There's an excellent article in The Observer by Robert Chesshyre on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher on today's Britain, and how little has changed in so many ways. It's already generated a healthy load of comments, which is what you'd expect from such a sensitive topic. The book, which we reissued recently in collaboration with Alma Books, is a fascinating insight into the 1980s.
As a child of the 80s, for me it was enormously interesting to note the ways in which our society remains deeply divided, and some of the roots of this problem. Interesting, too, to look at the problem from the angle of privilege, class and education rather than simply economics, and to think more deeply about the phenomenon of "Englishness", from the type of people we choose as leaders (we very rarely go for people who seem "ordinary", unlike the Americans) to a lack of social mobility and an inbuilt sense of our place in society, a feeling of the unreconcilable divide between "them" and "us" - geographically, politically and economically. I suspect that many people take the view that Englishness (I won't speak about the rest of Britain as I don't feel qualified to) has sort of withered away into an amorphous concept; that Britain has become a melting pot like America, but without any of the national cohesion that binds the US together in many ways (try asking a schoolchild to name our counties, or point out the location of a few cities on the map, or telling you about the Magna Carta, and you'll see what I mean). But reading this book made me reconsider this view, and provides an insight "from the outside", as it were.
The book has recently received some very positive reviews, aside from the stellar praise it received upon its first release (Christopher Hitchens, Hanif Kureishi, Beryl Bainbridge and many more):
The Telegraph has just listed the book in its Best Recent Reissues: "a sobering front-line dispatch from those parts of the country damaged in the course of pursuing a prosperity that looks increasingly will-o’-the-wisp-like."
The Oldie has written that "reissued and re-titled, and carrying a new introduction, Chesshyre's book is (alas) as topical as ever".
Peter Wilby, in The New Statesman of 13 June, said: "State-of-the-nation books rarely read well 25 years on and I admit to scepticism when my old friend Robert Chesshyre, a former Observer reporter, said he was reissuing a book he wrote in 1987 after returning from four years in Washington. Then called The Return of a Native Reporter, it was a devastating portrait of the social dislocations of Thatcher’s Britain. Now it appears, with a new foreword, under the title When the Iron Lady Ruled Britain and, astonishingly, it reads as though it were written yesterday. The hot topics then, as now, were declining manufacturing industry, mounting debt, City fat cats, urban riots, the underclass, failing state comprehensives and small business’s struggles to get bank finance. And yet, for more than half the intervening quarter-century, we had Labour governments with handsome majorities. I can think of no greater indictment of Tony Blair and New Labour".
Launch party. Photography © Catriona Gray
There was a very successful launch party for the book recently at The Open Book in Richmond, where Robert (pictured left, in the centre) gave a brief talk about his motivation in seeking to reissue the book. Judging by the recent sales of the book, there is still enormous interest and controversy surrounding The Iron Lady.