Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s
By Graham Stewart
Atlantic Books – £25.00
There’s very few people let alone political figures that over the last hundred or so years, quintessentially define an era in their nation’s history. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini are names that might immediately leap forth – albeit somewhat negatively – in relation to Germany, Russia and Italy.
Likewise General De Gaulle and JFK with regards to France and the USA.
So far as Britain is concerned, it has always been Winston Churchill.
And perhaps it always will be.
Born in 1940, even John Lennon’s middle name was Winston. So named, in respect of the wartime Prime Minister. Yet loath as I am to mention the murdered, former Beatle, in the same sentence as Margaret Thatcher, her recent death does, unfortunately, look set to trigger a re-writing of history.
Although the prime, fundamental difference here is, where Churchill and Lennon promoted the human spirit and essentially brought people together, Thatcher did the complete opposite.
To be absolutely sure, if anyone, anywhere in the world, has ever divided a nation, it is truly she.
One need only read what columnists are writing in newspapers. What pundits and politicians (on all sides of the political divide) are saying on both radio and television. What people of all ages and from almost every segment of society, are seemingly, vehemently determined to share on Facebook. The one, inflammatory, roller-coaster aspect of her tenure as PM that continues to this very day, is absolutist division. The underlying kernel of which is more than candidly conveyed throughout this altogether brilliant book.
Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s by Graham Stewart (whose previous books include Friendship and Betrayal, The Murdoch Years volume of the official history of The Times and Britannia: 100 Documents that Shaped a Nation) is a reflective and concurrent analysis of one of the most polarised decades in British, peacetime history.
With the two main political parties as far apart as at any time since the 1930s, said period was deeply entrenched within violent confrontation; beginning with the abscess of rioting that shook a number of England’s cities in 1981, and then again throughout 1985 due to both the year-long Miners Strike and the Print Workers Strike in London’s Wapping. Not to mention the utterly futile war over the Falkland Islands, the re-escalation of the Troubles in Northern Ireland – that began with the infamous hunger strikes – which culminated in the (perhaps inevitable) Brighton bombing.
All of which Thatcher presided over. All of which – depending on the outcome – she always deemed herself to be totally, and without question, correct about.
For in her (own) eyes, she was beyond redemption.
And it was this dismissive, off-hand and somewhat patronising nature that so utterly riled and irritated people. As Stewart writes in Chapter Thirteen (The Workers, United, Will Never Be Defeated’) with regards the Miners Strike, even the ninety-year old, former Conservative Prime Minister of Britain (1957- 1963), Harold Macmillan, was appalled at the extent to which Thatcher and her Cabinet just didn’t seem to care: ‘’It breaks my heart to see what is happening in our country today. A terrible strike is being carried on by the best men in the world. They beat the Kaiser’s army and they beat Hitler’s army. They never gave in. The strike is pointless and endless. We cannot afford action of this kind… I can only describe as wicked the hatred that has been introduced.’’
Indeed, the word ‘hatred’ is key here.
As it is, to all ironic intents and historical purposes, best be summed up and substantiated by the three words with which Thatcher herself used to describe the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers): the enemy within. Again, in the same chapter, Stewart states: ‘’While the government’s public stance was to maintain that it was a matter of the NCB and NUM, rather than the Department of Energy, to agree a settlement, there was never any doubt as to the result Thatcher was seeking. Controversy flared over remarks she made in July to a private meeting of back-bench Tory MPs: she drew a parallel between the Argentine junta during the Falklands War, whom she dubbed ‘the enemy without,’ and the NUM leadership, who were ‘the enemy within, much more difficult to fight, [and] just as dangerous to liberty.’ Did the prime minister really think she was dealing with an insurgency?’’
As written in The Spectator, the 473 pages of this book are ‘’lively, incisive and valiantly thorough.’’ I couldn’t agree more.
To my mind, Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s has been researched to the degree that I’d strongly suggest all those who intend spouting forth over the coming days/weeks (of which there appear to be many thousands – among them; countless, ignorant, belligerent, gob-shite oiks) absolutely read it first.
Apart from being brutally honest, suave in construction and exceedingly well written, it’s an authoritative reminder of a rather shameful nadir in British politics. A period during which I remember the singer/songwriter, Elvis Costello admitting he couldn’t wait to ‘‘tramp the dirt down’’ on Margaret Thatcher’s grave.
As the former Prime Minister is buried later this morning, I can’t help but wonder if he still feels the same way.
Something tells me he might.
Something also tells me he won’t be alone in such thinking.