Politics predicts: what will 2022 look like?

Our contributors make predictions on key events that could shape the next 12 months, from a Russian invasion of Ukraine to another lockdown.

Will Boris Johnson be replaced as leader of the Conservatives?

The “greased piglet”, as David Cameron once labelled Johnson in reference to his irrepressibility, has been written off many times during his two decades in politics. In September, he seemed impervious in his leadership. But recent losses, from lockdown party revelations to Peppa Pig World tirades, have seen his support tumble to a career low. One recent Opinium poll found that Labour held a seven-point lead over the Conservatives. That lead rose to 12 points when Johnson’s name was mentioned in the polling question. Following the North Shropshire by-election defeat and mounting Commons voting disloyalty, his authority is quickly fading, with Culture secretary Nadine Dorries being kicked from a Conservative MPs group chat for defending him.

The question here, therefore, seems to be not if he will go, but when. May’s local elections seem a likely last stand, with only 54 MPs needed to force a vote of no-confidence, although Tories will first want to find a successor. Sunak seems to be the most probable contender; another Opinium poll finds that the party would be 60 seats better off under his leadership. Amongst the Tory faithful, however, Liz Truss remains the favourite. Either way, with economic conditions predicted to deteriorate and Covid-19 cases rapidly rising, finding a replacement is now the only obstacle to Johnson’s downfall.

Will the Democrats lose control of Congress after the 2022 midterms?

What do 2010, 2014, and 2018 all have in common in American politics? These were all years when midterm elections took place – when all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and one-third of Senate seats are up for grabs – and in each of them the president’s party lost control of one of the chambers of Congress. This is quite a common phenomenon in American politics, and it looks like Joe Biden’s Democrats will meet a similar fate.

There are many factors at play against the oldest president in American history: lingering Covid-19 issues, state redistricting following the 2021 census (over which Republicans have most influence), a major inflation issue, increased voting restrictions in many states, and slim Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. Moreover, midterms tend to have lower turnouts, particularly amongst young people and ethnic minorities, meaning that Democrats face an uphill battle to match a motivated GOP base of whom an alarming number are still in support of Trump’s ‘big lie’ that the 2020 election was stolen.

My prediction is that the Democrats will hold the House, but only with a slim majority. But they will lose the Senate. Holding both would be a great success for Democrats but would require bucking the trend of the last decade.

Will we see yet another lockdown in England?

So far, the start of another new year does not seem to have offered the UK much of a clean slate – at least, not with regards to our Covid-19 situation.

We find ourselves in familiar circumstances: Scotland and Wales have tightened restrictions in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant; the NHS continues to contend with the tidal wave of cases that has swept across the nation over the past few months; and other essential public services and businesses are suffering labour shortages due to a self-isolation crisis reminiscent of the “pingdemic” of Summer 2021. At this time last year, Boris Johnson pledged to keep schools open before promptly throwing England into another national lockdown. Having once again celebrated Christmas and the New Year beneath the dangling threat of a proposed “circuit breaker”, there’s one question on everyone’s minds right now: will we be locked down again?

My tentative response is: no. Following the recent publication of some promising data suggesting Omicron is a much milder illness than previous variants, Boris announced his hope at the latest Downing Street press conference that there will be no need to shut down the country, so long as the public continue to get boosted. Besides, with a rising number of Tory backbenchers ready to rebel against further restrictions, and a similarly disaffected general public outraged by our government’s wilful disregard for their own rules, it could be political suicide for Boris to introduce further measures – especially when he would have so little justification for doing so. In recent weeks we have seen more and more voices from across the political spectrum begin to question whether total lockdowns do more harm than good. Our response to Covid-19 is evolving, and this seems to have been reflected in Boris’ recent briefing. I only hope that this time Boris stays true to his word.

What does next year hold for Iran’s nuclear development?

Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program in the 1950s gave Iran nuclear materials. Iran now has one nuclear power reactor and is planning two further large Russian-designed units. However, since then the Western-Iranian relationship has been characterised by disagreement and tension. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty supposedly indicated Iran’s commitment to peace, yet this has been continuously doubted by the West. Consequently, co-operation has largely ceased since the 1970s.

The US remains undecided in its attitude to Iran, flip-flopping between diplomacy and aggression. Then-president Barack Obama ordered the launch of cyber-attacks on an Iranian nuclear plant in 2008 yet seven years later committed to the Iran nuclear deal. Former President Donald Trump’s sanctions mean this deal is on the brink of collapse, prompting Iran to breach the deal and stockpile uranium.

Israel has consistently used aggression to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. It is widely believed that Israel is responsible for the 2020 assassination of a senior Iranian nuclear scientist. However, the Biden administration has opted for diplomacy, promising to lift sanctions if Iran comply.

Optimism may yet be premature. Diplomacy works only if both parties are co-operative, and this seems unlikely given Iran’s history of secrecy. Western aggression is not out of the picture: Israel and the US have already warned of a ‘Plan B’ if Iran fails to negotiate.

Will Russia invade Ukraine?

New Year’s resolutions are often made to be broken, which may be just as well for Vladimir Putin if the “new opportunities” he referenced in his January 1st address to the Russian nation regard the invasion of Ukraine. The potentially 70,000-strong deployment of Russian forces along the eastern borders of Ukraine certainly poses as a statement of intent, but a statement is all it is.

While the prospect of an invasion into the heartland of Ukraine has many in Washington warning of a renewed war on European soil, the prevailing attitude on the streets of Kiev remains one more of indifference than fear, for the threat of Russian aggression is not foreign to them. Perhaps it is the knowledge that Russia’s economy, which lags behind those of Italy and Canada, cannot stomach the immense cost of full-scale occupation and the accompanying Western sanctions that comforts them.

Regardless, while the threat of invasion will likely remain Mr Putin’s stalking horse throughout 2022, it is ultimately the application of pressure through the like of the Nord-Stream 2 project and disinformation campaigns that may allow the Russian president to ride out the year having forced regime change in Ukraine.

Illustration: Anna Kuptsova

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