More than most years, 2019 is destined to be a big one for the history books. But it’s also certain that we will spend most of it looking over our shoulders, for 2019 is a year of huge anniversaries and we in the media love nothing more than recalling momentous events.
The whole retrospective roundabout starts next week – on 16 January, in fact – with the centenary of prohibition in the United States. It wasn’t the smartest move by politicians to prohibit the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes”. Rather than stopping people drinking, though, it created a nation of illegal speakeasy bars run by racketeering, murderous gangs headed by notorious hoodlums like Al Capone, and it lasted for 14 years.
In Britain, I suppose we can compare the US prohibition of alcohol with our own attitude to cannabis, which has been illegal here since the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 and has similarly created a gang culture responsible for countless killings. Yet cannabis is now so widely used that it’s common to find people smoking joints in the street. It is still listed as a class B drug, however, and is illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell in the UK. But some police forces including Derbyshire and County Durham have declared they no longer target people who grow cannabis for personal consumption, so perhaps the centenary of its prohibition next year would be a good time to finally end this nonsensical state of affairs and declare cannabis legal in the UK.
Also in 2019, two big 50th birthdays are unavoidable. One is the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July; the other, a month later, was the great hippiefest known as Woodstock. And there’s a couple of major political events to mark this year: on 10 May the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela becoming president of South Africa, and on 20 January it will be 10 years since Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the USA.
But in a year that’s destined to be dominated by Brexit the most significant anniversary of 2019, I think, will come on 6 June. It was on that day 75 years ago that Allied troops invaded the beaches of Normandy and began liberating Europe from Nazi control. Now we are on the verge of politically disengaging from Europe, and I am sure some will make the point that it has been the process of European integration represented by the EU that has allowed us to take for granted the peace won by those D-Day landings.
Thankfully, Brexit is far from being a certainty, and my assertion in this column last September that a second referendum is inevitable has gone from what some dismissed as wild conjecture to a probability. A people’s vote remains the only way out of the mess, and the only questions remain about how and when the process can start. One staging post along the way might be the removal of Brexit-supporting Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of his overwhelmingly Europhile party. Europe ended the Tory leadership of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron, and will surely do the same for Theresa May. I expect Corbyn to be the first Labour leader to lose his job because of Europe.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe