If you like your politics like I like my films – with a healthy dose of John McClane-style Yippee-Ki-Yay retribution – then 2022 could deliver the goods in the UK.
Boris Johnson was frantically counting the sleeps until the Christmas break as his ratings slumped under the weight of polling-Peppa-and-party scandals, but things might yet get worse. It may be too early to call time on the Teflon Tory but he could face a reckoning for his government’s callous and cruel mishandling of the Covid pandemic, which has killed nearly 150,000 people so far in the UK.
Spring should see the launch of a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid crisis. A report by MPs last year said the late lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic was “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced.” The inquiry will be chaired by former appeal court judge Baroness Heather Hallett.
No doubt Johnson’s reported willingness to “let the bodies pile high” will be revisited along, hopefully, with questions surrounding the £37 billion Test and Trace system and other dubious contracts.
That’s not the only inquiry Johnson is facing. A Cabinet Office investigation into the Downing Street lockdown-busting parties, headed by senior civil servant Sue Gray, is also due to report early in the New Year. Although the prime minister’s ethics adviser Lord Geidt has reportedly cleared Johnson of any wrongdoing in the sordid tale of his flat refurbishment, this is unlikely to be the last time Johnson’s finances come under scrutiny.
Johnson himself struck a typically upbeat note in his New Year’s message, saying Britain was in an “incomparably better” position in the fight against Covid than it was at the end of 2020. Mind you, he’s not setting the bar very high; in December last year, he was forced to ‘cancel’ Christmas at the last minute and fling the country into lockdown as cases surged.
Unfortunately, any optimism about Johnson getting his comeuppance (either through public inquiries or at the polls in the local elections in May) must be tempered by the realisation that whoever might eventually replace him is bound to be just as bad.
Liz Truss is believed to be the frontrunner, edging out Chancellor Rishi Sunak, but she too could face questions of probity. As the New Year dawned, the Sunday Times had a tasty story full of delicious details about an extravagant lunch she reportedly organised last year for Joe Biden’s trade representative at an expensive private club owned by a Tory donor.
Leaked correspondence published in the Sunday Times showed that civil servants were so concerned at the cost and the venue’s close links to the Tories that the proposal was referred to the most senior official at the Department for International Trade, where Truss was then trade secretary.
Apparently, Truss and her companions drank two bottles of dry gin, three £153 bottles of Pazo Barrantes Albariño, a Spanish white wine and two bottles of the French red Coudoulet de Beaucastel at £130 a bottle. Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, wrote on Twitter that this “won’t be the last time Liz Truss gets in trouble asking the taxpayer to foot the bill for her expensive tastes”. So that’s something else to look forward to.
This is also the kind of tale that is likely to inflame voters, especially those from the former Labour constituencies, as they grapple with a cost of living crisis caused by high energy prices, stagnant wages, and tax credit cuts (sorry, my rose-tinted glasses aren’t strong enough to make that less grim).
Unfortunately, 2022 will offer no escape from the absurdities of the Tories’ ill-conceived and dreadfully executed Brexit. On January 1, new rules and regulations were introduced, threatening to hit trade between the UK and the EU even further. These include the imposition of checks that the EU levied on our exports from day one of Brexit but which the UK has so far avoided, new checks and red tape on all food and drink trade, and Rules of Origin regulations.
So the Brexit nightmare will continue but with our rose-tinted glasses in place, we can perhaps at least expect a deepening of the realisation that this Tory vanity project is not working – already, an Opinium survey in December showed more than six out of 10 voters believe Brexit has either gone badly or worse than they expected.
With Truss now negotiating with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, after the resignation of Lord David Frost, there is always the hope that she too may find herself expending some of her precious political capital to defend the indefensible (the triggering of Article 16 as a way of wriggling out of commitments already made by the British government).
Away from politics, there are other reasons to raise a glass (cautiously) to 2022. For the first time in this dreadful pandemic, there is a glimmer of hope that we may be entering into a new phase with a less dangerous variant. Six studies have found that Omicron does not damage people’s lungs as much as the Delta and other previous variants of Covid, which might explain why it is less deadly but more transmissible. The studies have yet to be peer-reviewed by other scientists, but beggars-in-hope can’t be choosers.
It doesn’t mean the crisis is over but perhaps we can start to believe in the beginning of the end. What a relief that would be to the exhausted healthcare workers, estranged families, lonely older and vulnerable people and the teenagers and young adults who have put their lives on hold for nearly two years, and who are still dealing with the effects of Omicron.
There are tentative signs that nature is, truly, healing with sprightly cultural shoots pushing through parched ground across the globe.
Rapper Kendrick Lamar has dropped heavy hints that a new album is coming in 2022, five years after his last studio album, DAMN. Adele is due back onstage with a residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and two dates in Hyde Park in July, while Stormzy too is at last touring his Heavy Is The Head album, from March. And finally, Glastonbury is set to go ahead with its delayed 50th celebrations; Billie Eilish and Diana Ross are already confirmed for the event from June 24.
If you want to forget that the pandemic ever happened, or indeed the last 40 years or so,
ABBA are back on stage at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for ABBA Voyage. Nobody seems quite sure what the show will involve, although there is talk of ‘Abbatars’ and a live band. I guess we’ll have to wait until the tour starts in May.
On TV, people suffering from GoT withdrawal can look forward to House of the Dragon, the Targaryen-focused prequel, out on HBO later this year. Or if you like your violence with a more modern twist, the fourth season of Top Boy is due out on Netflix.
BBC Three are due to screen an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends this year (but will it be as steamy as Normal People?) while the second season of Bridgerton will offer more bodice-and-bustle thrills on Netflix in March. If all this is a little too twee, the final series of Peaky Blinders is set for early 2022.
On the big screen, Robert Pattinson becomes the latest incarnation of Bruce Wayne’s caped crusader in Matt Reeves’ The Batman in March, while Baz Luhrmann has a go at Elvis in a biopic starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, out in June.
This year also marks Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee and whatever you think of the Royals, the whole country gets an extended Bank Holiday from Thursday, June 2 to Sunday, June 5 as part of the year-long celebrations to mark her 70-year reign.
For sports lovers, the year is full of all the usual delights with the added bonus that the Ashes series for England’s male cricketers will be done and dusted soon and that’s all we’ll say about that (apart from to share this admittedly quite good Australian joke: “What’s the best way to get a rapid test? Play the English”). There will, however, be cricket with the T20 World Cup in Australia in October/November so maybe, brace yourselves.
We’ve got the Winter Olympics starting on February 4 in Beijing, allowing us all to become sudden and short-lived experts in things like the double cork 1440 while pretending we understand anything about the craziness that is the luge. We’ve got the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off on January 9 (cue lots of hand-wringing from Premier League clubs over the ‘loss’ of some of their best players), and the Commonwealth Games are in Birmingham in August.
Then the big one: the men’s football World Cup will be held in Qatar in November and December. It may not be the most politically correct tournament, or the most ethical, or the most accessible, but on the plus side, we are unlikely to see the kind of thuggish, dangerous behaviour we saw in London at the Euros this year – even if England do, miraculously, make it to the final.
Another plus: We can all look forward to a jolly, jingly version of Three Lions, just in time for Christmas 2022. Happy New Year!