For a decade in which information and media became so perishable, with news floating amongst the soon to be forgotten ephemera of the information age, it is astounding and testament to the scale of its horror, that the decade's defining moment was a date: 11th September 2001 . It changed everything. On the morning of 11th September, two hijacked passenger jets crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, minutes apart, with a third plane crashing into the Pentagon and another crashing in rural Pennsylvania. Almost 3000 people were killed. The scale of the attack and its audacity brought a new perspective on international terrorism, and a relatively new enemy: Al-Qaeda. Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged Britain's unstinting support in America's hunt for those responsible. This was when the American President declared the 'War On Terror'. Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden became the world's most wanted man. Said to have been sheltering in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, British and US forces launched their offensive on the 7th October 2001 . Hoping to succeed where the Soviets failed before them, the coalition forces are still fighting an elusive enemy, one capable of evaporating into the countryside. Bin Laden has still not been found.
On British soil, agriculture was in a state of turmoil. An epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease broke out in February 2001, lasting nine-months and costing the industry between £800million and £2.4billion. The outbreak paralysed rural Britain. Vertiginous pyres of livestock were set ablaze. Movement of livestock was prohibited. The outbreak was traced to Burnside farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland . It soon spread throughout the country. The government were heavily criticized for their handling of the outbreak but remained in power, winning July's general election.
On 30th March 2002 , Britain lost one of its most iconic figures when Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother died at the age of 101. Her funeral was held at Westminster Abbey before her body interred at Saint George's Chapel , Windsor . Aside from the ongoing debate concerning Britain and America's anti-terrorism policies and the ideological and diplomatic fissures that opened up in the wake of the war in Afghanistan, climate change was now a pressing concern, not just amongst environmentalists, but the public in general. The congestion charge was introduced in Central London in February 2003 . But cutting CO2 emissions would take more doing, with industry needing to buy in to an economy more reliant on renewable energy.
Despite the biggest UK-wide street demonstration in opposition to the impending war on Iraq - with up to a million people lining the streets of London, Glasgow and Belfast - Britain dutifully followed America into the battle to depose Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator had been recalcitrant in dealing with UN weapons inspectors. Weapons of mass destruction were the contraband that the Americans and the British wanted to expose, dispose of and use to bring Hussein down. Both were prepared to go without getting a second UN resolution, Blair making the moral case for war in the face of fierce opposition. Militarily, the mission was a success to a point. Invading on the 20th March 2003, the coalition forces had toppled the regime and captured Hussein before Christmas. But they hadn't counted on an insurgency movement that has lasted until the present day. The coalition's mooted objectives of stimulating democracy were and have been severely hampered by Iraq's ability to govern in a country divided by sectarianism.
Once again, the Blair administration managed to record a general election victory at a time when his government was the subject of widespread criticism. Even the anti-war sentiment failed to stop Blair win a third term as prime minister, winning on the 5th May 2005 and becoming the only post-war prime minister aside from Margaret Thatcher to have won three consecutive elections. With wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain became under greater risk of terrorist attacks than before. Four suicide bombers struck on London's transport system on the 7th July 2005 . Three detonated bombs on the Underground, while another exploded his device on the Number 30 bus. 52 people were killed, with another 700 injured. That the four bombers were born in Britain asked many questions, many of which would be unanswered, but quite how British nationals could be radicalized to such an extent that they would bomb their fellow citizens was the most perplexing - especially to those who knew the bombers. One of the bombers, Mohammed Sidique Khan, had grown up in Beeston, Yorkshire and was not some culturally alienated youth, he was normal. It was that normality that made it so terrifying.
While the attacks dominated the nation's psyche over the summer of 2005, there was plenty of positive news. The International Olympic Committee awarded London the 2012 games, defeating Paris by 54 votes to 50. London's bid, headed by Lord Sebastian Coe and backed by David Beckham's ambassadorial hair-do, was ushered in amidst jubilant scenes in Singapore, Trafalgar Square and London's East End. Gay rights were brought into the 21st Century on the 5th December 2005, when The Civil Partnerships Act afforded same-sex couples similar rights to married couples. Smokers were one of society's demographics who were asked to leave the building when the nationwide smoking ban was introduced to Britain's workplaces, bringing a smoke-free atmosphere to bars, restaurants and other public places.
After decidedly frosty atmosphere in the government, with the cabinet divided between Blairites and Brownites, Tony Blair resigned on the 27th June 2007 . Gordon Brown 's dowdier demeanour was seen as an electoral tonic for those who had grown nauseous at Blair's varnished oratory spin. He was leader for a mere three days when the failed plot to blow up Glasgow Airport brought the site of a burning four-wheel drive to television screens across the country. The vehicle was packed with gas canisters and set ablaze with petrol. Kafeel Ahmed and Bilal Abdullah were seen running from the vehicle, both on fire. But Glasgow is not the softest of targets. Baggage handler John Smeaton was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for helping to assail the burning terrorists. Though he wasn't alone, another bystander Michael Kerr broke his leg kicking out at Ahmed.
Since the World Trade Center attacks, the terror alert level in Britain ping-ponged throughout the decade. The events at Glasgow could have been a lot worse. While Ahmed died from 90 per cent burns, Abdullah recovered and was sentenced to 32 years imprisonment. Brown's leadership, stoic and calm during the events in Glasgow, was to sail into the teeth of a cataclysmic collapse in the world's banking market. Set off in part by America's sub-prime housing market where banks were saddled by toxic debt, the fiscal malaise went global and the property market tumbled. On the 14th September 2007 , Northern Rock was the first to hit the skids. They weren't the last. Queues outside the former building society's branches across the north of England became a news focal point, with savers desperate to withdraw their savings. As America's financial institutions toppled one by one, Northern Rock was merely a portent of things to come. Northern Rock was nationalized in February 2008. By October, the government announced plans to inject £37billion pounds into Britain's banks; Royal Bank Of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HBOS were all hoisted to safety by the taxpayer, their fiscal emasculation complete.
That the Financial Services Authority had a greater control over the banks after the bail-out didn't change things too drastically. News of city bankers' bonuses being just as generous as before the crash cried business as usual. In reality, the politicians bailed out the bankers' public profile too when the expenses row was serialized in the Telegraph. Throughout the summer of 2009 there were shameful stories of MPs' second homes, and egregious cases such as former Grantham MP Douglas Hogg claiming £2000 for moat cleaning. And this was the 21st Century.
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