What the hell just happened? The nightmare of 2016

2016 was one of the most eventful political years in living memory, but 2017 will see Brexit and Trump take on momentum
2016 was one of the most eventful political years in living memory, but 2017 will see Brexit and Trump take on momentum

2016 was the most eventful political year in living memory. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump detonated on the global political stage, alongside a wave of success for authoritarian right-wing politics. It seemed like liberalism, centrism, globalism and even the rule-based world order were starting to disintegrate.

We asked some of the most interesting and provocative thinkers online to give their views on 2016. Some of the contributions are from lawyers, or former politicians, or authors, campaigners and journalists. Some are one sentence long, others run on for pages. Some are funny, some are heart-breaking. Some are calm, some seethe with anger. We publish them all here in full, in alphabetical order.

Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, tweets at @s8mb

"There is a great deal of ruin in a nation" – I’ve repeated Adam Smith's words to myself quite a lot this year. I didn’t want Brexit to happen or Trump to be elected, but I doubt either will be calamities. Brexit probably will make us worse off for the time being, but let’s have a sense of perspective. The most pessimistic credible forecast about Brexit is that it’ll make us about six percent poorer than we would have been. But bad planning laws make us upwards of four per cent poorer, perhaps substantially poorer than that, and bad taxes on things like investment instead of consumption may be making us seven per cent poorer or more as well.


Why we don’t get as angry about those things as we do about Brexit is probably something to do with the psychology of loss, but they can remind us that there’s a lot of crappy policy that makes us worse off than we need to be, but we cope.

And there are opportunities in leaving the EU too – even the most hardcore Remainer has to admit it. The Common Agricultural Policy really is mad, giving cash to farmers based on how big their farms are, so the average UK farm makes ten times as much in subsidies as they do in commercial profits. The EU has a phobia of genetically modified organisms, and the UK can now have a more evidence-based, pro-GMO approach. We might have less clout in global trade negotiations than the EU, but we’re more nimble too.

There’s every chance that we’ll be able to forge trade deals with the US and the Asian tigers while the EU is still figuring out how many new motorways to buy the Belgians off with for supporting the Canada deal.

As for the second political surprise this year, Trump is erratic and unpredictable but honestly his Cabinet appointments have been pretty good so far and some of his policies seem good. Stock markets have risen because they expect him to allow a tax reform bill that would bring a little sense to America’s tax code, cutting capital taxes and boosting growth by up to nine per cent. I know most of you reading won’t like this, but repealing Obamacare and allowing banks to just hold more capital instead of complying with all of the 22,000 page pieces of financial regulation will probably drive US and global growth as well. And we’ll see how bad his trade policy can actually be with a Congress that seems willing to obstruct him.

So even though events didn’t go quite the way I’d hoped in 2016, there are upsides, and it probably won’t be the end of the world either way. If I’m wrong, then in 2017 I’ll be thinking of the words not of Adam Smith but Chairman Mao: "It’s always darkest before it’s totally black."

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, tweets at @andrewcopson

Liberal democracy, the rule of law, human rights. 2016 was a year in which each of this holy trinity of liberal principles was challenged and in many places trampled underfoot, from the Philippines to the US, from Turkey to Britain. Their antithesis - populism, fundamentalism, ethnic nationalism - have prevailed. But another liberal principle has been under siege this year, more away from the headlines. That's the idea of secularism: the idea that government should be separate from religion and should guarantee freedom of belief for all its diverse citizens.

It was progress towards the secular ideal that provided some of the greatest gains in human welfare in the twentieth century and it is everywhere challenged where these other principles have been. In Turkey, Erdogan has eroded it as he continues to make political use of Islamist tendencies. In the US, president-elect Trump's aides speak of ending it and 'returning' the US to Christian principles. In India, the Hindu nationalist party of PM Modi fans the flames of anti-Muslim prejudice. In France, right-wing politicians persecute Muslims for political advantage. This anti-secularism alienates minorities, exacerbates grievances, and stores up resentment and violence for the future.

Anyone with liberal principles is now wondering how we can get our countries, our regions, and the world back on track. Re-dedication of liberalism to secularism must be a vital part of that.

Madeleine Davies, deputy news editor at Church Times, tweets at @madsdavies

One of the final press releases I received this year was from the British Humanist Association. A YouGov poll had been commissioned. Just one in five Brits said that celebrating the birth of Christ made Christmas an important time. A mere 15% ticked “attending a religious service”. A far greater number, it seemed, were busy going through the Radio Times with a biro. If you work in religious journalism, this stuff never comes as a surprise. Britain is an increasingly irreligious country, if you take formal affiliation and service attendance as your measure.

The media, research suggests, is even more irreligious than the population at large. Muslim writer Myrian Francois-Cerrah has observed "a sense that religion is something from a bygone era: we have evolved, progressed and anyone who is religious is somehow lagging on the developmental spectrum".

Of course, globally, religion is anything but an anachronism. In many parts of the world, people will say that it is very important in their lives. This week, I interviewed a clinical psychologist in Anguilla. "People believe in God," she told me. "They believe that prayer changes things." These words will resonate in many other places.

Those making the argument that Britain needs to tackle its religious illiteracy – including journalists and MPs – tend to cite the rise of Islamic extremism as the catalyst. The debate about British values has the same origins, as noted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords last month. “Values built on feelings of threat and fear can lead us down a dangerous path,” he warned. I understand why many regard religion in 2016 as a threat, as an evil in itself. Extremists commit atrocities in the name of God. Religious persecution is on the rise. Scripture is used to justify discrimination and oppression.

But another year as a Church Times journalist has also led to encounters with acts of enormous humanity, compassion and courage. Churches in Africa are tackling HIV/Aids and violence against women. In places where the state is weak or corrupt, it is so often religious bodies that care for the people. I think of the Jesuit priest in Colombia challenging human rights abuses, travelling to remote places with bodyguard in tow, and the Muslim man and Jewish woman, both once refugees in the US, working together to welcome Syrian arrivals. Here in the UK, I spoke to churches in the north east feeding children during the summer holidays and an inspirational priest organising a service dedicated to celebrating our country’s young black men. ‘Sons Arise’ she called it. The Church, so often derided in the media, is still full of people inspired by the scripture famously quoted by Martin Luther King: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Like other people, I am anticipating 2017 with trepidation. But I’ve seen enough goodness this year to feel hopeful too. "The light shines in the darkness” says the verse read at every carol service, “and the darkness has not overcome it."

Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, panellistfor BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze, author of I Find That Offensive, tweets at @Fox_Claire

We were sent some curve balls in 2016, but for those suggesting all is doom and gloom, that they are glad to wave goodbye to a disastrous year, here are my top three reasons to be cheerful:

The demos is back.  While many now rush to decry democracy as not working because ‘the people’ voted the wrong way, this year has proved that power from below can still humble the mighty and make the great and good quake in their shoes.

For younger generations reared on a diet of Thatcher’s TINA (There is No Alternative) and told that we live in post-ideological times, 2016 has proved that the end of history is a myth, that change is possible.  Of course, change can be scary: suddenly the future is not a fact but an unknown. Anything can happen. But the exhilarating aspect of this is that WE can be the determining factor in what happens; nothing is predetermined or given. There is everything to play for now we know there are competing visions of the future, not simply the evidence-based forecasts of technocrats. 

The events of 2016 have shaken off the cobwebs of complacency.  The safe spaces created by too many pundits and politicos, stuck in their self-reflective and self-congratulatory echo chambers, have taken a democratic hammering.  It is good news that so many have been forced to confess that their predictions were dreadfully off-kilter because they were talking to themselves and presuming the rest of us would get into line. Being forced to listen to millions of people, written off as ‘deplorables’ or ignorant dupes - whose lives, passions, fury and desires have for years been ignored, disparaged and demonised - has been good for society’s elites and the media. 

New Year resolution?  Listen harder and get out more.

Zoe Gardner, researcher on and campaigner for the rights of migrants and refugees, tweets at @ZoeJardiniere

2016 has been a shocker. We all know that. I don't need to tell you how Trump and Brexit and the accompanying rise in power of xenophobic and nationalist politics have knocked me backwards, because I know I'm hardly alone in feeling this way. We've all joked about how this has been the worst year ever, but I'm sure I'm also not alone in looking forward to the beginning of next year with much more trepidation than relief. And it is mainly fear and despair I feel if I'm honest, despite brief flashes of defiance and rebellion that I try to cling to. But I don't want to talk about that.

Instead I have a story of something that happened to me on January 1st 2016. One of the things I'm glad of about 2016 is I did not celebrate it coming in. I didn't make resolutions, or raise a glass, or see the year in with heavy partying alongside my nearest and dearest like I usually do. The tone for the year ahead was set with a sober early night in a cold, cold room. The next morning, before the sun was risen, little rubber dinghies full of people were coming in to the shore of the Lesvos fishing village where I was, having spent the last night of 2015 making that terrifying night crossing from Turkey.

I was working in the kids' tent, getting the little ones as quickly as possible out of their freezing, soaking wet clothes and into warm dry ones. I had to guide the families off the boats to the tents in as orderly a way as I could and I just judged who was a child by their size. That's how this woman, who shouldn't have been in the kids' tent, ended up with me. I thought she was a child because she was so small and still very young. It turns out she was pregnant, Afghani, alone. She couldn't speak any English but she made it clear to me by pointing at her belly that she was in pain. I ran out to find one of the camp doctors or interpreters, but they were all busy that I could see. I ran back and turned to another volunteer and asked what they thought I should do. The pregnant woman was worried and in pain and expecting me to produce some kind of help, but she was going to have to wait and I was going to have to try to explain.

As I explained the situation to the volunteer, one of the other mothers in the tent approached me, I assumed to ask for more clothes for her three young children that she had with her. Instead she said to me, in perfect English: "I heard what you were saying. I've been a practicing gynaecologist in Syria for 15 years. Shall I take a look at her?"

We didn't even say a word, the other volunteer just took the two of them off to a quiet corner and they began to talk and I had to immediately get on with helping some other family.

Inside my head I knew that I had, despite all my politics and convictions, forgotten that morning, until that woman brought me back down to Earth, that I'm no saviour, and that the people we call "refugees" are in no way below us, charity cases to be lifted up. They are often so very far above us.

This isn't a sentimental story. It's not a claim that all refugees are doctors or saints either. This is just a memory, that has stuck with me as strongly as the memory of the night of the 23rd of June, 8 November, that "breaking point" poster, the terrorist attacks, the Tory party conference, Labour's collapse, or any other defining moment of 2016 has stuck in my mind.

It comes back to me whenever I have one of those million debates. Are refugees a threat to us? Could the UK do more? Why don't they go elsewhere? Again and again I think of a woman who had not half an hour before got her kids safely off a boat journey on a rubber dinghy from Turkey. A woman who owned nothing at all anymore except the clothes she stood up in, and they were still soaked and freezing because she had been focusing on getting her kids dry first. A woman who, if she hadn't had to flee a war, in another world where I could have found myself in need of medical assistance in her country, could have been the one to save me.

I don't know what became of either of them. Whether the baby was born in a tent or a field. Whether they made it to Germany before the fences went up and it started raining tear gas at Europe's borders. Before terrorism made us terrified of people like them. If they did make it, I don't know if they were in the refugee hostels fire-bombed by far-right groups. I don't know if perhaps they tried to move on to the UK since they obviously speak such good English and ended up in Calais. For their sake I hope they don't read the papers. And I wish them a happy 2017.

Mike Harris, CEO of 89up, publisher of Little Atoms, tweets at @mjrharris

2016 will be the subject of books in years to come. It marks the high water mark of globalisation and the advance of liberal values. Francis Fukuyama's End of History felt undone by 9/11, yet 2016 really did feel like the end of the period that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The symbolism of the end of this era is perhaps too obvious: Trump's promise to create an actual wall between the US and Mexico, the Hungarian government's anti-refugee wall, the mental wall that has been created between Britain and the EU (which may, depending on outcomes take a physical form between the Republic and Northern Ireland).

For all this, I don't think social democrats or liberals will go down without a fight. And are things as bad as in the 1930s or 1970s? I think not. Try telling a German born before the war that, or my Sicilian grandparents, who were reduced to eating dogs and cats, or my father who escaped Belfast in 1972 after witnessing what we saw last week in Berlin near-weekly.

I feel strangely optimistic. The political passivity of this era is being replaced by new active organising. Young people give a shit again. It's possible this is the darkness before dawn. The alternative is far too frightening to consider.

Chaminda Jayanetti, freelance journalist, tweets at @1000cuts

Well that went well, didn't it...

Instead of purple prose, here are a few assorted thoughts.

1. This year did not happen by accident. It was the result of a number of long-term trends - the EU's arrogant lack of interest in democracy, the unchecked rabidity of the American right, the inequality and economic idiocy of austerity, the media tendency towards ‘narrowcasting’ instead of broadcasting, creating the echo chambers we see online. And yes - the disconnect between the political media class (across the entire political spectrum, including the hard right) and everyone else.

2. Brexit and Trump - two very different political phenomena with a few slight overlaps - may have both won with the votes of the ‘left behind’ (dreadful term),  but the larger chunk of their voting coalitions were made up of older white people of reasonable means. If you think that's me blaming them, that's only because you have decided these outcomes are worthy of blame

3. In a year of consistent hideousness, what has been particularly vomit-inducing is the way that middle class (and rich) Leave campaigners now wear Sunderland as a self-righteous badge of concern for the poor, having not given a shit about them in their entire lives until June 23rd, and having happily backed six years of austerity that targeted those people in those areas.

4. Opposition to immigration has turned from being a viewpoint into a dogma; there are people (and journalists and politicians) who will blame every single problem on immigration every single time. Immigration can be viewed (rightly or wrongly) as a cause of some problems some of the time. But all problems, all of the time? Engage your brain and get a bloody grip.

5. There's a reason they called it the Age of Reason, not the Age of Sodding Emotions. There's also a reason why it was a time of such social progress, which stimulated further such progress. The reasons for both are the same.

6. If I see one more thinkpiece banging on about how the writer identifies themselves, in anything other than self-defence (e.g. anti-racism), I swear I will shoot this puppy. No really. I will shoot this puppy. And next door's kitten too.

7. If you're a comment writer and you're on more than £50,000 a year, you're a parasite. Your salary is taking away from frontline reporting budgets. Your brainfarts are not made of gold.

8. If the Baby Boomers really hate the hand they've been dealt that much, can I have it instead?

9. Sociopathic media trolls exist to get your attention, not your approval. Their business models involve your hate-clicks.

10. The causes of these crises are economic. The solutions will also be economic. Economics does not yet know what those solutions are. Nor do you.

11. The lyrics to George Michael's Praying for Time. I'd have said that even before he died.

12. The first rule of politics is that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, tweets at @sundersays

2016 showed Britain to be a more anxious, fractured and divided society than any of us would want.  The way in which the EU referendum choice split the country by place, by class, by age and, maybe most of all, by whether you went to university or not, illuminated long-standing divisions. But remember that, for most people, the referendum was a difficult democratic decision, never the declaration of a culture war.

The fear and loathing and mutual incomprehension between the most ardent Remainers and Leavers was always a minority sport, indulged in on social media, often by those who never talk to anybody who voted the other way, save perhaps the occasional Sunday lunch political row with the in-laws. Yet the mood at school-gates across Britain was rather different, as voters grappled with the important choice which the prime minister and parliament had asked them to make.

Indeed, Lord Ashcroft found on referendum day that fully four out of ten voters on both sides say they made up their minds in the final four weeks. While six million people on each side say they always knew how they would vote once the referendum was called, the majority on both sides wavered at least a bit, feeling that both sides had at least half a point, knowing too that each campaign had chosen to run away from at least one big issue that people wanted to hear more about before they voted.

The referendum brought three million more people to the ballot box than had bothered to cast a ballot to elect a government a year before. Most people understood this was one of the most important votes they would be asked to cast. Our post-referendum debate has certainly not risen to the occasion. The government says it aspires to a national consensus, yet appears determined to refuse to share any information about what that might look like. In the vacuum, many have found it easiest to keep refighting the referendum.

Few leavers have shown much grace in victory, with many years of spotting betrayal around every corner proving hard to shake-off. Too much post-referendum advocacy from the losing Remain side has learnt nothing at all from how and why the referendum was lost, the tone of 'when will you idiots realise we were right about everything all along' very likely doing rather more to harden the views of late-breaking Leave voters than to engage them.

Brexit will be among the most important things our country has done for half a century: this year, we need to do more to get our politics out of the referendum trenches if it is to reflect that.

Sarah Kay, international human rights lawyer specialising in counter-terrorism, tweets at @K_interarma

We are at the close of a year where people lost their rights, and in some cases, took their own away. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, the ascent of populism, or far right extremism, was the most concerning. Globally, citizens lost free movement, equality rights, or fair trials. They lost, most of all, their capacity to live without fear.

I am not sure if one of the most difficult things to accept about 2016 is that the world-rattling events were predictable, thus preventable. Complacency led to discarding the Trump threat, a campaign of disinformation and an ignorance of institutions led to the vote to exit their European Union. Politics of self-imposed isolationism with regards to Syria led to this horrific situation, which sadly illustrates so much of what the year has encompassed: an appalling lack of human decency, a moral bankruptcy that will define the absence of responsibility toward human suffering.

Human rights law is not rhetorical. My colleagues and peers deal with extremely real violations of those principles with pragmatic, immediate and direct impact on their clients’ lives. The fear in some communities most affected by populism is very real. The political retreat, on the part of the far right and far left, is also based on very real rejection of what a majority now sees as impossible to fix.

The excellent Prof. Cian Murphy wrote about this feeling of being crushed under the weight of such large-scale and potentially lethal discontent. We are often asked what can be done to remedy to any ills, if there is a quick way toward action, if anything at all is possible. Murphy is right: we need to hold onto what brought us to where we are, to a sense of togetherness, of responsibility, and of empathy towards others. Places like Ukraine, Yemen, or Somalia, where the fighting has been intense and far predated 2016, demand an end to the infantile position of avoiding confrontation. We must gather around common ideals and ideas that know no partisanship: humanitarian protections, the prohibition of torture, free movement. It applies to refugees, it applies to overseas conflicts, it applies to every one of us.

This year also saw, for the first time, a complete denial of truth take over sources of information. The integrity of journalism as a whole took a hit at a time when we need it the most. We must trust our journalists, too. We must trust their ability to report, we must protect their ability to do so safely, we should encourage their critical thinking over issues that will define more than 2017. We must then support the lawyers and the human rights defenders that allow us to access information, to make conscious decisions about our future, that guarantee us redress. Ultimately we must trust one another that it is possible to organise and resist what is about to be unleashed.

Danny Kushlick, founder and head of external affairs at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, tweets at @DannyTransform

Despite the fact that 2016 will be remembered for citizens fundamentally voting against our own wellbeing, this year was also the first that voters solidly got behind drug policy reform in order to protect the vulnerable in society.

In Canada, prime minister Trudeau's Liberal party was elected on a manifesto which included plans for the legalisation and regulation of cannabis in order to better protect young people. For the first time it has been recognised, at the highest level, from a G7 nation, that drug prohibition puts young people in danger, and that the law must be changed.  Next year the Canadian government will take over control of the production, supply and use of cannabis, ending years of gangster and unregulated control of a vast cash crop.

We initiated 'Anyone's Child - Families for Safer Drug Control' to involve families in campaigning for legal regulation whose lives have been wrecked by prohibition. The campaign has now gone global, with chapters in Canada, Kenya, Mexico and Belgium. Earlier this year we were delighted to see Canada's health secretary Jane Philpott rise to address the UN General Assembly in New York, and mention a mother who is part of Anyone's Child.  Ms Philpott said that it was her meeting with Donna May, who lost her daughter to a heroin overdose, that had emboldened her in supporting reform. 2017 will also see California and Uruguay take over control of the cannabis market. Former Uruguayan president Mujica stated in no uncertain terms that the shift was happening there in order to improve security.

Despite these gains the UK government still will not engage with drug policy reform, despite the fact that the UK now has the highest drug-related death rate in Europe.  Happily though, it will be increasingly difficult for those in power to maintain that prohibition protects the vulnerable, when other countries are moving to legally regulate to protect their citizens. 

2016 will be remembered for some deeply dark moments. But it should also go down as the watershed year in which the shift took place from believing that drug prohibition is protective, to understanding that it is one of the most malign and corrupting global policies in existence.  And that politicians can cite child protection as one of the most compelling reasons to put governments back in control of the drug trade.

Denis MacShane, former minister of Europe, Labour MP from 1994-2012, currently writing a new book on the future of Europe after Brexit, tweets at @DenisMacShane

I am less hysterical about 2016 than many. I published a book Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe (IB Tauris) in January 2015 and was disappointed of course that bien-pensant pro-Europeans – all friends – refused to take it seriously. I am still at a loss that anyone thought the referendum could be won. Every referendum with Europe on the ballot paper this century has been lost. Why should England be different?

Did none of the professors, journalists, pollsters, No 10 officials ever knock on doors to talk to voters north of the M25 at any stage in the last 16 years? Given a chance to vote on immigrants, there is only ever one answer.

Is part of the problem that we are unable to renew our political-media-intelligentsia elites? I am not surprised in the slightest at Labour’s troubles. It happened in the 1950s and 1980s. When Labour goes into opposition after a decent stretch in government, it turns in on itself and becomes irrelevant for two or three elections. It seems to be an iron law or in Labour’s DNA.

Jeremy is not the issue. It is rather that I saw in 2016 no new Labour (or LibDem) voices appearing and saying anything interesting or new. Labour think tanks like the Fabians and their papers like the New Statesman seem dull.  The London Review of Books has not changed in nearly forty years and still seems written by the same people as when it was launched during the newspaper strike of the Times papers, when I was president of the NUJ in 1979.  There are several left websites but none that command respect or interest. There is no left Breitbart or Guido Fawkes or even something as strong as Conservative Home was under Tim Montgomerie’s leadership.  Iain Martin’s Reaction.life daily bulletin has no left equivalent.

Why? The 1968 or Marxism Today generation squats on politics and the media and cannot be dislodged to let new voices emerge.  Every other article in the Guardian seems to be written by Sir Simon Jenkins, and I open my Spectator or New Statesman and there is Andrew Marr in both. Like Andrew Neil and John Humphries, they seem to have been there forever. Superb journalists but as at Wimbledon is it not time to say ‘New (not Ed) Balls’ please?

Why isn’t there a left version of the Daily Mail? I worked on the Daily Mirror early 1970s and it wasn’t bad. The New European has been a wonderful surprise, surging to 30,000 sales. It’s in my local Sainsbury and Waitrose and even at the tiny buffet at Tottenham Hale en route to Stanstead. I miss the print Independent though the on-line version is very good and its Voices comment section the best comment page around (Personal declaration: I occasionally contribute.)

For some reason I am less worried about Trump perhaps than I should be. He has serious attention deficit syndrome problems and will be erratic but I still believe in US democracy, checks and balances and separation of powers and freedom of expression. Let’s be clear: Hilary was as bad as Jeremy is in terms of unelectability. By 2019 the US Democrats will have found a Trudeau, a new Obama or Bill Clinton, and the Dems will win again.

But the US, like so many other EuroAtlantic nations, need to reinvent their labour markets and especially their trade unions who came in with the 20th century and have gone out with it as a real counter-balance to capitalism.

Yet I think the England (now mainly London) I live in is far more lively, varied, happy, rich and full of possibilities than the one I grew up in. In 1969 I interviewed Ken Coates for a Penguin Special (ah, what’s happened to those?) he wrote called Poverty. The Forgotten Englishmen. Together with the other Ken’s “Cathy Come Home” it is reminder of how bleak, impoverished, and limited the England of industrial employment and the welfare state was.  We are much better as a country now than in those snobbish, racist, preachy, homophobic years.

2016 is curate’s egg for Europe. Despite all its ill-wishers in London, the EU did not and will not implode. The attacks in France and Germany are horrific but as with the terror attacks in London (2005), Madrid (2004) – almost every week in Turkey – or Luxor (1997), Paris (1995) and going back to the RAF in Germany, the IRA in England in the 1970s and 1980s or the anni di piombo in Italy in the 1970s, I think democracy can absorb this hate and survive.

Europe, like Britain, does have a problem with too many long-serving politicians and opinion-formers occupying all key posts. Mrs Merkel, for example, is staying on too long and like Margaret Thatcher, Felipe Gonzales and Helmut Kohl will have miserable last years in office.

I am dismayed at how many of those who declared themselves as pro-European have become accommodationists on Brexit.  I accept the result of course, but agree with David Davis that “a democracy that cannot change its mind, ceases to be a democracy”. Or with Churchill: “Never, never, never give in.”

Too many friends have just rolled over, accepted Brexit as unavoidable and are talking Ukip language of “managed migration” or working on different so-called “soft” Brexit options. I doubt if so-called soft Brexit is attainable. Mrs May seems to want only to reflect the Ukip fellow traveller wing of her party and has shown an indifference to the 48% who said no to isolationism - notably the young, London and Scotland, the future of Britain - not its ageing pensioner past. Sixty-three per cent of the electorate either did not vote or voted against Brexit. One vote, one time, forever is Robert Mugabe democracy nor British democracy.

If in 2017 Mrs May brings in Cold War era visas, work and resident permits for European citizens or continues to reject the European Court of Justice as a useful commercial court or administrative tribunal to sort out differences of interpretation of EU treaty law and obligations then the Article 50 negotiations will end in a train crash.  Brexit is not a divorce so much as ten simultaneous, parallel Siamese-twin separation operations carried out without anaesthetic and by untrained butchers using chain saws and axes as their surgical instruments.

I think with the election of Fillon, the stability of the two main governing parties in Spain, the calm change of government after Renzi lost his foolish referendum, a slow fight-back in Poland and reasonable stable governments in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, as well as Merkel’s re-election we may have seen Peak Populism in 2016.
Populist parties of the left like Podemos have shown they cannot do government or even parliament while Syriza’s Tsipras is now the poster-boy as he faithfully implements austerity Ordo-Liberalismus policies ordained by Brussels and the IMF in Washington.

I expect to see 2017 end with Wilders and Grillo spluttering and farting in opposition but the EU will keep muddling through. Assuming a political Brexit by 2019, there will be no more Ukip MEPs, no more Ukip offices, staff or bottomless EU funding. Farage and Ukip will soon be in the dustbin of history. Marine Le Pen will not become president of France and the outbreak of open war between the three generations of Le Pens has been an hilarious end to 2016 and couldn’t happen to nicer politicians.

I wish I had seen a really good movie in 2016 but there is more music, more art, more colour, more festivals in Britain and Europe than ever before.

I really enjoyed doing live debates in 2016 with friend-opponents on Brexit, in the great Funzing evening events, Waterstone and literary-speaker festivals.

And 2017 looks good for Chelsea.

Jo Maugham, writer, campaigner, lawyer, tweets at @JolyonMaugham

We didn't learn from 2008. Unless we learn from 2016 we will, I fear, come to see it as one of the better recent years for liberal democracy.

 

 

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe, tweets at @anandmenon1

On the weekend after the EU referendum, one of my liberal, metropolitan friends remarked to me that she couldn’t believe what Britain had become. I remember thinking at the time that this was slightly delusory, but decided against mentioning that to her in her bereaved state. Looking back, I think that this sort of thinking has taken hold. Something happened to Britain in 2016 which made us behave out of character.

It didn’t. In 2016, Britain revealed itself as what it is. A country where many people feel overlooked, insecure, suspicious of foreigners and distrustful of the ‘establishment’. Britain didn’t change. It merely revealed itself as it was to its own unwitting liberal establishment. So if 2016 was the year we discovered ourselves, let 2017 be the year when we start to do something about the sad state into which we’d let the country descend.

If Brexit means that people care about the places they’d never heard of before (Sunderland, Hartlepool, Spalding), if Brexit means that embarrassing levels of inequality are considered a problem, if Brexit means that those in charge realise that a sense of community and of job satisfaction matter as much as income to live on, then 2017 may the long overdue – a year when we start to address these challenges.

I’m not holding my breath, mind.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, tweets at @neilsonandrew

From Brexit to Trump, 2016 was a year of populist uprisings. That much is already cliché. The reaction of many to these perceived defeats has been a mix of bafflement and outrage. Yet they seem somewhat less surprising to those of us familiar with issues around crime and punishment. For despite the political dominance of liberals in both the Labour and Conservative parties, the use of imprisonment is one area of public policy that has remained resolutely reactionary.

The public attitudes that fuel penal populism have long bedevilled attempts to forge a more effective and humane justice system and many of those same attitudes lie behind the events of 2016. My point is, populist views are not new and neither is pandering to them. Indeed, the English and Welsh prison population doubled in the last twenty years and much of that happened under the leadership of Tony Blair - Blair himself taking a leaf out of Bill Clinton’s book in the United States.

As it happens, the liberal hegemony whose death is now much reported (but also, I suspect, much exaggerated) won its first political battles by ‘triangulating’ to the right on issues of law and order - ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ always being more about the first half of that phrase. Yet look at the state of prisons. In the United States, the mass incarceration accelerated by Bill Clinton (one of the ironies of 2016 is that Hillary Clinton ran on a ticket which made much of reversing the legacy of her husband in this area) has criminalised poverty and caused lasting damage across the generations - particularly among black American males, who are six times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

In the United Kingdom, we have avoided the worst excesses of mass incarceration and yet 2016 has nonetheless been the year of prison riots, escapes, deaths and a tide of rising drug abuse and violence in our overcrowded jails. In other words, populist policies have a tendency not to work. Those wondering how to react to the politics of 2016 should try and remember this.

Sian Norris, writer, journalist, feminist activist, blogs at sianandcrookedrib.com, tweets at @sianushka

2016 started with me moving house and ended with me moving jobs.

It was a year of change, then, on a personal level. And it seemed on the surface that 2016 was a year of huge political change too. From the referendum to the Trump election, it could often feel that everything we thought we knew about politics was being turned on its head.

But the more time I’ve had to reflect, the more I’ve thought that this year has proven what hasn’t changed.

Here in the UK, we were told the ‘elites’ had been defeated by populism; that the Westminster bubble had been popped. And we were told this by rich white men educated in private schools and employed briefly in the City or Fleet Street before becoming career politicians (some in Westminster, one notably not). As those who made up the elite redefined the term to mean ‘anyone who voted Remain’, those living in often silenced and marginalised communities were victimised with increased hate and violence.

In the US, we were told that the political ‘status quo’ was under attack. But the status quo was surely the rich white man who defeated the first ever woman Democratic nominee – even though she was the most qualified for the role of president. How was a vote for rich, white Trump a vote for change? America has been represented by men who look just like him for centuries now.

The US election exposed the continuing misogyny of our society. It showed how male entitlement and the horror of female power means a man can boast about sexual assault and not only does it not end his career, it bolsters him in some quarters and he becomes the most powerful man on the planet. It showed that blatant, hateful attacks on women and minorities are still acceptable… even in 2016.

On far too many levels, 2016 was a year of male violence and male entitlement. So when people look at the last 12 months aghast in horror and claim it was the year where everything changed, I disagree.

Instead, 2016 proved how things still haven’t changed enough.

Ellie Mae O'Hagan, freelance journalist writing mainly on the British left, tweets at @MissEllieMae

I finished 2016 by reading Tony Blair's autobiography. An odd coda to an odd year, you might say, but I wanted to understand more about the centrist politics Blair embodied and why it is collapsing across the Western world.

Blair seemed convinced that the old ideological divisions of left and right had fallen away, and all that was left to do was to manage the status quo. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this in itself is a deeply ideological position, involving the wholesale adoption of the economic model of neoliberalism that had swept the world under Thatcher and her allies 10 or 15 years earlier.

The 2008 financial crisis represented the collapse of this model and since then centrist and centre-left politicians have been engaged in a process of corpse resuscitation which has left them with no answers to people who want to understand why their living standards are worsening while the fortunes of what Naomi Klein describes as "the Davos class" seem to be improving.

The events of 2016 are multifaceted and complicated. The decline of white men as the dominant class in society surely plays a significant role in the success of racist strongmen in election, but it can't be denied that the current economic order of things simply isn't working, or the historical correlation between economic downturns and an increase in xenophobic nationalism.

Big ideas are needed to combat both the rise of xenophobia and other forms of bigotry, and to create a political economy that everybody feels a part of. This is why I think the left is the only horse worth backing. It is the only political force that wants to radically change the system in a way that addresses the issues highlighted by the rise of far right politicians in a way that doesn't indulge the prejudices they feed off. It is also the only political force that proposes radical solutions to climate change, a problem that is here with us now and can no longer be debated in the abstract.

Unfortunately, in the UK in 2016, the political left has been something of a shambles. The attempt to unseat Jeremy Corbyn in the aftermath of Brexit was unforgivably irresponsible and effectively let the government and the Leave campaign off the hook. That being said, Corbyn himself has failed to rise to the challenges presented by this extraordinary year. Too often he has appeared unclear or indifferent.

2017 is the year the British left, led by the Labour leadership, needs to get its act together. Only the left can stem the rightwing populist tide; its voice is more urgent now than ever. Those who voted for Corbyn and who support the Labour leadership need to get actively involved in the party and demand better from their leader.

Funnily enough, Conor Pope who works for Progress, the Blairite faction of the Labour Party, put it best earlier this year: "Either Jeremy Corbyn's time is now, or he doesn't have one."

Either the left's time is now, or it doesn't have one.

Steve Peers, professor of EU, Human Rights and World Trade Law at the University of Essex, tweets at @StevePeers

2016: the end credits

Story: George RR Martin, from an idea by Philip K Dick

Dialogue: George Orwell

Directed by: An algorithm coded by Leni Reifenstahl

Theme Song: Leonard Cohen, "Everybody Knows"

Makeup: Orangina

Liberal Democracy will Return in "2017: the Merkel Strikes Back"

Jonathan Portes, professor of Economics and Public Policy at King's College London, author of Capitalism: 50 things you need to know, tweets at @jdportes

2016 has been in equal measure fascinating and horrifying for economists like me who believe that our discipline has much to contribute to public debate. It was cheering to see so much attention devoted to the detailed and very  technical economic analyses of Brexit produced by the Treasury, IMF and others; frustrating to see these deliberately misrepresented or worse by both campaigns, and deeply depressing to see flat-out untruths repeated by politicians who ought to know better.  For me personally, it was deeply ironic to see my laborious and highly technical questions about discrepancies between various sources of statistics on migration flows to the UK become a front-page issue because of the government's mishandling of the issue and the consequent ammunition it gave to the Leave campaign.

2016 was also the year that the economic policy issue that dominated the 2010-15 period was put to bed, at least as far as the UK political debate was concerned. The new government's abandonment of George Osborne's fiscal targets was virtually a non-event, both politically and in financial markets. This reflected the degree to which those targets - and by extension Osborne's entire approach to fiscal policy, based as it was on short-term political calculation rather than economic analysis - had already been wholly discredited across the economic and political spectrum. Internationally, the view - encapsulated by the key international organisations, the IMF and the OECD - that fiscal policy has been too restrictive not just in crisis countries like Greece but across the major advanced economies,  has become the new consensus. Better late than never.

2017 will of course be dominated domestically by Brexit and internationally by Trump.  You can read my predictions (for what they're worth) in the FT in early January.  But I think I can safely predict further fascination and horror for anyone interested in the political economy of 21st century capitalism.

The Secret Barrister, junior criminal barrister, winner of Independent Blog of the Year 2016 at the EI Comment Awards, blogs at thesecretbarrister.com, tweets at @barristersecret

To me, 2016 was the year that showed vividly how desperately the rule of law is needed, and how quickly our current crop of politicians are willing to throw it under the bus for their own ends.

That the new prime minister has little regard for the significance of the constitution or the importance of justice was immediately demonstrated by her baffling appointment of the pusillanimous, self-advancing Liz Truss as lord chancellor. Truss’ inexperience of the justice system and established history of endorsing myths about legal aid expenditure did not augur well, but I don’t think anyone could have foreseen quite how quickly she would prove herself unfit for office. At the first time of asking, she pathetically abandoned her oath to uphold judicial independence, and acquiesced through her silence in the vicious vendetta plotted against the judges by the tabloid media, Ukip and the lunatic fringes of Truss’ own party.

The events post-referendum, in which May has allowed herself to be painted as the “champion of the people versus the judges”, to quote the Mail, demonstrate a disregard towards our fundamental constitutional settlement unlike anything I think we’ve seen before. Whatever your views on Brexit, a country in which the senior judiciary can have their intimate personal lives mocked and their integrity falsely attacked simply because they are carrying out their constitutional function, is not a country that is headed in the right direction. When members of parliament, and even Cabinet ministers, publicly condemn individual citizens for exercising their right to litigate in our courts, and trash the judges who properly hear those cases as “defying the will of the people”, the separation of powers teeters on the brink.

It’s at times like this that we need a constitutional hero. Someone to speak out, loud and clear, reminding these self-affirmed patriot MPs and the media that baselessly accusing judges of bias, just because we don’t like a decision they reach, is not The British Way.  To shout down the Farages threatening the courts with violent uprisings if judges have the temerity to apply the law in defiance of what is “popular”. To stand up to Theresa May and demand – as the lord chancellor’s oath requires – that she call to heel the idiot attack dogs in her own party and government. And reassure the public that, whatever decision the courts reach, they are not defying democracy, but are showing the world how democracy works.

We need that hero. We need a lord chancellor. Not a craven careerist offering “dogs that bark at drones” as the prison system crumbles around her, and feels less passionately about her sworn oath than she does the incidence of imported cheese.

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