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Reflections on 2016: A look back at a difficult year for Progressives

12 January 2017

It seems that almost every one of the email updates we have written this year has been another catalogue of woe for progressives and the causes we care about.

There is no doubt that 2016 has been a pretty dispiriting year on the centre left. Not least in Britain, where, in a series of pieces by Roger Liddle and Andrew Duff among others, we charted the repercussions of the Brexit vote, both for progressive politics in Britain and the options for the UK’s ongoing relationship with the EU27.

With outcomes at the ballot box almost – though not uniformly – grim this year (there was better news from Austria, Australia and Romania), it seems that it is more important than ever that we go back to our first principles and examine what they mean in a changing world. On this note we published thoughtful essays from Frans Timmermans and Matthias Machnig and Oliver Schmolke.

In such challenging times, Policy Network’s central role – bringing together modernising progressives from across the world – is more important than ever. This year we were co-organisers in two major international events.

In May, Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister hosted our latest Progressive Governance conference, held in association with his party. This year we honed the focus to look at education. No topic could be more important than this for progressives and social democrats. In an era of unprecedented political and economic change, where all too many people feel destabilised and left behind, it is vital for the centre left to come up with new ways of equipping citizens to face emerging challenges. Clearly improving educational standards is key. But ‘tax and spend’ alone won’t be enough, we have to look for ways to reform as well as expand education and training and be open to new thinking, no matter how radical.

In September, in Montreal, we were proud partners with hosts Canada 2020 and the Center for American Progress in Global Progress 2016, hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Speakers included Thomas Perez, US labour secretary, Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, Tina Brown, founder of Women in the World, Eric Schmidt, chair of Alphabet, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, president of Save the Children, and many more. You can watch several of the key participants outline their key messages in a 'Minute from Montreal' here.

With the focus on preparing progressive responses to the biggest policy questions, as the year drew to a close we published ‘Freeing the Road’, a major study looking at the economic and political implications for Europe of the coming transition to autonomous vehicles, supported by Nissan Europe. A short video summarises the main conclusions and both the full report and ‘rapid read’ look in more detail at what will be no less than a revolution. Our central conclusion is that active government is needed now to ensure society does not face new divides.

2017 promises to be an exciting, but challenging, political year. In Europe, the centre left faces crucial electoral tests in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Norway. In the US, the debate will be about how the Democrats rebuild as Donald Trump moves into the White House. In Australia, Labor will seek to capitalise on its strong electoral performance last year to put pressure on the precarious Turnbull government.

It also promises to be an exciting year for us at Policy Network. Central to this will be the relaunch of our website to make it a more effective platform for the exchange of ideas and experience.

We look forward to sharing this with you soon, as well as continuing the discussion about how we renew our progressive message, which 2016 demonstrated is a more urgent mission than ever.

Thank you so much for being part of our network.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year.

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