March 28, 2010


The Ghost of Maggie Thatcher: A cash-for-influence scandal and a major airline strike have hastened Gordon Brown’s tailspin. Is Britain on the brink of a Tory revival that would make the Iron Lady proud? (Alex Massie, 3/28/10, Daily Beast)

All in all, however, this shabby affair was reminiscent of the last days of John Major's government when an exhausted Tory party was battered by "sleaze" allegations en route to its annihilation at the polls in 1997. The strikes call to mind an even more depressing era—the 1970s, which culminated in a humiliating bailout from the IMF and a year of industrial unrest and strikes that reached their apogee in the so-called Winter of Discontent in the months before the 1979 election that swept Thatcher to power.

If the situation facing Britain this year isn't quite as bleak as it was then—no gravediggers have yet gone on strike, for instance—the country is still grumbling through a Disenchanted Spring. Back then, the Iron Lady tamed the over-mighty unions as ruthlessly as a medieval monarch. But now, after more than 15 years in the shadows, the labor unions are flexing their muscles again, and Gordon Brown is ill-equipped to tame them.

Though it's an idiosyncratic take on the decade, Francis Wheen's Strange Days Indeed is a helpful reminder of what genuinely difficult times are like.

Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen: Francis Wheen's dissection of the 70s hilariously reveals the paranoia that characterised that decade (Andrew Anthony, 9/06/09, The Observer)

The Seventies have inspired a host of documentaries, films, articles, fashions – and books. Many of these have focused on the overfamiliar, but in recent years there has been a revisionist movement of sorts that has set out to combat cliches. Howard Sounes's Seventies: The Sights, Sounds and Ideas of a Brilliant Decade was a riposte to the view that Love Thy Neighbour and the Austin Allegro were typical of the times. And recently Andy Beckett's When the Lights Went Out sought to rescue progressive politics from the image of suicidal industrial disputes.

Now, before the gloss has had a chance to dry, along comes Francis Wheen with what amounts to a blowtorch and an industrial sander. Wheen has no interest in playing down the turmoil that rent the country during the years of energy blackouts, strikes and urban terror. He summons up an atmosphere of almost surreal resignation, as captured in Tony Benn's diary entry of 23 December 1973: "Three more IRA bombs in London. I tidied the office and wrapped Christmas gifts."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2010 7:27 AM
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