The May election was dominated by fear. The Conservatives won because they managed to persuade enough of the voters that they just might be fixing the economy and that it was therefore risky to vote for anyone else. Never has a government been returned to power with less actual real solid support. The mathematical reason they got in was because of a complete collapse in the Lib Dem vote whilst Labour's proportion of the vote held steady. The emotional reason they got in was very different. The hundreds of electors I spoke to didn't like any of the parties but they were more scared that the others would mess up the economy than they were of even more Conservative cuts. If there is any kind of failure to deliver rising wages and economic security then voters will turn against the Conservatives in droves.
Unfortunately in an atmosphere of fear there is no certainty that they will turn in a positive direction. UKIP got 4 million votes in the last election. It hasn't gone away. The Front National in France got more votes in the first round of regional elections than any other party. Imagine a party to the right of UKIP getting 23% of the vote in the UK. It really could happen. A lot of ordinary people are very fearful that the country is about to be overwhelmed by a wave of terrorism. Many of these people live with next to no contact with ordinary Muslims. In such circumstances it is easy to convince large numbers of them that all Muslims are a threat. Put that visceral fear of the unknown "others" alongside nightly images of immigrants arriving on boats and some very nasty emotions can be let loose.
Fortunately the opposite is also true. The reaction of the public to the waves of helpless immigrants has so far contained more empathy than hatred. Images of a toddler lying dead on a holiday beach because his parents were running away from a war they neither wanted nor understood generated real and genuine sympathy across the whole country. For much of the year the welcoming side of the public in the UK was stronger than the selfish side. If we are going to continue to ensure that continues then those working on the side of hope need to do two things. Firstly we cannot compromise on the narrative about "these people". We must continue to make it clear that the refugees are folks like us caught up in a bad situation who will be a real asset to the UK if they are allowed to settle here. More controversially we also need to develop realistic humane policies to make sure we can handle the crisis. If the left are strong on principles but weak on practical immigration policies then UKIP will wipe the floor with us as well meaning weak minded lily-livered liberals. At the moment too many on the left are coming across as holding a principled position that everyone is welcome when we all know the practicalities are that we cannot handle a million people but can do an awful lot more than Cameron's pathetic 5,000.
The other key area where 2015 has provided some hope has been the Paris climate change agreement. This is, of course, too little and too late. As it stands the commitments made give us another 1.7 degrees of global warming. Given the increase in frequency of floods and extreme weather events that has taken place as a result of the first 1 degree of warming and the uncertainty of the predictions about the precise tipping point this is clearly an excessive risk. Nevertheless owt is better than nowt and we are massively better placed at the end of 2015 than we were at the start.
To have China and the US both signed up to a major climate change agreement and both actually implementing serious actions provides serious grounds for optimism. We have changed the mood in climate change politics from one of despair that the big powerful countries would see the urgency in time to one where they have started to act. An agreement that every country will do what it feels like and come back every few years to tell everyone else how much more they feel like doing is not usually a cause for celebration. This time it is. Serious money is going to go into alternative energy investment and the one thing Paris seems to me to guarantee is that we are about to enter a new era in energy technology.
Technology is rarely neutral. When you power your economy by burning fossils and releasing stored carbon dioxide you automatically ensure that you send a lot of money to the places where those fossils can be found. A significant proportion of every pound we spend ends up in Saudi Arabia or Russia. Not governments that have great reputations for freedom and equality. Even worse is the fact that there is a strong interest in either defending or seizing the locations where the fossil fuel resources exist and all that lovely money can be obtained. Saddam Husain may have been a very bad man but he would probably be a bad man still in power if he had presided over a country owning less oil. Protection of oil reserves isn't the only reason why we have seen a succession of bad wars in recent decades but it is very large part of the explanation in many cases.
By contrast a technology based on solar energy is localised. As huge amounts of extra investment pours into new energy technology the cost will plummet and create the real possibility of more secure and sustainable communities generating their own energy and a decent standard of living without wrecking the planet or creating easy pickings for war mongers. We really could be at the start of a new era with smart technology giving many more people across the world to live well for less impact.
For many developing countries the future therefore looks remarkably bright. The world economy has been growing at around 5 per cent every year for decades and the Paris agreement creates a potential for this to continue on a more secure and sustainable basis. The world could be about to get a lot more equal as it becomes easier to produce in locations which were once considered remote and inaccessible.
This seems to me to generate the ultimate hope and fear dilemma for wealthy European nations. For years we have got used in the UK to living high on the hob whilst looking a pictures of other parts of the world where people are living in dreadful dirt poor hovels. Part of the fear that runs through citizens in places like the UK and the US is the realisation that this is changing and that we are no longer guaranteed to be able to live affluent life styles. Plenty of places around the world can now compete with us for jobs and income.
If we allow ourselves to be scared of that future and to retreat into a little England fearful of change then we can pretty much guarantee that the UK will steadily become a poorer place either absolutely or relatively. We can also guarantee that it will also be a very sour place. If by contrast we can get ourselves on the front foot and be successful in developing and implementing the new technologies that are needed for the next era then we can ride the wave of the change and enjoy the experience. When other countries get richer they don't just compete with us they also buy a lot more of our goods and services - provided we produce the right ones.
The countries that invest wisely in getting themselves ready for the next era can look forward to a hopeful future of greater equality and greater peace and security. The ones that think that technology can only function by burning oil and we need to frack the ground beneath us to find every last drop of it and fight wars to secure our supplies risk wallowing in their own fears and entering a very unpleasant decline. I leave readers to judge which course of action David Cameron and his government have been pursuing with the greater diligence!