The start of a new decade?

The BBC, as they did ten years ago, are offering reviews of the past decade, believing 1 January 2020 is the start of a new decade.  The new decade starts on 1 January 2021, just as the new millennium started on 1 January 2001.

Not one to lose an opportunity, I may as well repeat what I wrote on Lords of the Blog ten years ago, which no one at the BBC read or, if they did, they decided to ignore it.

The Victorians celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901.  On 31 December 1900, The Daily Telegraph published an article by Sir Edwin Arnold on ‘The Departing Century’.  Christmas 1900 was referred to ‘as the last of the century’.

Given this, I tabled a question in 1999 asking why, for official purposes, the start of the twenty-first century was being celebrated ninety-nine years after the start of the twentieth century was celebrated.  The Government Deputy Chief Whip, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, replied and conceded that the Government accepted that the new millennium started on 1 January 2001.  However, he said, ‘many people wish to celebrate during the year 2000’.  Consequently, it was decided in 1994 that the Millennium Commission would fund projects throughout 2000 ‘and into the new Millennium’.  An additional bank holiday was allocated for 31 December 1999 ‘in recognition of the celebratory nature of the Millennium’.

My question was picked up by The Daily Telegraph, which did a story on it and provided some historical context.  As it recorded, ‘The problem over dating the Millennium arose because early monks who established the system of Anno Domini did not include a year 0.  However, the historical date of Christ’s birth is put by most scholars as 4 BC, which means the real Millennium probably fell in 1996.’

The article also went on to point out that the brass ‘prime meridian’ line at Greenwich, which was to feature in the celebrations, was actually 100 metres away from zero longitude as measured by global satellites, as a result of which the start of the new year could be out by one-third of a second.  It was thus able to conclude that ‘It could be argued that the Third Millennium is to be celebrated at Greenwich on the wrong meridian at the wrong time and in the wrong year.’

Anyway, back to when the new decade starts.  A decade is ten years and one can take any year to reflect on the past decade.  But short of doing this every year, one might have expected the BBC to take its cue from the official recognition of when the new millennium started.  If Lord Reith, the BBC’s first Director-General, was still alive, it would, for one thing, be a miracle (he would be 130), but one suspects he would have been firm on the matter.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to The start of a new decade?

  1. The Peers of the United Kingdom have long been distinguished from other European aristocrats by the absence of Counts from their number. However a Baron in their number insists on counting. But really it is all due to the lack of year zero. Since the date was contrived and laid over the AUC, Temple Date, Olympic date and Deuteronomic dates that Jesus and his family knew — it could have been arranged for the convenience of our digital era…

  2. Robin Stanley Taylor says:

    Of course the boundaries of centuries depend on what you call them.
    If you refer to the “eighteen hundreds” then you are starting on 1st January 1800 and ending on 31st December 1899, whereas if you refer to the “nineteenth century” then you are starting on 1st January 1801 and ending on 31st December 1900.
    Decades are virtually always described in the former matter – we refer to the “nineteen fifties” rather than to the “one hundred and ninety-sixth decade”. The same discrepancy applies (though proportionally larger of course), which means that the twenty twenties begin on 1st January 2020 whereas the two hundred and twentieth decade begins on 1st January 2021.

  3. Croft says:

    Tbh LN he’d prob be too busy angrily demanding the shut down all the commercial broadcasters

  4. maude elwes says:

    Reading this thread LN, on this most happy of New Years, I do wonder if that place called Parliament has any idea of the coming diversity they are going to be ‘persuaded’ by British voters, for this establishment to adopt, as well as be rid of? They certainly had no idea how profound the changes we have seen take place was on the cards a decade ago. Even though the sentiment was spilling over in its transparency.

    The unrest within the spirit of UK citizens is much deeper than appears to have registered with politicians. A new and unexpected dawn, not only awaits UK leaders, it is a European wide rejection, of all that has been forced on society that has to come to an end. Be ready for it. For, citizens will insist on expecting just what their hearts and principle is driving them toward. Since now they realise extinction of all they held dear was ridiculed by those who appeared to be leading them toward destruction.

  5. maude elwes says:

    As a refresher, I take this added link from your earlier thread, LN, and ask, if we remain in collusion with EU policy on the issue openly referred to here? Once again, it comes directly from the horses mouth and cannot be disputed as fact.

    Perhaps Mr Cummings would like to find a person committed to the welfare of the indigenous peoples of the UK and Europe as a starter for 10.

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