Analysis Politics

Reasons to be positive about 2020.

With all the doom and gloom that 2020 has brought on us, Ed Halford and Kristina Wemyss cover some of the more positive developments that have occurred in politics and beyond, many of which have been overshadowed by Covid-19 and Brexit.

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Kamala Harris became the first Black woman and South Asian to be elected as vice-president.

The vice-president-elect in waiting was subject to vicious ‘birther’ conspiracy theories during the presidential election campaign and President Trump openly questioned Harris’ eligibility to run for vice-president. Harris isn’t by any means new to the ‘political scene’ and previously went head-to-head with  president-elect Biden in the Democratic presidential nomination contest. Having previously served as California's attorney general, Harris’ charismatic charm was effectively harnessed in the vice-presidential debate against vice-president Mike Pence. Harris coined the catchphrase of the campaign by assertively reminding Pence “I’m speaking”. If you’re interested in finding out more about Harris’ journey to the White House then Harris’ new book ‘The Truths We Hold: An American Journey’ is likely to be of interest.

In addition, the election was characterised by the largest turnout since 1900. With issues ranging from Covid to climate change, more voters were mobilised despite voter suppression measures such as postal voting restrictions. 160,000,000 Americans cast votes and this accounts for 66% of the eligible U.S. voting population. Away from the more obvious changes in personnel, Deb Haaland has been chosen as secretary of the interior in the Biden administration, thus becoming the first Native American to hold a position in Cabinet.

Looking a little closer to home, Scotland became the first country to provide free period products for all.

Hopefully, this could pave the way for the rest of the UK to follow suit and put a stop to period poverty.

Marcus Rashford has forced the government to extend free school meals for the most disadvantaged families.

The government likely believed that their defeat of the Labour Party’s parliamentary motion to extend free school meals in the holidays represented an end to its school meals ‘headache’. However, Marcus Rashford MBE successfully managed to force the government to commit its second U-turn over the provision of free school meals by applying pressure through social media and utilising his celebrity status to achieve the guarantee of free school meals till next Christmas. His efforts also resulted in the announcement of a new winter support package worth £170 million. Rashford’s reward of an MBE hasn’t brought a halt to his altruism, as he recently set up a new book club, in partnership with Macmillan’s Children Books, to ensure that opportunities to read for young children aren’t always determined by their parents’ income. Rashford’s championing of the issue has in large part been motivated by his own experiences as a child growing up, as he recalled that “books were never a thing we could budget for as a family”.

More people have welcomed dogs into their homes

With the first lockdown leading to more time at home, the Financial Times reported  in May that there had been a surge in demand for puppies and waiting lists were said to have increased “fourfold”. While panic buying puppies has largely been criticised, the increase in dog ownership has had a very positive effect on people’s well-being. The Waltham Foundation has revealed that 43% of its respondents to a recent survey said that their dog had been impactful in reducing their anxiety and 58% said that their dog had increased their productivity by providing more routine to their lives.

Africa eradicates wild polio

Back on 25 August, the WTO was informed by the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission that no wild polio cases had been recorded for four years and the continent is now wild polio free. The significance of this development to African children shouldn’t be underestimated, as back in 1996 75,000 children were paralysed by poliovirus. Polio in most cases spreads as a result of contaminated water and the virus attacks the nervous system. The only countries to still record cases of wild polio remain Pakistan and Afghanistan. What has been instrumental in the fight against wild polio has been the administration of oral polio vaccines since 1996 and this has averted an estimated 1.8 million cases of wild poliovirus.

Malaria jab on its way!

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute has had a very successful year, as recent reports have suggested that its AstraZenca vaccine will receive approval by the end of the year and its malaria jab has reached the final stages of its human trials. It has been predicted that 4,800 children will receive the new jab for malaria next year and the roll-out of the vaccine is set to take place in 2024. In an interview for The Times, Professor Adrian Hill recently reiterated this development’s importance by emphasising that “a lot more people will die in Africa this year from malaria than will die from Covid”. One of the advantages of the jab is that Hill has promised it will be “low priced” and the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for intensifying efforts to tackle infectious diseases across the globe.

Britain could launch its first space rocket as early as 2022

In November, Boris Johnson announced that defence spending would receive an additional £16.5 billion and part of these plans include setting up a new “RAF Space Command”. This development is the first of its kind in Britain and the latest boost to defence spending is predicted to create up to 10,000 new jobs annually, according to No10.

New appreciation of front-line workers

The pandemic has reminded everyone across the country of the valuable work that is regularly undertaken by public service workers and in particular those in the NHS. In the first lockdown, a temporary custom arose in which everyone would come out of their houses at 8pm on a Thursday night and show their appreciation for NHS workers by clapping. Furthermore, the virus has witnessed immeasurable acts of selflessness and testament to this was the decision of 4,500 retired doctors and nurses to return to the frontline. Altruistic deeds haven’t only been undertaken by those with medical expertise, as more than 700,000 members of the public volunteered to join the NHS Volunteer Scheme and their participation involved helping provide supplies to those shielding and chatting on the phone to those suffering from loneliness.

Restrictions on gay and bisexual blood donation were recently relaxed.

Now, men will not be required to abstain from having sex with other men for three months before giving blood and they will not have to declare whether they have had sex. This could potentially provide the NHS with far more vital blood supplies, particularly as there has been an increased demand during the pandemic. Symbolically, it recognises gay men as individuals and equal members of society.

The world pulled together to help Australia combat its wildfires.

2020 began with a ‘baptism of fire’ in Australia, with wildfires destroying 18 million acres of Australian wilderness, endangering animals and the environment. Millions of donations poured in, and firefighters were flown in from the U.S. Now, the country is slowly but surely healing, with wildlife and native plants gradually returning.

After thousands of university students across the UK participated in rent strikes, there have been some victories:

-Manchester student rent strikers living in halls won a 30 per cent reduction on their first term’s rent.

-Furthermore, Bristol has also decided to give students in halls a 30 per cent reduction on their rent for seven weeks. This is to compensate for the government-mandated staggered return to campus next term. Time will tell whether students at York will receive any similar forms of compensation.

Harvey Weinstein was finally sentenced to prison for his sex crimes giving some sense of justice to his many victims.

A landmark victory against sexual harassment and assault in positions of power.

The UK was the first country to approve Pfizer/BioTech’s Covid vaccine.

The UK started rolling out the new vaccine on 8 December and in the first week of its delivery 138,000 people were fortunate to receive the vaccination. The elderly and those classed as critically vulnerable are receiving the vaccine first. Initially, the vaccine has been available in 70 hospital hubs and the trials have shown its efficacy to be 95%. Johnson recently announced that more than half a million have now received the vaccine in less than two weeks and other countries around the world have followed the UK in administering the new vaccine. To combat fears provoked by anti-vaxxers, prominent politicians such as Biden and Pence have received the vaccine live on air to reassure concerns about its safety.

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