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27 December 2016

Here are eight things that didn’t suck in 2016

It's been a difficult year, but there were still a few reasons to smile.

By Stephanie Boland

Phew. The end of 2016. It’s been bad, hasn’t it? It’s been bad. What could have been a year in which America elected its first female president, the EU worked together to lessen the migrant crisis and Boris finally left the limelight instead gave us Trump, Brexit and Foreign Secretary Johnson.

Add to that terrorist attacks, shootings in Orlando, Charleston and Dallas, Hurricane Matthew, the entrenchment of the Tory party in government and the deaths of Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Prince, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen and Zsa Zsa Gabor, and it feels like the bad news has been non-stop since January. “Breaking up for Christmas soon?” a shopkeeper asked me this morning. “Depends how much more horrible news there is,” I replied.

But among the dark times, there were good things. What, you ask? Well, I couldn’t come up with much at first, either. But as the New Statesman web team limped towards the end of the year, we got together and shared our ideas. Here, then, are our high points in a low 2016.

Poland’s women fought back against an abortion ban

In early October, Polish women went on a mass strike to protest against a draconian anti-abortion bill – and, even better, they were (sort of) successful.

Currently, the law in Poland permits abortion if the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s health, if a foetus is severely deformed, or in cases of rape and incest. The proposed new law would only allow abortion if the mother’s life was in danger – bringing it in line with Catholic countries like Ireland.

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The “Black Protest” organised in response saw thousands of women refuse to work in over 60 cities. Women donned black clothes and marched en masse in Warsaw.

And what happened? A “near collapse” of the ban proposal, according to the Guardian. So, while the fight continues – with activists already warning of a pushback – there’s no denying this was an important, empowering victory for women’s rights.

Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral election

May! Do you remember May? Before Brexit?

May was the month that Labour politician Sadiq Khan moved into his post as the new Mayor of London, becoming the city’s first ethnic minority mayor and the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital, despite a racially-charged (to put it mildly) campaign by his opponent, Tory Zac Goldsmith.

Here’s how the New York Times covered the win:

Pushing back against Islamophobia, bridging cultural divides, not allowing immigration to provoke racism: yes, that’s how I want the world to see my country. Cheers for that one, London.

Bonus! Zac Goldsmith lost again…

…in the Richmond by-election, after noisily deciding to stand as an independent. The artist formerly known as Tory MP Zac Goldsmith based much of his campaign on strident opposition to a proposed third runway at Heathrow that, er, his rivals also opposed.

In the end, the good people of Richmond decided they’d rather elect a Lib Dem who didn’t want the runway than a failed mayoral candidate who didn’t want the runway. A glorious moment for Schadenfreude.

Boris Johnson didn’t become Prime Minister

Okay, I know I said Boris Johnson becoming Foreign Secretary was a low point this year – and I stand by that. But let’s think how much worse it could have been.

After Crabbe scuttled off, Gove gave way, Fox turned tail and Leadsom dropped out, Theresa May became the leader of the Tory party on 11 July.

Yet it all might have been different if Boris Johnson, seen as the front-runner by many, hadn’t bowed out after Gove suddenly withdrew his backing, deciding to run instead. The Guardian called it the “worst setback” in Johnson’s political career – and the New Statesman offices had to contend with an entirely new and unfamiliar feeling: a deep fondness for Michael Gove.

So, Foreign Secretary Johnson may still be making us miserable. But at least the man who wrote in The Sun of “part-Kenyan President” Barack Obama’s “ancestral dislike of the British empire” isn’t PM.

The year of the sporting underdogs

Personally, the only Premier League winner I’ll ever really accept is Manchester United – but, if the top slot does have to be filled by someone else, you could do a lot worse than Leicester. In May, the team beat 5000-1 odds to take the top title. My personal favourite moment was seeing a young boy post on a football message board that his first team was Barcelona; second, Leicester.

Then, in November, there were more surprises, as perennial baseball outsiders the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. As the New York Times pointed out, it had been 108 years since their last victory – the same as the number of stitches in a baseball. “This had to be the year”, they wrote. “It was”.

The chance of France going full fash decreased (slightly)

As my esteemed colleague Stephen Bush observes, life may have just become a little bit less worrying for those who fear a Marine Le Pen presidency. As he explains:

With the date of the next presidential election set for 2017, Hollande was in trouble. His approval ratings were terrible and he faced a challenge from his former minister Arnaud Montebourg, who resigned from the government over its rightward turn in 2014.

Then, on 27 November, Prime Minister Valls suggested in an interview that he would challenge the incumbent president in the PS primary. After this, Hollande knew that his chances of victory were almost non-existent.

On 1 December, Hollande became the first incumbent French president ever to announce that he would not run for a second term, leaving Valls free to announce his bid. He duly stood down as prime minister on 5 December.

Under the French system, unless a single candidate can secure more than half of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, the top two candidates face a run-off. The current polls rate Marine Le Pen of the Front National as the favourite to win the first round, but she is expected to lose the second.

That’s good news for next year – we hope.

The art world was amazing

From Beyonce’s Lemonade leaving the web desk a) tearful and b) irrationally angry at innocent boyfriends, to the stunning rollercoaster ride of Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Boheniams, and The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla sticking two fingers up at a discriminatory publishing industry, 2016 was a brilliant year in the arts.

Add to that Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, a new collection by Alice Oswald, Olivia Laing and Lauren Elkin wandering in cities, and a host of amazing albums, and there was plenty to keep us going through the dark moments of the year.

And that’s with Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent still waiting on my bedside.

We all survived it…

…and if you’re reading this, you did, too. Whatever personal challenges you faced this year, there’s no escaping the fact that, communally, we live in what feel like scary times. So pat yourself on the back for another year down, sit on the sofa, pour yourself a whisky if you’re so inclined, and join me in waving goodbye to 2016. Let’s hope for good times to come.