Each year seems to become more unprecedented than the last. Where 2020 brought a global pandemic and 2021 brought an insurrection on the streets of Washington DC, 2022 saw the return of armed conflict to Europe and political drama that Michael Dodds couldn’t possibly have written into House of Cards; it would have been too unrealistic.
This piece looks back at some of those most significant events. From the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the Iranian protests; from Bolsonaro’s defeat, to Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’ collapse; 2022 made even 2020 and 2021 seem relatively uneventful. Let’s hope 2023 is quieter.
After arriving in Melbourne to compete at the 2022 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic was detained in his hotel room. The Serbian tennis star was a well-known sceptic of the Coronavirus vaccine and had refused to take it. Australia required any travellers to be fully vaccinated and despite initially being granted an exemption, Djokovic was forced to leave the country and not attempt to defend his title.
The Met Police began the year by contacting the government over alleged breaches of Covid rules following an ITV news investigation. At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson confirmed he attended a party in the garden of No 10 during the lockdown in May 2020, despite ‘not viewing it as a party’. The Daily Telegraph reported two further parties were held at Downing Street the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, where heartbreaking images of the Queen sitting alone touched people’s hearts. Further reports emerged of a leaving do and of ‘wine-time Fridays’ held on the Number 10 premises.
Prince Andrew failed to dismiss the US civil sexual assault case brought by Virgina Giuffre, and later returned all military affiliations and royal patronages to the Queen.
Like the moon replacing the sun, whenever one dominant story falls behind the horizon, another rises to replace it. That was the case as all Coronavirus legislation lapsed in the United Kingdom just days after Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine. Crossing the border on the 24th of February, thousands of Russian troops rolled into their neighbouring nation in what they expected would be a quick victory.
Instead of being met by delighted Ukrainians liberated from their democratic government – as Russian troops had been told would happen – they were faced with fierce resistance and international pariah status.
Sanctions on Russia continued, as the United States and United Kingdom announced bans on Russian oil. The EU concurrently reduced its demand for Russian gas by two-thirds. Russia faced further commendation from world leaders following the Mariupol air strike, which had destroyed a maternity and children’s ward.
Presidential elections occurred across the globe, with Yoon Suk-yeol elected by a narrow margin to become President of South Korea, and Gabriel Boric was sworn in as President of Chile, becoming the youngest head of state in the history of the nation.
After spending longer imprisoned than five foreign secretaries spent in office, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from an Iranian prison and returned to the United Kingdom, alongside detainee Anoosheh Ashoori. She was reunited with her husband – who had staged a series of protests to secure her release -and her daughter.
Putin ally Viktor Orban won a fourth term in Hungary, in a controversial election, with reports of illegal bussing of voters, electors allegedly being offered the equivalent of £23 for a vote, and findings of election ballots partially burned in Translyvania.
In Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves Robles was elected as the 49th president, after running a campaign focused on change and combatting corruption whilst French President Emanuel Macron was re-elected, defeating Marine Le Pen. He became the first French President to be re-elected in nearly two decades.
In the United States, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first African American woman, and the first former federal public defender on the Supreme Court, succeeding Justice Breyer.
Imran Kahn was ousted from office in Pakistan after a vote of no confidence, and replaced by Shehbaz Sharif. He was later handed a five-year ban from holding office, after findings of the unlawful sale of gifts and concealing assets.
In Ukraine, the Bucha massacre resulted in the death of over 450 individuals, with evidence of summary executions of at least 50 of these. An inquiry later found a torture chamber and evidence of mutilation. Russian authorities continue to deny responsibility, claiming Ukrainians have staged the footage.
Back To Business
May saw the emergence of monkeypox – the first time the disease spread outside of Africa. Health protection authorities were quick to isolate positive cases, and offered smallpox vaccinations. A large number of cases were seen amongst the gay and bisexual community, leading to the UN denouncing a large amount of stigmatising coverage that reinforced homophobic and racist stereotypes.
Anthony Albanese defeated Scott Morrison to become Australia’s first Labor Party prime minister in almost 10 years. Morrison later announced he would be stepping down as leader of the Liberal Party before reports later emerged that he had awarded himself several different titles whilst prime minister.
The 66th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest also took place in May, in Turin, with Russia notably excluded following the invasion. Ukraine placed first, with ‘Stefania’ – the first song sung entirely in Ukrainian. The United Kingdom came second, with Sam Ryder’s ‘Space Man’ also winning best official video, and Ryder was shortlisted for the ‘best hair’ award but lost to Lithuania’s Monika Liu.
The Queen marked 70 years on the throne. She celebrated becoming the first-ever British monarch to reach the milestone with a four-day weekend and a series of processions across London and the rest of the country.
The weekend began with the trooping of the colour and finished with a pageant in which the Queen stepped out onto the Buckingham Palace balcony for what many watching suspected might be the last time. The events were momentous for the United Kingdom, but perhaps most notable was a short cameo from Paddington bear, in which he and the Queen mused over marmalade sandwiches before a performance of ‘We Will Rock You’ by the band Queen.
After months of turmoil, the number of Conservative MPs required to trigger a confidence vote in Boris Johnson was breached. He survived, but the margin was far tighter than expected and fatally wounded his leadership.
After months of turmoil in Westminster, it was a random Tuesday night (5th July) that the circling sharks made their move. Health Secretary Sajid Javid fired the first shot, followed minutes later by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, both resigning from the government. Five more ministers resigned that night, followed by the most remarkable collapse of a government in British history the following day. Thirty-five ministers resigned in one day, and on the 7th of July, more followed, including Michelle Donelan, who Johnson had appointed as a replacement Education Secretary only the previous day.
That afternoon Johnson stepped out before the black door in front of Number 10 and announced his departure. He, however, left political commentators scratching their heads by referencing a former Roman Emporer, Cincinnatus, and announcing he too would be returning to his plough. After some quick Googling, many journalists discovered, rather ominously, that after a hiatus Cincinnatus returned to power to lead a dictatorship.
Just one day after Boris Johnson’s political assassination, a more tragic assassination occurred in Japan. Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was shot and killed in an attack in the city of Nara. He was performing a stump speech at the time and his death marked a tragic event in Japanese politics.
Later in the month, Boris Johnson’s successors made themself known one by one. Some candidates were expected. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss raced back from Indonesia to set up a campaign from her living room in Greenwich, whilst ex-Chancellor Sunak was quick out the blocks. Other expected names such as perennial-candidates Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid also announced. But it was one little-known backbench MP who gained the most attention. Rehman Chishti, who despite once being named by The New Statesman as amongst the best of his generation, was little known outside of his Kent constituency. With the whiff of power in his nose, Chishti strode out into his garden, iPhone in hand, to shoot his launch video, which he uploaded to Facebook exclusively.
Chishti was the first MP eliminated.
On a more positive note, the Women’s Euros 2022 took place in England, with the lionesses finally bringing it home for the host nation, beating Germany in the final.
Long and difficult summer
The campaign to be Conservative Leader and Prime Minister marched on for the whole summer. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the final two candidates, toured town halls and television studios in an attempt to convince Conservative Party members to lend them their vote. That is despite almost all members sending off their postal ballots in the first two weeks of the campaign.
A long and painful process, the outcome of which was blindingly obvious, continued despite the calls of almost everyone – including the candidates no doubt – to end. But when the end did finally come, we were perhaps wishing it hadn’t. It ended up being a calming interregnum before the storm to come.
In the same month, Pakistan’s awful floods continued to worsen. As much as one-third of the entire country was underwater through the flooding and millions were displaced.
As tensions were rising between Russia and the West, China entered the conversation for the most frightening nation after taking Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan to heart. China began rattling their sabres when the Speaker of the House of Representatives visited America’s ally, with many predicting that China was planning to invade their neighbour in the coming year.
After 9 long weeks, Boris Johnson’s successor was finally selected. It was the wily Liz Truss who triumphed over Rishi Sunak. Once again he who wields the knife failed to wear the crown. She secured more than 60% of the vote and set off a few days later on board a light aircraft to Balmoral to meet the Queen and become prime minister. With a cost of living crisis and war in Europe in her in-tray, it was going to be a tough gig; she had no idea just how tough.
After 70 years on the throne, the Queen passed away at the age of 96. Just months after celebrating her Platinum Jubilee – the first British Monarch to reach the milestone – and just two days after kissing hands with Liz Truss to make her prime minister, the nation’s figurehead passed away. Liz Truss made the second major speech of her embryonic premiership to call the Queen “the rock upon which modern Britain was built.”
After laying in state in Scotland, the Queen was transferred to London, where she lay in state in Westminster Hall. She lay for four days, whilst people queued for up to thirty hours to see the coffin. At the end of her laying in state, leaders from across the world descended on Westminster Abbey for her funeral – one of the most historic moments in modern British history.
Just days after these epochal events, Liz Truss planned to mark the beginning of a new pro-growth era for the United Kingdom. Her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng laid out plans for the nation’s finances in a ‘mini-budget’. Except, his mini-budget was less mini and more massive. A litany of tax cuts and spending commitments were proposed. Within hours the pound crashed and the City of London was reeling. Just a matter of weeks later Kwarteng was gone and with his fall, much of the budget was scrapped. It would not be enough.
At the end of the month, Iranian woman Mahsa Amini was killed in police custody, sparking mass protests. She had been arrested by the morality police and later died following her treatment whilst detained.
Liz Truss made three major speeches during her reign on the steps of Downing Street. None of them were memorable, but all were historic. Just 44 days after she first stepped out in front of the famous black door, her podium was once again placed in Downing Street. She stepped out and announced that she was leaving the job that she had wanted for decades; in doing so she became the shortest-serving prime minister in UK history.
Just five days later her party had selected Rishi Sunak – the man she had beaten back in September – as her successor. Boris Johnson mounted a comeback after flying home from a Caribbean holiday but later pulled out, despite it being confirmed that he had enough votes to make it through to the ballot. When Truss returned inside the doors of Number 10 after announcing her resignation, it was revealed she had said to aides: “At least I have been Prime Minister.”
But Truss being replaced by Sunak was not the only major takeover in October 2022. Just three days after Sunak took office, across the Atlantic in Silicon Valley, Twitter had a new CEO. Elon Musk had finally completed his takeover of the social media giant and embarked on a chaotic period of ownership by carrying a sink into the Twitter HQ. His “let that sink in” joke fell as flat as his proposal to charge $20 per month for verification. After chastising users for not accepting his plan, Musk later dropped it to $8 per month and rolled it out to any users looking to buy their way to legitimacy.
Where Musk earned a reputation as the Trump of the social media moguls, the Trump of the Tropics found himself switching on his out-of-office autoreply. Jair Bolsnoaro was defeated by ex-President Lula in the Brazilian elections by a margin of 51-49. In true Trump-vein, Bolsonaro half-heartedly tried to claim he hadn’t lost, but when a skin disease left him sitting at home unable to wear trousers, riding into Brasilia leading a glorious revolutionary coup fell flat.
The new PM flew to Egypt to attend COP27, despite earlier suggesting he wouldn’t go. He performed the first U-turn of his premiership – continuing where frequent U-turners Johnson and Truss left off – by attending the climate conference. It was largely seen as a failure, but it did achieve a historic loss and damage fund, aimed at compensating less economically developed nations for the cost of climate change.
After Boris Johnson’s attempt at a political comeback was thwarted, another member of the Covid government mounted their own: Matt Hancock. The former health secretary – ousted for having an affair with an aide – appeared on the TV series ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’. There are few things to endear yourself to the British public more successfully than eating kangaroo testicles on their TV every night, and that is what Hancock did. He defied expectations to come third on the TV show, albeit disgracing himself in the process.
His newfound place in the public imagination was short-lived, however. His book ‘Pandemic Diaries’, due to come out in December, flopped, and he confirmed he would leave Parliament at the next election. In the new year, he is set to appear on ‘SAS Who Dares Wins’; perhaps appearances on ‘Dancing On Ice’ and ‘Made in Chelsea’ beckon.
It was also a month that thwarted Donald Trump’s attempt at a comeback. Despite announcing his intention to once again run for president, the media, and even many of those in the room at his Mar-a-Lago launch were disinterested. The ex-president flopped badly in the mid-terms after almost all of the candidates that he endorsed were defeated in Congressional races. Against the odds, President Biden retained control of the Senate, and lost fewer seats in the House than many expected. His chance of becoming the first ever octogenarian candidate in the 2024 election became a lot more likely.
Christmas Party Time
Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX – a cryptocurrency exchange – created some of the best headlines of the year after being arrested and then released on bail for fraud charges over the collapse of FTX. His temporary release from jail allowed for some fun, with the possible headline: “Bank Man Bankman-Fried Freed (temporarily)”.
Lionel Messi cemented his place as the greatest footballer in history after winning the world cup in Qatar. In perhaps the most controversial world cup since 1934 in fascist Italy, Argentina triumphed and Messi won the final trophy that eluded him.
Controversial ex-kickboxer and incel influencer Andrew Tate was arrested in Romania. It was believed that he doxed himself after he tweeted climate activist Greta Thunberg to show off his polluting cars. Greta replied to Tate’s inflammatory tweet before the influencer posted a video in which a Pizza box is believed to have disclosed his location. Greta later tweeted to remind the now-arrested man to recycle his cardboard.
In 2020, the year was so unprecedented that The Speaker decided that an entire book was needed to unpack its events. In 2021 and 2022 it was much the same, although we decided against another book. We can only hope that 2023 sees an end to the conflict in Ukraine, that Covid is completely consigned to history, and that political events become less extreme.
However, with a UK election possible at almost any moment alongside rampant strikes, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and increasing tension between China and Taiwan, it is likely that events are set to become even more unprecedented. No matter what happens, The Speaker will be continuing to provide a platform to enable young people to have their voices projected on these world-changing events and make sure that our generation’s voice continues to be heard.