Leading article: The year and the decade pass on, even as hope revives

Ten years of inflated expectations give way to a more cooperative age

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There will be a temptation, when midnight strikes, to bid farewell to this year, and this decade, with expressions of profound relief and good riddance. The ten years that have passed have left few, bar the financiers who enriched themselves in time, either with benevolent memories or materially better off. Many, if not all, the early gains of the Noughties have proved illusory. Lives and livelihoods have been lost in circumstances unheralded at the start of the century.

As 2009 passes into 2010, however, it is possible to look back over a year that just may have seen off the worst and ushered in the start of something better. At home, job losses have slowed; the recession, while longer than in Continental Europe, may not leave as deep a scar as feared. Lessons learnt from the last downturn have enabled costs to be cut in many places more flexibly and more humanely, with the bonus that people may have more time for each other.

Casualties in Afghanistan have mounted; more soldiers have now been lost there than anywhere since the Falklands. But our war in Iraq has ended – a joyous postscript being the release in Baghdad of Peter Moore after more than two years in captivity. And even as it mourns the dead in a war not all can support, the country has rediscovered a sense of duty to those sent by the politicians to fight. Wootton Bassett has shown how respect should be paid.

Abroad, the inauguration of Barack Obama and his early travels inspired hope on a scale not seen since Kennedy entered the White House: hope that the corrosive social divisions in the US might eventually be healed; hope, too, that a more collaborative and sensitive approach from Washington might foster peace around the globe. Such hopes were always unrealistic. But it would be wrong to banish them completely.

The healthcare bill is not perfect, but it represents progress of a kind that was politically impossible 15 years ago. And Mr Obama's many diplomatic overtures may have been frustrated, often by events beyond his control, but they have spawned glimmerings of change in unlikely places. Iran's election brought forth an opposition movement that fights bravely on. There are stirrings in Burma, North Korea and Cuba.

Nor, mostly, did the worst come to pass. Thanks largely to joint action, the global economy, and the international banking system supporting it, did not collapse. Swine flu did less damage than feared. The EU ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Agreement on Kashmir may be in the making. Sri Lanka's civil war is over. The Copenhagen climate summit did not – quite – fail. Intelligence work and good fortune helped keep terrorism at bay, even if the scourge of piracy returned.

Slumdog Millionaire and Susan Boyle delighted audiences far from their separate homes. Britain acquired its first woman Poet Laureate. Simpler and cheaper technology is connecting more and more people. Sport was blighted by some egregious acts of cheating, but 2009 was not a bad year for Britain, as England won the Ashes and Jenson Button succeeded Lewis Hamilton as Formula One world champion. Age and decency prevailed when Ryan Giggs was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Could it be that the inflated profits and expectations of the past 10 years have already given way to a saner, less egoistic mood, in which ingenuity of all sorts can thrive? In Britain we look forward to a more open election than for many a year, a new crop of MPs who know the duck-house age is over, and – dare to dream – Test and World Cup successes in South Africa. We leave this forlorn decade older and perhaps a bit wiser, but not without hope. Welcome, 2010.

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