All decades, in the long run, end up being reduced to a series of clichés. When we look back to the 1930s, we remember the dole queues and the dictators.
When we think of the 1960s, we see James Bond and the Beatles, the Mini and the mini-skirt.
The 1970s will always be the decade of the three-day week and the winter of discontent. The 1980s were the decade of Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands War and the miners’ strike.
The 1990s saw the arrival of the internet and the rise of Cool Britannia; the 2000s will be remembered for 9/11, Iraq and the financial crisis.
So how will we remember the 2010s? A decade of great patriotic spectacles, from the weddings of William and Kate and Harry and Meghan, and the triumphant London Olympics? Pictured: Harry and Meghan on their wedding day
So how will we remember the 2010s? A decade of austerity, defined by closing libraries and deserted high streets?
A decade of great patriotic spectacles, from the weddings of William and Kate and Harry and Meghan, and the triumphant London Olympics?
Or the decade of social media, characterised by increasingly vicious rows about ever more esoteric subjects?
Fireworks light up the stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. It was one of this decade’s highlights
It was a decade that saw millions in thrall not just to Facebook, Twitter and Apple but to Game Of Thrones, The Great British Bake Off, Blue Planet and Love Island.
Against all odds, Leicester won the Premier League. England’s cricketers conquered the world. And a Scot won Wimbledon, not once but twice.
In British politics, four names stand out. Only one of them, though, might have been predicted at the start of the 2010s: David Cameron, whose decision to hold the EU referendum destroyed his political career but changed the fate of Britain for ever.
It was a decade that saw millions in thrall not just to Facebook, Twitter and Apple but to Game Of Thrones (pictured), The Great British Bake Off, Blue Planet and Love Island
The other three were all mavericks, tilting against the Westminster Establishment. One was Nigel Farage, whose long campaign to take Britain out of Europe ended in unexpected triumph.
Another was Jeremy Corbyn, whose shameless stint as leader of the Labour Party ended with the party’s greatest — and most richly deserved — electoral humiliation since 1935.
The final name, of course, belongs to Boris Johnson. He began the decade as an amiable, apparently buffoonish Mayor of London, having joked that he had more chance of being reincarnated as an olive than of becoming PM.
But he ended it not just as the man who had led the Leave campaign to victory, but as a dominant prime minister with the biggest Tory majority since Mrs Thatcher was in her pomp.
If you ever wanted proof of the sheer unpredictability of history, you could find no better subject than the 2010s.
Against all odds, Leicester won the Premier League. England’s cricketers conquered the world. And a Scot won Wimbledon, not once but twice. Pictured: Andy Murray at the Olympics
Who could have foreseen that, having voted to leave the EU in 2016, Britain would spend the next three years in fruitless limbo before Boris, of all people, broke the stalemate?
And who could have predicted that, after an excruciatingly tight race for the White House, Donald Trump would squeak home ahead of Hillary Clinton, having bludgeoned his way into America’s affections with his talk of trade barriers, immigration curbs and a wall along the Mexican border?
To high-minded metropolitan liberals, the words ‘Brexit’ and ‘Trump’ became intolerably maddening. In some ways they were simply aspects of the same story: a populist revolt of working-class voters across the Western world against the assumptions of liberal globalisation.
This was, though, a story with a darker side. With the EU’s obsession with open borders handing ammunition to the far Right, some member states turned to authoritarian strongmen such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Italy’s Matteo Salvini.
Even Germany, where the memory of Nazism has long acted as the ultimate cautionary tale, handed the far-Right AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) 13 per cent of the vote and 94 seats in the Bundestag in federal elections in 2017.
Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, kiss on the balcony at Buckingham Palace during the royal wedding
That same year, 11 million Frenchmen and women voted for the far-Right Marine Le Pen to become president. But whether this was merely a belated reaction to economic stagnation and mass immigration, or a chilling harbinger of the future, only time will tell.
Almost wherever you looked in the past decade, grim headlines stood out, from Vladimir Putin’s brutal occupation of Crimea to the bloodbath in Syria, which has claimed 500,000 lives and sent an estimated five million refugees streaming over the borders.
For Britain, one consolation was that this was not a decade of large-scale warfare. The last British troops ended their combat roles in Afghanistan in October 2014, after 454 service personnel in 12 years had lost their lives.
And who could have predicted that, after an excruciatingly tight race for the White House, Donald Trump (pictured) would squeak home ahead of Hillary Clinton
For a while, the war left a deep scar on the national imagination, epitomised by the mourning crowds that greeted the bodies of the fallen in Wootton Bassett. But it is nearly nine years since the town was awarded royal patronage to mark its role in the repatriations, and public awareness of the costs of war has once again begun to fade.
Elsewhere, though, the bloodshed went on. No story was more chilling than the rise of so-called Islamic State (IS) in the rubble of Syria and Iraq, which announced itself to the world with footage of the beheading of the American journalist James Foley in 2014.
At once medieval and modern, IS posted online videos of its atrocities, including prisoners publicly beheaded or burned to death and civilians who resisted its reign of terror crucified.
By the end of this year its ‘world caliphate’ was in ruins. But its shadow remained, not least in the fear that Western Islamists might have been radicalised.
As a result, more than ever the spectre of terrorism haunted the Western imagination. In France, Islamic extremists killed 130 people in Paris in 2015 and another 86 in a lorry attack in Nice a year later, while Britain still bears the scars from atrocities such as the Westminster and London Bridge attacks and the bombing of Manchester Arena in 2017.
Indeed, under Jeremy Corbyn, the culture of internet vitriol consumed the Labour Party itself, a once-great institution poisoned by paranoid Marxism and anti-Semitism
Little wonder, then, that so many of us believe the world has become a more frightening place than ever. You need only venture online, to the snake-pits of Twitter and Facebook, to see how debate has been hijacked by extremists, fanatics and keyboard warriors.
Perhaps never before have so many people spent so much time screaming at one another.
Indeed, under Jeremy Corbyn, the culture of internet vitriol consumed the Labour Party itself, a once-great institution poisoned by paranoid Marxism and anti-Semitism.
Is this, then, the story of the 2010s? Anger, rancour, violence and hatred? Online outrage, gunmen in the capitals of Europe and dying children in the streets of Syria? A world on fire?
Well, that’s part of it. But there is another side to the picture. In fact, I would suggest that the past ten years have been the best decade in human history.
That probably sounds alarmingly counter-intuitive. But just think about all the apocalyptic predictions that never came to pass.
The Left told us austerity would provoke uprisings in the streets and a mass revolt of the young. And yes, there were riots in London and various other towns and cities in the summer of 2011 — but we know now that they were just a disgraceful aberration.
It turned out Britain was strong, sensible and stable enough to swallow the Coalition’s budget cuts without descending into anarchy. So were Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, all of which endured years of deep spending cuts and youth unemployment without plunging into the widely predicted total revolution.
Contrary to the overheated forecasts of hysterical liberals, who cast Donald Trump as Hitler reborn, his presidency has not seen America descend into fascism. And although Vladimir Putin made himself no friends in Salisbury after his agents’ attack on the Skripals, he is not Stalin.
Even his occupation of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine was a reflection of weakness, not a sign of strength, after the Ukrainian people had toppled his puppet government.
It is risky to be too optimistic, because history always has another twist in store. Yet the world in the 2010s was a calmer, more stable place than the headlines sometimes suggested — which in turn reflects a deeper story.
For most human beings, and not just in the West, life is simply better than ever.
A century ago, 90 per cent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Yet as the Swedish economist Johan Norberg reported this month, World Bank figures show that the proportion living in extreme poverty today has fallen to less than 9 per cent, having halved in ten years.
So the next time some unreconstructed Corbyn-fancier rants at you about the wickedness of international capitalism, it’s worth reminding them that international capitalism is doing a pretty good job, lifting more people out of hunger and deprivation than ever before in human history.
The story of mankind in the 2010s, according to the United Nations Development Report, is one of an ‘unprecedented number of people in the world escaping poverty, hunger and disease’.
In Africa, deaths from malaria have fallen by almost two thirds, while Aids mortality has fallen by more than half.
Greta Thunberg’s apocalyptic predictions of a climate emergency tell only one side of the story
In almost every country on earth, child mortality is down and life expectancy up. Most people are richer, better fed and healthier.
Admittedly, progress creates its own problems. In the industrialised West, the surging costs of healthcare and pensions help to explain why European countries have imported millions of immigrants to do the work and pay the bills. And as we all know, progress comes at a punishing environmental cost.
Yet here, too, Greta Thunberg’s apocalyptic predictions of a climate emergency tell only one side of the story. In the West, most of us live more self-consciously sustainable lives. Not only do we recycle more but, as U.S. scientist Andrew McAfee has reported, we consume fewer resources, from copper, steel, stone and sand to wood, water, paper and fertiliser.
Our homes are more likely to be solar-heated, our cars more likely to be electric. We are still a long way from being carbon-neutral. But we are closer than we were.
And the good news doesn’t end there. Contrary to what you might think, all the statistical evidence shows life is less violent. Wars like the slaughter in Syria are becoming the exception, not the rule.
Partly this reflects the fact that most people are so much better off. But it also reflects the striking tolerance and gentleness — yes — of life in the 21st century.
Again, this runs counter to the overheated gibberish peddled by many Left-wing commentators, especially the fanatics who regard Brexiteers as worse than Nazis, as the ludicrous Labour MP David Lammy has suggested.
But once again the data tells the story. By every statistical measure, most people in Britain are more tolerant, less sexist and less racist than they were.
We are more likely to have black neighbours, friends, relatives and partners. Most of us have become comfortable with gay marriage, regard overt racism as unacceptable and treat foreigners with kindness and respect.
Brexit Britain is a kinder, gentler place than ever before.
Only one group, in fact, betrays signs of the vicious intolerance we associate with the bad old days. But after their humiliation on December 12, we need not worry about Jeremy Corbyn’s fan club for a while.
In many ways, this month’s General Election was an apt conclusion to the decade. For, once again, the worst did not come to pass.
After all the social media hysteria, strident anti-Semitism and unreconstructed class warfare, Labour’s mission to turn Britain into Venezuela exploded on the launch pad.
And if you want an object lesson in the quiet patriotism, pragmatism, decency and good sense of the British people, look to places such as Bolsover and Blyth Valley, which went Conservative for the first time in living memory.
In the past few weeks, Boris Johnson has been talking airily of a new ‘golden age’. As a classicist, he should remember that whenever hubris raises its head, nemesis is never far behind.
Even so, it feels right to end the decade on an optimistic note. As we enter the 2020s, we do so a richer, safer, greener and healthier country. We have asserted our independence, defied the sneering sceptics and seen off the threat of Marxist extremism. Our finances are in better shape and even unemployment is at its lowest level since I was a babe in arms.
It’s not in our nature, I know, to pat ourselves on the back. But we ought, for once, to raise a glass to ourselves. We didn’t do so badly, after all.