I’m sitting here at the keyboard trying to work out how to make sense of such a tumultuous year without disappearing into repetitious rambling so I’m going to use a few headings to help – although there’s bound to be a few crossovers in the subjects. Let’s face it, it’s been one hell of a year, both in the UK and wider world, so it’s no surprise the the Collins dictionary word of the year 2022 is “permacrisis” – it sums up the situation perfectly. Having seen the back of Donald Trump and with Covid looking like it was burning itself out with no more nasty mutations the year started with some hope, but that was soon dashed.
On 24th February Russia invaded the Ukraine. ‘Special military operation’ (as the Russians called it) my arse, this was a full scale attempt to annex to country. It’s led to the largest refugee situation in Europe since world war two (both Ukrainian, and Russians who’ve fled their own country), along with the most destructive and devastating war since 1939. It’s also looking likely to lead to the collapse of Russia as it’s clear the war was a disastrous miscalculation of the part of Vladimir Putin. The pressures on the Russian economy due to sanctions plus the increasing lawlessness within the country as conscripts return from the war, disillusioned (and often with smuggled weapons) and the increasing isolation of the country are threads that are unwinding the fabric of the nation. It’s hardly surprising. Ordinary Russians are being kept tin the dark by their Government, but the scale of the Russian losses in men and equipment estimated by the Ukrainians (and others like the Oryx website) are staggering.
The knock-on effects across Europe and the UK have been huge. The British economy, already reeling from Covid, Brexit and 12 years of increasingly chaotic mismanagement by the Tories was then hit by massive increases in energy costs. In short. It’s a shit-storm and sadly, there’s no sign of it getting better in 2023. The Tories have run out of ideas (other than feathering their own nests) but they seem to have an endless supply of hopeless and hapless Prime Ministers. You may have thought serial liar Boris Johnson and his ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal was bad but after a painfully long election process Liz Truss said ‘hold my beer’ and managed to crash the UK economy and make the UK an international laughing-stock in just 49 days – the shortest tenure any British Prime Minister. Then there was the death of the Queen, which paralyzed the UK at the same time. Cards on the table (to quote right-wing Twitter trolls) – I’m not a monarchist, although having met many (including the late Queen and her husband) of them I have no problem with the people, just the institution. Most Brits have no idea how that institution has an impact on their daily lives as all they see is the pomp and circumstance – or read about the bitching that goes on in the UK press about them as a useful diversion from the real world. The Romans had ‘bread and circuses’, we have the spectator sport of Harry and Meghan vs the Palace as part of the extension of the right-wingers ‘war on woke’. It fills the news media to keep you distracted and stops you looking at the bigger picture.
Unabashed after their ousting of Boris Johnson – then Liz Truss, the Tory party then turned to an also ran – Rishi Sunak, a multi-millionaire who’s so out of touch his PR stunt serving food to homeless people went so spectacularly wrong a team of comedy writers would have dismissed it as too far-fetched. ‘Do you work in business’? Oh, FFS! With this bunch unashamedly clinging onto power for as long as they possibly can (2024) the new year looks to hold little cheer. It’s clear Rishi Sunak is a weak leader, but then his party is ungovernable. It’s riven by factions and dominated by swivel-eyed loons inside and outside the cabinet. Privately (and not so privately) many of them realise that they next election is lost, the question now is how much damage they’ll do before they’re turfed out when the votes are cast. There’s a lot of nest-feathering going on at the expense of ordinary people and I doubt the extent of the corruption will be revealed until (and unless) the next government hold some enquiries. The current situation goes to prove the old adage that oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them. Labour under Keir Starmer have vanquished the ghost of Jeremy Corbyn, the man who gifted the Tories such a huge majority in 2019 (cue howls of outrage, bluster and selective statistics from Corbynistas) but that’s all they’ve done. People will vote for them out purely for the fact they’re the only way to oust the Tories – not because they feel inspired by them. Starmer’s strategy to pretend he can make Brexit work may be seen as clever politicking, but it doesn’t make him look honest – and we desperately need a return to honest politics after so many years of lies and deceit. In the meantime, Brexit will continue to unravel. It’s painfully obvious that it’s a turd that can’t be polished but Brexit is like a religion to some, it’s an article of faith and they’ll cling onto it. But faith can’t make fiction fact and the economic harm its doing to the UK will continue to manifest itself no matter how deep its adherent stick their heads in the sand. Now people can travel again it’s not hard to see the disparity when you cross the channel. The EU hasn’t collapsed as predicted, supermarket shelves are full and despite the energy crisis caused by the war, living standards (and wages) are higher. Not only that but other countries are still clamouring to join the EU. In fact on January 1st Croatia adopted the Euro as its currency and also joined Schengen (the free travel area). It’s easy to see just how isolationist and out of step the UK is. Europe’s going forward and we’re going backwards.
It’s been another torrid time on the UK rail network. Just as the system seemed to be recovering from Covid and passenger numbers growing far quicker than many pessimists predicted we’ve had a series of debilitating strikes with central government and the unions at loggerheads. Whilst regional governments in Scotland and Wales are willing to compromise and find a way forward through pay agreements, central government ain’t. They see it as a trial of strength and a way of shoring up their collapsing vote (have you seen the opinion polls recently?) by playing hardball to pander to their hardcore. We’ve had the worst Transport Minister for decades (Grant Shapps) followed by a revolving door. In the meantime, the Treasury (as always) are dictating terms via the DfT and there’s no sign of any political coherence – much less a strategic plan that will last longer than the next Ministerial appointment. It’s a depressing time when there’s so many real issues needing serious answers – and a long term plan (hello ‘climate change’ anybody? That you despair. On the bright side, Crossrail – sorry the Elizabeth line – opened on the 24th May and proved to be a massive success, as many of us knew it would be. The expression ‘build it and they will come’ is appropriate for so many UK rail projects – and sod the useless and BCR (Benefit Cost Ratio) calculations which so often prove to be that conservative they’re useless. A fag-packet would be embarrassed to have them scrawled on its back.
The dumb thing? The future of the railways should be a no-brainer due to the need to get modal shift from road/air to rail to tackle climate change. But then you have the problem of competing political ideologies and the fact the Tories are underpinned by so many crazies from the libertarian far-right who’re doing their best to pretend it’s not real. Thankfully, they’ve not managed to stop the majority of building High-Speed 2. Forget the Nimbys and protesters, they never had nay political clout, it was people close to Boris ‘two-faced’ Johnson who’ve done the most damage to the project by paring away at it without any credible replacement, timetable or plan. The bright side? The next Labour government (because that’s what we’ll have) have committed to building HS2 in full. What will drag on is the interminable and utterly pointless political arguments over privatisation vs nationalisation which is a distraction from actually making the railways work for everyone. ‘Great British Railways’ is now dead. The reorganisation’s stalled, but we have no idea what will replace it. Instead we have the classic British ‘buggers muddle’ with the railways caught between a rock (the Treasury) and a hard place (The Dept of Transport), made worse by a Government that has no idea what it’s doing, other than trying to cling on to power. Here in West Yorkshire we do have some things to look forward to as at least the Trans-Pennine route upgrade is going ahead, although that’s still a mixed picture. We know what it will look like East of Huddersfield as far as Dewsbury where work’s already started, but we’ve no real idea how it will look Westwards, or how this supposed new line from Liverpool that’s (somehow) going to end in the village of Marsden will happen – if it ever does as there’ll be another election before work even starts!
I’ve been fortunate to have several breaks from the Septic Isle in 2022, Most of which have involved working (and meeting friends) in Germany which gives a completely different perspective from this bizarre up it’s own arse island nation many people choose to be marooned on. Then the pair of us had a a fortnight in Greece, which showed us another side. Funny how Rhodes – despite it being an island – didn’t suffer the supermarket shortages and empty shelves that have become a matter of routine in the UK – and that includes from imported goods. Once could almost imagine being in a customs union and single-market had advantages! Now, in the new year I’m preparing to take a break from Britain for a couple of months and catch up with old friends and happenings in South-East Asia. No doubt the contrasts to the UK will be very interesting, expecially as I’ll be starting in Singapore, the island state that some Tories touted as their aspiration for the Brexit Britain, with London becoming Singapore on Thames. It was all bollocks of course.
2023. Things to look forward to…
I’d love to be able to say ‘a general election’ but that’s extremely unlikely! Instead I’m looking forward to a Russian defeat and Ukrainian victory this year. I’m hopeful that there might be some economic cheer too but with this lot in charge I’d suggest that will be more down to luck and the actions of others than the Government. I’m also looking forward to seeing High Speed 2 construction proceeding apace. The project passed some impressive milestones in 2022, the anti HS2 rebellion collapsed as their camps were swept away and the few remaining occupants scattered to the four winds. I’ll be visiting as many locations as I can in 2023 to report on progress.
In the meantime, let me wish you all a peaceful and optimistic New Year and all the best for 2023.
Thanks for popping by and reading some of the 264 blogs I published in 2022. This site had 72,006 views from 115 nations last year plus several donations towards helping me cover the (not inconsiderable) costs of running my blog. Thank you one and all! And finally, a big thank you (and love) to Dawn, my wife, for putting up with me disappearing many an evening to pen one of these blogs. Thanks Babe!
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