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Best in Show
A very warm welcome to the second annual ‘Friday Speed Read Review of the Year (on a Tuesday)’ in which we’ll attempt to canter like an expert horseman through the events, headlines and jokes about David Davis that have defined the year that the Nepalese have called 2074, the Japanese have insisted is Heisei 29 but in our divided corner of the Blue Planet (2) has been 2017.
And to be honest, I’m sure most of us will be glad when it’s over.
At the end of last year’s review we mused, perhaps more in hope than expectation (and certainly after a couple of sherries) that 2017 could turn out to be “the best year yet”. Well we’re not sure of your criteria when it comes to sweeping generalisations but on a national / global level at least, we’re doubtful that 2017 will be remembered with much more than a grunted acknowledgement that we were there.
Even one of the “winners” of 2016, 45th President of the United States of America Donald Trump, might well be concluding that this being the leader of the free world thing is actually a bit of a pain in the ass. His year began with a slow dance with Melania to “My Way” at January’s inauguration and has been non-stop headlines ever since.
My goodness, we could spend another year simply trying to get our head around the storm of controversy, hostility and downright weirdness but in the interests of sanity here’s a few reminders of Trump’s First Year: Fake News; collusion with Russia allegations; sacking the FBI director; trolling Kim Jung Un via Twitter; trolling anyone else who disagrees him via Twitter; retweeting the hateful racist bile of English far-right groups via Twitter; not repealing Obamacare; not building the wall; supporting then ditching press secretary Sean Spicer; leaving the Paris agreement on climate change; declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel; inventing the word ‘Covfefe’; refusing to acknowledge that guns had anything to do with the massacre of 58 people in Las Vegas by a man with a modified semi-automatic machine gun.
The list goes on. It’s been unprecedented, chaotic and darkly compelling. Oh yes, and absolutely terrifying. And remember, just because something isn’t true, it doesn’t mean it’s false; it could well be an “alternative fact”.
Back on our side of the Atlantic, 2017 has been dominated, predictably, by the continuing adventures of TM the PM and the piece of absurdist theatre that has been the Brexit negotiations. To the rest of Europe, the rest of the world even, it all must have looked at times that we’d totally lost our marbles. And not in a lovably eccentric, Great Aunt swearing at the Christmas lunch table sort of way but actually that the UK had become certifiably insane.
Flippancy aside, the fissure that was ripped down the middle of UK society by the referendum result far from healing in 2017, became ever wider and more infected. The ‘Brexiteers’ continued their paranoid gnashing of fangs, jealously guarding their beloved “will of the people” and hitting out at every hint of someone trying to “thwart it”. For those on the other side of the debate, there was a certain grim satisfaction to be drawn from the falling value of the pound, the dire warnings from Business about post-Brexit economics and the tumbling immigration figures as EU citizens voted with their feet to leave somewhere they felt they were no longer welcome. Many Remain voters also began, quietly at least, to blame Brexit on people insufficiently intelligent to understand what a poor decision they’d made. An attitude that was as much a cause of Brexit as those that had voted Leave.
The UK press has had an interesting year. You could argue that there’s never been as much news to report as there has been recently but even so, newspaper readership has continued to decline. This hasn’t stopped some of the papers having a vintage year. The Daily Mail has spent the year being angry; from its now-infamous “Crush the Saboteurs” front page in the spring, to the more recent “Pleased with yourselves?’, the Mail has never been more strident as it swats away anyone it perceives to be obstructing Brexit with all the zeal of a crazed dog snapping at flies. The Daily Express has been likewise enlivened by the Brexit battle, although it will always have room for front pages about the weather and, with complete and utter joy in its heart, Meghan Markle.
The Mirror took to publishing single, distraction-free photographs on its front page to highlight a particular issue, many of which were very effective indeed and The Guardian has spent the dog days of its Berliner format participating in a worldwide journalistic effort to expose the endemic tax avoidance schemes of the rich and powerful via its reporting of The Panama Papers. The Sun has continued to be The Sun and its “Don’t chuck Britain in the Cor-bin” front page on the eve of June’s General Election recalled the infamous front pages of the past which, it was widely accepted at the time, were able to swing elections.
Except that in 2017, it didn’t work. When Theresa May stood outside Number 10 in April and announced that she was calling a General Election, even the most optimistic member of the Labour Party would have struggled to predict anything other than a landslide victory for TM the PM. Her Majesty’s Opposition continued to be in chaos; Jeremy Corbyn was widely regarded as a joke, even by many members of his own party, and as such there was simply no way he could win.
And let’s remember, as it turned out, he didn’t win. But after woeful campaign by the Conservatives, the single tenet of which appeared to be repeating “strong and stable” at every possible opportunity, and an inspired (and largely un-costed) Labour manifesto that spoke directly to a younger generation – “Hey kids! How about we abolish tuition fees?”, Jezza went in six short weeks from a crazy old Marxist to loveable avuncular superhero. He didn’t win the election but he did appear at Glastonbury waving to a cider-drenched crowd of thousands chanting “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of Seven Nation Army. Stranger Things indeed.
Theresa May clung to power at the General Election but not without having to give the DUP a billion quid to ensure she had a majority.
If Brexit has divided the UK, then 2017 reminded us that at times of unspeakable horror, people still have an unerring ability to unite in selflessness and incredible bravery. For a few weeks in 2017, it felt that the terrorists were starting to win. First on Westminster Bridge where pedestrians were mowed down by a van, the driver of which then got out and killed a policeman; then on London Bridge and in Borough Market where terrorists strode among people simply out having a good time and stabbed them in cold blood and, of course, in Manchester where a young British man blew himself up in the foyer of the Manchester Arena as he stood in the midst of a happy throng of young people and their parents leaving an Ariana Grande concert.
Amongst all of these atrocities, three truths were evident: the emergency services in the UK are extraordinary; people are overwhelmingly decent, going to incredible lengths for strangers; and terrorism is barbaric but also utterly pointless.
Often accompanying the usual end of year roundups (yes, there are others but none are as good this, clearly) is a single defining image, a visual shorthand to summarise the past twelve months. The decision of what image to use this year will be tragically easy to make.
Long into the future, the sight of the blackened, broken skeleton of Grenfell Tower will be synonymous with 2017 and serve as a bleak reminder of the 71 people who died in the most horrific way imaginable inside. Once again, heroics from the emergency services undoubtedly saved many lives and the response from the public in the hours and days following the fire was so large that those trying to help survivors were unable to process a large percentage of donations. The shock from the fire is still keenly felt; the tower itself still stands and whatever good comes out of the tragedy in terms of building regulations and fire safety laws, there’s no doubt that the Grenfell fire will be a scar on our history for decades to come.
Do we have to talk about Weinstein? Or Spacey? Or Louis CK? I suppose we do. The Weinstein story broke in October and gathered pace with grim speed. Without wanting to quote ourselves (and then proceeding to quote ourselves), The Friday Speed Read did a decent job of commenting upon the story the week it broke: The fact that a rich, powerful white man was using his considerable clout in this most narcissistic of industries to attempt to sleep with the long string of beautiful women over which he held sway is both contemptuous and unsurprising. However, the fact that it had been going on for so long, seemingly with the full-knowledge of most of Hollywood, speaks of a male “omerta” that’s surely going to make many within the industry squirm with culpability.
Yes. Exactly that.
The weather made the headlines many times over and not just in the Daily Express (we tried to count the number of the Express’ “weather hell” / “storm batters Britain” headlines it published in 2017 but we lost count after we got to 20). Hurricane Irma emerged in the Caribbean, reached speeds of 185mph and killed 134 people; flooding swept across India, Nepal and Bangladesh and mudslides buried hundreds in Sierra Leone and Columbia; all in all another grim year for environmental disasters. It’s almost as if the climate is changing.
In happier news it was another great year for television: The Handmaid’s Tale; Stranger Things 2; Peaky Blinders; Broadchurch; Glow; Detectorists, Bake Off (which didn’t just survive the shift to Channel 4 but thrived in its new home) and of course the imperious Blue Planet 2. Yes there was the usual carping about the volume of soundtrack and the forcing of narrative onto the unruly natural world but frankly who cares? It was astounding television which provoked awe and horror in equal measure not least with its vivid depiction of the damage being wreaked on the oceans by our reliance on plastic.
And there we should probably leave it. For all the sadness and tragedy, we’d do well to remember there’s been a billion good news stories happening all over the world every single day. None of them get reported but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
It’s been a great year here at Speed, with a growing client list and growing team, and next year promises to be more exciting still. But all of that can wait until January; it’s time to switch off for a bit.
So sit back, pour a glass of your favourite drink; pile a plate with your favourite food; and wrap your arms around your very favourite people. Feels good, doesn’t it?
A very Happy Christmas to you all. See you in 2018.
The Friday Speed Read is published weekly on the blog page of Speed’s website. It contains a review of the week’s news, views and ephemera and is almost always too long.
p.s. In the tradition of the weekly version of the Friday Speed Read, here’s the very best music video of 2017. And that’s a fact.