At the end of every year I take a little time out to say thank you and well done to some of those on the left who’ve made a real contribution over the year. Collectively we can be pretty bad at showing our appreciation of each other sometimes so these awards are intended as one small effort to redress the balance – as ever I’ve excluded from entry friends, lovers, relatives and employers who I try to remember to appreciate more regularly than once a year.
The Magical Corbynism award: The big story of the year was the extraordinary victory of Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the opposition after being given one of these very awards last year. Coincidence, who can say?
Corbyn is not only an incredibly decent man, he’s also been selflessly supporting other people’s struggles for decades. When he stood for Labour leadership this was not the act of a man hungry for the limelight and a sense of self-importance but an act of duty, attempting to make a modest contribution to making the world a better place. To the Labour right’s horror, and possibly his own as well, he famously won a landslide victory winning the highest proportion of the vote of any Labour leadership election despite being nominated by the lowest ever number of fellow MPs of any victorious candidate.
Despite being, unsurprisingly, massively unprepared for the post I think Corbyn has done a pretty decent job so far, radiating decency and principle and attempting to keep pushing his agenda rather than follow the vagaries of the (social) media bubbles. The unforced errors committed so far have either mainly been by other people or weren’t actually errors at all (how low should a man bow? Really?)
But, however glad I am that a man whose politics are about love rather than hate has been justly rewarded this award cannot just go to the man himself. It has to go as well to the people who turned what was expected to be a tokenistic left campaign into a real movement.
So this award goes primarily to; Simon Fletcher, Corbyn’s campaign manager extraordinaire; Carmel Nolan, his tireless communications manager; Ben Soffa, who created Team Corbyn’s canvassing app; and the many others who helped coordinate the historic campaign many of whom will be entirely unknown to me but deserve our warm recognition.
The anti-fracking “Nanas” who launched themselves into direction action like Operation Mothers and Grandmothers (OMG) aren’t simply an inspiration because of their natty line in bright yellow tabbards and penchant for taking a tank to their protests – they’re an inspiration because they’re winning and Cuadrilla don’t know what’s hit them.
Parliamentarian of the Year: There’s little doubt that Mhairi Black, the 21 year old SNP MP captured the attention of the Gods with her dazzling maiden speech (below). This passionate and articulate young woman showed millions what kind of MP they could have if they just raised their expectations a little.
At a time when Magical Corbynism was just a far fetched dream Black showed that you could inspire and attract support outside of the suffocating framework of triangulation and career politics. I particularly liked the way SNP MP’s sat in Dennis Skinner’s seat and he stamped his feet and said “But I’ve always sat there” displaying exactly the sort of entitled tribalism that lost Labour Scotland.
She’s a real hope for the future of a new kind of politics and while we shouldn’t focus all our attentions on one young woman she certainly does represent the best of the SNP and why so many people across Scotland voted for them.
Green and pleasant land award; This goes to Mark Avery whose been pushing and pushing to ban grouse shooting on the basis of the severe damage the intensive land management does to the local ecology increasing, yes, flood risks among other things (petition, website). If we’re to survive climate change it means taking on these kinds of vested interests and doing things differently – not just throwing a few extra notes in the pot in the hope that this undoes all the damage we’ve been doing.
Thousands of people have pulled together in the areas effected by flooding, making sure their neighbours are ok, supporting ruined bookshops, getting their communities back together again. These people should also feel our gratitude – but the urgent task is to prevent this happening in the first place, and that takes changing what we’re doing.
Best Film of the Year: Suffragette, by a country mile. Well written, performed and directed the film places at the very centre of the action working class women when it so easily could have been a hagiography to those campaigners from privileged, parasol wielding backgrounds.
One of the advantages of this technique was to show exactly why women got involved in the struggle and what it meant for them. One character is clearly bemused when asked why she wants the vote saying that what she really wanted is proper pay, protection at work and a little damned respect. Lovely.
It’s a shame more of the left didn’t get behind this film as it really brought to the fore previously marginalised voices and it did so in a nuanced and undogmatic way. If you’ve not seen it already, you really should.
Bringing Sexy Back To Socialism Award: Yanis Varoufakis. Come for his critique of neoliberalism, stay for his leather trousers and mighty motorbike.
The right thought he was a Sith Lord, but we knew he was a Jedi Master. Who else would get interviews with them illustrated into cartoon form?
Of course his looks aren’t the only thing to admire about Varoufakis, a calmly spoken, independent minded socialist who does not fear to dissent from left orthodoxies as well as right-leaning ones he’s essentially a blessing to us all.
His time as Greek finance minister was glorious, his future adventures are bound to be epic.
Light in the darkness award: 2015 was the year of the refugee. Chilling images overwhelmed us of tens of thousands fleeing across Europe, pushed from pillar to post, victims of dictatorship, civil war and a social collapse they wanted no part of.
This award goes jointly to the organisations and campaigners who have pitched in to help when it seemed no one else was there to hold out the hand of friendship.
I’d like to recognise CalAid, and MSF specifically, but most of all the host of small grouplets and individual volunteers driving mini-buses to Calais, fishing refugees out of the water in Lesbos, raising money or collecting much needed supplies for those in need – filling the gaps where even NGOs aren’t going, let alone governments. People like Mary Jones who just went and set up a library in the Calais Jungle as her contribution. You won’t find her on the New Year’s Honours list but you will find her on mine.
Gone but not forgotten: There are far too many good people who departed this year. There are four people who have sadly died this year that I knew personally that I’d like to remember in particular.
Mike Marqusee socialist firebrand, sports enthusiast, poet and down-right lovely man (obit here), Charlie Pottins a hoary old socialist cast in the old style and veteran of the Jewish Socialist Group (obit here), Michael Meacher, Labour MP and environmentalist (obit here) and Owen Clarke who represented Abersychan and Cwmavon ward in Pontypool for the Green Party who died this month aged 88.
I also want to mention both Illtyd Harrington, local (to me) journalist and political activist who Ken Livingstone once described as “the acceptable face of extremism” and Alan Kurdi the three year old boy whose washed up body was pictured in September moving millions about the plight of refugees. We must not forget.
Power to the People Award; Finally, this award goes to the people of the Republic of Ireland who, in May, became the first nation of people on the planet to vote in a referendum in favour of same-sex marriage.
They might not be the first country to introduce this sort of legislation, but the fact that 62% of those who voted chose equality and sense shows that history isn’t simply about liberal, wise leaders passing down benign laws but that often even the most liberal of liberal politicians are lagging behind the rest of us, too bogged down in compromises and real politic.
The future? It lies with the proles.