SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Monday 21st January 2013

Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s by Graham Stewart


On the face of it, there’s something a bit suspect about an historian studying the recent past. After all, if it’s “too soon to say” what the historical impact of the French Revolution was, as the Chinese Communist Zhou Enlai maintained, how can we possibly assess the significance of the 1980s? That seems like a more suitable subject for a Radio 2 DJ than an academic historian.

In fact, Graham Stewart has done a terrific job. Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s brings the decade vividly back to life and convincingly places it in perspective. Not only does Stewart include all the major political and economic episodes of the period – the Falklands’ War, the Miners’ Strike, the Big Bang – he also covers some of the more momentous moments in mass culture. For instance, there’s a whole section devoted to popular music with chapters on Acid House and Madchester.

The only mistake he’s made, as far as I can tell, is to call the first part of the book ‘Jim’ll Fix It’. The subject of that section is Labour leader James Callaghan not Jimmy Savile, but it’s still a bit unfortunate.

There are two reasons why this book works so well.

The first is that Stewart is a gifted writer. Bang! A History of Britain is an example of what publishers call “narrative non-fiction” and to succeed in that genre you need to be a competent storyteller. Luckily, Stewart possesses a novelist’s ability to engage the reader’s interest, managing to inject a fairly dry collection of facts with the pace and suspense of a good thriller.

The second is that he has a great unifying theme in the form of Margaret Thatcher. As Stewart points out, no other decade in Britain’s history has been continuously served by one prime minister since William Pitt the Younger in the 1790s. “Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street tenure almost perfectly framed the interviewing decade as if it were her own,” he writes.

It would be an exaggeration to call Stewart a Thatcherite, but he clearly has a good deal of respect for the woman he describes as “the personification of…the guiding spirit of the age”. He shares the verdict of Charles Moore, her official biographer: “She is the only post-war British prime minister (her successors included) who stands for something which is recognized and admired globally.”

Margaret Thatcher’s great achievement, as Stewart makes clear, was to shift the terms of debate, replacing one cross-party consensus with another. Before her, both Labour and the Conservatives accepted the need for economic planning, nationalised industries and an accommodation with Soviet Communism. The most any British government could hope for was “to oversee the orderly management of decline,” as the Sir William Armstrong, the head of the civil service, put it.

After Thatcher’s 11 years in Downing Street, both parties were committed to the free market, opposed to state ownership and firmly believed in the moral superiority of Western capitalism. The defeatism of the 1970s was laid to rest and replaced with a patriotic belief that Britain could continue to punch above its weight.

Stewart’s gripping account of the 1979 general election is instructive in this respect. Callaghan was a moderate, pragmatic man, firmly on the right of the party, yet Labour campaigned on a platform that, by today’s standards, would be regarded as far-out, loony left gobbledegook. Had the party won the election, it would have introduced a wealth tax for everyone worth over £150,000, abolished fee-paying schools and given the Price Commission wide-ranging powers to force shopkeepers to cut prices.

To illustrate just how much the country changed during Thatcher’s period in office, the top rate of tax in 1979 was 83 per cent. Nine years later, it had been reduced to 40 per cent and remained at that level for the next 22 years.

If I have one criticism of this book, it’s that, at 560 pages, it’s a little too long. Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s is an engaging, accessible work and deserves a wide readership. Couldn’t Stewart have filleted his material a little more ruthlessly? My fear is that some people will be put off by the book’s sheer size. One of the enduring legacies of the 1980s is that our attention spans got shorter as a result of the increased pace of everyday life and it would be a great pity if this excellent account of the period was a casualty of that phenomenon.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter My 2017 Constance Holden Memorial Address on Liberal Creationism -- why the left has been denying the findings of i… link  (17 hours ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski - the-american-interest.com
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony - jerusalemletters.com
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller - quillette.com
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand - newyorker.com
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge - economist.com
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell - city-journal.org
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell - quillette.com
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff - newsweek.com
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings - dominiccummings.wordpress.com
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew - politico.com
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus - claremont.org
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman - theguardian.com
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer - conservativehome.com
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs - newstatesman.com
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker - edge.org
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood - theatlantic.com
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray - quadrant.org.au
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter - conservativeteachers.com
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win - youtu.be
Corbyn's first seven days - theguardian.com
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey - news.sky.com
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons - gq-magazine.co.uk
Inside Westminster's free school - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair - theguardian.com
Robert Conquest obit - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that - news.stv.tv
In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film