The digested year: Goats, squirrels and Schrödinger’s PM – The Guardian

Chaotic 2022 supplied us with resignations and U-turns aplenty, as well as the remarkable Hancock prophecies
Well. 2022 wasn’t exactly what we needed after nearly two years of intermittent lockdowns and continuing health anxieties during the Covid pandemic. What we could have done with was something soothing. Something calming, to give us all time to ease back into our normal lives. Last December I wrote my predictions for the coming year. I suggested that Boris Johnson would be kicked out of No 10 by the early summer and that Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss would emerge as the two frontrunners to become prime minister. I even said that Truss would go on to win as the Tory party were hellbent on proving they had a sense of humour. Satire rewriting itself as history.
Only I was far too cautious. I never dreamed that Truss would only last a few weeks and that the man the party didn’t want would become the MPs’ new champion. Or that the economy would be the second worst performing in the G20. Or that British politics would reveal itself to be terminally dysfunctional. So this year I am going to skip the predictions. Safe in the knowledge that 2023 will almost certainly be far, far worse than anything you can imagine. Instead, let’s reflect back on the past 12 months.
Where to start? You could take your pick from almost any member of the cabinet. At one point during the Tory leadership campaign, Nadhim Zahawi seemed to have given his unequivocal backing to at least three candidates simultaneously. But credit where credit is due and first place goes to Rishi Sunak for a series of rolling U-turns. Does Sunak think onshore windfarms are a good idea or not? Does he approve of building new homes on the green belt or not? Does he support an energy price cap or not? I could go on. At some point during the year Sunak has believed all these things; and their opposites. He is Schrödinger’s prime minister. There and not there. So much so that he has had to qualify his absence of certainty. Everything he believed during the first leadership campaign he no longer necessarily still believes. Those beliefs were time specific. Besides, he lost that leadership bid so he’s no longer still obliged to believe what he said he believed. Or something like that. Now he is free to reinvent himself. The whole point of Rishi is to believe nothing. Other than what is necessary for him to survive as prime minister for another week.
Again, so many to choose from. Boris Johnson’s graceless departure from No 10. He still doesn’t see that breaking the laws he made and lying to parliament disqualifies him, not just from the top job, but from any job in government. Then there was Liz Truss’s emotional departure. Not to mention the 60 or so ministerial resignations that preceded Johnson’s exit. But pride of place must go to Michelle Donelan who accepted the job of education secretary on 5 July after Johnson promoted Zahawi to chancellor. Only for her to resign less than two days later. Quite what happened in those few hours to change her mind is anyone’s guess. Unless she was the only person in Westminster who thought Boris was a winner on the Tuesday and a loser on the Thursday. People would kill for political antennae as sharp as that.
Amid all the political upheavals, it’s easy to forget that the queen died in September. Even though she was 96 years old, it still came as a profound shock. Almost as if we had allowed ourselves to believe she might somehow never die. That for her to die was unthinkable. The 10 days of mourning, culminating in the state funeral, brought out the best in the country. Bound people just that bit tighter. Her coffin descending into the crypt in Windsor was one of the defining images of the year. Her death reminded us all of other losses. Deaths not fully grieved. If any death can be said to be fully grieved. For most of us it is a never-ending process. My sister celebrates her 50th wedding anniversary this coming April. I asked her if she was having a party. “No,” she replied. There would be too many empty spaces. I know how she feels.
I was tempted to give the award to Liz Truss. No woman made a greater impact on the country. And when she looks back on her career, she won’t ever die wondering. Just a shame she got just about everything wrong. But the honour goes to Nazanin Zagahari-Ratcliffe for the resilience and dignity with which she endured being held prisoner in Iran. And for not bowing to the government’s narrative when she was released. Zaghari-Ratcliffe clung tight to her own truth. That she had been badly let down by Johnson, who during a select committee hearing had carelessly accused her of teaching journalists. The government tried to claim her release as their victory; Nazanin wasn’t having any of it.
A clear winner. Since 2019, the UK has voted – or rather in the case of Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the Tory party and Tory MPs have voted – for a prime minister, and has found itself with a comedian. Ukraine did it the other way. They voted for a comic actor and ended up with a leader. Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been an inspiration, not just to Ukraine but to the rest of the world. He has held his country tight during the invasion and has defied most military analysts who had assumed that a Russian victory was inevitable. More than that, he has become the moral compass for the west. A leader we can all look up to when our own are found wanting.
The Qatar World Cup left everyone feeling a little grubby – especially those, like myself, who had promised we would do our best to ignore it and then got hooked in by the football. Even when England’s journey ended predictably enough in the quarter-finals – did people really imagine we would get any further? Yet it did resolve one issue to most people’s satisfaction. The Greatest Of All Time. At least in the 21st century. Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? There will be some who still think Ronaldo is the special one, the 37-year-old around whom any Premier League team ought to be building a squad of players. But Messi’s performance in guiding Argentina to World Cup glory – even when, for long periods, he appeared to be doing it at a walking pace – will have sealed the deal for most people. He has now won every competition for club and country along with countless personal awards. And he seems like a decent bloke. Now to put him head to head with Pelé.
It’s very tempting to give it to myself for last year’s column. If only I had dared to be a bit wilder. Still, Matt Hancock is a more than worthy winner. Because it turns out that there is nothing he has ever got wrong. In his non-bestselling Pandemic Diaries – available for under £1 at all good charity shops – Matt got all the big calls right. He spotted the Covid threat long before the Chinese and battled heroically to get Johnson and Dominic Cummings to take the virus more seriously. He also personally made billions of items of PPE in his spare time. It also may help that Matt has a rather unusual approach to keeping a diary. Rather than writing contemporaneously, he makes notes retrospectively by chatting some years later to a ghostwriter. His predictions for 2022, in which he foretold the exact day Russia would invade Ukraine and that he would come third on I’m a Celebrity, have just been published.
No contest. It’s now official. We are no longer allowed to use the word Brexit. The Conservatives have banned it because their government department devoted to exploring Brexit benefits has had to be wound up because no one had been able to find any. And it’s also on Labour’s proscribed list as the party thinks we should should not mention it before the next election as it may trigger “red wall” voters. So the fact that the country has taken a major hit to GDP and many leavers are having doubts are now thought crimes. Businesses going under have just failed to take advantage of the new opportunities of a shortage of labour and an increase in red tape. To mention Brexit is to talk the UK down.
Johnson will be gutted. The first time he hasn’t won this award in nearly a decade. Though he did try. Delivering four second-rate speeches at £250,000 a pop in November while still having his accommodation bankrolled by the ever-generous Bamfords shows a complete disregard for how most of the country lives. Yet even Boris can’t keep up with Michelle Mone, who has apparently trousered a share of £29m from the profits of a firm that supplied unusable PPE. Keeping the aspidistra flying.
Seeing a red squirrel in the wild has been a lifetime ambition. And this year, while spending a weekend on the Isle of Wight, I achieved it. Better still, I also saw a black squirrel. Heaven. 2022 wasn’t all unbridled chaos.


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