Graham Stewart - Bang! (3 stars)

A history of the UK in the 1980s that stands too detached and neglects Thatcher's more dubious acts

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Graham Stewart - Bang!

The 1980s was not just the decade that taste forgot (shoulder pads, yuppie braces, Level 42), it was a time when Britain was split in two by culture, ideology, money and politics. At the very heart of all this was Margaret Thatcher, the Tory leader elected by the country in 1979 who ruled with a Victorian rod before being booted out by her own rank and file in 1990.

By simply laying out the events and personalities of the decade, Graham Stewart’s Bang!: A History of Britain in the 1980s is certainly an entertaining and nostalgic read for anyone who lived through the period. But his tendency to stand slightly detached from proceedings gives the book a somewhat lighter feel than the 500+ pages should merit.

In his summing up chapter, ‘Legacy’, Stewart is almost whimsical in his praise of Thatcher, who seemingly made a lasting impact that the PMs who followed (Major, Blair and Brown) could only dream about. Despite all their flaws, those three sought more of a consensus politics, realising that the carnage on a (literally) industrial scale caused by the strident economic policies she pursued with zeal and the triumphalist posturing against Europe and South America left behind a trail of devastation.

Because she was the Iron Lady, and ‘not for turning’, and believed that there was ‘no such thing as society’, these nicknames and catchphrases apparently made her inherently more memorable. Try telling that to the war dead of the South Atlantic, the families destroyed by her support of various brutal dictatorships across the Americas or the families whose lives were destroyed by her determination to wreak vengeance on the mining communities. If you want a more critical analysis of her reign, best look elsewhere.

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