The World

Never Mind the Dead Queen and Disappearing Prime Ministers. Now the U.K. Is Really Falling Apart.

A woman in blue scrubs holds a sign that says, "WE FOUGHT FOR YOU. YOUR TURN." in front of a crowd of protesters.
Nurses and supporters march toward Downing Street after a day of strike action on Tuesday in London. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Another December has come around in the United Kingdom, the nation that God forgot. Every year in recent times has felt like the dumbest one since records began, but it will be difficult to top 2022.

So, what the hell happened here? Firstly, the big one, the queen went and died. This was not surprising: she was very old and dying at the end is the traditional way of a human lifespan. But it was weird. People queued overnight to see her coffin and became apoplectic with rage when celebrities were found cutting the line to do so. Somehow Paddington Bear got adopted as the monarchists’ mascot of choice, with mourners (and boy did people go ham on the mourning) leaving plastic bags of marmalade sandwiches outside Buckingham Palace. And everything just stopped. Pubs closed, businesses closed, you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing some beleaguered newsman raking over the various brooches she had worn over her 70-year reign.

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It came at a truly bizarre moment in the political life of the country. Liz Truss, the prime minister who lasted about as long in office as it takes eggs to go bad, appeared in all the official handover ceremonies with the new king looking like a trainee shop assistant. Boris Johnson, her predecessor, was found guilty of holding parties catered by sad suitcases of supermarket booze in Downing Street, and resigned after more than 50 members of his parliament finally revolted, not over his dreadful handling of the pandemic or general air of egomaniacal incompetence, but because he lied about knowing one of his staff groped people. Our current prime minister is a multibillionaire (with family money included) who publicly revealed that he does not know how to use a debit card in a petrol station.

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Then there was the weather (yes, I know, but it really was remarkable this year), which was alternately way too hot, melting tarmac and setting trees on fire in July, and way too cold, as it is now. We are currently paying some of the highest prices for energy of any country in the world thanks to the government previously deciding that gas company dividends are worth protecting over, say, elderly people. So when I say it’s cold, I mean it is cold. Everyone I know is sleeping in layers rather than turning the heating on. I am writing this wearing a coat inside my own house.

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This year, our beaches were covered in sewage, because the Tory party voted to cover our beaches in sewage. Fracking got unbanned, then banned again. Food prices skyrocketed. Yet more migrants drowned in the English Channel. People shat their pants over some ultimately quite tame anti–fossil-fuel demonstrations. The pound hit an all-time low, nearly reaching parity with the dollar. Even the World Cup, typically a rare moment of national joy and good energy in this country, could not be properly enjoyed because of the host country’s human-rights abuses, and perhaps even more importantly, vibe-wise, it was held in the winter so we couldn’t even crack open a beer in the park. They also put calorie counts on all our menus, so that even when we’re throwing caution to the wind in the cost-of-living crisis and going out to enjoy ourselves, we can’t be allowed to forget that eating a delicious meal is contributing to the obesity crisis that the National Health Service absolutely cannot handle at the moment, on top of day-long waiting times for ambulances and chronic understaffing. Everyone is going on strike (good) because no one is being paid enough (bad): nurses, teachers, lawyers, journalists, refuse workers, postal workers, rail workers.

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Has anything positive happened in the U.K. in the past 12 months? Wikipedia tells me that some rare bird laid an egg for the first time in ages. An MP got caught watching porn in the House of Commons and claimed he got there by accident searching for tractors—that was quite good. For reasons that are still unclear, Piers Morgan held a piglet live on television when Boris Johnson resigned, and Johnson did not, despite threatening, re-run for prime minister after Liz Truss crashed and burned. We came uncharacteristically high in the Eurovision Song Contest. London got a new Tube line that has air conditioning. England won the Women’s Euros football tournament. I would argue that, may she rest in eternal peace, it was sort of a laugh and at least very interesting when the queen died.

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But if I were actually trying to be positive, something we have not been much given to doing round here of late, I would cross my fingers that perhaps the fact that things are so bad and so stupid in the U.K. at the moment will pave the way for something better. The strikes, while depressing and emblematic of just how conclusively the government has abandoned people, may be the beginning of something rather than the conclusion. We’ve never had the appetite for agitation in the way that, say, the French do, who merrily take to the streets to set fire to police cars. Partly that’s because our laws are more punitive when we do. But maybe things are getting so bad that the prevalent mood of “put up with it quietly” will turn. Maybe if enough people are in enough misery, things will have to change, by brute force if nothing else.

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