The Queen's platinum anniversary, winter World Cup and political manoeuvres - what we can expect in 2022

A unique Royal anniversary, the continuing fight against Covid and a World Cup beckon in 2022, but what else might the New Year hold? Andrew Vine looks ahead.

ONCE Auld Lang Syne has been sung and the New Year’s Eve hangovers have eased, Britain steps into 2022 with much to look forward to.

It is going to be a year of pomp, celebration and probably street parties. It is also going to be one in which sporting stars take centre stage with millions cheering them on.

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But 2022 also has clouds on its horizon: political uncertainty and economic turbulence at home, and the possibility of tensions – even conflict – abroad. And over everything hovers the greatest uncertainty of all – what course the pandemic takes.

The Queen will celebrate 70 years on the throne in 2022. Picture: ARTHUR EDWARDS/AFP/GettyImages.

Here are some of the things that might lie ahead...

Covid-19

Just as at the start of 2021, we go into the New Year hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.

Covid’s capacity to deliver the nastiest of shocks was underlined in the run-up to Christmas when the Omicron variant appeared, which threatens to overwhelm the NHS.

Emma Raducanu. Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP.

The scientific community says the next few weeks will be critical, as Omicron’s peak is yet to come, but it cannot be sure when. Perhaps mid-January, or maybe mid-February.

Modelling of the toll it could take is grim. On the most optimistic projections, deaths might be fewer than 25,000, but the worst-case scenarios say 75,000 are possible.

That comes on top of the usual winter pressures on the NHS. We do not yet know if this will prove a bad year for flu, with thousands of patients needing hospitalisation in addition to those with Covid.

Ratcheting up the pressure on the NHS even further is the ever-growing backlog of patients whose treatment has been postponed by the pandemic – there are 312,000 who have waited more than a year for operations.

And in spring comes the public inquiry into the pandemic, and the Government’s handling of it, chaired by former senior Appeal Court judge Lady Hallett, who acted as coroner in the inquest on the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London’s bus and tube network that claimed 52 lives.

Politics

Will this be the year when Boris Johnson’s own party turns on him? His former right-hand-man Dominic Cummings thinks so.

Or will the Prime Minister’s popularity ratings that dipped so sharply at the end of last year amid scandal over restriction-busting parties, a massive revolt by Conservative MPs and the bruising loss of a safe seat in the North Shropshire by-election soar once again?

Public opinion in the north’s Red Wall seats, won from Labour in 2019, are crucial to which way it goes for Mr Johnson.

That’s because the Government’s planned relaunch to put 2021’s difficulties behind it has at its heart the long-awaited White Paper on levelling up, written by Michael Gove and the former Bank of England chief economist, Yorkshire-born Andy Haldane.

Its contents are not yet clear, but one of the obstacles it will have to overcome is scepticism about the Government’s commitment to rebalancing the economy after the axeing of the HS2 line to Sheffield and Leeds, and the downgrading of Northern Powerhouse rail to transform trans-Pennine journey times.

Then there is the looming row over West Yorkshire’s £2bn mass transit system, promised as a consolation prize for the region losing out on high-speed rail. Who pays for it is likely to be the source of bitter wrangling after the Government made it plain that the council taxpayers of West Yorkshire would be expected to foot most of the bill. That will not go down well with hard-pressed households, who from April will find themselves paying an extra 1.25 per cent in National Insurance to address the social care crisis, as well as facing a hike in gas prices and inflation at a 10-year high.

Royal Family

It is a unique milestone in the 1,000-year story of the British monarchy – the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

The 70th anniversary of her succession to the throne is on February 6, but the national celebration of it comes in June, two months after her 96th birthday, with an additional bank holiday on Friday the 3rd, when street parties are likely to be held across the land, a concert at Buckingham Palace on the 4th and then a pageant in London on the 5th.

Yet amid the celebrations, 2022 is freighted with sad anniversaries for the Queen – her beloved father’s death, of course, but also the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s loss in 1997, and the 20th anniversary of losing her mother, aged 101, and her sister, Princess Margaret, at 71, within weeks of each other.

And shadows cast by the present, not the past, surround the Jubilee. One is the continuing embarrassment of Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted American sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died in prison. Allegations by a woman that she was coerced into having sex with the prince will be rebutted in a New York court in January, when Andrew’s lawyers begin legal action against his accuser.

The second shadow is also cast from America, in the form of Prince Harry’s autobiography, due out in 2022, for which he has reportedly been paid a $20m advance.

No publication date has been announced, but the story Harry tells – in print and in the round of promotional interviews that will follow – could cause heartache for the Royal family in a special year for the Queen.

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In the bitter winter weather of eastern Europe, 125,000 Russian troops are massed on the border with Ukraine, a worrying sign that President Vladimir Putin intends to annexe his neighbour, despite being warned off invasion by the United States.

The New Year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union, an entity to which Mr Putin was a devoted servant as a KGB officer, and the symbolism of that may have a bearing on his desire to create new empire.

China, too, is a cause for concern because of its aggressive stance towards Taiwan, and continuing crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong in a year that marks the 25th anniversary of Britain handing over control of the territory.

Closer to home, friction looms with the EU as the consequences of Brexit continue to play out. A court battle over the rights of 2.3 million EU citizens to continue living and working in Britain is likely, and there is also the continuing issue of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Channel to Britain from France, amid warnings that chaos and starvation in Afghanistan could swell the numbers of refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe.

Sports

Whatever 2022 has in store, one thing is certain – Britain will be looking to its sportsmen and women to give us all something to cheer about.

A great year of sport begins with the Winter Olympics in Beijing next month and summer brings the Commonwealth Games to Birmingham.

At Wimbledon, all eyes will be on Emma Raducanu in the belief that aged only 19 she can become the first British winner of the women’s singles since Virginia Wade in 1977.

The most-anticipated event of all comes in November with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, when the nation hopes that Gareth Southgate’s England team can go one better than their performance at this year’s Euros.