The other evening the presenter of a Radio 4 programme, reviewing the year, stated that 2010 was the start of a new decade. The same programme claimed that Michael Martin was the first Speaker in three-hundred years to be forced out of office. Wrong on the second count (as regular readers will be well aware) and, officially, wrong on the first as well. The new decade starts 0n 1 January 2011, just as the new Millennium started on 1 January 2001.
The Victorians celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901. On 31 December 1900, The Daily Telegraph published an article on ‘The Departing Century’ by Sir Edwin Arnold. Christmas 1900 was referred to ‘as the last of the century’. Fast forward to 1999. I tabled a question to ask the Goverment why the new Millennium was officially being celebrated a year early. In response, Lord McIntosh of Haringey 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’. This all appears to be a case of having one’s cake and eating it. As The Daily Telegraph observed, the Home Office had allocated an additional bank holiday for 31 December 1999 ‘in recognition of the celebratory nature of the Millennium’.
As The Daily Telegraph went on to record – having done a story on the basis of my question (and providing the historical references) – ‘The problem over dating the Millennium arose because early monks who established the system of Anno Domini did not include a year 0.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 ar 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 1o0 metres away from zero longtitude 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.’
Still, we got the Dome.