Promised You A Miracle: UK 80-82 by Andy Beckett (Allen Lane, £20) “Economics are the method,” declared Margaret Thatcher in 1981, “the object is to change the soul.” Thatcherism certainly ushered in a new mood in Britain in the 1980s, undoing in the process many of the pieties that had underpinned the postwar Keynesian consensus. By the time she left office in 1990, this was a less hidebound and in many ways more liberal country, but also a harsher and more unequal one. Britain had changed, though not necessarily in ways that Thatcher had envisaged.
Andy Beckett’s latest book, which follows When the Lights Went Out, his history of the 1970s, is a breezy and very intelligent anatomy of the years 1980-82 and the first stirrings of what he calls Thatcherism’s “revolution in the head.” This is not conventional political history—and is all the better for it. Beckett is as interested in the flowering of independent television production companies and the regeneration of London’s Docklands as he is in monetarism, the Falklands War and the assault on the trade unions. (Though when he does deal with the unions he usefully fills in some of the gaps in more orthodox accounts. He reminds us, for instance, that in her first confrontation with the miners, in January 1981, Thatcher backed down and the National Coal Board withdrew its pit-closure plans.)
Beckett has named his book after a single released in 1982 by the Scottish band Simple Minds. The song was later included on their album New Gold Dream, the title of which was, he notes, perfectly “in tune with the country Britain was becoming.”