I have a short review of a new book by the Guardian journalist Andy Beckett in the latest issue of Prospect. “Promised You a Miracle” UK 80-82,” the sequel to “When the Lights Went Out,” Beckett’s magisterial history of the 1970s, is an “anatomy of the years 1980-82 and the first stirrings of what he calls Thatcherism’s ‘revolution in the head’.” One of the strengths of the book, it seems to me, is that Beckett doesn’t write conventional political history: he looks for intimations of the Thatcher revolution in the pop culture of the period as well as its high politics; in architecture and design as well as the arguments among economists that raged with particular intensity in those years—Martin Fry is as important to the story he’s telling as Milton Friedman.
When I met Beckett in London recently, he told me that this is a book about the birth pangs of a new world.
AB: In some ways it’s about an early version of the Britain of now being born. And there are glimmerings of that new world already in the late Seventies, and that’s why the book goes back into the Seventies here and there. I guess the argument of the book is that this is when the new world comes into view, and that what happens later in the Eighties, even though it’s incredibly important, is more about the sketch being filled in.
JD: How do you see the relationship between this book and its predecessor, When the Lights Went Out, which is about the 1970s? This book covers a much more narrowly circumscribed period than that one.
Part of the fascination of the period for me is that what you might crudely call Thatcherism or the “New Britain” is appearing in some areas, in pop music for example, in 1979/80, whereas in other areas, such as trade unions, it’s barely appeared by 1983, because the anti-union legislation is only just starting. So these changes are not happening in a uniform way, and that’s quite interesting. One of the things the book is interested in is the different speeds at which society changes in different areas of life.