Year in Review: The hangover from 2016 drags on

"Is there anything to feel optimistic about?"
"Is there anything to feel optimistic about?"

Trump is still president, Brexit is still happening, and experts predict that the UK is on course for the longest fall in living standards since records began. So, is there anything to feel optimistic about?

We asked some of the most interesting minds online to give us their take on 2017. Here they are in full, in alphabetical order.

Emma Burnell, freelance journalist writing about politics and the Labour party, tweets at @EmmaBurnell_


2017 was a year that started with the broad coalition of liberals, socialists, and social democrats in the doldrums. Theresa May was surging in her bid to lead the Tories from a place of anti-immigration, pro-austerity, social conservatism. We looked set for the hardest possible Brexit as a result. Labour seemed moribund and the snap election was called precisely to kill them off for good.

As we know, history and the voters had other plans. 48% may not have been the majority needed in the referendum, but when May spent her first year in office actively denying the wishes of nearly half the country, it was the height of presumptuous foolishness to ask them to reward her for it at the ballot box.

Politics continues to be febrile. No one knows what will happen and all sides are now aware that every inch of political terrain will need to be fought over. But the vast lazy, overweening arrogance of the Brexit right and the positive policies in the Labour’s manifesto that struck a chord means those who want a more open, tolerant, caring society now have more hope than they thought possible at the start of the year.

It's that hope giving them something to fight for.

Tiernan Douieb, host of the Partly Political Broadcast podcast, which returns on January 16th. His latest filmed stand-up special 'Miserably Happy' is available in early 2018, tweets at @TiernanDouieb 

As 2017 comes to a close, I've been looking back at the year in the way the last person alive in a horror film occasionally checks over their shoulder while running at full pelt to see if the crazed killer is still behind them. 2017's political news was so regularly terrifying that in October I thought about going to Halloween parties just dressed as a BBC tweet that said 'Breaking News'. There was one week in the summer where thanks to day-glo Cartman President Donald Trump, the threat of nuclear war was only knocked from the top headline spot because of a Nazi march and I had a bizarre realisation that maybe all the Indiana Jones films were instruction guides for survival all along. As the clock strikes midnight on December 31st Auld Lang's Syne should probably be replaced with Elton John's I'm Still Standing.

For me, UK politics in 2017 was a year long version of that moment when, as a child, you finally realised your parents were just winging their way through life as well. I had foolishly assumed that whether I liked them or not, people in government were there because they knew how to do their job but the last 12 months alone have included the decision to hold a snap election that then lost them more seats than a bad IKEA intern, Brexit talks that have mimicked that track Paula Abdul did with a cartoon cat, an offensive defence secretary, an international development secretary who had to resign in order to spend less time on holiday, Boris Johnson sadly continuing to be Boris Johnson and all of that and more culminating in an assurance that everything is fine because now our passports will be blue to match the depression everyone will have in 2018.

If 2017 was the hangover from 2016, then 2018 should be the recovery but I think it's sadly clear we all went for the hair of the dog option. But I'm an optimist so I think we have some things to look forward to. For a start, judging by the past year the UK will forge a number of deals with EU countries by pledging to export our new strengths of political farce and aggressive guides on 'how not to run a country'. The DExEU did manage to make it to Phase 2 of the talks so hopefully, like the second phase Marvel Cinematic Universe the whole ordeal might be saved by a talking racoon and a giant tree man. Theresa May will continue to cling on as prime minister until June when Boris changes his name by deed poll to None Oftheabove and succeeds her by default. Jeremy Corbyn will gain more power, though largely by adding solar panels to his roof. Donald Trump's visit in February will go ahead with the government insisting it's useful to be able to meet with America and Russia at the same time.  Oh and on May 19th there is the royal wedding so at least we know there'll be 24 hours of news we can ignore and get some rest. Hooray!

Dr. Holger P. Hestermeyer, Shell reader in International Dispute Resolution, tweets at @hhesterm

At times I get asked by foreigners what 2017 was like in Brexit Britain. I found the best way to describe it is to say that Brexit is a very British Revolution and 2017 was the year of the Jacobins. Revolutions radicalize. So it went in the UK: leaders of the revolution pursued an ever purer theory, drawing red lines in the sand and claiming to realize the only true volonté générale of the people. Moderate revolutionaries, or eurosceptics, as we once called them, suddenly found themselves pushed into the ranks of europhiles; traditional pillars of the British society, whether judges or MPs, found themselves castigated as traitors to the true revolution, which - ironically - was carried out in the name of returning to British traditions. As in all other revolutions, you must profess your adherence to the revolution and to the opportunities it will bring to be able to gain access to the inner circle of power. Point out problems or even technical difficulties and you will be shown the door. Revolutions are the moment of snake-oil selling visionaries, not of the competent UK civil service. But there's hope for 2018. Brexit is a very British revolution, after all. No shots were fired. A return to that most British of qualities, moderation, remains possible. We just have to recall that problems can only be tackled if you acknowledge that they exist. And solutions for problems can only be found in reality, not in visions.

Chaminda Jayanetti, freelance journalist, tweets at @1000cuts 

If 2016 was the year of the political dumpster fire – the delayed response to the economic dumpster fire of 2008 – then 2017 was the year the dumpster fire became a hearth, crackling away with growing familiarity, billowing out hot air that never quite passed for warmth, gradually reducing everything to cinders.

The trouble is the vent is blocked, so the room slowly fills with toxic carbon. The political permashambles of the last twelve months – the comically useless May administration, the European mainstream's lurch to embrace nativism, literally everything in the USA – has reduced what should be government-shattering scandals and spillages to the level of background noise. Three British cabinet ministers resign in quick succession and yet the survival of the minority government is completely unaffected. Nigel Farage embraces ever more blatant far-right rhetoric and keeps his BBC throne room. Donald Trump opens his mouth and… wait, Donald Trump is president?

If anything stood out amid the normalisation of rabidity, scandal and rank incompetence, it has been the solidifying of political tribalism, in the UK at least. The adoption of political viewpoints and allegiances as part of your identity is a wholly toxic form of human weakness. It outsources your capacity for thought to a third party in exchange for comforting certainty, and entrenches tensions and conflicts. It creates an angelic self and a demonic other and settles in for war without end. In its most absolute form – ideology – it has killed more people than any other human creation. And yes, dear centrists, neoliberalism is an ideology too.

We are a long way from ideological bloodshed in Britain – rather less so in the US. But the coalescing of otherwise 'normal' people into hardened, identitarian tribes – Leavers, Remainers, centrists, Corbynites, and the nameless jungle of idiocy that passes for contemporary Conservatism – has grown, and grown tedious. Brexiters rail against the parliamentary sovereignty they once deified. Corbynites turned a conspicuous blind eye to their manifesto’s silence on waves of welfare cuts – a glaring absence that would have sparked fury from the very same people under Ed Miliband. Centrists adopt smug superiority to avoid reflecting on the public's wholesale abandonment of their worldview – a worldview they don't seem to realise collapsed a decade ago.

As someone who – like many others – has spent this decade covering the impact of electorally-popular austerity, I'm not one to instinctively put the public on an unimpeachable pedestal. But this tribalism is not a mass phenomenon. It would – rightly – seem odd to most people. It proliferates among the politically engaged. These are greater in number than, say, 20 years ago, but they are still a minority. It's just that 20 years ago, they may have been wrong, but they were less likely to be gigantic douchebags.

Unlike 2016, there have been positives along the way. The far-right didn't make as much ground in Europe as it had hoped – though its agenda has been partially adopted by the mainstream. Trump breaks new records for unpopularity, as the tangled US political system that stopped Obama doing much good now hinders the 45th president in doing a lot of bad. And the unprecedented 2017 general election, which seemed a slam-dunk landslide for Theresa May, instead dealt a hammer blow to austerity and neoliberalism.

There are embryonic solutions to our problems taking shape, but they are currently in the stranglehold of the tribalists. Removing those solutions from their clutches and shaping them into something that works will determine what we are ultimately able to solve – or salvage.

Samir Jeraj, freelance journalist and works in race and equality, tweets at @sajeraj

2017 was the year for the 'hostile environment'. New laws passed in 2016 restricted access to banking, ID, and expanded stop, search and seizure powers; NGOs and activists started to challenge parts of the hostile environment; and the media started reporting the effects on everyday lives – something Politics.co.uk has been at the forefront of. These challenges have uncovered the scale of data-sharing and cooperation between government departments, public services, and even charities in a system that dehumanises and degrades human beings. This all started in January, when the Department of Health revealed they had had a data-sharing agreement with the Home Office for over six months, despite before denying its existence. This agreement allowed the Home Office to hunt down people through their access to healthcare, a move condemned by the former head of NHS Digital. Throughout the year, similar agreements were revealed to be in place in schools, DVLA, welfare, and child maintenance. Corporate Watch published a detailed report on the cooperation between homeless charities and the Home Office to deport street homeless people, something that Politics.co.uk had reported on several months earlier. In April, the Metropolitan Police admitted they passed on information about victims and witnesses of crime to the Home Office. This was followed by the news that MPs were using an immigration hotline to report people.

At the start of the year, the opposition to these policies was largely within NGOs and charities working with migrants and refugees, race equality organisations, and a number of concerned parliamentarians and representatives including Brian Paddick in the House of Lords, Sian Berry on the London Assembly, and Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons. By the end of the year, active campaigns were being fought by Docs Not Cops against NHS health charging, Against Borders for Children on the sharing of pupil data with the home office, and North East London Migrant Action against the deportation of homeless people. There are now active legal challenges to health charging, sharing pupil data, NHS data-sharing, and a policy deporting homeless EU nationals was overturned in the courts just this month. The fightback against the hostile environment has begun.

Sarah Kay, human rights lawyer, tweets at @K_interarma 

I'm finding it difficult to write about 2017 in a different way than 2016. Last year's review already mentioned exhaustion, anxiety, and a sense of unstoppable chaos. I'm at the point where years blend into one another; I'm no longer sure where Trump begins and where Brexit ends (if at all). It feels more like a general era rather than a definite point in time. My phone is afraid to find a 4G network in case the Guardian breaking news notification banner becomes permanent. I have worked and researched everything from the battle of Mosul to the state of emergency in France. What comes out of it is a need for organisation, solidarity, community, a sense of direction to counter the isolation: a way to - if I may - take back control. So we focus on the little things that keep us human and "normal": this year, I fell in love after living at and in war for three decades. My little brother got married to his long time boyfriend after growing up in a country where homosexuality was long criminalised. A friend adopted a puppy to help with a profound loss. This in no way alleviates the lack of resources allocated to my colleagues and I to handle the refugee crisis, from Manus to Calais. Said colleagues can also be detained under controlling regimes, from Egypt to Turkey. Neo-nazis are chipping away at our sense of safety in the West, marching on Warsaw and Charlottesville. We'll continue to work write, research, inform, travel, for as long as 2018 allows us to. For now I'll have mulled wine and take comfort in the support of others in this column.

Jonathan Lis, deputy director of the think tank British Influence, which researches the impacts of Brexit, tweets at @jonlis1

At the end of 2016, the annus horribilis of premature celebrity and political death, we feared that 2017 would be worse. It would, after all, be the year when Trump and Brexit both became real. But despite a year of both, we should greet 2018 with an optimism that would have been scarcely conceivable this time last year. In 2017, the government turned out to be less competent and more ideological than anyone imagined. Every compromise the government could have made instead turned into last-minute defeat. Theresa May was hammered by the election, but each concession she has made to Brussels would have been inevitable even without it. The EU and Ireland will get their way on Brexit, because they and we know that the alternative - a no-deal scenario - will destroy us. The phase-one deal a few weeks ago was the final nail in the coffin for hard Brexit. In 2018 fantasy will meet reality - and the dregs of delusion replaced by the unignorable realisation of Brexit's sheer pointlessness and waste.

Oliver Norgrove, blogger and political commentator who worked for the Vote Leave campaign, campaigning for the UK's return to EFTA, tweets at @OliverNorgrove 

For me, 2017 was all about Brexit. So much of the past twelve months was filled with speculation and a lack of clarity that when events of substance took place, they seemed to be all over as quickly as they began. We leaped onto rare snippets of meaningful news or progress, extrapolated wildly, were surprised, proved wrong and, above all else, taught just how complex real life political challenges can be. It is astonishing to me that after all the discussion, debate, press conferences and negotiations, all we achieved this year was the invoking of Article 50 and agreements in principle over phase one. For those of us invested in Brexit, 2017 was a lesson in how even the most well-informed can never completely comprehend and gauge what is to come.

Sian Norris, writer and feminist activist, tweets at @sianushka 

At the start of 2017, a man accused of sexual harassment and assault by 17 women was inaugurated as US President. A day later, 3 million women worldwide marched under the Pussy Hat banner in a bold refusal to be silenced. By autumn, women were pointing the finger at powerful men in Hollywood, the media, sport, and politics. Across the internet, women used the hashtag #MeToo to tell the painful and upsetting stories of how we've been treated for too long.

At moments it felt hysterical. We screamed our pain and our rage. At other moments it felt empowering — we weren't going to be quiet anymore! And sometimes, sometimes, it felt like we were winning. Ministers resigned. Directors were fired. TV shows were axed — and the stories kept coming.

Now, as we move into 2018 it feels as though the backlash has started. In Westminster, powerful men close ranks and the women who raised their voices are mocked and undermined. Women who were ready to speak out retreated when they saw how the accusers who came before them were treated. Who could blame them? Not me. Panicky male journalists penned editorials calling women 'snowflakes' who couldn't cope with a kiss in an email. Others screeched 'witch hunt' and wrote poor-me articles about how hard it was to be on the receiving end of an accusation — without showing any empathy for women on the receiving end of assault.

It's now time to harness the rage and the energy and that sense of empowerment. It's time to turn the howl of rage of #MeToo into positive and irreversible action. This means that women will keep speaking out — but we need men to speak out about their own actions too. It means every workplace, including parliament, ensuring they have proper procedures in place to manage sexual harassment, and where women are not penalised or condemned for coming forward. On a wider scale, it means proper funding for support services for women who have survived male violence. It means a media industry that treats women's voices and stories with respect.

The good news is that we've already started. Women journalists are coming together at The Second Source, and women Labour members set up LabourToo. That's just the beginning — and it's an exciting one. But there's more work to be done; not least to ensure the voices of women who are most vulnerable to sexual and economic exploitation — women on zero hour contracts or in precarious work — are heard and their rights protected.

2017 was the year women refused to stay silent. I hope 2018 will be the year when #MeToo becomes #MeNoMore. 

Paul Sng, director of Dispossession: The great social housing swindle, tweets at @sng_paul  

On the 8th June, 2017 – five days before the Grenfell Tower fire – Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle premiered at the East End Film Festival. We made the documentary to explore the neglect, demolition and regeneration of council estates across the UK, and reveal the impact of the housing crisis on communities in London, Glasgow and Nottingham. The terrible events of the Grenfell fire made our subject matter grimly relevant; we knew we needed to be respectful and sensitive to the people who lost their lives and their families, but also that the neglect and mismanagement of council and social housing in the film deserved wider attention. We decided to run a campaign in tandem with the film that would promote grassroots housing campaigns and explore alternative solutions to estate demolition. We invited local campaigners, housing sector workers and politicians to each of our Q&A screenings, to encourage debate and promote actions in the areas where the film toured. The film has grossed £75k in box office receipts to date and was released by Verve on DVD and on demand in late October.

I've overseen the whole process with a small, trusty team and attended most of the Q&A screening events to date, sharing a platform with guests including Danny Dorling, Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Loach, Caroline Lucas, Michael Sheen, Rushanara Ali, Sian Berry and many of the people who appear in the film.  I felt it was essential to give this film over to the people who are affected by the issues it explores, and we are currently arranging free screenings for people on estates and in local communities. I'm often told I should be proud of the film; pride somehow doesn't seem appropriate when thinking about the people who have lost or are fighting to save their homes. I hope Dispossession is owned as much by the people affected by this crisis, and that it helps to raise awareness about what's happening to council estates across the UK, encourages people to defend their homes from demolition and preserve their communities.

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