What Should We Make of 2017?
As the year draws to a close, we asked Ann Pettifor, Maya Goodfellow and Manual Cortes for their political highs and lows of 2017.
Ann Pettifor, Director at Policy Research in Macroeconomics
2017 will be remembered as the first of a deceitful, authoritarian, racist, misogynous US president. But it will also be remembered for a global women’s uprising, launched in the UK with the London Women’s March in January.
The economic surprises of 2017 were the strength of the global cyclical upturn including in the Eurozone (but whose deeper flaws will resurface in the next sharp downturn). Only the UK economy lagged behind – though maybe not as far as many Remainers expected.
A lost opportunity for the UK economy was the chancellor’s November budget, a masterly exercise in inertia just when Brexit uncertainty, austerity and ongoing economic weakness meant strong action was called for. The chancellor ignored a broad political consensus to end austerity. Faced once more with falling average real wages (down each month since January) and the lowest investment rate in the G7, the chancellor delivered a non-budget. Austerity will grind on, weakening our economy as it goes through Brexit stress, and tearing the social fabric. The challenges of climate change are left untouched, where not made more acute.
The poorest still have their benefits frozen while Brexit-fuelled inflation rises over 3%. The public sector pay curb remains in all but name. Thanks to the political cowardice of this government, cuts and pay curbs are largely decentralised so that local government politicians and NHS staff take the flack. Employment numbers have grown but more slowly (1% up). This is the flipside of our low investment, low productivity, low-wage economy, deliberately designed that way by politicians lacking in integrity, vision and ambition.
If the government is not replaced by Labour in 2018, we can expect more of the same.
Maya Goodfellow, Writer and Researcher
If there is one thing we know for sure when looking at the past fifty years of UK politics, it’s that xenophobia is deeply rooted in this country. That doesn’t mean it’s inevitable or that it’s a natural response to immigration (politicians have long-claimed this, failing to realise their own role in stoking fear of “the other”). But anti-immigrant politics is as British as a cup of tea.
Looking back at 2017, you might think anti-immigration sentiment has fallen off the political agenda. Despite the Conservatives lacing their manifesto with plans to intensify the hostile environment – which along with the existing migration system have a profoundly negative impact on migrant’s lives – and sticking to the tens of thousands pledge, it wasn’t considered the major factor in the snap election.
But don’t mistake this as part of a paradigm shift: there’s nothing to suggest anti-immigration feelings have disappeared or that our political class has decided to tackle the widespread xenoracism they’ve helped create. Instead, with the two parties who took the lion’s share of the vote in June signed up to ending freedom of movement, it appears the public think Brexit will mean a reduction in migration and so are momentarily less concerned with this issue.
But this will not last; spurred on by politicians and decades of prejudice, people will continue to blame poor pay, housing and insecurity on immigration. That is, unless there’s a concerted effort to expose anti-migrant politics as built upon a tissue of lies. Labour has not yet made significant moves to do this. While 2017 was a year they were necessarily bold on the economy, 2018 needs to be one where they take on fiscal fallacies and deeply dangerous views on migration.
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA
What an amazing year 2017 has been. Our tube workers' strike in January to reverse the job loss programme introduced by Boris Johnson saw 325 jobs restored. Bus Eireann workers' 21 day consecutive strike stands as the longest in our union’s proud history. Inspired by the Bus Eireann example, colleagues at Iarnodd Eireann emulated it all the way to the picket lines. They too held firm and have just been awarded their first pay rise in nine years. Our union has continued to grow with 100 new members joining just last week.
Who would have thought at the start of 2017 that we’d have the Scottish government on the run, with our union campaign to take ScotRail back into public control also high up the Scottish political agenda? Our union’s policy document on how to take ScotRail back into public ownership is having such an impact that rail nationalisation has nudged its way onto the SNP to do list.
At the surprise General Election in June, Labour's Manifesto For the Many revealed May’s myth of a “strong and stable” Conservative government as the lie many of us knew it to be. Labour’s clear focus on an anti-austerity agenda has changed the game of British politics. It has weakened the Tories beyond repair, and gave rise to Richard Leonard’s victory as leader of the Scottish Labour party. Our party is back in the political game, and a socialist government committed to bringing our railways into public ownership is now within grasp. Millions of young people’s interest has been galvanised by Labour offers to them of a real stake in a future without tuition fees, huge rents and miserable pay packets.
Our union's commitment to retaining freedom of movement whatever happens with Brexit received a great boost last week as government defeat on who signs off on Brexit means parliament has regained control over our future relationship with our European sisters and brothers.
Strikes winning. Pay rise victories. New union members. New politics. Despite the terrible terrorist tragedies at Manchester Arena and London Bridge & Borough and the man-made tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we leave 2017 more optimistic than we entered it.