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Don’t blame the Eighties for our own failed era of greed

But Eighties addicts will not have far to look for their next fix, for the Thatcher years seem to be everywhere these days, from BBC2’s recreation of the last days of the Iron Lady’s premiership to the innumerable retro pop acts.

The thought of an Eighties revival is amusing enough in its way, although the prospect of a return to stonewashed jeans and mullet haircuts is frankly terrifying.
cheap ray bans But as I regularly find myself pointing out to my Eighties addicted wife who was barely into her teens when the decade ended few periods make less suitable candidates for the canonisation granted by nostalgia.

For the Thatcher years were not just the years of synthesiser pop and ridiculous hairstyles; they were also years when millions were thrown out of work, football fans were held in steel cages to prevent them storming the field, and police and strikers fought pitched battles in the streets of Wapping. They were tough, bleak, grim years decisive years in the making of modern Britain, to be sure, but also ones that saw tremendous suffering and social conflict.

Why, then, are we suddenly so keen on turning back the clock? Just a few years ago, the prospect of Eighties nostalgia would have provoked guffaws. The 20th anniversary of the miners’ strike went little noticed.

One reason is simply generational. People who were children and teenagers in the Eighties, like me, are now in their thirties and forties, writing books and commissioning TV dramas about the supposedly halcyon days of their youth.

History has finally caught up with the Eighties, just as it did with the Sixties 20 years ago, and the Thirties 20 years before that. The wheel has come full circle: what once seemed irredeemably naff (a great Eighties word itself overdue for a comeback) now seems bizarrely fresh and fashionable.

There are also serious political reasons for looking back to the days when Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill fought for the soul of Britain. For the first time since that troubled decade or least since it really ended, in 1992 we live in an age of extraordinary economic anxiety, with negative equity and unemployment looming as the biggest worries for millions.

And for the first time since then, too, the Tory party is back in vogue and ahead in the polls. Next year may well see David Cameron handed the keys to No 10 the first Tory prime minister to win back power from Labour since Mrs Thatcher rather incongruously promised to bring harmony in place of discord in 1979. No wonder that so many Tories are so keen to look back for inspiration.

Oddly, though, the Right are not the only ones keen to turn the clock back. In Left leaning circles, too, the days when aspiring Yuppies used to push up the sleeves of their shiny polyester suits are back in vogue not because Labour supporters want to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher, but because they insist that the current economic mess is actually all her fault.

The New Statesman even published a special Thatcher issue a few weeks ago, with many contributors queuing up to blame her for economic meltdown. Why demand an apology from Gordon Brown, they argued, when you should really be asking the lady herself?

Of course re examining the ideological clashes of the Eighties is useful. It was in this period that our contemporary political culture was born, as Britain moved from the rigid, ossified collectivism of the strike bound Seventies to the globalised, cut throat neo liberalism of the Thatcher and Blair years. And from home computers to mobile phones, from listening to your own private soundtrack on the morning commute to grabbing a quick sandwich at lunchtime, many of the daily habits we now take for granted
discount ray bans first caught on in the Thatcher years.

But there are two serious problems with the way we like to remember the Eighties. The first is that like any other period in modern history, it was not self contained. Thatcherism did not spring into life in 1979: it emerged after years of debate and argument, and in some ways was actually
fake ray bans foreshadowed by the much maligned Callaghan government of the Seventies, which drew up plans to sell off council houses, slashed public spending, and began the fightback against progressive education.

There has always been a lot more continuity in our modern history than we think and Thatcherism also included a much bigger element of caution and compromise than many Tories like to remember.

Labour supporters, too, however, are deluding themselves if they seriously think they can blame Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s for our current economic mess. Yes, the Eighties ushered in an age of deregulation and free markets, a winner takes all society with a cruel disregard for history’s losers. Yet it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who ran Britain for the past 12 years often travelling further down the neo liberal road than Thatcher herself would have ever dared.

Blaming Thatcher for the banking crisis makes about as much sense as holding Harold Macmillan responsible for the 1984 miners’ strike.

So dig out your old compilation tapes, squeeze into your skinny jeans and dust off your Ray Bans
fake ray bans if you must. An era is indeed ending, and we should remember that many of its roots are in the 1980s.

But don’t imagine that the political battles of the Eighties hold the answers to the present crisis of direction and faith in British politics. Our current problems are of our own making, and we will have to resolve them on our own.Articles Connexes:

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