Prepare for more political despair in 2017

Although liberals may celebrate the end of 2016, Fred Dimbleby argues that we should prepare for another year of political despair and discord

There are a great number of people, around the world, who will breathe a sigh of relief after Big Ben strikes midnight on 31 December. They are right to be relieved that this long, long year is finally over.

The political landscape has transformed during 2016. It started with the victory of Rodrigo Duterte in early May—a man who has attacked Barack Obama in such explicit terms that it cannot be repeated in this article, and who has launched a drug war in the Philippines that has already killed more than 2500 people. Then, only a month later, came Brexit and the painful campaign and aftermath, which has almost torn the country, and perhaps the wider European political community, apart. After that, came the Tory leadership campaign and the failed Labour coup—events that showed the depths and depravity of the modern British political system. Oh, and before we forget, then came Trump. 2016 has been the year when we had to depend on a sweet-maker to remind us that those who were facing the worst conditions in order to find a better life for themselves were humans and not inanimate objects.

But, and I don’t want to be the bearer of doom here, 2017 may continue in this precedence. Liberals, the world over, may have to face the reality that political decisions will continue to go against us in the immediate, and perhaps long term, future. In 2017 we not only have the inauguration of Trump but we also have an election in France, an election in Germany, a possible election in Italy, and the proposed date for the triggering of article 50. So, in other words, Trump will be given the nuclear codes, the UK will start the process of leaving one of the greatest political projects ever imagined, and the far right will surely continue its rise in the other European nations.

Now, it is true that the French and German elections may not produce the surprise results that we have seen over the last year. It has been accepted, for a long time, that Hollande will not win a second term and he has now confirmed this, by stating that he would not even stand for another term. Similarly, it is thought that Merkel will probably hold onto power and continue her role as the politician at the centre of Europe.

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We may be completely wrong about this, as we all have been throughout the past year. But, even if we are not wrong, both elections will still show the continued influence of the populist right over world politics. Marie Le Pen, from the Front National, is sure to do well in the French election and will, most likely, make it through to the final round of the count. Indeed, if this does happen, the only alternative is a conservative candidate—François Fillon—who has consistently voted against civil rights for the LGBTQIA+ community and has taken many illiberal stances on the economy and foreign policy. So, not ideal for the liberal community but better than the prospect of a Le Pen presidency. Similarly, the AfD is surely going to have an electoral improvement in the German election and—although we may end up in the safe hands of the conservative, yet favourable, Merkel—this would be a clear sign that the right is surging across Europe.

I’m sorry to further add to the misery, but we may also see new developments in Italy after the recent referendum result. The populist and Eurosceptic Five Star Movement played an integral part in the winning side of the referendum, and many see this as a move towards a possible in/out referendum on Italy’s membership of the European Union. Results in all of these elections could lead to Europe becoming even weaker in the upcoming year.

Finally, we have the triggering of Article 50, which is scheduled for March 2017. So far the signs are not looking good for liberals, if that ever was a possibility. Theresa May is continuing to make mysterious, yet meaningless, statements about the nature of Brexit. This week it was the nationalistic, or patriotic—depending upon which political tradition you come from—‘red, white and blue‘ Brexit. The wilful blindness of many prominent ‘leave’ politicians, who see only good consequences from the referendum, continues. The Labour Party’s opposition is as shambolic as ever, and there seems to be no check on Theresa May’s control of Brexit. This will be a running theme for the next year and, when it is all finally over, we will have actually left the EU so there will be little chance for celebration.

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Basically, liberals all over the world should be worried. Yes, there have been some positives this year, in political terms. The victories of Sadiq Khan, Sarah Olney and the recent Austrian result have brought long overdue calm into the hearts of liberals. But, these moments of relief have been few and far between. We all need to get used to the fact that the future is not going to work for the left or for liberals. We need to get used to being excited by elections where the far right politician comes second, to even the most moderate candidate. We are going to have to get used to celebrating the small victories, here and there, because the trend will almost certainly be against the left.

2017 will continue to be a year of discord, populist conservative victories and general despair. My advice to the left is to get used to this and get ready to work out our strategy, so that 2017 can be the last year where we are constantly in mourning for lost principles of morality and democracy. Happy New Year and good luck to everyone—we may need it.