Friday, 1 January 2010

Noughty - but how nice were they?

For me, after an unpromising beginning, the Noughties turned out to be much the best of my five-plus decades so far. But what about the bigger picture?
Here is my list of things the Noughties will be remembered for:

9/11 – Though by no means the biggest horror of the age in terms of life lost, the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 was notable for several reasons.
First, it took place in the USA, whose citizens are not used to coming under attack on their own soil (except by other US citizens).
Second, millions watched it unfold live on television, giving it unusual immediacy.
Third, we all thought at the time that it really was the start of a war that would engulf us all.
Most importantly, it set the tone for so much in international relations in the years to come. The ramping up of war in Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq. The aggressive stand-off throughout the world between Muslims and “Western democracies”.

Tony Blair –
The pearly-toothed messiah who swept to power on such a wave of promise in 1997 revealed himself as a serial liar and unrepentant war-monger.
The supposed socialist became the fawning lapdog of the most right-wing president in US history.
The man who promised the resurrection of Labour became instead its executioner.

The Iraq war – How George W Bush (whose own election to the US presidency at the start of the decade was dubious at best) set out to “defend democracy” and ended up bringing the whole idea of democracy into disrepute. At the cost of thousands of American and British lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi ones.

The War on Terror – Not really a war at all, but a long-running publicity stunt by which the Western democracies set out to curtail the civil liberties of their own citizens. And, almost incidentally, make a lot of enemies around the world (see above).

Barack Obama – The man who restored at least a vestige of credibility to US democracy. And won the Nobel Peace Prize for showing promise.

“Reality” TV – Big Brother made voyeurism and surveillance the accepted norm in your living-room, as it is on the streets.
Simon Cowell became preposterously rich and famous by staging Butlins-style talent contests and playing on the desire of countless non-entities to become “celebrities”. Even Andy Warhol might have been surprised to see how excruciatingly true his famous remark about 15-minute fame had become.
“Reality TV” itself is an oxymoron. It’s hard to conceive of anything much less “real” than I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Or much stupider.

David Beckham – A likeable footballer of limited ability married a pop “singer” of even less talent and somehow became the most feted sportsman in the world.
Anyone who makes the most of a moderate natural gift deserves respect. But how a one-paced, one-footed winger who can’t head, tackle or dribble ended up with more England caps than Bobby Moore, twice as many as Paul Gascoigne or Jimmy Greaves, and 99 more than the wonderful Tony Currie, is one of the mysteries of the age.

The internet – From the mid-1970s to the late 90s, my social life largely revolved around a series of pubs. In the Noughties it’s become something I do at my desk.

Hurricane Katrina – Another disaster that seemed bigger and more shocking because it happened in the States.
The effect of the flooding on the ordinary folk of New Orleans, and a vast surrounding area, was even more devastating than 9/11’s impact on New York. And Bush, unprepared and without an enemy to shock and awe, failed to take advantage.
It’s impossible to say whether global warming – man-made or not – played any part in Katrina. Though it was a bad one, there have always been hurricanes in that area.
What it did show was that even big, modern cities are not immune to natural disaster. And that even big, modern societies are not well equipped to cope when they happen.
As they are likely to with increasing frequency and force.

Two things that will happen in 2010:
Labour will do better in a May General Election than anyone would have predicted a year ago. And still lose.
England will do better at the World Cup than any sane person would have predicted two years ago. And still not win it.
OK, that didn’t take much of a crystal ball, so let me try to put a little more detail on those predictions.
By the time the first ball is kicked in South Africa, David Cameron may be prime minister. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a return to rule by and for Old Etonian toffs and their mates.
Don’t be surprised to see a hung Parliament, with neither of the big parties having an overall majority.
And that would leave the reins in the hands of Nick Clegg, the least impressive leader the Lib Dems have ever had.
The wishy-washy holding the balance of power between two equally unappealing – and almost indistinguishable – alternatives.
Less important perhaps, but possibly more entertaining, will be the progress of Fabio Capello’s charges.
For whom I see a glorious progress to the semi-finals, there to lose on penalties to the Ivory Coast. Frank Lampard beaten at spot-kicks by his Chelsea mate Didier Drogba.
The other finalists? France, of course – cheats prospering to the full from Thierry Henry’s single-handed denial of the Irish.
Leaving us all rooting for the Ivorians on July 11.

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