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Opinion

Adam Boulton on why we can be cautiously optimistic for 2022

Journalist and broadcaster Adam Boulton says 2021 was pretty bleak, but there may be more to look forward to in 2022.

The second year of the Covid pandemic is nearly over and in some ways the state of the nation does not seem much better than it was 12 months ago or even worse.

The Omicron variant has given us new reasons to worry about social contacts and going out into public spaces. Experts talk of a new “tsunami of infections” which could paralyse the NHS. Far from enjoying festive pay days, many businesses have had to shut up shop.

This time neither they nor their workers have the emergency help to fall back on the government offered – such as the furloughs and tax forgiveness – but started withdrawing last summer. Depressingly the ending of Louise Casey’s Everyone In scheme has seen rough sleepers return in numbers to the streets of the UK’s major cities. 

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Baroness Casey moved on to expose more reasons not to be cheerful with her report identifying “national shame” over the yobbish behaviour and inadequate policing of what should have been the unifying joy of England reaching the Euro 2020 final.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, who tried to cash in on the football frenzy by wearing an England shirt over his business suit, no longer appears to be the popular and amusing Prime Minister he was 12 months ago, when he was fresh from a crushing general election victory with a mandate at last to get Brexit done and done his way.

Today Johnson’s popularity has plunged, Labour lead in some opinion polls as his government learns that it will be held to account for its actions and words, eventually, just like the rest of us. 

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Internationally there is much to worry about as well. India, China and Russia combined at the COP26 summit to sabotage a clear global commitment to move away from fossil fuel combustion. President Putin is massing troops on the border of Ukraine.

China continues with its oppression of the Uighurs, to tighten its iron grip on Hong Kong and to continue its bullying plan for global expansion by indebting poorer countries through its belt and road initiative. In the United States, even The New York Times, is losing faith in whether the incumbent 79-year-old Democratic president will be a viable candidate for re-election in 2024. Yet on every major continent there are streams of migrants in search of a peaceful and, if possible, more affluent western-democratic style of life. 

Some things went right in 2021 and provide at least an argument for optimism about next year. This year science fought back against the pandemic, through vaccines, testing and better understood remedial care.

With the Omicron variant, Covid may be evolving in a similar way to the life cycle of previous viral outbreaks – becoming both more virulent and less severe in consequence. The need for more vaccinations in poorer countries is rightly being stressed, but in South Africa at least, identified as the cradle of Omicron, health services are not reported to be overstretched. 

America may not be “back” with quite the bounce President Biden hoped for. But his administration is carefully rebuilding old alliances in the recognition that America alone will not be able to prevail. He could yet be fatally wounded in next November’s Mid-Term elections by victories for Trumpists in Congress. But for all the vicious polarisation in the US, there is little dissent about a more constructive foreign policy. The containment of rogue states to behave increased incrementally in 2021, and there are some who believe that Xi and Putin’s truculence is more an indication of weakness than strength.

It will be interesting to see how the diplomacy and level of enthusiasm develops around the world’s two big sporting fixtures next year, both in oppressive nations – the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the World Cup in Qatar.

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Here the revolt, even revulsion, at Boris Johnson’s attempt to use his parliamentary majority to get his friend Owen Paterson, and potentially himself, off the hook for corrupt behaviour showed that Conservative MPs are in no mood to follow their Republican cousins by adopting the Fuhrerprinzip. It is fair to say that factions of Tory MPs are all over the place on most issues, but without their guaranteed support for an election winner, the Prime Minister will have to govern with more care and attention than he has so far or quite possibly face severe consequences at the hands of his own side. An angry confrontation with the EU, over Northern Ireland for example, would open up wounds in many directions. In any case France will be distracted by a Presidential election, while the new Red-Green-Yellow government in Germany is set to be more internationalist and less selfish than its predecessor.

There was more to worry about than to celebrate in 2021. But some of the trends which emerged hold out the promise of a happier New Year. 

Adam Boulton is a broadcaster and political journalist.

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