2020 vision: Our team of futurologists peers into mists of time
Britain's first black prime minister is settling into Number 10, Sir Alexander McQueen has given King Charles a makeover and the City's carbon traders are coining it. Welcome to the future – but what other surprises are around the corner? Our experts reflect on the biggest events of the next 10 years
Sunday 27 December 2009
Labour triumphs after the Cameron years with Britain's first black PM – and a familiar face...
If the decade began with David Cameron on the verge of historic victory, it ends, this month, in his humiliation and failure. The 53-year-old former prime minister has seen his bid to become head of the new global climate watchdog blocked by world leaders. Ten years ago this month, as nations were wrangling over climate change in Copenhagen, Mr Cameron was on the brink of becoming the youngest British prime minister in 200 years and bringing to an end 13 years of Labour government. But he surely didn't anticipate such a difficult eight years in office: in 2013, he led Britain into a dubious war with Iran, while British forces remained in Afghanistan until 2015, a full five years into his premiership, despite those promises that they would be out within two.
Mr Cameron disappointed those who thought he was committed to the environment: within two months of taking office, in 2010, he notoriously dropped the Conservative opposition to the third runway at Heathrow and during his premiership refused to invest in renewable energy.
Until last year, of course, the fortunes of the Labour party hardly fared better, with two election defeats. Now they are in office again, with Prime Minister Chuka Umunna (Britain's first black premier, in case you hadn't noticed) in Downing Street. And, once again, there is a young MP named Blair rising through the ranks of the Labour Party.
After Mr Cameron won the 2010 election with a majority of 70 – well short of a landslide – the Labour Party turned on itself with an old Brownite versus Blairite battle between Yvette Cooper and David Miliband for the leadership. Mr Miliband won, benefiting from the publication of Tony Blair's uncensored memoirs, which contained those memorably unflattering portrayals of Gordon Brown and his acolytes, including Ms Cooper.
Peter Mandelson stepped away from politics altogether, choosing to follow Mr Blair on to the speech-making circuit. Though let's not forget Lord Mandelson's most recent contribution to public life, winning I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! in 2011. Mr Blair gave up his post as Middle East envoy the same year and launched his long-running chat show in the US in 2012. However, to the dismay and disbelief of many, Mr Blair was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for his work in the Middle East, although to this day it is not clear what he had achieved to deserve it.
Boris, now Lord, Johnson, secured his second term as London mayor in 2012, and continued to be trouble for Mr Cameron throughout the decade. In 2013, he led anti-EU rebels calling for Mr Cameron to overturn the Lisbon Treaty, destabilising the prime minister in the run-up to the 2014 General Election.
The war in Iran and the row over Europe dominated the election campaign, and the Tories came close to losing to Mr Miliband's Labour Party. Mr Cameron's first term was also dogged by rows over the economy: his chancellor, George Osborne, ordered deep cuts in spending on schools and hospitals, while the Tory right pressed for generous tax cuts that never came. Mr Cameron scraped through with a diminished majority of 24. Meanwhile, one MP elected in 2014 was a 30-year-old Euan Blair, the eldest son of the former prime minister.
Mr Miliband stood down as Labour leader the day after the election. His brother, Ed, the shadow foreign secretary, hoped to succeed him but he was beaten by the shadow schools secretary Mr Umunna, who only became an MP in 2010.
Lord Johnson's political ambitions continued to dominate British politics. In 2016, he decided not to run for a third term as mayor to concentrate on Westminster politics.
With the Cameron government struggling to get key laws through Parliament with its small majority, Mr Johnson began to position himself for the Tory leadership. He won the Tory safe seat of Kensington in the 2017 by-election and began openly challenging Mr Cameron's authority.
With his premiership severely weakened, Mr Cameron had little chance of winning last year's election. It proved a momentous night. Mr Umunna triumphed with a majority of 98 and, 10 years after the election of Barack Obama, Britain elected a black prime minister. Euan Blair was made a junior minister. The Tories, we now know, were also about to make history. Mr Cameron stood down as leader and, inevitably, Lord Johnson was a leading candidate to succeed him. But his disloyalty to the prime minister earned him many enemies and he was beaten by Nick Boles, the MP for Grantham who had been home secretary for three years. Mr Boles, an old rival of Mr Johnson and formerly Mr Cameron's right-hand man, became the first Tory leader to be in a civil partnership.
As the decade came to a close, and in an attempt to keep Lord Johnson quiet, the former mayor was elevated to the House of Lords by the new Tory leader.
Second-hand Prius, anyone? Car use declines across Europe as society returns to medieval values
Looking back, the energy riots of 2016 were avoidable. The technological setbacks of completing the new smart grid, into which householders were supposed to sell surplus energy, and the lower-than-forecast supply from renewable sources, meant energy prices continued to climb year by year. When the broadband blackouts began, driven by overloaded networks as we stayed in to download HD films to our unsleeping computers, well, that was the spark.
But the tinder was already dry. With a greater portion of household budgets going on utilities and new taxes, the 2009 recession slumped into a depression. Everywhere except London. The capital, newly minted centre of the carbon-trading universe, hummed to the sound of carbon credits being bought and sold on the exchanges. Millionaire traders became billionaires and billionaire industrialists were untouchable in their silent, hydrogen-powered limousines. The same old faces – retrenched bankers, former ministers and stock-market speculators – cashed in. The economic revival, fuelled by the green tech bubble in the US and the green manufacturing boom in China, never touched the rest of the UK.
The cap-and-trade policies in the US, the EU and Australia, brought about by the UN climate-change conference of 2009, were the first mistake. The EU had already committed to a 20 per cent cut in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by next year, but thanks to its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), running since 2005, these could be delivered while actual CO2 emissions rose. Alchemy indeed. And the EU's target of 20 per cent more energy from renewable sources has proved as hard to pin down as the wind itself.
Despite the smart meters we have in each home ekeing out water and energy, power consumption has swelled even as oil prices are peaking under demand from a booming Asia. No new nuclear power stations have been completed and there are mixed results from Southampton University's research into algal biofuels. It's not all bad news: the success of the Orkney's tidal-power generation has reinvigorated the Scottish independence movement.
Other green technologies aren't so successful: the solar iPhone has been notable for delivering even shorter battery life than the standard model, although at least it provides an excuse for waving the device around all the time.
In hindsight, the decade had started optimistically enough. Under the Tories, the New Localism movement brought some character back to towns and villages. Rooted in the 1960s idea that the most sustainable model of civilisation was a medieval town in which most products and services derived from within its walls, the start of the decade saw a dawning realisation that new jobs and responsible custodianship of the environment weren't mutually exclusive. We travelled less and bought locally. It wasn't about food miles, rather the idea that our local economies were more vibrant if supported from within.
It was a transition taking place across Europe and led by financial necessity. Declining birth rates and ageing populations in Italy, Spain and Germany have seen the ratio of taxpayer to state-supported citizen shrink from four to one to three to one, while cities such as Lagos grew by 60 people an hour. Patterns of consumption changed almost month by month. Soon, Europeans were cycling more and subsisting locally. Neighbours got to know neighbours. As roof gardens were cultivated and street markets thrived, so out-of-town supermarkets closed.
As architect Stefan Behling (Foster and Partner's sustainability specialist) noted, in the same way the need for petrol depends on the design of your car, so the need for a car depends on the design of your city. By changing the city you change your needs, and from Milan to Munich car ownership has declined. And as anyone who has tried in vain to sell their third-generation Prius knows, electic hybrids never took off.
China, however, was already producing 12 million new cars a year by 2009; with hundreds of millions of people joining the middle classes in China and India, that figure was dwarfed in following years. Today, there are more than 150-million cars on China's new roads, the upmarket models equipped with toilets for when drivers feel the call of nature while stuck in the interminable urban traffic jams.
From 2010 to the eve of 2020 the world has had another billion mouths to feed. Farming inhospitable regions brought greater habitat loss than ever before. Asian and South American rainforests were ripped up for poor ranchland while deserts, old and new, were irrigated for crops. But, despite Britain's woes, the day-long blackouts and night-long riots, who could have predicted in 2010 that the first world war of the 21st century would be fought not over energy but water?
Old-age homes for the YBAs, Simon Cowell's 'Big Brother' makeover and the McPolyphenol burger
From Heston Blumenthal's molecular menu makeover at McDonald's to the horror of Big Brother's comeback, BB: Celebrity Suicide Watch, the past decade has seen our leisure time transformed in ways we could never have imagined.
It is technology, of course, which has heralded many of the most dramatic changes in the past decade. And at the end of 2010, the Tories set the techie tone: in the first collaboration of its kind, the new government partnered with Carphone Warehouse to entitle anyone without an iPhone to a special upgrade benefit, in order to help them become a more meaningful part of society. It coincided with the memorably chilling state campaign to educate children on the dangers of joining the same social networks as their parents. Our iPhone-centric culture, though, has had its casualties – quite literally, in the case of the two publicans who were tragically shot dead by police at an illegal protest in 2011 against the mandatory introduction of the now commonplace anti-binge-drinking Breathalyser app, which monitors citizens' alcohol intake via Google Earth, GPS and CCTV facial recognition software.
On a happier note, 2012 saw the launch of Jamie's Tower, the UK's first self-sufficient food complex, owned by Sir Jamie Oliver. Housed in London's former BT Tower, the farm-grocery-restaurant hybrid sells only meat reared on the building's hydroponic meadows and vegetables harvested from the living exterior of the building. Oliver's plans for a chain are on hold, however, as the "Heal Our High Street" movement continues to gather strength. McDonald's might have been saved by Heston Blumenthal's McPolyphenol burgers 10 years ago, but Starbucks is still floundering after its rebrand: despite each branch having been given a different name and look – and the tagline "the original independent coffee house" – the chain is still struggling.
Meanwhile, it's definitely been the British tourist industry's decade. Record numbers of Britons stayed at home after the country's transformation into the northern hemisphere's number-one holiday destination. Developments such as Newcastle Tyneside beach, the Beckingham Palace theme park and the new luxury resorts springing up on the Shetland Isles have all contributed. Abroad, meanwhile, and despite a recent four-fold increase in the cost of flights, thousands of elderly ravers have been flocking to Ibiza's Still 'Avin' It, the world's first superclub for the over fifties, opened in 2018 by the 58-year-old DJ Danny Rampling.
Home entertainment reached new levels. It's strange to think that only a few years ago we couldn't sit next to holographic Come Dine With Me contestants, or that we still had to use a clunky remote-control device to switch platforms and channels. As for content, it's been a controversial decade. First there was 2014's cult low-budget YouTube series Sharia Court, based on Granada television's 1970s Crown Court format. Then, two years later, came The Real Royal Family, the brainchild of Peter Bazalgette and Prince Andrew. The toe-curlingly awful reality show hoped to claw back some of the regal funding that the then prime minister Gordon Brown had reappropriated during the great Noughties' Depression. It's a miracle that those posh tucker trials didn't finish the Queen off. (Or that they weren't Prince Charles' idea.)
The reality TV death knell almost literally rang when Big Brother returned, after a five-year hiatus, with Simon Cowell at the helm. But BB: Celebrity Suicide Watch, the self-help/talent-contest hybrid which went head-to-head with Google's Suicide Clinic – wherein viewers got to vote on who most deserved a luxury Swiss death – was, fortunately, a flop.
In society at large, leisure time is changing for our increasingly elderly population. Four years ago, of course, the Tories scrapped retirement for any over-sixties who'd ever claimed benefits and, in partial response, the septuagenarian Charles Saatchi opened the country's first Old Britsters' Home, in Stroud. The charitably funded establishment was designed to provide a "creative environment for an elderly artistic community". The building is covered in cheery Damien Hirst spots and residents, many with dementia – which now affects 300,000 more of the population than it did in 2010 – are encouraged to relive early memories by scrawling the names of everyone they've ever slept with on the walls of the on-site "Groucho Bar". But let's not knock the concept – in another decade's time, some of us could be heading there... '
Price-erian authors prosper as the latest technology beams bestsellers straight on to the retina
The second decade of the 21st century started in a perilous place for traditional book publishing. Apple launched its Tablet early in 2010, rendering all 2009's e-reader Christmas presents immediately obsolete as users realised that you could download literature on to a wireless device without wanting to bang your head repeatedly against 70 copies of War and Peace. In winter 2010, e-books reigned and so-called Dead Tree Books were burned all over the country in an effort to conserve oil resources. But an unexpected glitch in the technology meant that the Tablet accidentally censored e-copies of Steve Jobs' autobiography, deleting all evidence of the Apple boss's personality from users' blink-proof screens.
Celebrity memoirs otherwise did well, however, when publishers accepted that readers wouldn't buy books any more unless they were written "by Jordan". We already know that Martin Amis was the first to catch on to the trend by basing a character on her in his 2010 novel, State of England. Salman Rushdie soon followed suit, producing a best-selling work of magic realism about two talking bags of silicone who live on a mythical Antipodean island.
Soon, every book published was a classic work of literature fed through a Random Dan Brown Generator and "written" by the 1990s glamour model. Hence the shelves were full of titles such as The Elsinore Paradox by Katie Price, ghostwritten (they add in tiny print) by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Philip Hensher or Irvine Welsh. Naturally, by this stage these were not produced using dead trees, but beamed on to the reader's retina using revolutionary e-lens technology.
Happily, though, fears about the demise of intelligent books coverage on television proved to be unfounded, even after Richard & Judy's and Oprah's book clubs came to an end. The former relaunched in January 2010, as we know, hosted by TV's Gok Wan and Laila Rouass, while the latter is soon to get a revamp with Paris Hilton as its host. Later, ratings zig-zagged as Trinny and Susannah revived The Late Review, and Mark Lawson and Melvyn Bragg moved over to What Not To Wear, broadcast on ITV17 from spring 2013.
The chick-lit craze came to an embarrassing end when a PR company employed to represent the latest pink-clad bonkbuster by an Irish boyband member's wife churned out so much product placement around the launch of the novel that they forgot to produce a novel. Not with ink, e-ink or the revolutionary new Osmosis Inc technology, which allows readers to absorb the content of the latest opus simply by inhaling it. Regular readers will remember that a brief flirtation with calling any novel with a gay character "dick lit" was hastily curtailed following ugly scenes between TV's Gok and Gore Vidal. Sick lit, thick lit and taking the mick lit never really caught on, but for a febrile few years the future looked like belonging to "twit lit", in which the reader could have the constant musings of Stephen Fry injected directly into their bloodstream. There followed a dark period of suspicion and cruel Twitterphobia, as a new computer virus cut swathes through careless users.
Richard Watson's seminal December 2009 classic, Future Files: The Five Trends That Will Shape the Next 50 Years, turned out to be wrong on most counts (disposable phones; a Moon village; nano drinks; smart baths...) but was eerily prescient about the world-shattering invention of sensory internet. Sales of Lady Chatterley's Lover have soared, while Tolkein fans persisted with their by-now somewhat masochistic gadget addictions. The speed of technological progress slowed rapidly at this point because all the geeks were shut indoors rereading the Tiffany Aching scenes from Discworld.
More recently, there was a flurry of excitement when that lost masterpiece by the late literary icon Sebastian Faulks was found in a drawer and cleared for publication by his adoring son. Faulks, it transpires, had begged for the manuscript to be burned after his death because it was evidently a pile of old rubbish. But Penguin rescued it, bound it in covers made of diamonds and sold it with a free snog from Zadie Smith for every reader. It turned out not to fool anyone but inspired a brilliant new publishing trend: novels by real authors, printed on paper and bound with an eye-catching cover design. This maverick idea caught on, as you'll know, when readers discovered that they were cheap, portable and you could read them in the bath. They call it a "book". A publishing sensation has arrived.
Lily Allen returns from obscurity to light up the longest-running music show in television history
I know, I know, you've hardly woken up after the King's Speech and you're still recovering from the Doctor Who Christmas Special (Florence Welch – the best doctor ever). But let's do a bit of time-travelling of our own, back across the past decade in the arts, way back to Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Remember the climate-change conference? If it yielded little else, at least it gave us David Hare's The Green Machine. His one-man, real-time, tour-de-force staging of the final 36 hours of the conference, playing14 heads of state (with his quiff as his only prop), was performed once only, thank God, and has gone down in theatrical legend. Were you one of the seven people said to have stayed awake until the word-for-word recreation of the 4.30am treaty ratification? Bravo!
The relationship between film and art, which had begun in the Noughties as a bit of a fling, developed into a full-blown affair. The culmination was that unlikely Sunday in March 2014 when Martin Creed's Paula Radcliffe documentary, 26.2 – about the tragic runner's final, catastrophic tilt at the Olympic marathon title in London two years previously – took Best Documentary at the Baftas. Within minutes of Creed's acceptance speech, of course, Shane Meadows was at the podium, picking up Best Screenplay for 24 Hour Arty People, his satire of the YBAs, followed by Tilda Swinton, who richly deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Charles Saatchi. (Come on, Tilda, five years behind the pumps at the Queen Vic will do – let's see you back on film, please.)
How to explain the astonishing global broadcasting success of The Valley? It's easy to forget that BBC was so vexed by the demise five years ago of its licence fee ("li-cence feeee" – there's a phrase you haven't heard for a while). But ever since BBC Television went subscription-only, ditched its website and ploughed those hundreds of millions of pounds into original drama, it hasn't looked back. Nevertheless, after the Noughties, in which we lapped up the uber- American series such as The Sopranos and The Wire, who would have thought that America and the rest of the world would today be going wild for season five of The Valley and the vicious turf wars of Welsh hill farming? All together now: "The last Englishman who tried to diddle me on my sheep dip is still getting used to his wooden legs..."
Not every high-stakes gamble paid off over the past 10 years. The nation still mourns the tragedy that was Matthew Bourne's staging of The Rite of Spring in 2013. The story is horribly familiar: Bourne had planned to celebrate the centenary of Diaghilev and Stravinsky's collaboration with a cast made up solely of centenarian dancers: stress, the punishing choreography and, according to the coroner, plain old age led to the death of eight of them shortly after the press-night performance. It was, wrote our own critic Jenny Gilbert, like "Exit: the Musical". Bourne will be eligible for parole in 2024.
And thank you, thank you, thank you, Anna Netrebko. The diva's on-off affair with Prince Harry has been the opera that keeps on giving over the past eight years. No less fun, if more edifying, has been Gareth Malone's tenure running the English National Opera for the past four years: spring 2020's highlights include a revival of his risqué Edenbridge Venture Scouts production of Death in Venice.
And who could have predicted Lily Allen's resurrection from the where are they now file? Five years at a cult – sorry, alternative community – in Thailand, and then up she pops on Jools' 2018 Hootenanny, seven months' pregnant with child number five (we think), tatooed from neck to toe and playing a very mean saw sam sai fiddle. Scary.
But not as scary as the most contentious artistic decisions of recent times: the axing of The Archers from Radio 4. The public disturbances in Winchester, Richmond and Solihull in November were bad enough; but the ongoing hostage situation at Broadcasting House, undertaken by the self-styled Ambridge Martyrs' Brigade, enters day 27 at the time of writing, with no sign of a peaceful conclusion. The hostage-takers are demanding the instant recommissioning of the radio soap opera by 1 January 2020, otherwise they claim they'll "start releasing the offending controller Mark Damazer piece by piece". A finger, thought to be Mr Damazer's, was removed, along with a recipe suggestion, from an Abel and Cole box thrown from the fourth floor last Thursday. '
The latest 'Vogue' app celebrates three generations of the Ciccone clan while Milan hails a dead parrot
Even Richard Branson couldn't have foreseen this. As we head into 2020 there are two fashion kingdoms in the sky. The first is on a Rem Koolhaas-designed space station occupied by Miuccia Prada, whose power has grown to unprecedented proportions. The second is presided over by Marc Jacobs, who has recently designed a limited-edition monogrammed rocket that flies select clients into space to view his collections at their leisure. Lourdes Ciccone Leon and her (Louis Vuitton-clad) baby daughter front his current campaign and, inevitably, the cover of the iPhone app of Vogue. Back on Earth, to celebrate the dawn of the third decade of the new millennium, Dolce & Gabbana have just unveiled the largest fashion monument in history: a shrine to the bra, located high in the Hollywood hills.
Confusingly, Karl Lagerfeld, still designing Chanel – which along with Dior is the only remaining couture atelier – hasn't changed at all. Tongues have been wagging for some time now suggesting that this may be a case of bionic organ-replacement treatment but, in fact, it is more likely to be attributable to sheer willpower. It is true that, from 2012 to 2015, when there was a move away from the vogue for ultra-slenderness in menswear – inspired way back when by Hedi Slimane – he piled on the pounds to embrace the new generation of Japanese designers. Now, as you'll have seen from the Daily Coco, he's thin again and his collars are crisper and higher than ever, his sunglasses even bigger and blacker.
Remember back in the Noughties when we barely heard her voice? Now Dame Kate Moss is rarely quiet. After spending the past decade honing her oratorical skills, she tirelessly campaigns against the violation of human rights. When she ceased production of her collection for Topshop in 2015 for ethical reasons, the rest of the world followed suit and Primark sites were taken over by, yes, Prada. No one is perfect, of course, and Dame Moss is still spotted from time to time, glass of champagne in one hand, cigarette in another, dressed in vintage ermine coat and no knickers. Having received a knighthood in 2017, Sir Alexander McQueen is now tailor by appointment to King Charles.
Shunning his own "retirement" earlier this year, Martin Margiela returned to the arena and, following an image overhaul, is now a mentor on the Fashion X Factor with Helmut Lang. The would-be designers who made it to the final 16 don't know how lucky they are to be unceremoniously annihilated by these two fashion legends week in, week out.
Sadly, and despite the might of the international fashion industry, even the brains behind the most high-profile luxury goods conglomerates fail to ensure that the world stands still. And so farewell Roberto Cavalli's prize parrot, one of an original four, that is no longer. In a moment that brought the ancient Monty Python sketch to mind, it finally fell from its perch last summer never to revive and the designer's most recent collection, inspired by its exotic plumage, and shown to a sweetly squawky soundtrack, was the most moving of the spring/summer 2020 season. Victoria Beckham, clad in inky black vintage Cavalli catsuit with feathered lightning bolt emblazoned across the front, wept silently in the front row.
"I just can't begin to imagine life without him," she said backstage after the show. "He was just the sweetest, funniest, most generous and talented parrot ever. What more is there to say? Roberto is bereft." After the show, La Beckham hosted an intimate dinner for 5,000 of the designer's closest friends in the late, great bird's honour. Le tutti Milan was in attendance.
With the Hollywood A-list in their desert compound, the UK rejects the Gwynification of the high street
As the Noughties drew to a close and we welcomed in the 2010s, the celebrity world found itself teetering on the edge of a precipice. Rumours were rife about the impending Jolie-Pitt divorce, squeaky-clean Tiger had been exposed as a dirty dog, even Jude Law's hair was refusing to have anything to do with him, and 98 per cent of the celeb world was still reeling from the loss of Michael Jackson, the man who had inspired them to dance/sing/act/cook/design handbags.
Back then, of course, personal crises were the norm. From life-threatening illness to a patch of mid-thigh cellulite, it was celebrities' misfortunes big and small we were interested in. But the real crisis was building around the notion of celebrity itself. Like a broiler chicken unnaturally forced to maturity, the brand of celebrity we inherited from the decade seemed incapable of supporting its own weight.
By 2010, reality TV and a dedicated celebrity press had meant we knew more about even the dullest individuals than we wanted to. Nevertheless, however much we bemoaned it, the status quo limped on for the first few years of the new decade. How many of us recall the short-lived digital channel carrying rolling news about Cheryl Cole's hair? Or the Gwynification of the high street as Ms Paltrow, ploughing on in her role as self-styled spiritual leader, opened a string of yogic-macrobiotic-ayurvedic gyms, cafés and bookshops?
At least we were able to have a laugh at the PR disasters that put paid to her enterprises, including revelations of poor working conditions on Paltrow's goji berry plantations and the release of mobile-phone footage showing her knocking back Strongbow in a pub, slurring "and the funny thing is, Madge and Stella believe I eat that macrobiotic crap!"
The crunch came at the end of 2013, when viewing figures for The X Factor, now chewing up contestants and spitting them out on an accelerated four-week cycle to revive flagging interest, dwindled to an all-time low and the last bastion of the celeb-trash sector, Heat, closed. Our appetite for the average British celebrity had slumped, to the extent that the OED edition of the same year added derog. to the word's definition.
Across the Atlantic, however, a small band of A-list stars have continued to exercise a fascination upon the world. In 2014, at that now-infamous press conference, Tom Cruise announced that the construction of a maximum-security compound in the Atacama desert, accommodating a full-size town with all amenities and recording and film studios, and staffed by security-checked robots, was almost complete.
Twelve months later, six billion viewers around the globe watched live footage of a group of 25 Hollywood heavyweights entering their new home. Alongside TomKat and Suri were Angelina and the Jolie-Pitt offspring (sans Brad, now famously residing in George Clooney's Lake Como retreat for confirmed bachelors) and the Jackson junior clan – all now devout Scientology converts. The Beckhams, whose star has waned considerably since the Noughties, were given honorary admission in view of David's new role as Cruise's personal trainer.
In the second half of the decade, the stars have rarely been seen in person, venturing out only for appearances at the Oscars and UN photocalls. Rumours of body doubles made headlines in 2017 when Jolie appeared to be simultaneously at the Oscars and a UN event, although her publicist still insists this was merely an illusory time-zone difference.
Things took a more startling turn at the beginning of this year when Suri Cruise, 13, and Blanket Jackson, 17, neither of whom have been seen since 2015, escaped the compound as stowaways in the boot of visitor Elton John's car. Taking refuge at the Jennifer Aniston Home for Unmarried Women, Suri made the widely believed claim that her mother Katie was declared clinically dead after a car crash in 2005, but underwent a cutting-edge transplant that replaced all her organs with Scientology body parts. The decision to build the compound had come to her father, she said, when Cruise noted that Holmes was exhibiting signs of cellular memory with subversive acts such as wearing jeans in public.
And so our strange obsession with celebrities remains partly intact. But, if nothing else, this decade has proved that some of them are still capable of doing something more interesting than changing their outfit.
While the big beasts of the Square Mile and Wall Street go east in a hurry, the euro goes nowhere fast
It was the most gripping opening to a most exciting second decade of the 21st century. Just days into January 2010, Barclays bank stunned the world's stock markets by moving its HQ, and 5,000 of its investment banking staff, to Hong Kong. Another 2,000 Barclays bankers and traders were transferred to Mumbai, where India's National Stock Exchange is still the fastest growing exchange in the world; 2,000 staff decamped to Singapore, now the world's epicentre for energy technologies and the first producer of hydrogen cell cars; and another 500 traders were moved to Rio de Janeiro, South American's busiest stock market.
To national uproar and street protests, Barclays bosses Bob Diamond and John Varley defended their controversial move to take the 200-year-old bank off-shore, with the most stinging attack on the then Labour government's latest "super" bonus tax on bankers, levied in revenge for the biggest banking bailout in history. That tax – the City's poll-tax, together with other tax increases which pushed personal tax rates up to levels not seen since the 1970s – became the tipping point for a mass exodus of talent out of Britain, from which we are still recovering.
The Masters of the Universe at Barclays were the first to go. But within months, the trickle became a flood. Next to go were the broking firms Icap and Tullett Prebon; and then the City's top bankers at Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan followed the fleeing caravan to the East. It wasn't only the UK's horrendous tax regime (or London's transport grid-lock, or the failing NHS which saw cancer patients flying to Romania for the most basic of treatments) driving them overseas, but fears that divisions within the Old World Europe would inevitably lead to a bust-up over the Euro, as countries such as Greece and Spain struggled with their staggering debts, and worries that the continent would be stuck in low-growth for decades to come. By contrast, the energy and consumption of the Bric countries – Brazil, Russia, China, and particularly India – was just too fantastic an opportunity for them to miss.
How right they were. As the Barclays bosses predicted, the UK, along with its continental neighbours, had become so hamstrung by its punitive fiscal policies and regulation that leaving was the only way to wake the politicians out of their slumber with, as Diamond put it, a bit of "shock and awe".
Well, they got both. By late summer, Greece and Spain had dropped out of the euro and several other countries – including the UK – were considering whether to leave the European Union altogether. Here in the UK, the move to pull-out gathered such steam that David Cameron's Conservative government worked frantically behind the scenes with some of the EU's smaller countries, to get the Belgian president ousted and Lord Mandelson installed as president. It was only then that the Europeans started to realise that, if they were to even start competing seriously with the East, they would need to take the axe to the state – rolling it back was no longer an option.
But, as we discovered, it wasn't just the UK that saw its bankers flee. A similar story was being played out in Paris and Frankfurt and Milan, as the top financial brains went east to where the capital was being raised in the cities of Mumbai and Shanghai – the latter now the world's biggest capital market since Chinese companies gained the confidence to raise capital in their own local markets. If Canary Wharf, Fleet Street and Mayfair became ghost streets, just look for a moment at La Defense or Frankfurt's financial district. Even Wall Street, which had rejoiced as Europe went ahead with its penal taxes and suffocating regulation, was persuaded to take its arrogance east.
But it hasn't all been bleak. With the decline of the City, some of the UK's finest brains finally moved back into the bio-technology centres which had sprung up around Cambridge, Manchester and Imperial College. And, although they were more or less funded by the Singaporean government, these businesses began working alongside industrial partners such as Rolls-Royce and National Grid on the next generation of solar energy farms based in the Sahara – now powering about half of all Europe's energy needs. The biggest surprise of the decade was the way big, nasty business not only woke up to its responsibilities, but took over from government as the green pioneers, leading the way in energy savings and creating new sustainable technologies for its shareholders and customers. And who knows, Barclays and its followers may even return home in a couple of decades time. '
The Obama years were all very well, but what this country needs is the decisive might of a military man
As the make-up girl dusted and dabbed, David Petraeus could not suppress a quiet smile of satisfaction. Here he was at the end of 2019, three years in the Oval Office, with approval ratings that Ronald Reagan might have killed for – and an interview on the country's most-watched television talk show to launch what would surely be a triumphal march to re-election the following November.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that in a moment of self doubt, America had again chosen a soldier as its leader. Back in 2008, faced with a comparable crisis, the country elected its first black president. But the charismatic candidate had proved a disappointment, oddly passive when the moment demanded a call to arms, and unable to impose his will on a Congress that regarded him as a soft and youthful touch.
In the end, Barack Obama did win a second term in 2012, but only narrowly. He owed victory less to his own merits and achievements than to the internal divisions that made the Republican Party all but unelectable. Obama's opponent that year was a doctrinaire conservative who had romped through the primaries but unnerved independents and centrists. These latter, however reluctantly, went for the devil they knew in Obama.
In reality, when Obama was sworn in for that second time, the problems he faced were virtually the same as on that brave new dawn of 20 January 2009, when for an illusory moment all things seemed possible. True, the economy was growing again – but unemployment was only a whisker below 10 per cent. The budget deficit was stuck at over $1tn, the trade deficit was still huge, and the Chinese more than ever ruled the economic roost.
Obama's one stroke of fortune was the Iranian uprising of early 2011 that forced out Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and led to a deal on the country's nuclear programme, averting another and even deadlier US conflagration in the Middle East. Petraeus meanwhile, as chief of US Central Command, had done his part as well, by helping extricate the US from the seemingly endless and desperately unpopular wars in Iraq (where American troops completed their pullout in 2011), and in Afghanistan, where by 2014 the US ground presence had shrunk from over 100,000 in 2010 to a politically acceptable 10,000.
By then, however, the Obama administration was exhausted. True, versions of its signature measures to overhaul health care, energy policy and rein in financial markets, had been passed – but only after a dysfunctional Congress had virtually rewritten them, eliminating the savings and efficiencies they were meant to bring in.
But, once again, the opposition had no credible candidate. The Republicans' one star, a former governor of Alaska, had decamped to the richer pastures of television, while the party had not found a philosophy to replace the free market doctrines discredited by the financial crash of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed.
By then, the military was practically the only institution Americans trusted any longer. In late 2013 Republicans were already putting out quiet feelers to Petraeus, the military's most prestigious general, to be their standard bearer in 2016. Publicly, he demurred. In private, like General Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, he signalled he would not be averse to a summons. After romping through the late primaries, Petraeus was nominated by acclamation at the Republican convention in Cleveland in August 2016, and won the White House by a landslide that November.
What matters for presidents, like generals, is not so much to be good as to be lucky – and Petraeus was. He was shrewd, always careful not to promise more than he could deliver. But he could not have bargained for the turmoil in China, as the population demanded political freedom to match their new economic prosperity – nor for the success of new technologies to extract natural gas from shale, that would drastically reduce the country's dependence on imported energy, and its huge and debilitating trade deficit. Even the dollar was strengthening, after two decades of decline.
Less tangibly, but no less important, Americans finally came to realise that terrorism was not an existential threat, while the world came to understand that the power of the US was finite, and consequently did not demand as much from Washington as before.
So one way and another, things were finally improving after the decline of the Bush and Obama years. So popular indeed was the 45th president by this Christmas of 2019 that some commentators, looking beyond the formality of re-election, urged a change in the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in 2022, when he would be 70. But suddenly, the reverie of President David Petraeus was interrupted. The make-up girl was finished. The cameras of The Sarah Palin Show were ready to roll.
Giggsy-wiggsy, football coming home, Arsène's pre-teen wonders... weren't they, wasn't it, hmmmm?
The decade got off to a miserable start. Remember the jubilation when England got an "easy" draw for the 2010 World Cup? That soon ended. England's campaign in South Africa got off to a nightmarish start when David Beckham, plainly disoriented by altitude sickness, came on with five minutes left against the USA and dispatched a free-kick into his own net. Then the squad had to head home early after the WAGs were imprisoned in Zimbabwe while on an ill-advised shopping trip to Bulawayo, having been arrested for disturbing the peace when they found nothing to buy in the shops. Only slightly more successful (more of which later) was England's hosting of the 2018 World Cup thanks to the last-minute intervention of Dame Susan Boyle.
In 2011, Tiger Woods returned to competitive action after a 15th operation to complete his facial reconstruction. But at Augusta he found himself pitted against his son Sam, a four-year-old prodigy. Tears and tantrums followed, but Tiger was forced to concede defeat in a play-off. A new golf tournament was unveiled in the US, at which all 120 of Woods' children played against each other. The standard became so high that all other forms of the game were superseded and Dwain Chambers abandoned his hopes of joining the PGA Tour.
2012: the big year for Britain and sport... Or so we'd thought. The London Olympics soon descended into farce when Tube workers called a three-week strike and Boris Johnson set his hair on fire while carrying the torch at the opening ceremony. Tom Daley became the nation's darling by winning gold in the diving, and on football pitches around the country children tried to copy him. But he was stripped of his medal after testing positive for TCP, by then on the list of banned substances. Daley claimed he was using it to treat his shaving rash, but his former diving partner Blake Aldridge was overheard telling his mum he spiked the pool.
Cricket should have given our sporting fans some joy and indeed, in 2013 England regained the Ashes on home soil, albeit with a team comprising only players born in South Africa. A leak from inside the Australian Cricket Board had revealed that the Aussies toughened up their act by fielding a team comprising only convicts. To combat declining interest in the game, the England and Wales Cricket Board pioneered a shortlived format in which bowlers had to juggle while running in and batsmen rode monocycles.
The shock news that Ryan Giggs was to be cloned was announced by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2014, encouraged by stem-cell research that helped to reshape his nose and re-attach his chin. The arthritic Welshman finally got to appear in a World Cup tournament at the age of 41 after Wales were given special dispensation to make their first appearance since 1958, according to that new Fifa ruling allowing any country with a chip on its shoulder to qualify by virtue of relentless whingeing. Fifa lived to regret that particular dispensation...
A nation hung its head in shame the following year when England hosted the Rugby World Cup and the squad had, amid lurid allegations of drug-fuelled binges at their training camp in Bath, to move their base to the Priory Clinic. Then they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by a physical Fijian outfit when the referee refused to believe that their multiple blood injuries were not faked.
After all the fuss about who would host it, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro passed without anything remarkable happening. Apart from Dwain Chambers narrowly missing out on gold for Swaziland in the synchronised swimming.
Scandal erupted (again) in the world of football when Arsenal won their first League championship under Arsène Wenger in 13 years in 2017. They were, Gooners are at pains to forget, stripped of the title when it was revealed that Wenger had fielded players as young as six in the Carling Cup. In response to Arsenal's resurgence and in an attempt to shore up his dwindling fortune, Roman Abramovich unveiled Chelsea's latest signing, a cyborg that was half-robot, half-petulant teenager. The experiment was discontinued after several London nightclubs were razed to the ground.
Of course, the World Cup finally "came home" after 52 years in '18, a wave of patriotic hysteria resulting in an early General Election and the British National Party coming perilously close to power. Not that it did England much good, as they lost in the final after goal-line technology went on the blink and Germany were awarded a controversial winner.
And so the decade has come to an end with Andy Murray emotionally announcing his retirement after losing in the Wimbledon final to Dwain Chambers, conceding that he will never win a Grand Slam event. And, thankfully, the WAGs finally being released by President Mugabe.
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