2017 has brought forward a number of political challenges for Britain and we all have undeniably felt the impact of them. Several unprecedented events this year have called for large-scale direct responses from Westminster. What then have we seen in 2017, and how can it shape what we expect in 2018?
Firstly, the negotiations surrounding our future relationship with the European Union will continue to take centre stage. In recent weeks the Government has finally settled on an agreement with the EU that allows the UK to move to the second phase of negotiations. However, in a defiant attempt against the Prime Minister, Labour, other parties and 11 Conservative MPs all voted to ensure that Parliament retains a voice, limiting the direct power given to cabinet ministers.
In Europe, Michel Barneir has set out a new accelerated timetable with a shorter timeframe for the UK to transition. Barnier wants it to run to 31st Decemeber 2020 – three months earlier than set out by Theresa May in her Florence speech, as that is the end of the EU budgetary period. By October 2018, the EU expects to publish a declaration on what the future relationship will look like and that the UK shouldn’t expect any special deal on financial services, much to the disappointment of many Brexiteers. My expectation for 2018 is for the discussion to be focused on shaping and refining the UK’s interests further. The insistence for limited free movement, limits our capability to negotiate a Norway-like agreement. The kind of deal we are heading towards is closer to the deal Canada holds with the EU and not the bespoke deal the Government wants (or has repeatedly claimed it will secure).
Then there is Grenfell Tower. We need no reminding that back in June of this year, the 24-storey block in West London was set alight, killing an undetermined amount of people and displacing an even greater number, who are in their hundreds. The tragedy has drawn closer inspection on the state of social housing across the UK. An inquiry into the fire was announced the day after by Theresa May to establish how the fire occurred and to prevent similar instances from occurring again. The inquiry has already been scrutinised for being too homogenous in light of the diverse group of people affected by the tragedy. Currently, only 42 of 208 households have been allocated new homes according to Grenfell United, a group supporting the survivors.
There are concerns that as the inquiry continues in 2018, little will be done to address the broader issues around social housing and equality. Lawyers presenting evidence on behalf of the communities impacted are asking for those public offices overseeing Grenfell to be called for questioning over their negligence after many local residents gave warnings that were ignored. Grenfell is about a multitude of issues including rehousing, but also what it means to have a stake in our society. Austerity measures put in place by successive Conservative governments continue to put residents similar to those of Grenfell Tower at risk. My hope is that in 2018, those in politics can establish a meaningful and tangible approach to helping those affected to rebuild their lives.
This year has seen the demise of Hollywood ‘untouchables’ Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. after a myriad of sexual misconduct allegations came to light dating back 30 or 40 years. The movement became global, and the hashtag #MeToo originated by Tanara Burke, was used to denounce sexual harassment and sexual assault, whilst also sharing difficult personal experiences surrounding the issue. It was not long before the #MeToo hashtag was used to describe experiences faced by men and women across Westminster.
Perhaps the most high-profile case involved Michael Fallon, Conservative MP and former Defence Secretary. Fallon resigned because his behaviour towards women had “fallen short” of appropriate. Damian Green, the Deputy Prime Minister this week resigned following questions about his behaviour including making a female journalist feel in his words, ‘uncomfortable’. Added to this, Green was at the centre of allegations that there was pornographic content stored on his computer. However, sexual harassment is not simply a problem rooted on just one side of the House. Jared O’Mara who famously unseated Nick Clegg in this year’s election as the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam, was suspended by the Labour Party in late October. It had come to light that dating as far back as 2002, O’Mara used sexist and homophobic language in online comments.
2018 must bring forward a process that allows people, particularly those in junior roles to report instances of sexual misconduct in Westminster. We know that ‘sleazy behaviour’ as Harriet Harman put it, exists in the same place where people work to help strengthen our democracy. Civil servants, MPs, ministers, journalists, lobbyists and researchers all have a hand in ensuring that this culture of impunity no longer has a place in our democracy. I believe this is an issue that should be resonating with those outside of politics too. This culture is dissuading the kinds of people that we so desperately need to enter politics to help reflect the multi-dimensional and intersectional society we live in.
Finally, technological advances have continued to defy convention and unveil new realities. This year we have seen some major steps towards true artificial intelligence, blockchain and automation becoming more integrated into the lives of individuals as well as in the business landscape. Technology and politics have often had a tense relationship whereby many in Government and indeed across Westminster have reached a consensus that more should be done by technology giants like Amazon, Apple and Google to oversee the impact of the problems created by the technology they use. There is not, however, consensus over how this should be done.
In 2018, we may see more political entrepreneurship, which aims to bring tackle how technology can bring people closer together rather than isolating each other. I believe we need a more inclusive discussion between politicians of all levels who recognise the need for increased digital skills and technological entrepreneurs at the edge of innovation. The rate at which technology is capable of processing data and information today, will outrun that of humankind. Building upon the principles and morals that is important to us as citizens is also an important part of political entrepreneurship. A report by PwC published back in March revealed that 4 in 10 jobs (38%) in the U.S. will be replaced by robots by the early 2030s. The proportion drops down only marginally to 3 in 10 (30%) for the UK in the same time frame. What will this mean for the landscape of jobs? What skills will people need in light of this new technology? I believe it is not too early for all those with a vested interest to start thinking about these considerations and 2018 could be the year to bring the breakthrough that is needed.
Looking forward, it is my belief that if we are not constantly challenging the concept of politics, as well as our expectations of politicians, then what are we doing in respect to our politics? 2018 provides a strong opportunity for the UK’s political landscape to achieve tangible results for citizens. Whilst no particular year is smooth sailing it is crucial that in 2018 we maintain our capability to juggle multiple desires we have of UK politics and engage with the events and moments that require our consideration.