Well, finally 2016 is over.
Perhaps there have been more dramatic years, but never has conventional wisdom been so completely turned on its head. Politically, at least, there were revolts because people no longer trusted their establishments, resulting in Brexit, the election of Trump and the potential rise of the far right.
However, it also happened in other key areas of life; 2016 was the year in which the chickens came home to roost in many areas of life.
In an Olympic year, which included fantastic results for Team GB, drugs managed to dominate. It started in June, with the results of Maria Sharapova’s failed drugs test, three months earlier at the Australian Open. It turned out she had been taking Meldonium, used to treat heart conditions, for 10 years. It increases blood flow to the muscles and is considered performance-enhancing. She received a two-year ban, reduced to 15 months on appeal.
Worse was to come. In July, Richard McLaren’s World Anti-Doping Agency report into state-backed Russian doping, stunned everyone with the scale of the crime. More than 1,000 Russian athletes, across 30 sports, benefitted from the programme, including the swapping of contaminated urine samples for clean ones, through a hole in the wall at the testing lab in Sochi, during the 2014 Games.
It wasn’t just Russia, however. On the eve of the Olympics, it was revealed that UK’s Lizzie Armistead had missed three drugs tests. CAS ruled in her favour, but some of her cycling colleagues were less than impressed, with Bradley Wiggins saying her excuses were ‘ridiculous’.
That was before his involvement with a mystery package in 2011 was revealed. In September, Russian hackers highlighted the use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) among 48 British athletes, including Sir Bradley. Although TUEs are legal, in his case for asthma, there seemed to be a curious link between cyclists and the high proportion claiming to suffer from the condition.
Although the UKAD investigation is ongoing, the damage, to the now retired Wiggins, is irreparable.
Bookended between David Bowie and George Michael, it seemed that 2016 culled a huge number of our favourite cultural icons, including Caroline Aherne, Prince and Victoria Wood.
It may have seemed disproportionate, but many of these icons were baby-boomers, ageing as everyone does, some dying early, others continuing seemingly forever. In the case of rock stars, an inordinate amount of drug ingestion often hastens their demise and the ubiquity of social media means the news of a death is spread worldwide almost immediately, with heartfelt tributes written by anyone and everyone and copied in the next day’s newspapers.
It wasn’t just politicians people lost faith in, it was also big business.
Oxfam’s annual analysis of how global wealth is (not) shared always makes grim reading. Its analysis in 2016 was timed to coincide with the gathering of many of the world’s superrich at Davos, and the figures laid bare the vast gap between rich and poor.
The charity called for urgent action to tackle the growing inequality that saw the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population drop by 41% between 2010 and 2015, while the wealth of the planet’s richest 62 people jumped by $500bn to $1.76tn.
The government produced a green paper, with proposals to change the way big businesses are run, at a time when voters, as Theresa May said, “see the emergence of a new global elite who sometimes seem to play by a different set of rules and whose lives are far removed from their everyday existence”. Well ensconced in that global elite are the chief executives of major companies. Think of Philip Green, whom MPs have accused of letting BHS die. Think of Mike Ashley, apologising for staff mistreatment at Sports Direct. Think of all those bumper pay deals at FTSE 100 firms.
As the High Pay Centre points out, the average FTSE 100 CEO is now earning as much as 147 times their own employees. The average CEO pay package comes in at £5.5m a year. Those are just the front-page stories: leaf through the business section of any paper and chances are it will contain some tale of fat-cattery. Crucially, all this is happening in the middle of the sharpest pay squeeze for 70 years and historic spending cuts.
Big business in Britain doesn’t invest enough in kit, in training, or in research and development. Instead, it hands money back to shareholders, who typically include the CEO. This process, known as “financialisation”, effectively turns big companies into piggy banks, to be turned upside down and shaken hard for any loose change. It is a practice that cripples the British economy, and it is forbidden by section 172 of the 2006 Companies Act, which says a company director must “have regard” to “the likely consequences of any decision in the long term”, as well as “the interests of … employees … suppliers, customers and others”.
Less informed defenders of bad company practice sometimes say that bosses cannot treat workers fairly because they have a “fiduciary duty” to return maximum cash to shareholders. They are flat wrong. We have some of the right laws already. What’s needed is to enforce them.
So 2016 was the year in which various chickens came home to roost, with people in politics, business, film and music, often reaping what they had sewed. It was not always doom and gloom, however; below are a few 2016 events, for which we should be grateful. The glass is not always half empty.
Not a lot really, but it means 2017 should be a vast improvement on the year just gone.