The White Knuckle Ride of 2022
From Partygate to Trussomics, the death of the Monarch, and the humiliation of Vladimir Putin, OttoEnglish’s review of the year takes us on a roller coaster of major fails and meteoric falls
On December 31st 2021, in what feels like another time, another place and another era, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered an optimistic and upbeat New Year’s Eve message to the people of the United Kingdom via his social media channels.
With the country having been able to celebrate its first Christmas in two years and with the vaccine roll-out contributing to fewer hospitalisations and deaths than in December 2020, the fight against Covid 19 seemed to be turning in humanity’s favour.
Dressed in his trademark ‘slept in’ grey suit and his signature ‘dragged through a hedge’ hair Johnson seemed to positively radiate with the thought of better days ahead:
“Whatever the challenges that fate continues to throw in our way and whatever the anxieties we may have about the weeks and months ahead particularly about omicron…. we can say one thing with certainty. Our position this December the 31st is incomparably better than last year.”
Johnson claimed that the country had the ‘fastest growth in the G7’ and that wonderful thing would be coming our way in the days and weeks and months ahead. It was his third New Year’s message to the people and was to be his last. As usual the bluster and bullshit was just that. 12 months later, on December 8th the OECD, would predict UK growth of –0.4% for 2023, the lowest of any country in the G7 and the nation would be mired in economic doldrums, strikes, chaos, spiralling inflation and interest rates and a cost-of-living crisis.
The twelve months in between would see extraordinary events. A European war, the death of a Queen, four Chancellors come and go and the fall and rise and rise and fall of three Prime Ministers. So let me take you by the hand and lead you through the days in between.
January: Mob Rule, Partygate and Prince Andrew
January 1st was the hottest on record with 16.2 Celsius being recorded in St. James’s Park, beating the previous record of 15.6 C recorded at Bude in Cornwall in 1916. The year would see environmentalists and scientists continue to warn of the greatest threat facing our planet and there were a string of high-profile protests by groups including Climate Emergency, Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. Later in the year, as Rishi Sunak headed to COP 27, the Guardian reported that more than 30 activists were behind bars as a result of trying to draw attention to the scale of the crisis.
On January 5th, Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Jake Skuse, 33 and Sage Willoughby, 22, known as the ‘Colston 4’ who had all been accused of criminal damage when they toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in Bristol harbour seven months earlier were found not of criminal damage.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was one of many voices on the Conservative right to express their displeasure saying: “We can’t have mob rule as the way forward.”
But in a very real sense a mob was already in power, and the Johnson government itself was wobbling the plinth as they refused to take the Partygate accusations seriously. On January 10th ITV released an email from the PM’s Principle Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds, sent on May 20th the previous year during the first national Covid 19 lockdown, which invited staff:
“To make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening….bring your own booze!”
Subsequent reports suggested that upwards of 30 people including Johnson and his wife Carrie had attended the event, held while millions of Britons were unable to visit dying loved ones, hold weddings, or parties of their own.
The following day the Metropolitan Police reported that it was investigating a string of events held at Downing Street during the various lockdowns and Boris Johnson began casting around for someone else to blame.
As the government rolled from crisis to crisis, things were not much better up the road. On January 12th Prince Andrew failed in his bid to dismiss a civil case brought against him in New York, by Virginia Giuffre, a victim of Jeffrey Epstein, accusing him of: “sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The following month his lawyers would reach an out-of-court settlement with her but in the meantime, all his official royal patronages and military affiliations were revoked.
As news of more Downing Street parties emerged and as inflation hit 5.4%, a 20-year high, Plan B ended, and it was no longer a requirement to wear face masks or carry Covid passes. On January 29th Storm Malik hit the west coast of Britain, causing tens of thousands of power outages, many of which would not be resolved for weeks. A 9-year-old boy and a 60-year-old woman were both killed by falling trees.
Winter: Putin Invades Ukraine
February dawned with storms of a different kind. Coronavirus was causing the largest number of daily deaths (534) since January 2021 and the political and personal consequences of partygate were rumbling on. On February 3rd, Munira Mirza, head of the Number 10 Policy Unit and Boris Johnson’s most trusted lieutenant since the days of his mayoralty, resigned. Jack Doyle, his communications director, left the same day. More staff, including his chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, followed. The rats were leaping from the ship as it lurched towards the looming Sue Gray report sized iceberg.
On the 10th, Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss visited Moscow and met with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, amidst growing concerns over what looked like a planned invasion of Ukraine.
In an official despatch, the Foreign Office reported that:
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that the aggressive build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border threatened Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. She made clear that Russia needed to live up to the international commitments it had entered into.
Lavrov treated her and the world’s concerns with barely concealed contempt. Twelve days later Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine and actor-turned-President Volodymyr Zelenskyy entered global consciousness, stage left, as the hero of the year. The ensuing months would see Zelenskyy defy his critics, to deliver a masterclass in leadership and bear witness to the remarkable struggle of the people of Ukraine as they defied the imperial ambitions of Russia’s autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s many British apologists, unforgivably, went to work as soon as the invasion began. George Galloway, who a month earlier had tweeted:
Y’all said #Russia was about to invade #Ukraine. I told you it wasn’t. You were wrong. I was right. Again. Show some bloody humility. Especially if they’re not even paying you to act like an idiot.
Was particularly busy. All the while RT – the Russian State propaganda unit – continued to broadcast lies and disinformation into British homes. On the 28th of February, OFCOM belatedly launched an investigation into the broadcaster and on 3 March the channel was removed from the air.
On March 16th there was good news as Iran released dual national Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe of wrongful imprisonment in the country and after almost six years she arrived back home in the United Kingdom. Five days later Nazanin held a press conference in which she celebrated her ‘glorious’ freedom but, rightly, refused to show any gratitude to the British government which had consistently failed her during her years of imprisonment:
“I have seen five foreign secretaries change over the course of six years” she said, “How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home?”
A torrent of abuse followed with twitter users, commentators and politicians dubbing her ‘ungrateful’ and worse.
Susan Hall, Tory leader of the GLA tweeted:
“Errr what you really mean is that Iranians should not have unlawfully kept you as prisoner for 6 years. Now it appears that it’s Britain’s fault … in your eyes. I hope I am wrong but that’s what it feels like you are implying.”
Downing Street was forced to distance itself from its defenders.
It had been a bad month for Johnson and his government with one bad story following another. Interest rates were up again and there was more terrible news for ordinary people as P and O ferries sacked 800 workers on 17 March in order to guarantee its ‘future viability’.
Spring: Rising Bills, Johnson Sanctioned for Breaking the Law.
As April dawned the cost of household energy bills rose 54% and it was announced that they would rise by a further 80% in October. The bogeyman Putin was blamed, but the announcement had first come on February 2nd, weeks before the invasion of Ukraine. The Bank of England responded by predicting a gloomy outlook for the UK economy over the coming two years. The sunlit uplands were ever more out of reach.
On April 12th Prime Minister Boris Johnson received the distinction of becoming the first sitting PM in history to be sanctioned for breaking the law, when he and his wife Carrie received fixed penalties, along with their neighbour Rishi Sunak, for breaching Covid restrictions that Johnson and his administration had put in place.
April was the cruellest month, breeding poison out of the paved streets of Whitehall. On April 14, the government signed a deal with Rwanda that would see tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers sent to the African country. The Former Home Office Permanent Secretary Sir David Normington told BBC’s Newsnight that the plan was: “inhumane, it’s morally reprehensible, it’s probably unlawful and it may well be unworkable.”
Nigel Farage, the self-appointed prefect of British nastiness said that it did not ‘go far enough’ and added that Brexit would not be complete until the European Convention on Human Rights had been removed from the face of these islands.
As the month closed, Tory MP, Neil Parish, brought further disgrace to the green benches, as it was revealed that he had been watching pornography on his telephone in the House of Commons chamber. His excuse, to BBC South-West, was to become a classic of the genre:
“The situation was, funnily enough it was tractors I was looking at, so I did get into another website with sort of a very similar name and I watched it for a bit, which I shouldn’t have done.”
Parish resigned, triggering a by-election in his Tiverton and Honiton constituency as wags on Twitter dubbed the episode ‘corn hub’.
May 5th saw local elections across the UK and miserable results for the Conservative party which saw a net loss of 485 seats. Once impenetrable Tory council fortresses like Wandsworth in Southwest London went red. In Northern Ireland Sinn Fein won the largest vote share and in Scotland the SNP gained an extra 22 seats.
On May 10th Prince Charles took his mother’s place at the State Opening of Parliament as concerns grew for the elderly monarch and her ailing health.
Some welcome light relief came on 14th when the irrepressibly upbeat Sam Ryder was the British entry at the 66th Eurovision Song contest, held in Turin Italy. Ryder’s song ‘Space Man’ came second behind Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra and their song ‘Stefania’. Russia was uninvited.
On May 17th, in a rare public appearance, Queen Elizabeth opened Crossrail, now dubbed the Elizabeth Line in her honour. The project which had taken 15 years to complete opened four years late at a cost of £21 billion.
Boris Johnson was too busy to attend, busy as he was, fighting off Partygate. On 23rd May new photos emerged showing him holding a glass of alcohol at a ‘leaving do’ on 13th November 2020; the following day BBC’s Panorama broadcast an episode called ‘Inside the Storm’ and whistle-blowers revealed the extent of the culture inside Number 10.
The revelations were explosive. On the eve of Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral on 17 April 2021, in the midst of lockdown, there had been a huge party at Number 10 that had turned so raucous that security staff had tried to shut it down – only to be snubbed by guests who went out into the garden to party on regardless. Downing Street employees laid the blame firmly at the feet of the PM and his longing to be ‘liked’.
On May 25th, Sue Gray’s long-awaited report was published, and it was revealed that a trickle of ‘no confidence’ letters to the back-bench 1922 committee chairman, had turned into a steady river.
Summer: Johnson Finally Goes, Heat Waves and the Lionesses Roar
There was a brief respite for Johnson as on June 2nd millions of people in the country paused to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee and the 70 years since the Queen had come to the throne. The ‘Festival of Brexit’ aka Unboxed which had been going on all year unnoticed continued to pass people by. But big crowds turned out in London for the event and after months of lockdown and pandemic misery, the country seemed to breathe again. The Queen managed to attend some of the festivities and a video was released in which she appeared to be having tea with Paddington bear.
The paradox of the nation’s best loved fictional immigrant having tea with the wife of the country’s best-known refugee seemed to go over the heads of the government as it ploughed on with its Rwanda policy.
On June 5th a no confidence ballot was held by Tory MP’s in the House of Commons committee rooms. Johnson won by 211 to 148 votes and vowed to get on with the job he had been elected to do. But the unfortunate truth was that 40% of his parliametary party – had lost faith in him.
On June 23rd by-elections were held in both Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton. Labour swept into the first, following the resignation of disgraced MP Imran Ahmad Khan and the Lib Dems overturned a huge majority to secure the latter.
The month ended with the resignation of Chris Pincher, another Tory MP on June 30th. Pincher had been accused of groping two men at the Carlton Club in St James’s and he apologised for embarrassing ‘myself and other people’. This unsavoury episode would be the allegation that finally topple Boris Johnson from his throne for it was quickly revealed that Johnson had been warned about Pincher before appointing him deputy chief whip. History shall record that the Prime Minister who had brushed off so many personal and political scandals was finally brought down by his refusal to listen to advice. As the pound crashed to a two-year low members of his cabinet began to flee the bunker. Sajid Javid resigned as Health Secretary on July 5th and was followed by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
As Boris Johnson sought to shore up his leadership, he ever more resembled a deluded child building sandcastles of cottage cheese against the impending waves of a tsunami.
Over the next 48 hours, minister after minister quit and by the end, only Nadine Dorries and Dilyn the dog were left at his side. On July 6th Attorney General Suella Braverman told ITV that she would stand for the leadership if the job became available and the following day Boris Johnson quit.
This bumptious idiot – so bursting with self-importance and entitlement – left behind the embers of a burning nation torched in the interests of his own personal ambition. His backing of Brexit and his scrambling for power had finally, in 2019, won him the prize he had coveted since childhood. But gifted the crown he had proved himself to be the incompetent and chaotic clown that many of us had long suspected. His mishandling of a pandemic which saw 200,000 people die was bad enough, but that he partied on at Downing Street while the rest of us were unable to mourn our dead was a slap in the nation’s collective face.
As a slew of indifferent politicians sought to replace him, Johnson took one last pop at posterity and went to visit Zelenskyy in Kyiv, hoping no doubt that some of the Ukrainian president’s star quality would rub off on him.
July ended in a heatwave and more, rare, good news, as England won the UEFA Women’s Euros, beating Germany 2-1 in the final. Football had come home.
As the thermometers rose, the cost of living increased alongside it. Inflation hit 10.1% on August 17th as the government sought desperately to deflect attention by pointing at migrants in the Channel. That crisis, caused in no small part by the xenophobia at the heart of this Brexit administration and their refusal to open up safe routes for migrants, led to 1,300 people crossing on August 22nd alone. In total, an estimated 40,000 people crossed this year and at least four died in the process. Paralysed by fear of the tiny vocal hate-fuelled mob the government continues to blame everyone but themselves for the crisis, while latter-day Cnut, Nigel Farage points his knobbly finger, at the sea.
As his days in office ticked down to their end, Johnson made some legacy appointments. The journalist Harry Mount, who had once penned the fan-lit tome ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson’ was made an ‘independent’ member of the Lords’ Commission that vets those who are to be elevated to the Upper House. Cynics suggested that Johnson had appointed his biggest fanboy to help smooth the path of his resignation honours.
September: The Death of Queen Elizabeth II and the Meteoric Rise of Liz Truss
Voting closed for the Conservative Leadership election on September 2nd and the same day, at the end of the hottest summer since records began in 1880, members of Extinction Rebellion superglued themselves to the Speaker’s Chair. There were eight arrests.
On September 5th Liz Truss became Prime Minister after winning 57.4% of votes against her rival Rishi Sunak. In a Sun Editorial the Murdoch tabloid welcomed her appointment:
“She is hard-working, intelligent and driven by her beliefs in freedom, low taxes and a small, efficient State” the paper told its dwindling band of readers adding that: “When she vows to govern as a Conservative, we do not doubt it.”
The Sun was most looking forward to her taking on the biggest challenge of our times, namely ‘woke ideology’ and celebrated her status as a ‘born-again Leaver’ who would was “acutely aware how much of Brexit’s potential has yet to be realised.”
Readers with a grim sense of humour might find themselves choking as they read those words. But events pressed pause on Liz Truss’s coming days of glory as the news broke, late in the afternoon of September 8th that the Queen had died at Balmoral.
HM Elizabeth II was 96 and the news should not have come as a shock, but even the royally uninterested could not have failed to notice and mark her passing.
All usual business was suspended as a 10-day period of national mourning began. Not everyone was prepared to play along.
In Muir of Oid in Scotland, a fish and chip shop owner and part time conspiracy theorist called Jaki Pickett, spectacularly misread the mood and filmed herself in front of her premises dancing about holding a sign which read:
“Lizard Liz Dead and London Bridge has fallen.”
Locals greeted her performance, by pelting her with eggs and as the police moved in to protect her from flying dairy products, Jaki told reporters she had ‘no regrets’. In response the National Federation of Fish Fryers revoked her membership.
On the 10th of September and after seven decades of waiting – Prince Charles was formally proclaimed King at St James’s Palace, while sovereignty worshipping Penny Mordaunt, the Lord President of Council and Leader of the House of Commons looked on.
That same day, a 45-year-old man was arrested in Oxford for protesting during an event to mark the proclamation of the King. On September 12th a lone protestor was arrested for heckling Prince Andrew as he followed the late monarch’s coffin through the streets of Edinburgh. Pockets of anti-monarchist sentiment were quickly shut down. A barrister, Paul Powlesland, who held up a blank piece of paper in parliament square in response, was approached by police officers, who demanded to know his name and address. Powlesland filmed his interaction as the officer claimed that the sign “may offend” people if he wrote, “not my King” on it.
The truth was that whatever the overriding sentiment, the British public had no say in the matter of their next head of state. The Windsors had taken back control.
Millions of mourners, tourists and curious individuals descended on London and as the Queen lay in State a huge and legendary queue grew up along the streets outside.
Meanwhile, GB News presenter Dan Wootton set out to make sure that everyone knew that he was the bigliest monarchist in town. In a celebrated act of ‘performative mourning’ Dan laid flowers at Buckingham palace, had someone film it and then stood, the camera still rolling in a moment of ‘quiet reflection’ that was noisier than an extensive loud hailer system yelling ‘LOOK AT ME’ during the two-minute silence.
Reports that Wootton succumbed to repetitive strain injury, as he blocked social media correspondents, could not be confirmed.
Dan was not alone in his performative mourning. Center Parks was one of many businesses that announced that they would be shutting down for the day of the funeral and even the nation’s pornographic television channels switched off in honour of the late Queen.
On the 19th of September millions of people across the world tuned in to watch the state funeral. In a solemn ceremony, her coffin was carried by gun carriage to Westminster Abbey as diplomats and leaders from across the world paid tribute to her reign. The Kremlin had declared ten days earlier that Vladimir Putin would not be in attendance but as far as I can tell, no invitation had ever been forthcoming.
The Queen’s casket was then taken to Windsor Castle for a private service – and she was laid to rest next to her husband, Philip.
With the funeral out of the way, the new Conservative government was able to get on with the job of saving the country from the last three Conservative administrations. To that end, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng delivered his emergency mini-budget to the House of Commons on September 23rd. At the centre of the ‘Growth Plan’ was a move to abolish the highest rate of tax, to can a planned increase in corporation tax and the abolition of the Health and Social Care levy.
Libertarians across Britain celebrated.
The Taxpayers Alliance called it: “the most taxpayer-friendly budget in recent memory”.
The Adam Smith Institute said it was: “a welcome first step to getting the British economy back on track”.
Mark Littlewood at the IEA claimed: “This isn’t a trickle-down budget – it’s a boost-up budget.”
And the ever reliable, Nigel Farage hailed it as: “the best Conservative budget since 1986!”
The markets didn’t agree, and Sterling crashed. It wasn’t just the markets that had its jitters. Some increasingly nervous Conservatives in marginal seats, began to visibly panic in the wake of events too. Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow dubbed the government ‘libertarian-jihadists’ and senior grandees, including Michael Gove and Ken Clarke expressed their disquiet.
The pound fell faster than a disgraced Tory MP’s trousers and on 26th September hit an all-time low of $1.03. Two days later the IMF made an extraordinary intervention and urged the government to rethink its fiscal policies, as the Bank of England moved to restore confidence by buying £65 billion worth of government bonds.
Winter: The Meteoric Fall of Liz Truss and Sunak Takes Over
A YouGov poll on October 2nd asked voters how well they thought Liz Truss was doing and 71% answered ‘badly’. Just 11% thought she was doing well.
On the 5th of October, as rail strikes by the RMT crippled the country, Truss gave her speech to the Conservative Party Conference and condemned the naysayers of the ‘Anti-Growth Coalition.’ Nine days later she threw her close friend and political ally, Kwasi Kwarteng under the metaphorical bus and appointed Jeremy Hunt in his place. Kwarteng was to go down in history as the second shortest-serving Chancellor in British history, beaten only by Iain Macleod, who gained the dubious accolade of ‘shortest’ by dying in office in 1970.
Jeremy Hunt’s appointment was welcomed by markets and the crisis seemed to pass as he reversed all his predecessors’ decisions.
On 19th October, the nakedly-ambitious Home Secretary, Suella Braverman resigned as Home Secretary. ‘Leaky Sue’ had sent an official document to a colleague using a private email account. Her departure was welcomed by most decent people in the country as she had recently made a spectacle of herself, by telling the Daily Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast:
“I would love to have a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda, that’s my dream, it’s my obsession.”
Unfortunately, she was not gone long. Truss had lost all credibility and on October 20th she announced that she would resign. Her term, just 45 days in office, made her the shortest-serving PM in British history.
Boris superfans thought they were going to see the return of the Prodigal Son but it was not to be and on October 24th, Rishi Sunak was anointed PM, the first Asian Briton and first person of colour to be a British Prime Minister. He swiftly reappointed Braverman.
Sunak’s in tray was not to be envied and for all his shiny optimism none of the country’s underlying problems went away.
As the year dragged towards its end the economy continued to shrink, interest rates continued to rise and the cost-of-living crisis grew worse in a climate of industrial action by RMT workers, nurses and teachers.
The one good story, lost in the maelstrom of political turmoil and economic hardship, was that at least the pandemic was finally under control. Data released on November 18th showed that for the first time since September, cases had fallen to under 1 million and as of writing there are no daily deaths from Covid 19. This insidious disease which has suspended so many lives and taken so many others, might finally be on the wane. And perhaps – as we draw to the end of the year, as many of us celebrate the festivities around us and the new year to come – that is something to be truly grateful for.
For those of us looking toward a better future, there are other things to be optimistic about too. After 12 years of chaos and failure, the Conservative party looks to be mortally holed beneath the water line and is currently polling at around 24%. The full extent of the failure of Brexit is becoming apparent every day and polls show a firm shift in public opinion against this act of unilateral economic chaos and destruction. Inevitably, in the coming months that will force UK politicians to move back towards a closer relationship with the EU to the benefit of all.
2022 has also, albeit it at huge cost, demonstrated that tyrants with murderous ambitions can be taken on and humiliated by those they seek to conquer. And with every day that passes, Donald Trump’s path back to the White House looks blighted.
Who knows what 2023 will bring? But this correspondent for one – hopes that it brings happier days for us all. I’m not a praying man, but I am tempted to pray.