The Gist: 2022, Tragedy and Farce

As the year ends we have a quick look back at some of the main stories of 2022. This is the Gist of the year.

The Gist: 2022, Tragedy and Farce
Jogging on to 2023

Everything, everywhere, all at once

The biggest story, rumbling behind everything else that happened in 2022 was Russia invading Ukraine at the end of February. Initially billed by Russia as less a war and more a mass visit to a reluctant cousin's house, the reality bit hard within days. But beyond the military failures (which were legion) was the strategic failure to understand the nature of Ukraine itself. From "The Dry Ice of War", written three days after the invasion started.

The success of the Russian invasion has been taken as a given. Their numbers and arms are overwhelming. But ask the United States whether superiority of numbers and arms ensured victory in Iraq. Victory is a politically defined state, not a military one and invading a stable democracy doesn’t have many of those endpoints available for the aggressors.

More than losing on the battlefield of Ukraine, Putin's Russia also lost its place in the global economy. Sanctions saw the EU cut itself off from Russian gas. Fuel prices soared across Europe, but were subsidised or capped by state interventions.

Refugees poured across the borders into the EU and were taken in with visa waivers (except for in the UK, who spent the year making questionable choices. We'll get to them below).

Ukraine held the line and then pushed it back. The EU and the US held their lines. The Russian people continued to be fed their government lines. 2023 will see which of these lines breaks first, with consequences for almost everything.

The Incredible Imploding Prime Ministers

While the war in Ukraine was deathly serious, the UK continued to offer the world the comic relief of their political dysfunction. Starting the year with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is, admittedly, already akin to waking with a hangover and finding yourself sharing a bed with a haystack made of willies. But nobody could have foreseen that (after his MPs discovered by way of a series of by-election losses that the voters would punish the Tories if Johnson remained) he would be brought down by somebody else's sex scandal.

There then followed a lengthy leadership campaign, commencing with Rishi Sunak as favourite and ending with Liz Truss being elected leader. While Sunak warned his electorate of difficult days ahead, Truss succeeded by promising them everything was awesome.

How to win a Tory Party Leadership Election

On meeting her new Prime Minister, the Queen died, triggering a week of national reflection which quickly devolved into a row about who was and wasn't skipping the queue. While ending the longest reign of any monarch in British history with a row about queuing may seem to be the most British of all public discourse choices, that is only true if you realise that row took the place of actually reflecting on the fall of the British Empire.

Having seen off Queen Elizabeth, Liz Truss swiftly saw off the UK's economy, her chancellor and then the branch she was sitting on by way of a 'mini-budget' with macro effects. The new PM announced that she was unleashing Britain only to find out the cords she was cutting were attached to the parachute that had been holding it aloft. Having given the Tory hardliners everything they'd demanded for years, it turned out they were to choke on their unlimited rice pudding.

Mortgage rates jumped, government borrowing costs jumped and after 45 days in office, she jumped too.

Rishi Sunak became the third Prime Minister of 2022, and, barring unforeseen complications between now and midnight, the last one. His MPs are effectively at war with themselves, the voters are just waiting to make their feelings known at the ballot box and his party is, on average, one single percentage point higher in the polls than it was the day Liz Truss left.

Ireland, going in circles

Making notes for this year in review, it struck me how short on narrative Ireland was. The biggest stories and changes were all abroad. As long as you weren't really looking forward to a white-water rafting centre or a place to live, life mostly struggled to try to rebalance to normality after the chaos and tragedy of the lockdown years.

The business of politics, as opposed to the content of any individual political choice, took precedence. Whether declaring he wanted the National Maternity Hospital to go ahead with St Vincents Healthcare Group as landlords or splitting the baby of climate science to pacify the cattle and dairy lobby, or trying to restrict citizen's rights to challenge the decisions of the Planning Authority after the courts found those decisions to be frequently unlawful, the Taoiseach made a virtue of being decisive, as opposed to necessarily making the correct decisions.

This was praised by the political press. As the EU started to ask questions about laws passed without following the required processes at the end of the year, the shortcomings of passing laws and worrying about the details later started to make themselves known to the government. He remains, despite this, to have handled multiple crises with humane and open impulses, running contrary to the wishes of significant chunks of his party.

So when December rolled around he remained effectively unchallenged as FF's leader, even as he was replaced as Taoiseach by Leo Varadkar. The effect on each of their parties of this switch will become apparent as 2023 winds on, but it is likely to be centrifugal.

This here, and you there

Thank you all for reading the Gists across 2022. There are now just over 1000 of you signed up to have them land in your inbox. You should each hope to identify each other, possibly by a special handshake or a lapel pin of a one and a zero. However, I couldn't write these pieces unless I knew you liked reading them, so for me, please let me wish you all a happy and peaceful 2023.