This end of year review is part of a series from Backbench’s editorial team as they consider some of the themes that have dominated 2020. The views expressed in these reviews are those of the editors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the standpoint of Backbench as a whole. 

There is no doubt that this year has been bleak. As 2020 began, with a newly elected Conservative Government and a mandate to plough on with Brexit, it was not unreasonable to assume that the UK’s tumultuous atmosphere was beginning to mellow.  

Politicians and the Prime Minister would become a talking point amongst the public, and political chatter would return to the circles of political junkies alike. There was some cautious optimism for 2020. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that 2020 has made a minnow of any ‘unprecedented’ news of previous years.

With over 67,000 deaths in the UK, over 2 million cases and 1.69 million people unemployed, this year has been devastating to many. And now, with the new strain of Coronavirus which is thought to be 70% more transmissible, and Christmas plans ruined for many, it seems a sadly fitting end to a terrible year.

However, it is worth scratching beneath the surface to unveil some positives to 2020 and reasons that we can be cautiously optimistic.

Firstly, the development of the Coronavirus vaccines is a huge beacon of light. Earlier this month, the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine for the widespread use, and patients have started receiving doses. Both the Moderna vaccine and AstraZeneca vaccine will also be rolled out in the coming months.

The pandemic has also given society an essential lesson about who and what we value the most. Healthcare workers and scientists were this year’s heroes and nurses, carers and other key workers. In the age of fake news and populist rhetoric, this year seems to have reinstated experts as trusted sources of information.

Whilst this piece remains impartial, it is difficult to argue that the demise of Donald Trump’s presidency is not a favourable outcome. Joe Biden’s victory means that Kamala Harris has become the first woman and the first woman of colour to be elected as Vice-President. This feat will inspire many young girls watching in awe. As Trump leaves behind a legacy of division, prejudice, and a plague of lies, the new President and Vice-President embody a refreshing start for America.

Moreover, Stephanie Frappart broke down barriers to become the first woman to referee in a men’s Champions League match. Stephanie has become a role model for female referees who wish to reach the top level of sport.

Human kindness and community spirit should also be remembered as a prominent undercurrent of 2020. Captain Tom Moore inspired the nation and raised millions for the NHS by completing 100 laps of his garden. Inspired by Captain Tom, Dabirul Choudhury followed suit with his ‘Ramadan walk’ raising hundreds of thousands. In a similar but smaller-scale example of kindness, a man in Florida has covered the utility bills of 114 families who faced having their utilities cut off.

Importantly, this year saw a Malaria breakthrough as scientists found a microbe that ‘can stop’ mosquitoes spreading the disease. The World Health Organisation also reported that malaria mortalities decreased by 60% in the past two decades, with over 7 million deaths averted.

Although there is a long way to go, it is worth mentioning some good news surrounding climate change. Firstly, it seems the world has started to take the climate change fight seriously, rather than an issue confined to ‘crusties’ or vegans. Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced earlier this year that China would cut emissions to net-zero by 2060. Alone, this commitment is important and has ignited a global competition to eliminate fossil fuels.

2020 also saw the beginning of a ‘gigfactory’ in Blyth. Being built on the grounds of an old coal mine, the factory could potentially employ 3,000 people, making enough lithium batteries to power between 300,000 and 500,000 electric vehicles annually. This signals what is to come if (hopefully) in a green industrial revolution that will genuinely level up areas left behind by globalisation.

Furthermore, tiny pygmy possums feared to have become extinct in the Australian Bushfires earlier this year have been found on an Australian island. Beavers were also reintroduced to the UK with significant ecological benefits. The White Stork Project also announced white stork chicks’ arrival for the first time in hundreds of years. On this subject, Hong Kong’s Zoo’s perennially prude pandas finally mated, resulting in a panda cub that would contribute to the conservation of a vulnerable species.

Finally, and on a more personal note, Swindon Town FC gained promotion to League 1, a significant cause for celebration for us all (ok, maybe just me and a handful of others).

So, while this year has been a disaster for most, it is easy to forget reasons to be cautiously optimistic. As Albert Einstein reminds us “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. With an ongoing rollout of a vaccine, a pending green industrial revolution, a Vice-President and football referee breaking barriers, and a year of communities coming together, I feel hopeful about the future.

Ed Sawyer is a political campaign professional and part-time MSc student at the University of Bath. He also hosts a radio show which discusses contemporary climate and environmental news.

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