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The Year In Review 2017 – a year of elections, new brooms and sausage rolls

NATHAN AKEHURST casts an eye back at the year just gone

I BEGAN writing this column while London was grinding to a halt under a Siberian 0.5cm of snow. I didn’t think it worth complaining too much. It’s another excuse to stay in and drink more and, with terror attacks literally more frequent than snowfall, it’s understandable that gritting has slipped down the council’s priority list. 

In any case, Gritney Spears and Brad Grit (the actual names for two northern town hall gritters) may be running low on salt but are probably more prepared for Brexit than David Davis.  

There is a distinct challenge in filling a light-hearted Year in Review column when 1) you’re not that funny, 2) you know next to nothing about pop culture because you spend too much time swearing at the Guardian’s comment section and 3) virtually nothing light-hearted has happened this year. 

The first at least is manageable — no-one is funny any more. All satire is dead, an emu called Farage got lost in the snow in Maldon the other day. This is not funny, it is just weird, like every headline these days. 

The second challenge can be handled as well. Who need soaps when you have 20,000 people watching the flight tracker for Priti Patel’s plane back from Africa before she was sacked for being a possible foreign intelligence asset?

And culture and politics have fused anyway, whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn rapping “man’s not hot” under a smoke machine in Brighton/having an official opinion on Love Island or ex-Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale retiring from a nest of publicity-hungry Z-listers and snakes to go on I’m A Celebrity. 

But the third, the crushing joylessness and vague sense of dread that has pervaded most of 2017 ever since it opened with a fascist grapefruit getting his hands on the world’s largest nuclear arsenal is harder to deal with. 

At least, on that note, there’s been lots of change, especially in the composition of our leaders. 

As just mentioned, we’ve gone from US politics being its regular level of unhinged to a president who tries to start World War III on Twitter. 

Across Britain, the US and France we’ve had your knitwear-sporting dad (Corbyn), your eccentric granddad (Sanders) and your slightly racist uncle (Melenchon) shaking up politics from the left. 
In France, an actual nazi was beaten by Emmanuel Macron, a man who exists with no compelling reason why. 

This event was precipitated by the collapse of nice well-adjusted social democrat Francois Hollande, who likes to declare eternal war on people from graveyards, and the collapse of his right-wing opponent Francois Fillon owing to a financial history dodgier than Damian Green’s browsing history. 

In Spain, the Catalan Republic briefly came into being after the Spanish state concluded that sending riot cops to beat up grannies trying to vote in a referendum made them look like the reasonable ones and got both Remainers and Leavers thinking: “Why didn’t we do that?”

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont decided that, having led his people into direct confrontation with the state and potentially the European Union, he would bravely bugger off to Brussels to sit the show out, a bit like a reverse Lenin (more on him later).

A situation now exists in New Zealand that is effectively a Labour-Green-Ukip coalition (nationalise trees but in a racist way?) Lebanese premier Saad Hariri may have been taken hostage in Saudi Arabia and forced to deliver a resignation speech or maybe his delivery is just that sullen and scared usually. 

Robert Mugabe has been deposed, in what a fatigues-clad general replaced the usual morning newsreader to tell us was definitely not a coup. New brooms everywhere. 

Britain narrowly avoided quite the same level of upheaval. The Zimbabwean military is, as it turns out, more effective than Owen Smith at organising a not-coup, but we did at least manage to deliver a general election result that nobody saw coming apart from the pollsters who predicted it two weeks in advance with no-one listening. 

The night before that poll happened I was in a bar with several Conservatives, a Green and a Kipper in Newcastle — no, this isn’t the start of a joke. 

A young Tory insisted boisterously to me that they would gain a dozen seats in north-east England alone and he’d bet anything I wanted on it. 

Mate, if you’re for some reason reading this, please send me that bottle of Talisker, lightly flavoured with right-wing tears. 

It’s often said that the general election campaign got millions involved in politics, but they already were involved. Their libraries had been sold to Richard Branson, their trains were three hours late, the three remaining ambulances outside London were taking them to hospitals with no bed and they were paying two internal organs a month to rent a windowless mouldy broom cupboard in Leatherhead. 

All these things are political and all these things made people angry — the election campaign simply directed that political anger into two million new votes for the Labour Party. 

Even more disappointed than a crestfallen Tory front bench on the night of June 8 were those Labour activists who had been promised jobs on the post-election leadership campaigns of certain “moderate” MPs. 

Meanwhile the real winners of the night were the DUP — dismissed by their Tory would-be handlers as a bunch of Harp lager-addled country bumpkins who thought Oliver Cromwell was still the prime minister but in fact some of the most devastatingly effective operators in UK politics. 

It’s almost as if a paramilitary splinter cell provides a slightly tougher political baptism of fire than the Oxford Union Society and the playing fields of Harrow. 

Nigel Farage packed his bag and became an economic migrant seeking his fortune in the United States, the Greens held their single MP and Tim Farron resigned but no-one really noticed. 
The Tories spent some time scratching their heads trying to work out what had happened. 

Solutions subsequently generated included winning back young voters by giving them tax-free plane tickets to Ibiza — someone in the team presumably watched The Inbetweeners Movie by way of research — and setting up a youth organisation run by a man who genuinely used the line in a local election. “I fought for you in Afghanistan, now let me fight for you in County Hall.” 

After said youth organisation got “down with the kids” by having some “banter” about “gassing chavs,” the project was quickly disowned. 

Enough on the general election and back to the politics. It was a year of historical anniversaries as well, 20 years since Tony Blair racked up an unprecedented Labour majority and subsequently decided the Middle East was the hill he would die on — well, not him personally but plenty of other people.

A hundred years on from the US entry into the first world war where the German military promptly dropped leaflets on black soldiers reminding them they were in segregated regiments. Kaiser Wilhelm II holding the moral high ground on race then shows that politics being weird isn’t unique to 2017. 

And of course I couldn’t write a column for the Morning Star without referencing the 1917 Russian Revolution, where hundreds of thousands of workers, soldiers and peasants were inspired to sacrifice everything so that, a century on, we could live in a world where members of the British left could freely exchange various historically illiterate hot takes in pubs after meetings and so that the right of the Labour Party could refer to everyone they didn’t like as a Trot.  

Actually, talking of the right of the Labour Party, one light-hearted thing did happen this year in the form of Stephen Kinnock being told live on air by his wife and former Danish prime minister: “You don’t know anything,” as he stared on crestfallen at the surge in the Labour vote. 

But most other vaguely amusing events in 2017 involved bread products. Greggs, the subject of a pro-nationalisation motion at Young Labour conference, got in hot water for replacing Jesus with a sausage roll in its Christmas advert. 

This became a cause celebre from some Tory MPs who, in the complete absence of a domestic policy agenda, decided that this was going to be their footnote in the history books. 

Sutton United got the chance to go up against Arsenal, and goalie Wayne Shaw made the most of the opportunity it by noshing a sausage roll on TV, or should we say a Jesus roll, and a bagel being placed on a man’s head on a Great Northern train resulted in an epic battle that has subsequently become an English cultural watershed. 

Google Bagelgate if you have no idea what I’m on about. There you go. In a year marked by war, terrorism, sexual predators, natural disasters and the rise of fascism, bread is still a source of wholesome entertainment.

You may think normal service will resume in 2018. You are wrong. As of November, a man with a pet tarantula called Cronus is in charge of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. 

A Conservative MP has been accusing the Labour left of controlling both ITV and primary schools in a shadowy conspiracy to spread fake news about child poverty. A former senior police officer has tried to change his surname to “UKRemainEU.” Things can only get weirder. 

Anyway, it’s nearly Christmas. Santa will bring us all lots of nice gifts over the break, including incrementally rising weight gain and growing concerns about alcoholism. 

This column will be repurposed as wrapping paper for the relative you forgot existed until the last minute. That relative will drone on for three hours about how Polish people are taking all the jobs. 

Bear in mind I don’t have a large family and am imagining what I think Christmas dinner must be like for those who do. I will be studiously avoiding the rigmarole of half-baked opinions about Brexit over half-baked damp turkey. 

Then a few days later it’ll be time to make resolutions we know are as likely to happen as Lib Dem election pledges, vainly hope for a bit that 2018 will be an improvement and head forward into the abyss. Bring it on. Merry Christmas and a happy new year.  

 

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