There has been a weird lack of any sort of media pieces about the end of the decade. This is in sharp contrast to say, the end of the millennium, where everyone and his dog had a go at such a thing; even the end of the noughties brought with them a cavalcade of self-reflection. Perhaps people just hated the last ten years so much, they don’t want to talk about it.
I think the idea that the 2010s were all bad has got too much purchase. Believe it or not, lots of things improved. There are less starving people in the world now than at the close of 2009, whatever doom-mongers might otherwise have you believe. Yet there are things to lament beyond just the usual Brexit-Trump axis.
Of all the decades I have so far lived through, it weirdly felt like the one with the least technological progress. Now, I know that is technically not correct, of course, yet it really does feel like it. My life doesn’t appear on the surface to be that technologically different from how it was in 2010, which isn’t something I could have said at the end of the 80s, 90s or 00s. My smart phone has got a little lighter and that’s about it. There weren’t a lot of great films made in the decade – there wasn’t a lot of great art, full stop. It felt like a very creatively stagnant decade for humanity. Again, someone can come at me with “what about x” – I’m not suggesting that no one created anything of artistic worth over the past ten years, I’m simply saying that over all, the period felt a little creatively fallow.
It was a decade that saw the Left completely unravel across most of the west in a fashion that was completely unpredictable at the start of the decade. In 2009 Britain, the Labour Party looked wobbly after more than twelve years in government, but they still looked and felt like the natural party of government. The Tories getting a majority in the upcoming election seemed beyond them – correctly, as it turned out – and one felt that even if the Conservatives did squeak home, Labour could probably regroup under David Miliband and get Number 10 back the next time.
Even before the party picked the wrong Miliband, the early warning signs for Labour were bad, in the summer of 2010. The worst elements of the Left seemed to be unleashed all of a sudden, with “Tory scum” graffiti making a re-appearance after having been dormant since the late-80s. It was like every gain the centre-left had made since the fall of the Berlin Wall was being wilfully thrown away. It will be a long road back – if indeed, the Left is prepared to understand why it has been losing for so long. Early signs are incredibly poor on this front, unfortunately.
I guess the biggest surprise for me as the decade closes is that the world feels less connected than in 2010, something I didn’t think was a remote possibility. Travel feels more difficult, everyone more hostile to outsiders, the warmth toward globalism on the ground going into reverse. This is strange given that despite 9/11 and everything that followed, it didn’t feel like that in the noughties. We have been spared this decade anything like what happened in 2001, and yet we’ve somehow retreated further into parochialism anyhow. Again, I don’t want to overdo this point – it’s not as bad as most leftist commentators go on about – yet it really does feel like this bit of liberalism has been in retreat all decade long.
Politically, the signs for the decade ahead don’t look all that promising if you’re a liberal. Migration crises look set to get worse, meaning parochialism probably gets even stronger. The Tories, so wobbly at the start of the decade, now look dominant – the whole decade is theirs for the taking. The fallout from leaving the European Union is set to be what the politics of 2020s Britain is almost in its entirety. The Union is under threat in a way it hasn’t been ever before. I can only hope that it just looks this bad from the vantage point of December 31st, 2019 and that on December 31st, 2029, I’ll look back on this and think of how misplaced my fears were.