I’m currently sat on a train from London to Suffolk, a journey which I never envisaged I’d be doing so regularly at the beginning of the year, trying to write my review of 2016.
It really was one of those years for which only “where do I begin” seems an accurate appraisal. The EU referendum, the ‘Chicken Coup’, slaughter in the Middle East and sustained attacks by the Conservative government on disabled people and society’s most vulnerable all feature at the forefront of my mind. But my own life does also, this year, and the (get ready to cringe) ‘journey’ that I’ve been on.
So, here’s my take on 2016.
Mother: if you’re reading, I apologise in advance for the language…
Chaos at home
The EU referendum has to have been one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a sitting government – intentional or not. Simple as.
As I previously wrote for The CommonSpace, the British public were essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side, the European establishment propped up by banking giants like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, all garnering succour off the Military Industrial Complex and big oil. On the other side? Essentially the same. But with a lesser veil of democracy and attempted egalitarianism.
If the UK had voted Remain, then the EU project would have been safe; Britain would have gone further down the rabbit hole of corporatocracy; it would have lost all veto powers in 2017, and the union would have continued on a path to monolithic, greed-driven totalitarianism.
But we voted to Leave. So instead, we have the most right wing government in living memory controlling our future. As I have frequently commented, I spoiled my ballot. The question the public were being asked was wrong, and the referendum itself an utter stitch-up.
Politicians, however, have struggled to get their pretty little heads around the result. The precious snowflakes can’t understand why so many working-class communities didn’t vote in the way the blatant propaganda was telling them to. The Tories put it down to Nigel Farage’s magic UKIP wand casting a spell over the public, and the public being too stupid to understand what they were voting for. Labour put it down to the Tories leaving so many communities financially and socially behind, and the public being too stupid etc etc. Neither are wholly correct. The rot started with Margaret Thatcher’s scorched earth industrial and social agenda in the 1980s; continued with Tony Blair in the 1990s and 2000s, and, this decade, was compounded by David Cameron. People no longer feel society works for them, and made their anger at the establishment felt via the referendum.
We’ve seen a revolt like no other in modern history. Sadly, it was only at the ballot box – and true revolution never happens there. The public voted to kick the establishment where it hurts. But now, predictably, the same establishment, clutching its blisteringly-red bollocks, are tasked with shaping our future outside the EU. See the stitch-up, yet? We’ve been sold a pup; and are going to pay a heavy price for the privilege. The establishment: One. The public: Nil.
Chaos in the Labour Party
Meanwhile, in the Labour Party, chaos ruled supreme. I don’t think anyone ever believed that Jeremy Corbyn would have an easy ride as party leader. But, as a non-Labour supporter, even I was shocked at the sustained attacks, hatred and vitriol displayed by both the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Constituency Parties and certain elements of the grassroots.
Let’s not beat around the bush, though. This was always going to happen. While Corbyn is by no means the anti-establishment, radical socialist Messiah many would have him be, he is a threat to the order of things. I’m not, and probably will never be, a Labour voter. But Corbyn could be the catalyst to lasting political change in the UK. And such was (and still is) the threat to the established order, that an appallingly-timed ‘coup’ was attempted, the mainstream media have been harshly biased against him, and many in the party will not accept him as leader.
In part, this hostility is down to a fear of upsetting the corporatist apple cart. The ‘right wing’ in Labour cannot believe that the consensus that has reigned for over thirty years can be broken. They are more concerned with winning elections than actually serving the best interests of the country. And yes, many will cry that only by winning can you change things. But what’s the point in a victory, when the ensuing lap of honour is merely danced out in a similar fashion to your opponent? By that I mean there’s no point Labour winning, if they go on to simply water-down Tory values. Blair and Gordon Brown are evidence of that. And that is all the Progress/Labour First/Blue Labour elements in the party will do.
But for many in the PLP, the problem runs deeper than this. Corbyn wants to change the way policy is made. He aims to put control of the process in the hands of members. And this has literally scared the shit out of certain MPs. Historically, Labour Party policy has been designed by representatives of big corporations, in the form of consultations. Then, these are presented to Labour’s Executive Committee, policy forum and conference, to decide upon.
If corporations no longer had this power over decision-making within Labour, many MPs would be thrown off the gravy train that is the Westminster system. And the revolving door between politics and business careers would be slammed in their pious faces. The bottom line is Corbyn is a threat to self-serving, careerist MPs like Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Jess Phillips and their contemptible ilk. And 2016 showed that these cowardly, greedy, nauseating pissants would stop at nothing to try and preserve their own shameful interests. And I’m not even a Labour voter.
Chaos in the Middle East
For me, 2016 had to be one of the most horrific years in the Middle East in recent memory. Not just because of the bloodshed, although this is tragically still incomparable to many periods in modern history. But because of the disgraceful propaganda, the selective reporting by the mainstream media, and the naivety of so many campaign groups, political parties and individuals over what’s really going on.
We are witnessing the first global war of the 21st century in Syria. There are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in the almighty mess that was once one of the most successful, secular countries in the region. Both Russia, the West and their respective allies are playing a game of geopolitical chess. And the winners are corporations, big oil and some of the richest individuals on the planet.
But so many people would have you believe that one side is in the right, here. Whether it be Western powers, with their bullshit veil of humanitarianism barely masking the craven greed that’s driving them to fund terrorists and repeatedly lie to the public. Or Russia, with its relentless spinning of propaganda, nefarious military campaign and disregard for human life – also under a bullshit veil, which is of the same hue as the West’s. And the charities and non-governmental organisations (NGO), acting as blatant proxies for whichever side is the highest bidder.
It’s not fucking difficult. No one is in the right, in Syria. Except the millions of innocent civilians caught up in the despicable games of those who have money to make. How do we end this relentless carnage? I don’t know; short of toppling every imperialist power, in both the East and the West, in one fell swoop. But I do know that no one can be trusted. Except those whose lives have been devastated by the conflict .
But for me, 2016 was also all about Yemen. I first wrote about the situation in January, before every Guardianista, their silver-grey cat and YouTube channel woke up and jumped on the bandwagon, seeing the career-miles that could be made.
Yemen appears just as complex as Syria. Countless warring tribes with uneasy truces; the Bab-el-Mandeb strait; Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province, where all its oil is to be found; the Kingdom’s terminal decline and its fear of losing control, and Western geopolitical games in the region. But in reality, it boils down to the same, disgusting greed that we see manifest itself in Syria. And while the public, and certain politicians, are seemingly more aware of the devastating situation, which is on a humanitarian scale that dwarfs that in Syria, Western corporatist powers care not. They simply carry on, regardless; aided and abetted by campaigners and politicians who condemn Western intervention in Yemen but blindly support it, albeit often mutedly, in Syria.
In 2016 we created one, almighty, fucking mess in the Middle East. And such is the nature of the chaos, that most don’t seem to know, or care, what is right or wrong anymore.
Chaos in British society
This year, I felt like I was constantly repeating myself on one subject in particular. That of the Tories’ sustained attacks on disabled people, the poor and society’s most vulnerable. A week didn’t pass where I wasn’t writing or being interviewed about yet another shocking piece of analysis; another buried assault on a marginalised group disguised as a money-saving, life-improving Tory policy, or a protest by people, sick of protesting, but with little else left in their artillery.
There would be too much to write about if I wanted to detail every vile policy, every staggering statistic and every campaign group fighting for life’s most basic rights. But for me, two incidences sum up the year. The two occasions that the UN have condemned the Tories for their attacks on those of us on the lower rungs of British life.
Essentially, the UN has twice accused the Tories, and their shitheels Lib Dem former partners in countless crimes, of breaching people’s basic human rights. “Grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights accompanied “deep” and “serious” concerns of the UN over the attacks on the poor, working families, single parents, homeless people and the elderly. This, of course, was all in the name of ‘austerity’.
The first report, which covered all marginalised groups, was published in June. And it was unprecedented in its criticisms of the Tory government and its predecessor. It was, in fact, only comparable to Honduras in its severity – a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and one which is subject to travel warnings from most governments.
The second, published in November, was specifically about violations of disabled people’s rights. And it was even more severe, saying the Tories had contributed to creating a society where disabled people were viewed as ‘benefit fraudsters’, ‘lazy’ and a ‘burden’, and that countless international conventions had been breached.
But, as is always the way with the flaccid, impotent and highly compromised UN, there wasn’t anything in these reports that was legally binding. Essentially, the Tories just shrugged their shoulders and said “And? Just WTF are you going to do about it?”
And the public? Essentially, they have done the same. Years of neoliberal, race-to-the-bottom, ‘envy thy neighbour’ conditioning from Tory and Labour governments has left us socially bankrupt. No longer are people valued for what they contribute to society; merely what they can contribute to the economy, and therefore, ultimately, rich people’s bank balances. But it’s the contribution to the last bit that most people don’t seem to think about. We, as a society, have become all-consumed by what we can ‘aspire’ to in life. Anyone who is seemingly getting a free ride, regardless of whether they have fibromyalgia, MS, cancer, mental health issues, addiction problems, or any manner of other reasons, are not worth as much as those who go to work. Remember Eugenics? It seems that many of today’s politicians have a fondness for that most despicable of pseudo-sciences. We really are regressing to a time last seen over a century ago.
Chaos in my own life. But with a happier ending
I’m a big fan of soundtracks to life. Anyone who has ever seen Ally McBeal will remember Tracey (Ullman), McBeal’s therapist, telling her to get a ‘theme song’. Well, art is indeed imitating life, there, as my therapist says the same thing. And on a personal level, for me, two songs sum up 2016 most accurately.
Sarah McLachlan wrote the song Angel in 1997. It is about heroin addiction, and how the illness holds a person’s life to ransom; more often than not playing a game of Russian Roulette with them. And it’s wholly applicable to alcoholism, as well. Something which I had the hardest battle of my life with, this year.
Having been an addict for over a decade, everything came to a head in 2016. I severely relapsed in May, and was at a crossroads between life and death. Literally, if I gave in again and drank, I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I would die.
I need some distraction; oh, a beautiful release.
Memories seep from my veins.
Let me be empty, oh and weightless and maybe, I’ll find some peace, tonight.
It’s the “endlessness that you fear”, that engulfs an addict. Learned behaviours, childhood trauma, anxiety and self-esteem issues – all are given a “distraction”, a “beautiful release” when you pour alcohol into your body, in excess. Something which I kept doing, and doing, and doing.
But this year was different. Staring drunkenly into oblivion early one morning, I had just spent all night writing about Amy Winehouse’s tragic story. It was my beautiful Amy that gave me the wake-up call that I needed, as I could see so much of my behaviour in hers. And as I wrote for The Canary, I could see her tragic death, at the end of a spiraling chaos that got out of control, being mine, too.
I cannot thank the NHS enough. I know it’s not perfect; I know it’s a postcode lottery; I know some people have horror stories and I know many do not get the help they need. But for me, my psychiatrist, my therapist and my GP have literally saved my life. I’ve had the most amazing help and support from them, and I’ve been “pulled from the wreckage of my silent reverie”. And, I’m now over six months dry. Something I have never managed to be, before.
McLachlan also said in Angel:
Spend all your time waiting for that second chance.
For a break that would make it OK.
There’s always some reason to feel not good enough.
And it’s hard at the end of the day.
Even being dry, those words still resonated with me. While therapy has helped me to understand why I drank, and begin to deal with the very negative core beliefs I hold about myself, I was still waiting for that “second chance”.
The second song that will always make me think of 2016 is Yours, by Ella Henderson.
I made a (what I thought was) humorous post on Facebook in September. I said that:
If a woman can put up with a bisexual alcoholic who has mental health issues, then I’d make a great house husband.
I had resigned myself to the fact that the likelihood of me having a relationship with a female was greater than Jess Philips coming out in support of Corbyn. And you know those odds aren’t good. I never, ever thought for a second that I would find a woman that could actually put up with my tarnished life.
But, remarkably, I have. I cannot begin to describe how articulate, beautiful, charismatic, inspirational, intelligent, loving and perfect she is. Neither can I use any more adjectives, as that would seem borderline obsessive. But, she is.
And I will find the strength to untape my mouth, when I used to be afraid of the words.
But with you I’ve learned just to let it out, now my heart is ready to burst.
Cause I, I feel like I’m ready for love. And I want to be your everything, and more.
I used to be afraid of getting too close to someone. There were always aspects of my personality and soul that I would keep hidden. But, for the first time in my life, I finally feel nearly at peace with myself. I feel I can be myself. Wholly. And that is, in no small measure, thanks to her and her amazing son. I’ve just had the most wonderful Christmas of my life with them, and am looking forward to 2017 in a way which I have never felt about a new year, before. Excited and hopeful.
I have so many people to thank this year, I’m not sure where to begin. So, as any writer should do when they are trying to save on the word count, I’ll bullet point them:
- Kerry-Anne, and everyone at The Canary. I never, ever, ever would have believed this time last year I would be writing for a living, full time. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity, and love every single minute of it. And the support has been humbling. May The Canary sing, and fly, even higher in 2017.
- William (he knows who he is). One of my dearest friends, who has been with me through the really good, and the really bad times, this year. I love you dearly, ‘playah’…
- To the amazing team at Scisco Media. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be part of the development of something so exciting. Here’s to 2017!
- Everyone at Consented, The CommonSpace, Russia Today (especially Bouchra), Al Jazeera, Red Pepper, The Independent, Occupy, talkRadio, Talk Radio Europe and anywhere else that has given me a platform this year. Thank you.
- My friends on Facebook, some of the nicest social media people going. You’ve seen it all from me, this year, and have been so generous, kind and supportive. Thank you.
- Everyone who has read, shared and commented on my work, on Twitter and in the amazing Facebook groups I’m part of. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your support has been overwhelming, during what was a really hard year.
- All the people who have contacted me with their stories. I pride myself on writing about subjects other people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, and letting voices be heard that usually are forced to remain silent. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write everything everyone asked me to. And I also apologise for not always responding to messages as quickly as I should. I’ll try and improve on that in 2017.
- Finally, my darling, beautiful partner. I love you so much, it hurts sometimes. “And I know every day I say it, but I just want you to be sure – that I am yours”.
Last year, I said that in 2016:
No one, old media or new, will be telling me what to think. I will research, ponder, question and criticise, even if it goes against what the majority are saying. Finding my own truth is going to be a fundamental component of my year, because without it I will be nothing more than a cog in the ever-growing wheel. Ain’t happening.
I hope I stuck to that. And I certainly found my own truth this year, in so many ways.
There’s a particular quote that will be at the forefront of my mind, during 2017. I’m a bit of a Marvel fan, something that along with my love of Mariah Carey, may surprise people. The quote, originally from an edition of Amazing Spider-Man penned by J. Michael Straczynski in 2007, then revamped for the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War, it is simply:
Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong, is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say “No. You move”.
This will be my mantra for 2017. And I think, maybe, it should be yours too.
With lots of love and hopeful, peaceful and warm wishes for 2017.