Stephen Daisley

In defence of 2017: 17 great things that happened this year

In defence of 2017: 17 great things that happened this year
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It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. As 2017 draws to a close, one could be forgiven for remembering the past 12 months as an unrelenting parade of grimness. There was the inauguration of Donald Trump, the governance of Donald Trump, the tweets of Donald Trump...and that's before one considers the terrorists attacks in Manchester and London, the disintegration of Venezuela's economy and democracy, and the Las Vegas spree shooting. There's no sugaring it: 2017 was sent to test us. But it wasn't all doom and gloom. Here are 17 positives to come out of 2017.

1. Islamic State was routed

The Iraqis seized Mosul from the caliphate-seeking Islamists in July, and by November prime minister Iraqi Haider al-Abadi declared total victory with the recapture of the remaining territory under Islamic State control. In all, the terror group retains just two per cent of land captured since its 2014 campaign. Given the fear it inspired in world capitals for almost three years, Islamic State's defeat was the highlight of 2017.

2. Deaths from measles hit a record low

In October, the US Centres for Disease Control reported that deaths from measles fell 84 per cent in the last 17 years. When the century opened, fatalities across the globe sat at 550,000 but are now down to 90,000, the first time the toll has dipped below 100,000. 

3. Iranians rose up against the regime

Spontaneous demonstrations in Kermanshah, Hamadan and Tehran confronted the rule of Ali Khamenei. Tehran is expert at suppressing dissent, doing so bloodily and with the tacit consent of the Obama White House eight years ago, but if it loses the confidence of blue-collar Iranians, as appears to be happening, the regime’s days may be numbered. A democratic Iran would not only provide a ballast in a turbulent region but remove one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism.

4. Malala went to university

The women’s and girls' education campaigner matriculated at Oxford in October. The 20-year-old, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012, is studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall.

5. Roy Moore lost

The Republican’s defeat in Alabama was a welcome rejection of a candidate who should never have been on the ballot in the first place. When Democrat Doug Jones takes his seat, the GOP’s advantage in the Senate will be reduced to a wafer-thin 51-49, handing the party’s small but doughty moderate caucus an effective veto on Donald Trump’s legislative agenda. The White House will have to learn to compromise, a skill that will be in even greater demand should Democrats regain control of Congress in the 2018 midterms. 

6. HIV/Aids is no longer Africa's biggest killer

Statistics released by the World Health Organisation in August recorded 760,000 deaths from HIV/Aids in Africa, down from two million in 2005. UNAIDS reported that HIV infection among children in eastern and southern Africa was down 56 per cent on 2010 and all infections down 48 per cent on 2000. Seventeen million Africans are in receipt of anti-retroviral treatment and HIV/Aids is now second to respiratory infections as the continent's biggest cause of death. 

7. More businesses, fewer bankruptcies 

OECD research on entrepreneurship showed upwards trends in business creation in nine out of 14 countries surveyed while rates of incorporation went up in ten out of 12 countries. Meanwhile, bankruptcies returned to pre-global financial crisis levels in all but three economies. 

8. Marriage equality went on the march

Same-sex marriage became legal in Finland, Malta, and Germany. Courts in Taiwan and Austria struck down laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. The jewel in the rainbow crown was Australia, where the decision to open up marriage to gay and lesbian couples was taken not by legislators or judges but by the people. Sixty-two percent of Australians voted Yes in a postal plebiscite on a turnout of 80 per cent.

9. Americans turned on Trump

Donald Trump ends his first year in the White House the most unpopular president in modern times. At 38 per cent, his approval rating is lower than that of any incumbent stretching back to Harry Truman. Public opinion is fickle and events unpredictable but if the President doesn’t turn these numbers around, he faces defeat in November 2020. 

10. Kurdistan voted for independence 

The Kurds finally got their say at the ballot box in September, voting 93 per cent to become a sovereign independent state. Sure, the feckless international community hummed and hawed in response but at least Israel recognised the new country.

11. Science had a pretty solid year

Bioengineers in Spain used a 3D printer to create functioning human skin, researchers at Michigan State University uncovered a chemical compound that decreases melanoma cells by 90 per cent, and clinicians concluded from trials that heart drug Repatha lowers cardiac arrests and strokes by a third within two years. Medical technology specialists developed and successfully trialled a soft robot that helps the heart beat, giving hope to those suffering heart failure. Best of all, scientists at Harvard found that two to six portions of chocolate a week reduces rates of irregular heartbeat by 20 per cent. Chocolate is good for you. If you disagree, you hate science.  

12. Technology did too

Researchers at MIT unveiled a prototype ‘hot solar cell’ twice as efficient as current solar panels; eSight 3, smart glasses which allow the legally blind to visualise objects around them, went to market; and the Ember mug allowed coffee aficionados to control the temperature of their morning jolt from their smartphone.

13. Israel caught a break

After decades of diplomatic belligerence at the UN and mealy-mouthed support from its fair-weather allies, the Jewish state found an unlikely ally in America First nativist Donald Trump. The isolationist president issued a proclamation that the United States recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a fact prior incumbents of the White House had paid only lip-service to. Garish warnings about fall-out failed to materialise and a small, rare victory for truth was won.

14. We got more charitable

One in ten Britons left money to a charity in their will, up on the one-in-sixteen doing the same the previous year. The Co-op Legal Services survey, released in September, noted that poverty and homelessness were the most popular causes for bequeathments. In the United States, Americans donated almost $400billion, an increase of 2.7 per cent on the year before and driven primarily by surges in donations from individuals rather than foundations or corporations.

15. More people found work

In 2017, Britain’s unemployment rate reached 4.3 per cent, the lowest recorded in 42 years. There were a record 32 million Brits in work and 800,000 vacancies in the labour market at any one time, also a record. In the past seven years, employment has risen by three million and youth unemployment has dropped 40 per cent. 

16. Life got a little less awful for Saudi women

This was the year that half the population in the world’s most nightmarish theocracy gained the right to drive and the right to access government services without the consent of their guardians.

17. Jeremy Corbyn was kept out of Downing Street

The Labour leader proved a surprisingly relaxed and engaging campaigner but fell short in June's General Election. Near-victory prompted hubris, from a vanity appearance at Glastonbury to the insistence of his acolytes that he had ‘won’ the election, and now Corbyn is a serious contender for Prime Minister. This puts his character, judgement, and policies under intense scrutiny. Does he regret lending solidarity to the IRA while it was blowing up British troops and civilians? Can he be trusted with the nation’s defences? Is he really set on the hard Brexit that so many young Labour voters oppose? 2017 may have been a good year for Corbyn but it may also be the year he peaked.