The year of 2022 in pictures
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If the May local elections are a humiliation for Rishi Sunak in both the Home Counties and the Red Wall, diehard Boris fans will say it is time to bring him back in time to save the Tories from wipe-out. As recently as October, Mr Johnson said he was “well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024”.
First, he must navigate the privileges committee’s investigation into whether he misled MPs about pandemic era rule-breaking while in Downing Street. In a worst-case scenario he could face a by-election.
But this is a man who is an expert at turning what most people would consider humiliations into PR bonanzas. Think of how he turned the fiasco of being left dangling on a zip-wire into a moment of Olympic triumph.
If he emerges largely unscathed from the investigation, Mr Sunak will have to decide whether to try and harness his campaigning powers by giving him a major job – party chairman has been suggested – or risk letting this biggest of beasts maraud around outside the tent.
Storm clouds and a silver lining
Britain is braced for a recession widely expected to last all year.
When falling house prices are combined with the rising cost of living and higher interest rates, people will feel significantly worse off.
Most worryingly for many families, unemployment is expected to climb towards a peak of just under five percent in 2024.
The country can cling to the hope that the Bank of England is right when it forecasts that inflation will “fall sharply” from the middle of the year.
This is as a result of action to limit energy price rises, an easing in production difficulties that forced up the cost of imported products, and lower demand for goods and services.
The British Chambers of Commerce expects inflation to slow to five percent by the last quarter of the year. Rishi Sunak will hope he can escape blame for the worst of the economic storm while reaping credit for the recovery.
A milestone for a troubled NHS
Expect anguished debate about the future of the NHS to intensify in 2023, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the health service on July 5.
More nurses’ strikes are due this month and horror stories about chaos at A&E departments and reports that around one in eight people in England is on a waiting list, can only deepen anxiety about the long-term survival of the NHS.
If the NHS is going to reach its 100th anniversary, a long-term plan is needed now for how it can retain and recruit world-class staff and ensure patients get the latest life-saving medicines, while tackling the legacy of lockdowns and meeting the complex needs of an ageing population.
The challenge is for party leaders to come up with the goods.
Ukraine enters new danger zone
Resolving the Ukraine crisis could lead to breakthroughs in some of the biggest challenges facing Britain and its allies, lowering energy costs, boosting food supplies and limiting the scale of the recession.
But any ceasefire that allowed Russia to keep control of land seized since last year’s invasion would be anathema to Ukrainians, who want to liberate all territory occupied by Moscow’s forces. There are also worries that Vladimir Putin will order a major new offensive which could unleash even greater civilian suffering.
A key worry will be that a panicked Kremlin will increasingly present this as a proxy war with Nato countries that supply Ukraine with weapons and intelligence. This heightens the threat of violence spilling beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Peace in Ukraine would transform prospects for a post-pandemic economic recovery, but a top priority this year will be containing the conflict and denying Putin a victory that would embolden other autocrats to settle territorial disputes by force.
Opportunities to de-escalate tensions must be grasped. The 80th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad next month is a chance to remember a time when Russians were allied with western powers and fought fascism with extraordinary courage and sacrifice.
Sir Keir confronts the Left
A battle looms between Sir Keir Starmer and his party’s remaining Corbynistas.
Labour’s towering poll lead means he can expect much greater scrutiny in 2023 as a potential PM-in-waiting.
What better way to counter Conservative attacks that he is a trade union-beholden closet Corbynista than to take on the Hard Left in his predecessor’s backyard?
Jeremy Corbyn was stripped of the whip for his response to a landmark report into anti-Semitism and Sir Keir has made it clear he does not expect him to stand in the next election under the Labour banner.
If Mr Corbyn chose to stand against an official Labour candidate in his Islington North constituency he would have no trouble recruiting pavement warriors from across the UK who would campaign to keep him in Parliament.
Sir Keir might welcome the confrontation – it would certainly be an easier way of burnishing his centrist credentials than telling strikers to get off the picket lines and get back to delivering vital services.
Tackling the French
Rugby fans will converge on France this autumn for the World Cup. President Emmanuel
Macron will hope his nation will make the most of its home advantage – and Britain has multiple reasons to try to keep him in a good mood in 2023.
The French leader could prove instrumental in finding a solution to the stand-off over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which would unblock trade and allow power-sharing to
return to the province.
French co-operation is also crucial to stopping people smuggling in small boats across the Channel.
Mr Macron knows how much pressure Mr Sunak is under on each of these issues. Behind the scenes at the rugby extravaganza, diplomats will work to cement a new entente cordiale.
Joe’s big decision
Will US President Joe Biden grow feathers and morph into a lame duck before our very eyes?
In November, he said he will announce whether or not he will run for a second term as president in “early” 2023.
If the 80-year-old decides not to stand in the November 2024 contest, the search for a Democratic candidate will go into hyperdrive; the party is desperate to deny Donald Trump or an equally conservative Republican the White House.
Traditionally, presidents who are not running for re-election turn their attention to foreign policy and seek legacy-cementing success stories.
There are signs the Biden team is now more willing to work for a resolution to problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol, but a bespoke trade deal with the UK is not in the offing.
The return of Liz Truss
Liz Truss is a telly producer’s dream – she is famous, feisty and the opposite of risk-averse. Everyone has an opinion on her, and her years at the Cabinet table mean she probably has
dynamite-grade revelations she can detonate at a time of her choosing.
We shouldn’t expect to see her eating a Hancock-style camel-based lunch in a jungle or putting on her dancing shoes for a Strictly debut.
But Britain has a long tradition of celebrating heroic failure and loves a public figure who can laugh at themselves.
She will want to cultivate the support of the Tory members who handed her victory in the summer’s leadership election while preparing the ground for her re-emergence in public life.
It will be no surprise if she appears on thoughtful documentaries to argue the moral case for economic growth.
And if she fancies another high-stakes gamble she could always take a guest spot on Have I Got News For You.
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