2017: A Year in Review

As 2017 draws to a close, our writers look back on a year replete with seismic shocks to the political fabric of the Western world.

Joseph Prebble

Joseph is a third-year student of Mathematics at the Unviersity of Bath

What a fitting way to conclude 2017 it is to see Nick Clegg awarded a knighthood. Seeing people go into a funk over an inconsequential, if questionable, decision is typical of a year that has seen the emergence of a new political divide that explains modern politics considerably better than the traditional political compass. There are now the pragmatists and the cynical, focused around an approach to politics rather than actual political loyalties. Some people want to effect change, while others merely want their permanent displeasure registered rather than translated into solutions. Since the activation of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, one of the most beautiful moments of 2017, Brexit has been frustrated by cultish ideologues who intransigently refuse to see merit either in leaving at all or working flexibly for an orderly, effective process. Movements that fail to tap into real problems in a way that translates into real solutions will collapse, as the sad decline of UKIP has so miserably proved. Parties without a clear message, cleanly communicated, with the capacity to apply it imperfectly in political office will deservedly die. How nice it would be for 2018 to similarly swallow up the vapid Conservative party.

Across the pond, Trump continues to monopolise headlines. Any vain hopes of a man unusually loosely tied to a party and a history of bipartisan relationships helping to bridge the political divide have been thoroughly shot. Trump has continued to demean his opponents, both domestic and, more scarily, foreign, with a bombast to which people are still getting used. Away from the bickering with the press and political opponents, though, an image is starting to emerge of what his Presidency will look like years afterwards, after the dust clouds of controversy have died away and left his meaningful imprint more visible. He has made some genuinely creditable decisions. Certainly, in several decades’ time, though, his unilateral withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement will be seen as a huge event. Is it hoping for too much that politicians will start to take climate change with the severity that it demands in 2018?

From a UK perspective, probably so. The general election barely touched on it. Far more time was devoted to intense analysis of Tim Farron’s views on gay sex and Stormzy’s contribution to the political dictionary than the climate crisis. Something that fluctuates year by year is far too long-term and complex to be packaged into brief clickbait. Until it starts hurting people’s wallets or otherwise affecting people in immediate ways, it will be of insignificant interest to a political universe with the attention span of a greenfly. That span probably won’t lengthen in the new year. It is increasingly obvious that politics is applied culture, and when that culture is decreasingly patient, decreasingly Christian, and increasingly attached to materialism and selfism, it is little wonder that politics is more hopeless than ever at addressing the substantial problems that people face. It is time for the radical pragmatists to step up.

Matthew Cowley

Matthew is a third-year student of Politics and Economics at the University of Southampton, and is the Media Director for the Mallard. 

2017 was a year in which political scientists who have spent 20 years arguing that election campaigns don’t matter went “Eh?”. Theresa May called an election with a 20-point lead and ended up in a minority government, and there are lessons to be learnt from a fairly bruising year for the Conservatives.

Expectations matter: if you spend months telling people that a leader is going to be so catastrophically awful and incompetent, then that leader being even so-much as average is going to surprise voters and make them feel much more positively about them than they would have done otherwise.

More importantly, control of the narrative really matters. Part of the reason that Labour were able to do so unexpectedly well was that their dominance on social media enabled them to reach people in a way that we could not, and do so relatively unchallenged. A lesson from 2017 is the importance of social media and an activist base with varied demographics for reaching non-partisan and apathetic voters.

Even where the Conservatives controlled the narrative, it was a sub-optimal set of messaging. It was a campaign that was all slogan and no substance; all personality and no policy - and, worse, the slogan fell flat and the personality was scripted into non-existence. Both of these aspects have improved in the aftermath of June, but it remains important to offer voters something substantive sold in a way that makes them see the benefits of the policy. Substance without slogan leaves a policy open to spin by opposition parties (I’m looking at you, Dementia Tax), and policies are so easy to couch in an attractive way. “We’re going to enable people to protect an extra £77,000 of their money from social care costs and create a sustainable social care policy based on intergenerational equality and ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same benefits we do” would be easier to sell on the doorstep and less open to attack.

Furthermore, if you set an election up as being about the size of your majority, you inherently make it a two-party race. However bad people who vote Lib Dem, Green or UKIP might think Jeremy Corbyn is, if they are voting against the Conservatives, they’ll hold their breath and vote Labour. That’s ultimately where much of the Corbyn climb came from.

In minority government, Theresa May shouldn’t be afraid of being bold and pursuing radical policies that fit her agenda of intergenerational equality and looking after the Just-About-Managing, but she must remember that modern politics is as much about telling people why you do something as it is actually doing it. The Conservative Party needs a narrative, and needs as much a bottom-up as a top-down approach: while it is the party’s job to give activists some positive policies to promote; regaining the narrative also requires the instruments to get a decent activist base. If the Party doesn’t reconstitute the youth wing in 2018 and give further incentives to convert supporters into members, then it won’t have learnt the lessons that 2017 has provided.

Sarah Stook

Sarah is a second-year student of Politics at the University of Lancaster, and is the Culture Editor for the Mallard. 

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve,  protect and defend the Constitution of the United States- so help me God.’

 ‘I have chaired a meeting of Cabinet, where we agreed that the government should call a general election to be held on June 8.’

‘And what we’re saying is the Conservatives are the largest party, note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage- 314 for the Conservatives, that’s down 17.’

2016 was a year of shocks and whilst 2017 may not have beaten it, it was certainly close. The political climate of the 21st century never ceases to excite or shock, and as a young person studying politics, I am never bored when I switch on the news to see what is happening.

2016 was the year of the anti-establishment- the shock Leave vote and the surprise of a Trump victory, along with the rise of right-wing parties in Europe being the biggest examples. 2017, however, was a year in which the establishment and anti-establishment collided in a mess of a world. Whilst Sebastian Kurtz of Austria succeeded in igniting a right-wing revolution, the haunted past of Europe allowed the status quo to remain. Marine LePen lost soundly to establishment darling Emmanuel Macron, Geert Wilders got second in the Dutch elections but was locked out of any alliances and whilst AFD had some promise in Germany, Angela Merkel still managed to succeed as Chancellor. In our native UK, Momentum pushed Jeremy Corbyn, who managed to win the votes of students by portraying himself as an anti-government, anti-establishment revolutionary (which is bull, of course, but that was the narrative).

Yet, some memories of 2016 remain. Brexiters remain steadfast against the EU, with even some Remainers reported to have changed their mind after seeing how the undemocratic project has treated our nation. Eurosceptics are still spreading their message, winning hearts and minds in countries like Poland and Hungary, who have bravely stood up against the EU. Whilst Trump has been kissed by scandal and was the focus of the largest single day protests in US history, he remains Teflon Don and is still a deity to his reporters, who are more vocal than ever in their support.

Theresa May ends 2017 as Prime Minister. Whilst the terrible Tory manifesto and disastrous general election had grassroots Conservatives begging for the Jacob Rees-Moggs and James Cleverlys of the world to step forward, May has managed to stay on. She has weathered the resignations of Michael Fallon, Priti Patel and most damagingly, Damian Green, as well as a more limited mandate. Most notably, she triggered Article 50, beginning the divorce process from the EU.

So, what will 2018 bring?

Trump will stay; he’ll at least make it to 2020. Theresa May will continue too, unless she stupidly calls another election and tries to contest it (that will be the end of her). In my opinion, whilst the status quo refused to break its hold on the world, it will just create more anger and resentment, allowing the leaders of the anti-establishment to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Of course, we can promise one thing- 2018 will be bigger and crazier, we just need to prepare.

Karl Cooper

Karl is a second-year student of Electronic Engineering at the University of Lancaster and University of Iowa.

2017 has not failed to disappoint, being as turbulent and as unpredictable as it’s previous year. It has been a fitting sequel, where we have seen the effects and consequences of all of the madness from 2016 play out, both home and away. Where would one begin to describe this year?

Right at the beginning we kicked off with the inauguration of Donald Trump. Sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, it proved to be a most tumultuous event. In his inauguration speech, Trump spoke of an America united, and putting “America First”. Despite this, he is still wrapped in controversy and America is still a greatly divided nation. A political theatre that has become ever more hostile and tribal in its nature. Many were expecting the exhausting political pantomime that was 2016 to quiet down, but oh how wrong they were. From accusations of Russian intervention in the election to the ever-increasing threat of North Korea, to an incredibly harsh hurricane season, President Trump has faced a year defined by challenge after challenge.

Meanwhile on this side of the pond, on the 29th March we triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, beginning the formal process to take the UK out of the European Union. To either great political upset or delight, two long years of negotiations were set out with the result of the UK in some capacity leaving the EU. Since then, the negotiations have not been easy, and there has been a lot of finger pointing. But the fact of the matter is that they aren’t going to get any easier. The European Union are going to try and make an example out of us to make Eurosceptics have a second thought. The defeat of Marie Le Pen in the French Presidential Elections in favour of open Europhile Emmanuel Macron was a much-needed victory for the EU. After the referendum last year, which dealt a huge blow to the EU, both as an idea and as a political structure, 2017 has seen the EU catch its breath. Who knows what the following year will bring.

But perhaps one of the biggest surprises this year happened at home. Despite repeating that she wouldn’t call a snap election, Theresa May put her government on the line to secure a mandate and called an election for June 8th. And in a political upset second only to the 2016 referendum, Mrs May lost the majority in parliament despite everyone expecting a Conservative landslide. It was a shock to the system of every conservative and caused a huge party-wide reflective period on what went wrong. With the Prime Minister’s ability constantly being called into question, and many people expecting a leadership contest throughout the year, we saw the germination of huge grassroots support within the tory party. Most notably, Jacob Rees-Mogg was thrust into the spotlight as ‘Moggmentum’ started to spread like wildfire across conservative social media. From a quirky backbencher to internet celebrity almost overnight, his popularity was a show that members of the party, particularly young members, are yearning for a return to true, Thatcherite conservatism, and that the current cabinet were just not cutting it.

Unfortunately however, in the UK and all around the world, tragedy continues to linger. This year, radical Islamic terrorism in the UK took the lives of many innocent people. The tragic attacks at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester took the lives of 22 people and injured hundreds, the two attacks in London, one on Parliament bridge and one on Westminster bridge killed 13 people and injured more. But amongst a tragedy it showed great unity. People joined up in response to these heartbreakingly events, stood tall and declared that they would not be intimidated. And that we are bigger than the petty politics that we squabble over on a day-to-day basis.

I raise a glass to the end of this incredible year. I don’t know what to expect from 2018, and I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Truly, only time will tell…

 

Jake Scott

Jake is a Master's student of Political Theory at the University of Birmingham, and is Editor of the Mallard.

If 2016 was a storm of a year, 2017 was a hurricane. From the inauguration of perhaps the most divisive elected Presidents in the United States’ history, to the all-too-readily ignored genocide of Rohingyan Muslims; from Theresa May’s embarrassing general election outcome, to the final expulsion of ISIS militants from Raqqa; from the shared tragedy of Grenfell to the shared joy of Prince Henry and Meghan Markle’s engagement; 2017 was a year that did not allow us to catch our breaths, not for one moment.

My fellow writers have touched on a lot, and better than I could. And I know most of them would disagree with me when I say, this year has been more significant for British politics than 2016. I don’t think it’s hard to see that there has been a sea-change in politics. It’s been coming for a while - perhaps as far back as 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis - but social media has finally become integral to politics. His politics may be dreadful, but the team around Jeremy Corbyn know exactly how to act on social media. In 2012, Barack Obama’s presidential bid utilised social media on an unprecedented scale, and the way the Conservatives and Labour used social media during the general election of 2015 was like watching toddlers dip their toes into the water of a pool to test its warmth. But even last year, the fierceness of the European Union’s campaigning was largely on the ground or using conventional media - if it crossed into social media (which it did, all too often) - it was largely through the presence of traditional media outlets online, such as the Sun, Daily Mail, Guardian and so on. 2017 saw that change completely, and sadly only on one side of the aisle. The Conservatives clearly do not know how to handle social media and I think, for all our arrogance and energy, I don’t think young conservatives fully do either. But that is changing, at the very least.

I read back through my contribution to this article’s predecessor from last year to remind myself of what was needed, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the optimism of the piece. I wish I could reach back now and slap myself; I was convinced true conservatism could return to this country, that socialism might finally be wiped out, and we would become a fully autonomous and sovereign nation again. Now, I sit here a year later, and feel tired.

But there is light – conservative grassroots movements are gaining momentum, as noted above, and this site amongst them is gaining in popularity rapidly. Maybe we young tories are finally grappling the horns of social media, and understanding the beast that the left seems to understand all too well. Maybe the conservative movement in this country is about to rediscover itself. Maybe 2018 will see conservatism return. Maybe.

Editor’s note: I want to thank every single contributor to the site this calendar year, and all of our readers. It is your support that has ensured our continued growth. See you in 2018.

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