Not all bad: 10 progressive victories from 2016

From Hillsborough to Standing Rock, 2016 gave us plenty of reasons to stay hopeful


Reflecting on the last twelve months, it might seem there’s little to celebrate. Between Brexit, Trump, the rise of the far right and the deaths of beloved celebrities, 2016 was the annus horribilis of the progressive left.

But 2016 did have its good days. We’ve seen justice done, against all the odds; we’ve seen the world come together to fight climate change; and we’ve seen communities stand together against austerity, exploitation and xenophobia.

And as we face into another year of struggle, it’s important to recognise those victories and to remember that however bad things seem, there’s always reason to hope.     

Here are our ten picks — please share your suggestions in the comments section.

1. Election of Sadiq Khan

In May, Sadiq Khan was elected mayor of London, becoming the first Muslim to lead a major Western capital city. Londoners roundly rejected Zac Goldsmith’s racist and divisive campaign — backing Sadiq by a margin of 13.6 per cent.

The Labour mayor has already started to take concrete action: freezing fares, introducing a bus hopper ticket, tackling air pollution and defending London’s interests post-Brexit.

And in November, the voters of Richmond Park hit Goldsmith with a second defeat, booting him out of parliament and demonstrating that the politics of fear have no place in London.

2. End of austerity

Theresa May continues to defend vicious Tory austerity — she calls it ‘living within our means’ — but the economic theory behind it has collapsed.

The IMF concluded in June that the benefits of neoliberal economics have been oversold and that, internationally, austerity has increased inequality and undermined sustainable growth.

We could have told them that years ago but oh well, better late than never.

3. Ratification of the Paris Agreement

It took less than a year for the landmark Paris agreement on climate change to come into force. By November, more than 55 parties, accounting for more than 55 per cent of emissions, had ratified the agreement, meaning that it is now legally binding.

Early signatories included the US, China, India and the EU, along with dozens of least developed countries, who most vulnerable to climate change.

While Donald Trump has already signalled his intention to remove the U.S. from the agreement, its passage still marks a step change in international willingness to take climate issues seriously.

Trump may cling to his climate denial — but the world will judge him for it.

4. Fight back against the Trade Union Bill

At the beginning of 2016, the Tories were preparing to drive through their Trade Union Bill, which included ideological attacks on the right to strike and on the political funding of the Labour movement.

However, months of political campaigning by tens of thousands of trade unionists forced a string of government u-turns and ensured that the bill became law in a much-diluted form.

Even amended, the Trade Union Act places unnecessary burdens on working people and their unions. But without the concerted fightback from unions and Labour peers, it would have been so much worse.

5. The truth about Hillsborough

In April, almost exactly 27 years after 96 people lost their lives at Hillsborough Stadium, a jury determined that the victims had been unlawfully killed.

Additionally, while the police, the ambulance services and Sheffield Wednesday’s management all bear some responsibility, Liverpool fans were entirely cleared of blame.

It was a vindication for the families of the 96 who have spent decades fighting police cover ups, government indifference and the lies of the Sun and demonstrates the enduring power of grassroots activism.   

6. Defeat of the far right in Austria

It says a lot about how bad 2016 was that earlier this month we were relieved that only 46 per cent of Austrians wanted a neo-fascist as their president.

All the same, Alexander van der Bellen’s victory against Norbert Hofer was a setback for Europe’s resurgent far-right.

When van der Bellen won an extremely narrow margin back in April, his opponent managed to have the result annulled due to procedural problems. The plan backfired, however, given that the Green independent won the re-run much more comfortably.

7. Angela Merkel’s resolve

Six years ago, we could hardly have imagined that by 2017, Angela Merkel would be the world’s foremost champion of liberal values. Back then, she was at the epicentre of austerity, forcing destitution on the peripheral economies of Europe.

She still bears responsibility for that regressive economic approach, but since mid-2015 she has also become the face of the progressive, open Europe that many of us fear is about to collapse.

The day after the American election, while other leaders rushed to placate Donald Trump, Merkel remained steadfast in her defence of liberal values.

And this week, as the far right shamefully claimed that the terrorist attack in Berlin was her responsibility, Merkel stuck with her values. She acknowledged that if a refugee committed the attack it would be especially difficult to bear, but said Germany must not allow itself to be ‘paralysed by terror’.

“It might be difficult in these hours, but we will find a strength to to continue living life as we want to live it in Germany, in freedom and openness, and together.”

8. A turning point on tax avoidance?

From Apple and Google to the Cameron family and the Icelandic prime minister, 2016 has been flooded with revelations about corporate and individual tax avoidance most notably through the publication of the Panama Papers.

But instead of getting disillusioned about the ongoing epidemic of greed among the one per cent, we could consider 2016 as a moment of change. This year, whistleblowers, politicians, journalists and citizens shone a light into the dark world of tax avoidance and, particularly at the European level, began to target the worst offenders.

Even Theresa May has come on board, insisting that ‘the spirit of citizenship’ means ‘you do as others do, and pay your fair share of tax.’

Admittedly, she hasn’t taken any action to back up her fine words — and Tory MEPs continue to vote against progressive tax reforms  but it’s a start.

9. Victory at Standing Rock

This year, as progressives suffered shattering electoral defeats, it was easy to feel powerless. But at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, a broad coalition of ‘water protectors’ managed to push back the US government’s plan to run the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe.

Native Americans, military veterans and other environmental activists withstood freezing temperatures and excessive force from the authorities, and eventally the Army Corps of Engineers said the pipeline would be re-routed.

That said, with Trump’s presidency looming, many activists are wary of claiming victory, and have remained in the Standing Rock camp.

10. Ed Balls

All year, people across the world howled their resistance to a complacent political elite. With one glittery, gyrating exception.

Without Ed Balls, we might not have made it through this year from hell.

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