Every party and leader in Westminster enters 2022 in an uncertain position at a time of volatile polls and low confidence in politics.

In the short term though, it is arguably Boris Johnson who faces the biggest challenge – not only unifying his party and keeping Covid-19 under control, but also delivering on a wide range of manifesto promises as he leads the way. towards the second half of his term as Prime Minister.

Here are the nine biggest challenges he faces.

1. Covid-19

The most immediate question in politics is, once again, how to control the coronavirus without ruining the economy and suppressing people’s freedoms.

Key data on the Omicron variant will continue to flow, and we should soon know whether the UK is ready to repeat last winter’s devastating scenes, with hospitals overwhelmed and the NHS unable to carry out routine treatment. .

Mr Johnson vowed that the vaccine rollout first, and then the booster shots, would be the key to freedom. If he imposes new restrictions this time around, there will be no obvious way out.

Experts agree that at some point society must learn to live with the virus; this year the government may have to decide how to make that transition.

Even if no further rules are introduced in England, the Prime Minister will face pressure from his own increasingly rebellious backbench MPs to revoke Plan B measures introduced at the start of the Omicron Wave.

And he could possibly decide to follow South Africa’s lead in removing the requirement for anyone infected with Covid-19 to self-isolate – treating the virus the same way as other diseases such like colds and flu.

2. Upgrade

The central promise of the 2019 Conservative manifesto was to ‘level’ the UK, reducing regional inequalities by boosting local economies in areas left behind and expanding opportunities beyond London and the South East.

Mr Johnson argues that the race to the top is guiding his entire political agenda, but that only fuels accusations that the concept is poorly defined. A white paper on leveling, written primarily by new Minister Neil O’Brien, was supposed to provide more flesh on the bones – but it was repeatedly delayed.

Now promised in January, the document – reviewed by Michael Gove and former Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane – will be the watershed moment.

Leaks suggest he will call for a new system of local government, with directly elected leaders taking responsibility for their own region, but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to narrow the economic and social gap between regions.

3. Housing reform

The other major challenge for Mr Gove since taking over at the Department of Grading, Housing and Communities has been to deliver on the government’s commitment to overhaul the UK housing construction system.

A new planning regime was originally supposed to be based on radical simplification, without the need to obtain permission to build in designated areas, while each city was to be assigned binding targets for the development of new ones. properties. These ideas were scrapped thanks to a backbench rebellion by the Conservatives.

It is not yet clear which system will replace this, or even if the government is still aiming for liberalization rather than focusing on social housing or expanding access to credit. Mr Gove expressed his support for the idea of ​​”street votes”, which would allow homeowners to vote on whether their neighborhood should be allowed to build more.

4. Online damage

An online harm bill – currently in draft form – would aim to protect children from the discovery of harmful content on the Internet.

This would place new obligations on social media giants to control their platforms, removing not only illegal posts but also content such as the glorification of suicide, which is legal but potentially harmful to young people.

The legislation would be the biggest challenge yet for companies like Facebook and Google, but it could be difficult for the UK government to assert authority over 5,000-mile-based companies.

5. Make Brexit work

The year will begin with a new round of Northern Ireland Protocol talks, led on the UK side by Foreign Minister Liz Truss, who succeeded David Frost as Minister responsible for EU relations.

Ministers say they are still considering triggering Article 16 of the protocol, which would allow parts of the deal to be suspended, in order to ease the passage of imports from Britain to Northern Ireland – but both sides now seem close to a deal that would make it unnecessary.

Even more worrying is the emergence of growing trade frictions with EU countries, following Britain’s departure from the single market and the customs union. Trade with the continent has collapsed and could worsen when new controls on goods are introduced later in the year.

6. Local elections

The only major date on the electoral calendar is May 5, when much of the country goes to the polls to elect local councilors. Every councilor in London and Birmingham is running for re-election, with most other councils seeing half or a third of the members facing the voters.

At the end of 2021, Labor appears to have opened up a clear lead over the Tories. Local elections will be the first nationwide test of whether this lead in the polls translates into the real world when the public comes to vote.

seven. The conservative Party

Mr Johnson’s position within the party is highly volatile: backbench MPs oppose his Covid-19 policy, activists see him as the weakest cabinet member, and voters as a whole prefer now Sir Keir Starmer as leader.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are widely believed to be on the move – but they won’t stand a chance of competing unless the PM resigns or faces a formal challenge from 55 of his backbenchers.

Given how long it took for the Conservative Party to oust Theresa May, who had lost all authority, it would take another sleight of hand for Mr Johnson to be toppled despite the tensions that remain between him and many MPs .

A wild card that would raise the stakes would be if Reform UK, the successor to the Brexit Party, manages to get rid of old-fashioned Tories disillusioned with the Prime Minister’s drift to the left in economic policy.

8. Labor

Sir Keir is heading into the New Year much happier than he was a few months ago, and with a shadow cabinet that has been remodeled in his image.
But Labor’s lead in the polls is neither strong enough nor large enough to secure a majority in the Commons – and swing voters are still complaining that they do not yet understand what the party really stands for.

The Leader of the Opposition said I he aims to put in place the main lines of a manifesto for the general elections at the time of his party’s conference in September. It will present a danger as well as an opportunity: If Sir Keir abandons the leftist policies of the Jeremy Corbyn era, he risks a backlash from backbench MPs and vocal activists.

9. Liberal Democrats

Sir Ed Davey’s party scored two resounding victories in 2021 in the Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire by-elections, but still languishes with less than 10% in national polls.

Lib Dems are hoping for more by-elections in 2022 to keep them in the spotlight; otherwise, they risk being stuck between Labor and Greens in the eyes of left-wing voters who don’t always understand what the party has to offer, unlike others.

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