge success of Team GB at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, Wales reaching the semi-finals of the French Euros and England going unbeaten for the full year in Rugby Union. Let’s reflect on the year that was 2016.

Terror across the world

Note I will not be mentioning the names of the individual terrorists as I do not wish to give them the coverage they seek.

Terror attacks have continued throughout 2016. Belgium was subject to an attack on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek Metro station. 32 innocent people lost their lives with a further 340 being injured. The attack took place on 22 March just four months after the Paris attacks which saw 130 people killed with 368 injured in multiple attacks across the city. It was later discovered that these two attacks were linked to the same terror cell supported by I.S. (Daesh). The Brussels attacks were carried out by three individuals who died during the act.

12 June was the date that a 29 year old killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida. This wasn’t just an attack on Americans, but on the LGBT community specifically, in what is America’s worst massacre in written history and its worst terror attack since 9/11 on American soil. The shooter made a 911 call where he pledged allegiance to Daesh before carrying out the massacre. The attack lasted over three hours and ended with the shooting of the attacker by a police raid on the nightclub. This attack transcended international borders as communities queer and straight came out in support of the global LGBT community.

On 14 July, as the French were celebrating Bastille Day, a 19-tonne cargo lorry was deliberately driven into the crowd that had gathered on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France. 86 people lost their lives with a further 434 being injured. The driver, a Tunisian French resident, was shot and killed at the scene. Daesh once again claimed responsibility for the attack, stating the driver had answered their call to attack civilians. French President Francois Hollande extended the state of emergency he had invoked after the Paris attacks in November. The State of emergency remains in place until 26 January 2017.

Most recently an attack similar to that of Nice took place at a Berlin Christmas market. 12 people were killed and 56 injured as the attacker had hijacked the lorry. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack in a similar fashion to that of the Nice attack. German authorities arrested one suspect but released him after they found no evidence against them. The attacker was shot and killed by police in Milan, Italy four days later.

The destruction of Aleppo

Syria’s civil war is now into it’s fifth year as the Assad regime, backed by Russia takes on both Syrian rebels and Daesh. Aleppo is Syria’s largest city, the battle for which started in July 2012. The stalemate that had been in place ended in July of this year when the Syrian government cut off rebel supplies to the city with the support of Russian airstrikes.

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The destruction has been likened to that of Stalingrad with mass civilian casualties, repeated targeting of schools and hospitals and aerial strikes of civilian areas. Allegations of war crimes were made against the Syrian government and Russian forces.

Aleppo also saw the United Nations fail to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict which saw more and more people displaced from their homes but trapped within the city. Aid and evacuation ceasefires were routinely disrupted. The Syrian army claimed victory over the rebels but the ancient city of Aleppo is a city of rubble. Aleppo is one of the longest and bloodiest sieges in modern warfare with an estimated 31,000 deaths, 1/10th of all casualties throughout the Syrian Civil war.

Brexit Britain

The biggest UK story was of the referendum on EU membership. 41 years after the referendum on joining the European Economic Community (as the EU was known) Prime Minister David Cameron announced the in/out referendum would take place on the 23 June, after the local and regional elections.

Cameron’s cabinet was divided but each minister was allowed to campaign for their side of the argument. Vote Leave, headed up by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Leader of the House Chris Grayling, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Wittingdale, Employment Minister Priti Patel and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom went against their Prime Minister in the campaign, also joined by former Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan-Smith and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Prior to the referendum announcement, the Prime Minister won some concessions from the EU which he thought would win the Euro-sceptics over. Controversially, Vote Leave campaigned on the idea that the ‘£350m a week Britain paid to the EU could be spent on the NHS instead’. The polls had the Remain camp, led by the PM, with the slight edge over Vote Leave.

On the morning of 24 June, after an early admission from UKIP Leader Nigel Farage that his side had lost the vote, the result was announced as 51.9% to 48.1% in favour of leaving the European Union. This, of course, didn’t draw a line under the issue. Straight away there was a U-turn on the £350m pledge to the NHS, apparently because Vote Leave didn’t expect to win.

The vote saw the PM, whilst respecting the result, resign from office, sending the Conservative party into a leadership contest. Alongside this, Labour MPs weren’t happy with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lacklustre approach to the campaign.

As we end 2016, we have no idea what kind of Brexit we are heading for. So far we have ‘Hard Brexit’, ‘Soft Brexit’ ‘Black & White Brexit’, ‘Grey Brexit’, ‘Red, White & Blue Brexit’ and ‘Clean Brexit’. Ask the New Prime Minister Theresa May what Brexit means and you’ll get the answer ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

The Supreme Court is currently presiding over a case brought by Gina Miller on who has the right to invoke Article 50, the process that triggers the two-year exit timetable. The PM argues it’s down to her and her cabinet, whereas Miller and a number of MPs argue it’s Parliament that has to vote. Miller won the argument in the High Court but the Government appealed to the Supreme Court, with a final ruling expected in January 2017.  Prime Minister May has set a timetable for triggering Article 50 as the end of March 2017, and with two years to exit, you can bet we haven’t heard the last of Brexit.

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Leadership changes

Four of Britain’s political parties went through a leadership vote: the Conservatives when David Cameron resigned following the Brexit vote; Labour when leader Jeremy Corbyn sacked Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, which triggered over two dozen front-bench resignations, and in turn led to a vote of no confidence in Corbyn which he won 172-40; the Green Party when Natalie Bennett’s term was up; and lastly UKIP, where Nigel Farage resigned following his victory with the Brexit vote.

Each party had a different set of rules to select their leader. The Conservative Party would have several knockout rounds voted on by the MPs until there were two candidates remaining. The wider Conservative Party members would then vote between the two candidates. The contenders were: former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Home Secretary Theresa May. Boris Johnson was the bookies’ favourite and he threw his hat into the race but withdrew once Gove came out and publicly criticised him. Fox was the first to be eliminated, with May leading the vote. Stephen Crabb withdrew from the process following a sexting scandal which would be exposed. Gove was then eliminated in the final round of MP votes, guaranteeing that the next Prime Minister of Britain would be a woman.

Just two weeks into the contest, Leadsom reportedly said in an interview with The Times that May would be better placed to lead the country because she has children and is invested in the future. Theresa May doesn’t have any children and this was interpreted as a callous attack. Two days after the interview, Leadsom withdrew from the contest. The 1922 committee confirmed that Michael Gov was not entitled to replace Leadsom, and thus Theresa May was announced the new leader of the Conservative Party. David Cameron stood down following his final Prime Minister’s Questions two days later.

Labour had a bitter and bloody fight. With mass resignations and Corbyn unable to fill his shadow cabinet, things were desperate. Shadow ministers were holding two roles. Those that had resigned hoped that Corbyn would resign rather than face a leadership battle. Though the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) had voted against Corbyn in the confidence motion, Corbyn still enjoyed a high level of support from his Momentum movement and from within the Labour Party.

Following multiple attempts to negotiate with Corbyn, and multiple deadlines passing, former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle became the first person to challenge Corbyn. Eagle didn’t have much luck with her campaign. When she formally announced her bid, her press conference was overshadowed by Leadsom pulling out of the Tory leadership race. The majority of mainstream political journalists from Sky and the BBC had left Eagle’s conference to cover the Conservative race. At a later conference she was mid-way through criticising Boris Johnson and his flip-flopping stance on the EU, to be told mid-critique that Johnson had just been made Foreign Secretary in the new May Government.

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Later, former Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary Owen Smith put his hat in the ring. To formally stand, a candidate would require 20% of the PLP and European Labour Party to back them – 51 MPs/MEPs were required. With Corbyn proving unpopular within the PLP, this hurdle seemed an impossible task. However, Corbyn’s team argued that the 20% rule only applied to candidates seeking to challenge a sitting leader if the position was not vacant. This decision went to the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) where Corbyn’s motion was approved, meaning his name would appear on the ballot automatically. The NEC later passed a motion which imposed a cut-off point for new members to be entitled to vote and also upped the fee of registered supporters (who paid £3 to vote in the previous election) to £25 and put a time gap on that. This was an attempt to curb the influence of Momentum, some of whom weren’t members of the Labour party, or had recently become members.

Smith got more signatures supporting his candidacy than Eagle and they both agreed that to have the best chance of beating Corbyn they had to have one person to go against him. Thus Eagle withdrew her candidacy. Following a bruising campaign, on the 24 September at the party conference – some three months after the referendum – the result was announced: Corbyn had beaten Smith 61.8% to 38.2%, increasing his mandate from the previous year. The party then had to come back together but divisions remain.


UKIP had not one but two leadership contests following the resignation of Nigel Farage. Diane James won the contest with 46.2% (Lisa Duffy, her nearest rival, came in with 25.1%). Bookies’ favourite Paul Nuttall decided not to run, with another favourite, Steven Woolfe, invalidated because he missed the deadline by 17 minutes.

UKIP’s NEC also ruled that candidates would have to have been party members for four years or more – this ruled out their only MP Douglas Carswell, Suzanne Evans who was currently suspended from the party, and UKIP leader in the Welsh Assembly and former Tory minister Neil Hamilton. James’s leadership lasted just 18 days before she cited the party had not accepted her as leader, despite having won the members’ vote. This forced Farage back as acting leader whilst the party went through round two of their leadership election.

This time, Paul Nuttall announced his candidacy. Suzanne Evans also announced she would run and bookies’ favourite from last time round Steven Woolfe announced his candidacy on time. Following a fight with a fellow UKIP MEP, Woolfe was hospitalised and he later resigned from the party, stating UKIP was in a ‘death spiral’. Nuttall won with 62.6% of the vote – beating closest rival Suzanne Evans on 19.3%.

The Greens had a civilised election. Following the local elections, Green leader Natalie Bennett announced that she would not stand for re-election as leader. The party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, pitched a leadership job-share with party spokesman on work and pensions, Jonathan Bartley. They were up against David Malone.

Lucas and Bartley won the election with 86.03% of the vote, returning Lucas to the leadership of her party.

About Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. I observe - I analyse - I debate