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Be wary of the lessons of 2016 before celebrating 2021

A woman stands next to a light installation set up to spell 2021 at Zaryadye Park, Moscow, ahead of New Year celebrations - Credit: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Remember the lessons of 2016… A new year doesn’t mean everything will be better.

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve read and heard many people express an entirely understandable longing to be rid of 2020, I’ve been reminded of the eerily similar outpouring of relief and/or hope which issued forth four years ago.

2016, I’m sure you’re old enough to remember (and if not, wow, well done for reading this grown-up newspaper; be sure not to spill your orangey drink on it) was The Worst Year Ever, the year that everything went wrong. The year of the referendum, of Trump’s shock victory, of the sudden onslaught of celebrity deaths which seemed to prey primarily on my generation’s childhood heroes. As that year drew to its bruised and shellshocked close, as now, pundits and punters alike expressed gratitude that it was over.

And then, as now, I felt compelled to point out (onstage in 2016 and in print in 2020, as “onstage” is now an all but faded memory) that the end of one year and the start of another doesn’t actually change a damn thing.

The universe knows nothing and cares less about the human race’s use of arbitrary calendric numeration systems to denote the passage of time. As I said back then, all the things that went wrong in 2016 were still going to be wrong in 2017 and many of them were likely to go a lot wronger in the years to come.

I would say that it’s brought me no pleasure to be proved right about this, but let’s face it, as battle-worn Remainers, being constantly proved right about everything is just about the only source of pleasure we have left in this ridiculous world.

Seeing our every much-dismissed prediction come true and our every unheeded warning turn out to have been valid might bring a bitter, hollow joy, but it’s still joy and frankly right now I’ll take whatever joy is on offer. I’m long past the “I hate to say we told you so” stage; saying “we told you so” – and we really did tell them so – is one of my few sources of meagre comfort.

Similarly, the advent of 2021 does not, in itself, fix anything that got broken in 2020. There are signs of hope; more, I’d say than at the end of 2016. Back then we were at the top of what looked like (and indeed turned out to be) a long, greasy slide into madness; right now, we’re a long way down that slide and the bottom (and the ladder back up, if I can stretch the playground metaphor to breaking point) might just be in sight.

If you’re a follower of The New European podcast – and you really should be – you’ll know that I was on the Christmas edition and was asked by my hosts if I could draw any positives from the events of the past year. I answered tentatively that if the wheels of the right wing populism bandwagon hadn’t exactly fallen off in 2020 they had at least gone horribly out of alignment.

Here in the UK even previously obsequiously loyal commentators are finding it impossible to portray Boris Johnson as anything other than the floundering bulls**t artist he is (and I’ll say right now that I’m almost 100% certain he won’t be in Number 10 this time next year) and in three weeks time the USA should begin its journey back to sanity. My hope there is that the incoming administration doesn’t do what American liberals always do – ie. decide to be The Bigger Man, draw a line under proceedings and ‘move on’.

Screw that; the USA has just – barely – survived an attempt to overthrow all its democratic norms and institute a kleptocratic autocracy. Those responsible must be pursued to the full rigour of the law, because if not, this is all going to happen again in four years’ time, and the next person to try it won’t be a lazy brittle narcissist like Trump.

As for us; the first thing we need to do is congratulate ourselves for having survived the toughest ‘peacetime’ year this country has endured for generations, and to raise a glass in memory to all those who didn’t. We may never know how many of those we’ve lost this last year could have been saved had a more serious-minded and less image-obsessed administration been in place. And it may yet be years before we can restore reason and responsibility to our own country.

But as the transition period ends and the deal comes into effect, whatever happens now is on the Vote Leave hardcore. They’ve got what they wanted, and for all that they’ll try to blame the consequences on everyone else, they know – and they know we know – who brought us here.

Here’s to a hopeful new year, and here’s to not forgetting and moving on.