According to the late Eric Hobsbawm, ‘it is the business of historians to remember what others forget’. But how can anyone who was alive in the 1980s, which must include much of this country’s book-buying population, possibly forget what happened only twenty to thirty years ago? Some of the detail may be a little hazy, perhaps, but surely not the great events – the hot summer riots in Brixton and Toxteth, the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, Murdoch’s Wapping revolution, the Gang of Four, the Brighton bombing, the North Sea oil bonanza, and above all, of course, the iconic figure whose stint as prime minister (1979–90) framed the decade almost exactly: Margaret Thatcher.
Graham Stewart, a historian at Buckingham University, casts the country’s first female leader as ‘the guiding spirit of the age’. The unifying theme of his book, he says, is the attraction or repulsion that this ‘commanding personality’ evoked in various areas of British life, including politics, economics and the arts. He credits her with global success in being the indispensable conduit between Gorbachev and Reagan that led to the end of the Cold War. This perception of the Iron Lady – a soubriquet coined, incidentally, in Moscow, not by her public relations team – as ‘one of the dominating figures of modern British history’ is clearly gaining ground as the likely verdict of posterity.
Not that anyone can possibly know for certain, a mere two