Britain in 2010: The People

It has been an undeniably eventful year; historic coalitions, troublesome volcanoes, and sobering world cups. But it would be superficial to consider the events of the past year without examining the personalities involved. With the noughties drawing to a close, it’s a useful time to celebrate and reflect on some of the people who made 2010.

David Cameron

This year has been very important for the MP for Witney, both professionally and in his personal life. Appointed Prime Minister on 11 May his victory was not as decisive as he might have envisaged. When the electorate returned a hung parliament, Cameron was obliged to form a coalition government with former rivals the Lib Dems.

Beginning his premiership in the aftermath a historical severe recession, this ‘modern compassionate conservative has faced numerous political difficulties. He began his first Prime Minister’s Questions with an offer of condolences to those affected by the shootings in Cumbria and the troubles mounted thereafter.

Late summer was a time of great happiness for the Cameron family with the birth of their second daughter, Florence Rose Endellion,. Tragically, David Cameron’s father Ian, whom the Prime Minister described as a “huge hero figure”, did not live to see his new granddaughter.

Cameron has done well to approach these personal and political challenges with dignity. It’s the Prime Minister who has taken the lead role in carving the political pathway of 2010.

Nick Clegg

Of all the cabinet, Nick Clegg has suffered the most volatile undulations in public opinion this year. Following a remarkably strong performance during the pre-election debates, he enjoyed a surge in public support. In recent weeks this has dramatically diminished, particularly amongst the student electorate. The Liberal Democrats won many student-dominated seats on the back of their promise that they would not increase tuition fees. It is hardly surprising, then, that they should now feel betrayed by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Clegg has emerged from relative obscurity to become a household name. The public outcry directed towards him is testament to his importance and along with Cameron will remain a dominant figure – for good or for bad – throughout 2011.

George Osborne

Becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in May this year he was described as the “most hated man in Britain” after announcing extensive spending cuts to tackle the country’s deficit. On 24 May he explained how he intended to save £6.25bn through cuts to government spending. Some of the most unpopular cuts in this year’s spending review were to housing and incapacity benefits.

Osborne courted controversy once more at this year’s Conservative party conference when he unveiled plans to introduce a cap on the total amount of state benefits each individual family can receive. He also announced that child benefit would no longer be universal. From 2013 onwards families paying 40% income tax will not receive this benefit.

Unsurprisingly this did little to boost his popularity amongst traditional conservative voters, to whom he would otherwise have appealed. Osborne has been described in the Financial Times as “ideologically committed to cutting the state”, as well as being a “pragmatic Eurosceptic” who is “metropolitan and socially liberal.”

Finance is now at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is undoubtedly one of the most important people in Britain as he leads the battle to address the deficit. His legacy so far is one of unpopular cuts. We will have to wait and see whether they generate the promised rewards.

Susan Phillipsz

The Turner Prize is perhaps the most coveted award amongst modern British artists. This year it was won by the 45-year-old Glaswegian Susan Phillipsz. One of six sisters, Phillipsz’ achievement was remarkable for a number of reasons. Her work, ‘Lowlands Away’, was the first sound installation to be nominated for the Prize. and she is only the fourth woman to have won it.

She created the piece by recording three versions of the Scottish lament which shares its name. She originally displayed this work under three bridges over the River Clyde in Glasgow. This lent the work an especially haunting quality, as the song tells of a man who drowns at sea and returns to tell his lover. More recently the installation has been playing in an empty room at the Tate, where Phillipsz collected her award on 6 December.

Phillipsz is a groundbreaking artist, who has challenged the traditional definition of ‘art’. She has truly earned the respect of the artistic community, a set who are notoriously difficult to please.

Alexander McQueen

The death of British designer Alexander McQueen shocked and saddened the fashion world. Formerly the chief designer at Givenchy, McQueen opened his own couture house in 1992. He has been described as a visionary, and his work often had a surreal quality. Known as fashion’s ‘enfant terrible’, McQueen has left an extremely impressive legacy. He has won global recognition and attracted numerous high profile clients, including Sarah Jessica Parker and Prince Charles. He is known for his expertise in British tailoring, and worked as an apprentice on Savile Row after leaving school at 16.

He has earned the title of British Designer of the Year four times, and in 2003 was named International Designer of the Year at the Council of Fashion Designer Awards. In the same year he was appointed a CBE. His final collection (autumn/winter 2010) was exhibited during this year’s Paris Fashion Week despite being largely unfinished. In September a memorial service was held for McQueen at St Paul’s Cathedral to coincide with London Fashion Week.

McQueen leaves behind a legacy of beautiful craftsmanship and innovative design. He has earned himself a dedicated A List following, so his work is unlikely to disappear from the red carpet any time soon.

Matt Cardle

This December saw the climactic triumph of Matt Cardle as the X-Factor winner. The 27-year-old painter from Colchester took the prize after sixteen weeks of the competition. He was alone amongst this year’s contestants owing to his ability to play a musical instrument; he has been playing the guitar since he was 11.

Now in its seventh series, the X-Factor has become one of the most popular British television programmes. The series final attracted a record 19.4 million viewers, who cast over 15 million votes.

These figures are too large to be ignored. Television programmes such as the X-Factor are having a dramatic effect on the music industry and not always a welcome one. Such shows have been criticised for their cynical commercialisation of musical talent. The winner of X-Factor is typically a major contender for the coveted Christmas number one and the show’s popularity gives its winners a disproportionate amount of publicity compared to other artists. Unsurprisingly this has come to pass, and Matt Cardle has topped the musical charts this Christmas.

Anthony Peter McCoy

Commonly known as A P McCoy, this Irishman was the first horseracing jockey to be named Sports Personality of the Year. He has attracted numerous other accolades throughout his career. His first win came in 1992 when he was just 17. He has now ridden over 3,000 winners and rode 289 of these in the 2001/02 season, setting a British jumps record. He was appointed MBE in the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

He has won the title of Champion Jockey 15 times; the same number of times he has attempted the Grand National. It was this year, on his fifteenth attempt, that he finally won this prestigious race, riding Don’t Push It. This has been a very successful year for McCoy, who was appointed OBE in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours.His persistence has been rewarded and he truly deserves the acclaim he has received.

Mark Zuckerberg

As he has just been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year it would almost be rude to ignore Mark Zuckerberg’s striking achievements. At just 26 he is one of the world’s youngest billionaires. He earned this fortune by creating Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, of which he is now CEO and president. He co-founded the site whilst studying at Harvard in 2004. At that stage he could not have foreseen the astronomical commercial success this project was to enjoy.

The release of the film The Social Network revived media interest in the ‘Facebook story’ and the surrounding litigation. The film does not portray Zuckerberg in the most flattering light, and suggests that the motivation behind creating the site was his desire to meet women. He was not involved in the film’s production, and was keen to point out any factual inaccuracies.

Perhaps in response to his growing negative portrayal, Zuckerberg has styled himself as a philanthropist. Immediately prior to the film’s release he donated $100 million to Newark Public Schools. He also founded the Start Up: Education Foundation. This has attracted both acclaim and scepticism, and ensured that he has stayed in the media spotlight.

Of course, this is just a handful of the multitude of people who have captivated the public in 2010. There were numerous contenders for each category. Ed Miliband is a prime example in the political arena. However, it is likely that 2011 will be a more defining year for the new Labour leader than 2010 was. Public interest in Julian Assange is also likely to continue well into the new year.

Sentiment about 2010 has certainly been mixed. At the beginning of the year people were disillusioned with Gordon Brown’s leadership. Hopes were high when the General Election brought a change in government. Several scandals and broken promises later the disenchantment seems to be taking hold once more.

In the arts world we may have seen the predictable triumph of the X Factor winner; but we have also recognized Susan Phillipsz’ raw talent. We have mourned the loss of Alexander McQueen, but his work has inspired countless other brilliant young designers.

It would be easy to be cynical about the events of 2010. Yes, there have been disappointments but there have also been great achievements. Such are the vicissitudes of life. I imagine 2011 will have a similar blend of success and failure; accompanied by new issues and new faces.

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