Internationally there is much to worry about as well. India, China and Russia combined at the COP26 summit to sabotage a clear global commitment to move away from fossil fuel combustion. President Putin is massing troops on the border of Ukraine.
China continues with its oppression of the Uighurs, to tighten its iron grip on Hong Kong and to continue its bullying plan for global expansion by indebting poorer countries through its belt and road initiative. In the United States, even The New York Times, is losing faith in whether the incumbent 79-year-old Democratic president will be a viable candidate for re-election in 2024. Yet on every major continent there are streams of migrants in search of a peaceful and, if possible, more affluent western-democratic style of life.
Some things went right in 2021 and provide at least an argument for optimism about next year. This year science fought back against the pandemic, through vaccines, testing and better understood remedial care.
With the Omicron variant, Covid may be evolving in a similar way to the life cycle of previous viral outbreaks – becoming both more virulent and less severe in consequence. The need for more vaccinations in poorer countries is rightly being stressed, but in South Africa at least, identified as the cradle of Omicron, health services are not reported to be overstretched.
America may not be “back” with quite the bounce President Biden hoped for. But his administration is carefully rebuilding old alliances in the recognition that America alone will not be able to prevail. He could yet be fatally wounded in next November’s Mid-Term elections by victories for Trumpists in Congress. But for all the vicious polarisation in the US, there is little dissent about a more constructive foreign policy. The containment of rogue states to behave increased incrementally in 2021, and there are some who believe that Xi and Putin’s truculence is more an indication of weakness than strength.
It will be interesting to see how the diplomacy and level of enthusiasm develops around the world’s two big sporting fixtures next year, both in oppressive nations – the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the World Cup in Qatar.
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Here the revolt, even revulsion, at Boris Johnson’s attempt to use his parliamentary majority to get his friend Owen Paterson, and potentially himself, off the hook for corrupt behaviour showed that Conservative MPs are in no mood to follow their Republican cousins by adopting the Fuhrerprinzip. It is fair to say that factions of Tory MPs are all over the place on most issues, but without their guaranteed support for an election winner, the Prime Minister will have to govern with more care and attention than he has so far or quite possibly face severe consequences at the hands of his own side. An angry confrontation with the EU, over Northern Ireland for example, would open up wounds in many directions. In any case France will be distracted by a Presidential election, while the new Red-Green-Yellow government in Germany is set to be more internationalist and less selfish than its predecessor.
There was more to worry about than to celebrate in 2021. But some of the trends which emerged hold out the promise of a happier New Year.
Adam Boulton is a broadcaster and political journalist.
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