We’re Still Living in Margaret Thatcher’s BritainHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, neoliberalism, Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, Tories
Review of Dominic Sandbrook, Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979–1982 (London: Penguin, 2019)
In 1941, when the United Kingdom was at the height of its wartime isolation, George Orwell diagnosed England as “a family with the wrong members in control.” His essay, The Lion and the Unicorn, which tellingly conflated English and British identities, became emblematic of Britain’s transformation during the decade of total war and societal reconstruction.
Four decades later, Britain was once again in the midst of another pivotal upheaval, as the postwar social-democratic order gave way to a new age of market forces and pronounced individualism. Social theorists usually refer to the combined impact of these changes as “neoliberalism”, but in the British context they also carry the more specific label of “Thatcherism.”
This strong association between one political personality and a wider picture of systematic change shapes Dominic Sandbrook’s Who Dares Wins, the latest addition to his ongoing, multivolume history of Britain since 1956. Previous books in the cycle have included Never Had it So Good (2006) and Seasons in the Sun (2012). Sandbrook has also written in a similar vein about social and political conflicts in the United States during the 1960s.
This is just part of the output that has made Sandbrook one of Britain’s leading public historians. His television documentaries for the BBC — on subjects ranging from Cold War Britain to the Post Office and the German auto industry — and newspaper columns have helped consolidate a conservative “common sense” about the postwar period. This interpretation links a mournful view of the end of empire and Britain’s declining status as a world power, with a more optimistic picture of “affluence” and nascent consumerism.
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