No Such Thing As Society: Andy McSmith

No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s

I am going to start as I mean to go on, by cheating (worked for Lance Armstrong, after all).

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because I have not actually read Andy McSmith‘s book, rather I have listened to it as I rowed on the rower and cross-trained on the cross trainer and so on. But I still think that qualifies me to have an opinion – and here it is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and would recommend it. Admittedly it’s part-polemic (though Andy tries to hide it) but there is a lot to be angry about, especially given the concerted effort to lionise Margaret Thatcher as a leader of national rebirth and revival (one can hardly dispute she was a towering figure in politics, but this text is a reminder that she was far from a great leader.)

The book is far from perfect – both because it contains niggling errors of fact (such as stating Bow Wow Wow‘s first single was Go Wild In The Countrywhen we all know it was C30, C60, C90 Go) – and because its attempt at an economic history of the decade more or less stops with its account of Geoffrey Howe‘s disastrous 1981 budget.

In that it reflects the fundamental weakness of the left’s critique of Thatcherism: the book recounts how the Right lost the argument in the long-term on social issue after social issue, from race relations to gay rights – but the only Left economic responses that are discussed at length are the “Alternative Economic Strategy” and the convulsion of the 1984/85 miners’ strike. In their way both represented the past and not the future: it is difficult to believe that a Labour government would not have wound-down the coal industry too – indeed it had done in the 1970s, though without the same inhuman brutality of the Tory years.

The book was a personal surprise too – I first met Andy in 1987 when he was working for the Labour Party and I was vice-chair of the party’s student organisation but I have never thought of him as having such developed and well-founded views on music – his description of the twin rise of “Lady Di” and the “New Romantics” made me think of both in new ways.

I think it’s fair to say Andy’s politics and mine are rather divergent – he’s never done anything to make me think he was a fan of Tony Blair and certainly it’s no secret that he had less than cordial relations with some of the brighter stars in the New Labour firmament. As such we might disagree on some of the lessons that we should draw from the experience of the 1980s, but as a book of evidence this text is a great place to start.


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