BANG! go the Eighties
Why a book on the 1980s now?
Because we finally have sufficient distance from it. To examine the 1980s is to visit a Britain that – while greatly influencing our own times – now seems itself to belong to a different age.
To what degree is the shadow of Margaret Thatcher cast across the decade?
Margaret Thatcher not only dominated the politics of the 80s, her outlook and character seeped into most aspects of civil society and culture to an extent that is without precedent in British twentieth century history. Almost everything appeared to be either in conscious support of her credo or in defiant rejection of it. Critics even thought they saw her supposed values in the styles of architecture going up. Of which other prime minister could that be said?
Was her legacy the result of her own personality – or did she just hold up a mirror to society?
Thatcher did not always display the attitudes of what became known as 'Thatcherism.' The experience of the 1970s made her into what she became. In this sense she was of her time. And we should understand Thatcherism as a response to the national malaise of the 1970s and not, as is sometimes alleged, a long held ideological rejection of the 'post-war consensus' - some parts of which Thatcher not only left well alone but even professed to admire.
It takes time for the mythology of an era to be separated from its real legacy. What do you think are the most common misconceptions about the 80s? And what best characterises it?
Part of the mythology is that it destroyed the post-war consensus and the size of the state was slashed. In fact, the size of the state remained larger throughout the decade than it had been in the 50s and 60s - and has remained so ever since. What does characterise the decade is the extraordinary level of popular engagement with political questions - to which by comparison the country nowadays seems remarkably apathetic.
To what degree was the British experience of the 80s echoed across the Western World?
Britain suffered a virulent strain of problems and discontents common to many western societies that were laid low by the great inflation and end to full employment that the 1970s had bequeathed. Where Britain differed was that it pioneered medicines that other countries at first baulked at taking. Privatisations on the scale the Thatcher Government initiated had never been tried before anywhere. Received opinion before 1984 even doubted whether successfully selling off businesses of that scale was even possible.
How did our relationship with the outside world evolve under Thatcher?
Strategically, the Cold War dictated that relationship - those who were 'with us' and those 'against us.' The decade concluded with an end to that binary division and with it, the UK's strategic significance has greatly diminished. Culturally, British popular culture bestrode the world, from Live Aid to the fact that a third of music sales in the United States were of British acts.
How do you account for the rabid nostalgia that is felt for the 1980s in popular culture?
The 80s was the last decade in which attachment to fashions and pop groups was almost tribal - a far cry from the current eclecticism. We look back to the 80s as a period of high cultural definition, whose sounds and aesthetic are instantly recognisable as unique to their time. The fruits of today's creative industries, whether good or bad, are not comparably distinctive to the age.
Do you think your own relationship with the decade – one in which you came of age – affected the writing of the book?
I doubt anyone who lived through the 80s regards it with indifferent detachment. Its enthusiasms and alarms have never left me. But this is a work of history not of memory. The colours are too vivid to wish to tint in sepia.
“In a detailed record of political, social and cultural events he provides an entertaining and insightful summary of interesting times.” The Times
“Terrific... brings the decade vividly to life and convincingly places it in perspective. Stewart is a gifted writer. Gripping... Excellent.” The Mail on Sunday
“a thorough, well-marshalled overview of the politics of the 1980s” Dominic Sandbrook, Read it here at : The Sunday Times
“sensationally good... Stewart is clever, stylish, learned and occasionally funny... absorbing history.” Read it here at: The Scotsman
“Superb.. throughout this carefully researched history, Stewart conjures the urban decay and collapsed industries of early-80s Britain. Rarely has history seemed so close to us, yet so far.” Read it here: Ian Thomson Observer .
“Lively, incisive and valiantly thorough. Stewart is particularly good on Thatcher’s strengths and weaknesses.” Read it here: Spectator
“A definitive look back... He's covered almost everything: the politics, economics and the culture... Really dramatic.” Peter York, Management Today
The List, Glasgow’s version of Time Out, just before Christmas.“An entertaining and nostalgic read” Read it here.
“Fascinating” Daily Express Read it here
“Stewart’s book deals with the decade in which so much of modern Britain was formed... an accomplished, politically minded history of a decade in which Britain was painfully reborn.” Daily Telegraph
“The 1980s... made for a very serious decade in public life... Stewart nails them... with extraordinary precision and a wealth of detail. Bang! continually surprises.” Glasgow Herald
“An illuminating reminder of a decade that crackled with creative energy and social tension.” Daily Express
“Uplifting... chronicles the intellectual and political insurgency that transformed the British economy and which continues to be relevant today.” Prospect
“Stewart’s analysis of a momentous decade is lively, shrewd, and in the relatively few years since then, achieves nice historical perspective.” Saga Magazine
“Superbly and fairly told... there are delightful; character sketches too.” Yorkshire Evening Post
“Stewart authoritatively describes the workings of Westminster.” Guardian
“A rounded portrait... Insightful... crammed with detail, anecdote and juxtapositions.” Stuart Maconie, New Statesman
“Stewart makes a strong case for the primacy of politics in this decade that changed the national landscape more fundamentally than any since.” Evening Standard
“The book’s greatest strengths are in its meticulous account of the economic crisis that confronted the incoming Thatcher government in 1979 and how it was resolved, and its masterly description of the reform of the city” Independent
“A lively chronicler of the politics of the era and its bitterness... A very impressive account of a colourful and divisive decade.” Irish Independent