Boris on the brink: The winners and losers as Britain braces for 2022

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As the Prime Minister watched Daniel Craig tear through the Italian walled city of Matera on a Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC and leap around a Cuban nightclub with Ana de Armas, perhaps he stroked his chin and thought to himself, “I need more drama in my life.” The PM once seemed a blond colossus destined to dominate the political landscape for years – but where’s the excitement in that? If Mr Johnson wanted to go into 2022 with a fight on his hands for his political future, he got his wish. Tories wonder if he will be forced out this year if the May local elections are a fiasco.

MPs who once regarded Mr Johnson as an election-winning miracle machine are dumfounded today because the foundations of their party’s popularity have been detonated not by Labour but by their leader and those around him. 2021 may go down in Tory lore as the year when astonishing public support was frittered away through a succession of gaffes and scandals a more competent government could have easily dodged.

Not long ago, the prime minister seemed blessed with uncanny luck.

In June, he welcomed President Biden and the other G7 world leaders to Cornwall and Carbis Bay glowed with Caribbean grade sunshine. On Mr Johnson’s watch, England’s football team beat Germany and reached the final of the Euros and Emma Raducanu aced her A-Levels and triumphed at the US Open.

As the country escaped lockdown and the success of the vaccine programme liberated millions of us from fear of Covid-19, it sometimes seemed as if this was the second coming of Cool Britannia.

Mr Johnson looked as if he warranted a place in the Marvel Comics Universe with his superpower ability to defy political gravity. Voters traditionally use by-elections to give governing parties a spanking but Hartlepool turned blue for the first time in May, and 34-year-old transformation-intent Tory Ben Houchen was re-elected as Tees Valley Mayor with 73 percent support.

Celebrations continued when Mr Johnson and fiancée Carrie Symonds slipped into Westminster Cathedral at the end of the month to get married, fans of the much-missed Royal Yacht were heartened when a new “national flagship” was announced, and in August then-Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove was filmed throwing joyful dance moves in an Aberdeen nightclub.

The gradual winding up of the Covid furlough scheme did not result in a feared surge in unemployment, and the Conservatives enjoyed such a sustained lead in the polls that even Tory MPs fretted about the lack of an effective Opposition.

How did the good times stop rolling? Arguably, it started with a kiss.

Matt Hancock’s tenure as health secretary was immolated in June after images emerged of him breaking social distancing requirements by kissing colleague Gina Coladangelo. Politicians soon discovered that citizens who suffered a Covid-ruined Christmas in 2020 took a dim view of people in positions of privilege and power flouting rules.

David Cameron had done little to raise levels of respect for the political class when the scale of his lobbying for collapsed finance company Greensill Capital was exposed. A salvo of events caused voters to ask if existing ministers had dozed off at the wheel.

The Prime Minister is at his most effective when he has a clear goal, such as getting the country to vote to leave the EU; making Brexit a reality; stopping Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM; and getting the population vaccinated. In recent months he has been confronted with dilemmas, difficulties and debacles without easy solutions.

The country’s infrastructure started creaking as the economy rebounded. Petrol stations ran out of fuel in September and the Road Haulage Association warned of a shortage of more than 100,000 HGV drivers.

Brexit arrangements had been blamed for trade disruption and goods vanishing from shelves in Northern Ireland, but now the rest of the country faced a supply chain crisis. Hadn’t anyone seen this coming?

Britain also faced humiliation on the global stage after President Biden announced he was pulling US troops out of Afghanistan. This triggered panic as the Taliban swept towards Kabul and British diplomats and armed forces scrambled to evacuate Afghans desperate to escape; then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was pilloried for being on holiday as the Taliban advanced.

The hugely hyped COP26 climate conference in Glasgow never delivered Olympic pitch excitement and last-minute strong-arming by India and China saw the commitment to “phase out” the use of coal diluted to say “phase down”.

Tensions soared with France over the rights of their fishing vessels to enter our waters but neither Paris nor London were able to  stop migrants making treacherous journeys across the Channel to the UK in small boats. The deaths of 27 people in a single day in November made headlines around the world and demonstrated the urgency of stopping criminals herding people aboard the flimsy vessels.

Many Tory MPs say they are under intense pressure from angry constituents but, by November, the number of migrants who had reached the UK by boat was three times the 2020 figure of 8,469 – with more than 1,000 arriving in a single day.

There was sorrow across party lines in Parliament in October when Southend MP Sir David Amess was fatally stabbed while holding a surgery. Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who disagreed with him on many policy points, described him as “one of the kindest, friendliest people you could meet” – and colleagues mourned the passing of a conviction politician who debated with decency.

Unease crept through the Tory tribe when the Government announced plans to hike National Insurance by 1.25p in the pound from this coming April to support the pandemic-battered NHS and fund social care. But routine backbench grumbling curdled into disbelief in the final weeks of the year.

Former cabinet minister Owen Paterson commanded deep sympathy when the Commons standards committee ruled he had broken lobbying rules and recommended he be suspended for 30 sitting days. The North Shropshire MP, a veteran Brexiteer, had suffered heartbreak when his wife took her life, and friends had concerns about the investigation.

Downing St attempted to help Mr Paterson out but ended up with the worst of all worlds. Tory MPs were corralled into blocking the suspension but this triggered a scorching backlash and plans to overhaul the standards watchdog fell apart.

A day later the Government u-turned and Mr Paterson resigned – paving the way for the December 16 by-election which saw North Shropshire reject the Tories for the first time in the seat’s history. Liberal Democrats were thrilled to overturn a Conservative majority of nearly 23,000, especially as the victory followed their success in turning the former true blue seat of Chesham and Amersham yellow in the June by-election.

That upset had been blamed on angry Remainers and consternation about the HS2 rail line but the loss of North Shropshire was seen as a devastating verdict from natural Conservatives on the performance of Mr Johnson’s Government.

The sense of the Government losing its focus had been compounded when thousands of homes were left without power for days in the wake of November’s Storm Arwen.

Consternation at reports that Christmas parties and quizzes took place in Whitehall when families were banned from celebrating with friends and relatives forced the resignation of Government adviser Allegra Stratton after video emerged of Downing St staff joking about how to respond to questions about a party.

And the Electoral Commission slapped the Conservatives with a £17,800 fine for “failing to accurately report a donation” towards the cost of refurbishing Mr Johnson’s flat.

Tory frustration blazed into the open when around 100 Conservative MPs refused to back Covid passes in England.

It was against this backdrop of chaos, defiance and dismay that the citizens of North Shropshire abandoned their support for the Conservatives. The resignation of Brexit minister Lord Frost on December 19 was just about the worst Christmas present the prime minister could be handed.

Mr Johnson now faces the challenge of leading MPs who are unafraid to rebel and a country that is braced for tax rises and higher prices. If he wants to bequeath a still-United Kingdom to his successor he must also persuade Scots and the Northern Irish to stick with the union.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are spoken of as likely candidates in a future leadership contest but doubts remain as to whether either could command the spectacular support Mr Johnson ignited in both the north and the south of England in the 2019 election.

Even MPs who are frustrated with the PM regard his genius for campaigning with awe and hope that with the right team around him he can reboot his premiership. Mr Johnson must convince them he is just as hungry for success.


This political rock star needs a comeback special early in the new year, and his backing band would like nothing more than to see him top the charts again.


Nobody in the cabinet today captures post-Brexit optimism and ambition with such zest as Ms Truss. She has no doubt that Britain has great days ahead of it as a champion of democracy and free trade, and that a low-tax Conservative party is what the nation needs. Her promotion from international trade secretary to foreign secretary has fuelled expectations she will one day run for the top job.


The SNP did well in Scottish Parliament elections – voters declined to elect a single member of Alba, the new pro-independence party launched by mentor turned rival Alex Salmond – and a deal with the Greens gives her welcome elbow room. Scotland is still divided on whether to break away from the UK but Ms Sturgeon is in a strong position to make the argument.


The Labour leader has not landed knock-out blows on Boris Johnson or excited the country with new policies but his party is up in the polls following the spate of Tory gaffes and scandals. The longer he stays in the role, the less obscure he becomes, and he has strengthened his position with the promotion of talented moderates to the shadow cabinet.


The Welsh first minister enjoyed a successful election, with Labour winning half the seats in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. He has struck an agreement with Plaid Cymru which should provide the stability he needs to carve out an ambitious post-pandemic legacy before he hands over the reins to a successor.


The Chancellor won plaudits for putting together the furlough scheme at breakneck speed but he has broken manifesto pledges by raising national insurance to fund the NHS and social care and suspending the triple lock. Low-tax Tories are unhappy about planned increases to corporation tax, and there will be alarm if he does not open the Treasury cheque book to deliver on promises to “level-up” poorer regions.


Mr Hancock held one of the most stressful positions in government as health secretary during the pandemic but images of him breaking social distancing rules by kissing an aide made his resignation inevitable. Dominic Cummings has ferociously attacked his response to the pandemic but Mr Hancock’s tenacity and ambition are legendary so a comeback can’t be ruled out.


Mr Raab came under sharp attack for being on holiday as the Taliban advanced towards Kabul. He admitted that “with hindsight” he would not have gone on holiday at all but he was moved from the foreign office to the highly demanding Ministry of Justice where he is expected to lead reform of the Human Rights Act.


Many Tory backbenchers are deeply frustrated that the number of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats has soared, and a succession of policing scandals has shaken public faith in law and order. The Home Secretary has one of the toughest portfolios in Whitehall but will be determined to make progress in 2022.


The former Brexit negotiator sought to win the Republican nomination for the French presidential race but did not make it to the final round. He swerved to the right on immigration but failed to excite the party faithful.

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