147 ministers a’ sacking (or resigning), six by-elections, four chancellors of the exchequer, three prime ministers, two heads of state, and yet another confessional documentary from the renegade House of Sussex…

WEAK festive gags about lonesome partridges and the fruit trees they occupy do write themselves. This year may not strike you as a year to carol over, but nobody could accuse the last 12 months of being uneventful.

From January 2022, the UK Government shed cabinet ministers and secretaries of state at the rate of roughly two-and-a-half a day.

Westminster Bills have been killed and revived. New taxes have been announced and reversed. Ukraine continues to be battered by war and industrial disharmony has broken out to an extent unprecedented in recent British history as inflation chews through household budgets and fuel poverty fuels poverty.

Support for independence is up after the UK Supreme Court judgment, and there is no sign of the political pressure to revisit the national question abating. 

This isn’t exactly the winter of discontent, but the UK Government heads into Christmas facing an unenviable series of challenges in balancing social benefits and burdens while trying to seize back the political initiative from the studied blandness of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party and work out a longer term strategy to save a union which has lost the support of stark percentages of younger voters. 

The National:

I sometimes worry the Covid pandemic may have broken – or at least interrupted – my sense of time. Some 1000 days have now passed since we were first sent home from the university, pubs and restaurants were shuttered, and businesses closed. 

I know things happened during lockdown – that life for many of us continued to trundle on – but the period still feels like an odd, blank canvas in my memory. I suppose this is a feature of the monotony which characterised life during this period. Every day was, more or less, like the one which preceded and followed it. 

For many of us, 2022 will mark the restoration of a kind of normality, or at least a new normal.

But this year in politics poses a different problem. George Orwell said that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”.

The struggle we faced in 2022 was keeping up with events which whirred by at the speed of an electric meter in a cold snap.

The business of politics relies on the public’s capacity for forgetfulness. Today’s headlines aren’t even tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers any more: 24-hour news is a stream of consciousness, a constant babble.

Promises kept and promises broken become “ancient history” within weeks. Today’s scandal is something we’re meant to shrug over after a month or two.

Modern journalists operate in one of the most forgetful professions in the world, and political hacks can be particularly amnesia-prone.

It’s difficult to hold the memories of everything that happened tight – but we should try.

Because in politics, someone is always trying to launder their reputation, to change the narrative, to encourage you to drop the pesky questions about who did what, when, and why.

This is the logic which marched Matt Hancock into the jungle, and it is the same trick which Rishi Sunak hopes to work by re-laundering the Conservative Party as Persil white, quite untainted by any of the mischief any his predecessors may have made.

The National:

All the cliches are in evidence: new beginnings, clean breaks and ancient history – please don’t read the small print.

Thumb back through the political calendar of the last 12 months, however, and you’ll read a different story – of British state dysfunction, the feebleness of government by gentlemen’s agreement, and an unstable conservative coalition capable of utter incoherence on tax, spending, the environment, and immigration.

Less than 12 months ago, Boris Johnson was still ensconced – battered but brazen – as Prime Minister, fortified by his stonking Commons majority and the devil’s deal the Tories unsentimentally struck with this “proven winner” with a flair for being economical with the actualité.

New partygate revelations continued to leak like a burst pipe into the media through January. Less than two weeks into the new year, Johnson was finally forced to admit he attended lockdown busting booze-ups in the PM’s official residence. 

This followed hot on the heels of the Government’s botched attempt to fiddle parliamentary discipline rules to let party grandee Owen Paterson off the hook, despite compelling evidence that Paterson had systematically conflated his parliamentary and extracurricular lobbying business and was utterly unrepentant about this glaring conflict of interest.

The clean sheet brigade now in control went along with all of this.

The National:

Sue Gray – then the Metropolitan Police – were also busily exploring the hooched- up social life of Downing Street during lockdown.

Tales of gorging and puking, of suitcases full of smuggled Sauvignon, collegiate vomiting, a karaoke machine and the occasional fist-fight seemed to testify to a Downing Street culture characterised by private school yobbery and a staff taking their unprofessional cue from the naughty hellfire Prime Minister while clever Rishi stayed up late in his Downing Street flat doing the sums.

Tory sleaze seemed to be back with a vengeance at the start of 2022 – but being a debauchee with a nodding acquaintance with the truth was always part of Johnson’s political brand.

In the language of professional spinners, his incontinence seemed “priced in” – even celebrated – by his base, who cherished his particular knack for winding up their social and economic enemies, triggering remoaners, metropolitan lefties, Scot nats, Shinners and right-on lawyers who think the UK should honour its promises to uphold fundamental rights. 

Liz Truss, latterly, benefited from the same culture war sensibility, effectively positioning herself as the best candidate to own the libs and melt some snowflakes.

'Standards are worth fighting for'... 

MONTHS after the opportunity for a true resignation of principle had whizzed past, his party ankle-deep in dirty tricks, Covid-fines and new revelations about compromised ethical standards, the chancellor of the exchequer’s conscience finally got the better of him. 

“The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously,” Sunak intoned in early July, hastily scampering after Sajid Javid who got his retaliation in first.

“I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

This was brazen humbug polished to a sheen Johnson himself would be proud of.

They weren’t concerned Johnson was a liar. Their fears were rooted entirely in the diagnosis he had become an electoral liability and had to go.

The National:

Then in Liz they Trussed, and mayhem ensued. This year of Tory turmoil is certainly a story of personalities – a fable for how ungovernable ego, mediocrity and a narcissistic contempt for the rules can in different ways blow up a party, a government and an economy.

But it would be naïve to analyse these events purely in terms of the personalities involved. Johnson and Truss were recruited, incubated, and promoted by their party over decades.

They got their legs up from supposedly “sensible centrist” predecessors, who’re now content to distance themselves from the political monsters and climates they helped create.

Their ascents and descents tell you a great deal about the intellectual and human qualities valued by “the natural party of government” – which has revealed itself to be for and against higher taxes, for and against austerity, for and against reform of the Human Rights Act, and for and against green policies on planning, building and energy. 

Looking back over 2022, who could credibly claim the Tories – or the British state – are strong and stable now?