For some people, 2016 has been a momentous year that has brought much-needed change in the world. There are many others, though, who will be glad to see the back of it.
“I have never known a year like it in my lifetime,” says Polly Toynbee. “It’s been one of seismic shock and it feels like we are at the beginning of what might be a radical change in the configuration of British politics.”
As a political commentator and columnist Toynbee is a prominent social democrat who is unafraid to speak her mind, even if it’s not what those on the left of the political divide necessarily want to hear. “Brexit and Trump are partly the result of excluding too many people from secure good jobs and a good education,” she said recently.
She’s also been a vociferous critic of Theresa May’s grammar school plan’s arguing that segregation by social class is “irrational” and claiming grammars add to “splits and divisions” in society.
Supporters regard her as a champion of social justice through books such as Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain, which she wrote after attempting to live off the minimum wage in 2003.
Tomorrow night Toynbee is giving a public lecture at the University of Huddersfield in which she will discuss state of British politics and the Press.
She believes events over the past 12 months have changed the face of politics in this country. “The Tory party faces a very profound split. If Brexit negotiations go badly then these divisions could deepen, and as for Labour say no more.
“The attempts to solve their problems failed and have made the situation worse than it was before they tried to elect a new leader.”
However, she finds the resurrection of the Liberal Democrats interesting. “They looked like they were dead for a long time and then up they jump. They have a real role for once because they are unequivocally, and always have been, pro European. They have an authentic voice and they want another referendum, even though I think it’s mad.”
The past 12 months has seen the political axis shift to the right rather than the left. “Many people thought there was fertile ground for an anti-establishment move on the left but it’s swung to the right both in America and here.”
Part of the problem, she believes, is the lack of a credible alternative on the left. “People haven’t rallied round Corbyn. He hasn’t reached out with a new sense of nationhood he just talks about abstract things.”
So what’s triggered this wave of anti-establishment feeling? “Life is hard for a lot of people and it has been since the crash [of 2008] and they have lashed out.”
Not that she thinks Donald Trump is any kind of answer to their woes. “How people can think that a plutocrat like Trump is the salvation of Rust Belt America is beyond me.”
But if this year has been a bad one for liberalism and social democrats then Toynbee doesn’t anticipate 2017 being any better. “Who knows what will happen in France? Even if Marine Le Pen loses [the French election] then we still have Francois Fillon who is very much on the right.”
Before then we have the beginning of the Trump presidency, which fills many people with dread. “Some people have said that once he’s elected the establishment will surround him with wise people but there’s no sign of that happening. He seems to be on Twitter most of the day and to frivolously offend the Chinese like he has is a real worry... I think we’re in for a very bumpy ride next year.”
Polly Toynbee’s public lecture takes place at the University of Huddersfield on Wednesday at 6.30pm. There are limited tickets available. For more information go to https://pollytoynbee.eventbrite.co.uk