Seeking out the essence of a beguiling decadeby DJ Taylor / September 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s
by Alwyn W Turner (Aurum, £25)
Professor Treece in Malcolm Bradbury’s Eating People is Wrong suspects that the 1950s are “dissolving curiously under his grasp.” The same could be said of the 1990s. The end of something, or the beginning of something? A halfway house between changing social and political styles, or the same old muddling through? To Alywn W Turner this was a decade of adaptation and realignment, in which the British began to acclimatise themselves to a series of moral and behavioural shifts, technological revolutions and a brand of politics in which “managerialism” had kicked ideology into touch.
The current poster boy of near-contemporary social history is David Kynaston, but Turner, though benefiting from the great man’s endorsement, opts for very different techniques. Instead of bringing a kaleidoscope of detail to bear on time’s week-by-week advance, A Classless Society balances chronology with theme. Lads and ladettes, Cool Britannia and the Spice Girls, New Labour and the BSE crisis whisk by in rapid succession, along with some interesting counter-factual prognoses of the likely shape of late-20th century politics had John Smith lived.
As for the principal adornments of this endlessly beguiling soap opera, John Major appears as a decent man let down by his party and Tony Blair as a trivial opportunist. If Turner doesn’t possess Kynaston’s nose for the unpublished source, then his eye for the salient quotation is horribly acute, and the pithiest comment on Princess Diana’s passing comes from Tony Livesey of the Daily Sport.
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