In March 1981 British civil servants acted out a secret war game about how to respond to a Soviet attack. The exercise ended when they pressed the button for a nuclear strike. Ministers occasionally popped their heads round the door but, in general, paid little attention to this grim charade. They had worries of their own. Ten days earlier the budget had attracted fierce criticism, including, famously, a protest from 364 economists, one of whom said that he foresaw ‘apocalypse’. The previous month the government had backed down when faced with the threat of a miners’ strike – a humiliating moment for ministers who were haunted by the way that the miners had toppled the Heath government in 1974.
Recapturing the disturbing uncertainty of the early 1980s is important because Thatcherism is often presented as though it caused a sudden switch of mood: one moment picket lines and The Clash;