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Opinion Heroes and villains of 2017

BEN COWLES sorts the good eggs from the rotten scoundrels of the year

VILLAINS

THE ROYAL FAMILY

Much like last year, 2017 has been a bit of a disaster as the seeds sown in 2016 began to bear bitter fruit. 

But at least we have the distraction of Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding, a no-expense-spared shindig that we all get to pay for but aren’t invited to, or even have the day off work for. 

This royal extravagance comes at a time when the government continues to decimate public services and stand idly by as homelessness, child poverty and inequality continue to rise.

Elizabeth Windsor got a pay rise this year for doing whatever it is she does, while ever more nurses are forced to feed themselves at foodbanks. 

Our blue-blooded head of state has even had her servants stash her taxpayer-funded dosh in offshore tax havens, ensuring that the public purse is bereft of yet more vital funds. 

THE TORIES

Yes, it is trite to include the Tories on this list but they really surpassed themselves in 2017.

The fact that the they only managed to form a minority government after a needless snap general election by offering a £1 billion bung to Arlene Foster’s homophobic and misogynistic DUP should have taught them a few things. 

Instead of reassessing their lives, the Tories have continued to gut our public services, decimate our environment, fail to tackle corporate tax avoidance, foster inequality, preside over a housing crisis, make a mockery of human rights, cower before US President Donald Trump and sell weapons to and politically support noxious regimes in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel and a host of other countries. 

Despite public outrage, the Tories even tried to ignore the scandals involving former international development secretary Priti Patel’s clandestine dealings with Israel, the sexual harassment allegations of former defence secretary Michael Fallon and former first secretary Damian Green’s porn stash.

THE ‘ALT-RIGHT’

Fascism is on the rise across the West, no doubt spurred on by the orange man in the White House and his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. 

When the so-called “alt-right” marched through Charlottesville, Virginia — armed to the teeth, chanting racist slogans, lashing out at counter-protesters and even killing a 32-year-old woman by running her over — Trump didn’t denounce them. In fact, he equated the protesters with the white supremacists. 

Unfortunately the US is not the only country dabbling with fascism in 2017. In Britain, we saw the rise of new hate group the Football Lads Alliance. 

In France the people were forced to choose between neoliberal favourite Emmanuel Macron or the god-awful Marine Le Pen. 

Austria recently made the leader of the fascistic Freedom Party Heinz Christian Strache its vice-chancellor.

In Germany the far-right Alternative for Germany became the third-largest political party. 

Poland’s hideously right-wing government has also been busy ripping up the country’s judicial system.

ROYAL BOROUGH OF KENSINGTON & CHELSEA 

On June 14 over 70 people died in a blaze in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block in north Kensington, one of London’s most affluent areas.

Believed to have been caused by a faulty fridge, the fire was fuelled by the cladding wrapped around the building in 2015 at a cost of £8.7 million at the behest of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation to improve the building’s appearance. 

For years, the RBKC ignored the health and safety warnings of the residents. Instead RBKC threatened to sue for defamation and harassment. 

After the tragedy the Tory-run council continued to neglect the residents, leaving many of the survivors reliant on volunteers to provide them with the food and shelter that RBKC should have managed. 

ANTI-MADURO BLAIRITES

After an inspiring general election in which Labour gained the highest number of votes since 1945, a few bitter and deluded Labour Party MPs took it upon themselves to launch a pointless proxy war on their party’s leadership by joining in the summer’s silly season attack on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s left-wing government and forming the all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela. 

John Spellar, Graham Jones, Phil Wilson and David Watts ignored the progressive reforms that Maduro’s and before that Hugo Chavez’s governments introduced. 

Their denunciations completely overlooked the the impact of the oil price collapse, the US’s economic interference and the violence perpetrated by right-wing paramilitary groups. 

Where were these MPs’ cries for democracy when Michel Temer’s neoliberal coup ousted Brazil’s democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff? 

Why have they said nothing about the Mexican government’s woeful response to the spiralling cartel violence?  

HEROES

YOUNG LABOUR VOTERS

The turnout for the snap election was the highest it has been in 25 years. Much of the credit has be given to the hard work of the Labour Party’s social media campaigns and volunteers, Momentum, the NUS, campaigning organisations like Hope Not Hate and Bite the Ballot, and even grime stars like JME and Stormzy for galvanising the young to register with the Electoral Commission almost as soon as the election was called and to urge them to turn out and vote on election day.

More than half of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in June and around 60 per cent of them voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. 

Clearly the party’s For the Many Not the Few manifesto spoke to a generation the Tories have tried to screw over these past seven years. 

LAURA PIDCOCK

Since her maiden speech in the Commons, in which the 30-year-old pointed out the intimidating and confusing nature of Westminster, which was built “at a time when my class and my sex were denied a place within it because we were deemed unworthy,” the Labour MP for North West Durham has ruffled the feathers of the Tories and the Establishment with her unflinching commitment to her constituents and her class. 

She has used her time in Parliament to call out the Tories’ callous attacks on the poor and their rolling back of the state. 
As PIP began its disastrous rollout, she asked the Prime Minister whether the programme’s faults were a matter of “gross incompetence or calculated cruelty.”

GRENFELL TOWER SURVIVORS

Abandoned and left to fend for themselves, the Grenfell Tower survivors refused to remain silent about the tragedy which killed over 70 people. 

Having been denied a voice in the public inquiry, residents of the tower block have taken their struggle to the streets and organised to not only highlight the blatant inequalities the Tories have fostered these past seven years, but also bring Britain’s housing crisis into the light.

MCSTRIKERS

McDonalds’ Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) members took on one of the world’s biggest and most pernicious companies this year and won. 

The fast-food staff, who voted 95.7 per cent in favour of taking industrial action this August, went on strike over zero-hours, the living wage and trade union recognition. 

The burger chain caved in to the strikers’ demands and confirmed its restaurants would offer fixed-hours contracts in all its restaurants. 

The strikers drew in widespread support from across the labour movement, Jeremy Corbyn and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, as well as hundreds of thousands of progressives online. 

FEMINISTS

From the women’s marches all across the world in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, to the #MeToo social media campaign in the wake of the disgusting Hollywood and Westminster sexual harassment allegations, the solidarity feminists showed this year was phenomenal. 

En masse, ordinary women came together online to share their experiences of sexual harassment by rich and powerful men. 
Here in Britain it looked for a moment as if the Establishment was about to collapse as a slew of male MPs either resigned in shame or were suspended from their parties. 

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