Turkey was the main topic of conversation for my family over the Christmas break. Not in the usual way, when we discuss which celebrity chef’s turkey roasting technique we’re faddishly going to mimic this year. (The blessed bird always tastes exactly the same, without fail.) On the day my family was first reunited for the holidays, news came of the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. “You don’t want to mess with the Turks,” my youngest brother offered, predictably. “Or the Russians, for that matter,” he said.
The room was heavy with worrying about global politics. With peace in the world so fragile, my father was looking around at his sons and grandsons and thinking of the young men of his 1940s childhood. A week later we shared the announcement of the ceasefire in Syria, brokered seemingly against the odds by Turkey and Russia at the UN. Let’s hope that my brother is right and that no one will mess with the Turks and the Russians, and that the Syrian people, whose lives and losses haunt us all, can have a glimmer of hope for 2017. No one in my family is convinced that peace is on its way, but we made promising noises nonetheless.
Wish upon a star
As I’m sure he will be doing for the next six years, my son demanded a family outing to watch the latest Star Wars flick. Rogue One did not disappoint. We’re a bunch of Star Wars fanatics. My brother Luke was named by our older siblings in homage to Mr Skywalker. My mother vetoed calling me Leia.
The news of Carrie Fisher’s death hit us hard, but none more so than my eldest son, who took to YouTube (as all of his generation do) to watch every interview with her. He sat down at breakfast and said: “Carrie Fisher had a mental health problem, Mom, and she was a really big feminist, did you know?” “Yes,” I answered, “I did know, and the fact that she was willing to talk about it made her pretty special.” “She was pretty ace, wasn’t she, Mom?” he said.
Yes, bab, she really was.
Straight to video
Perhaps until this year I lived under a rock, or was a normal person who didn’t seek out the New Year messages of political leaders. My metamorphosis into a Westminster bubble-dweller must be complete, though, because this year I watched the offerings of both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. Next year I mightn’t bother.
I watched Mrs May’s at 1.15am on 1 January – after returning from an evening out dancing and drinking with my mates. Perhaps this set it up for a fall, because I felt she wasn’t really grabbing the New Year spirit. It left me thinking that although the message of unity wasn’t bad, she could have cheered up a bit.
Jeremy’s offering was hampered by the version I watched sounding as if he was on a building site. I think expectations let this one down, as it had been trailed as the beginning of a new move to grasp the populist nettle. I was expecting the pizzazz of a slogan such as “Make Labour great again”. Aside from mentioning the establishment, the text of his message could have been written by Ed Miliband’s speechwriters.
I think neither of these videos will launch a thousand ships and, alas, the privileged few chided in both videos will, I am certain, be resting as comfily in their establishment beds in 2017 as they were in 2016. I’m not pleased about this, but I am more of a realist than a populist.
All’s fair in love and war
I like to poke fun at the idea of resolutions, and to pretend that I’m a cynic who can’t be won over by the endless “new year, new you” lifestyle articles about losing weight or becoming a better version of yourself, which are all so heavily gendered in tone. I’ll be the same shape and size and as good as I’m going to get at the end of 2017 as I am at the start. In 2013, inspired by the Boney M hit (“Ra-ra Rasputin”), I made a resolution to become Russia’s greatest love machine. Had I put in the effort, perhaps geopolitics today might be in better shape.
Land of hope and glory
Despite my cynicism, I find myself looking forward to 2017 with hope. I’m as terrified of a Donald Trump presidency and the unknowns of Brexit as the next person, but I spent the break with my friends and family, who range from political nerds to people who don’t vote and couldn’t name a single member of the cabinet. I find that most people are just crossing fingers for the best in their own lives. They don’t give a toss about half the stuff that haunts us in Westminster, but they do give a toss about each other.
My brother and sister-in-law are classic examples of what Theresa May calls the “just about managing”, or Jams. When we chatted about it on Christmas Day, they rolled their eyes at being the new Tory target audience. They want things to be easier and better for them and their young son, but they wouldn’t use their vote to damn other people. My other brother and his family live in France and, for them, 2017 brings an impossible choice between a Continental version of Thatcherism and the BNP. They are both convinced that liberté, égalité, fraternité will remain in their lives and in those of their neighbours, regardless of the vote.
This year could see a huge crisis in the world, for all sorts of reasons. My mother used to say, “Never waste a crisis,” and I hope we won’t. If we do our best, 2017 and all the possible macro horrors will be counteracted by simple British shrugging and getting on with making sure that the way we live does not look like the crazy hate fuelled by figureheads like Trump.
I expect that most people wouldn’t call themselves socialists, yet deep down we all believe that we are all better off when we are all better off – and I hope that in 2017 we show it. It’s the only chance we have to clear out the gloom.
Jess Phillips is the MP for Birmingham Yardley (Labour)
This article appears in the 04 Jan 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain