Making Thatcher’s Britain

February 28, 2013

Editors: Ben Jackson and Robert Saunders
Edition: First
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Pages: 368
Price: £55.00 and £19.99
ISBN: 9781107012387 and 683372

In 2007, the political scientist Colin Hay wrote that Thatcherism had “all but disappeared from the lexicon of British political analysis”. But books on Margaret Thatcher keep rolling off the presses, with at least five expected in 2013 alone. Making Thatcher’s Britain differs from most in that it is a collection of 13 papers, each from a different author, reflecting the volume’s genesis in a 2010 symposium held at the University of Oxford. More surprising perhaps - and a mark of the amount of time that has passed since Thatcher’s premiership - is that all but one of its contributors (Andrew Gamble) are historians.

The book is sensibly divided into three parts - “Making Thatcherism”, “Thatcher’s Britain” and “Thatcherism and the wider world” - but within these sections the papers take on a more eclectic feel. Thus “Thatcher’s Britain” comprises articles on the women’s vote, class politics, the miners’ strike and the Union. A more thematic approach covering education, law and order (and the riots), elections and so on, might have served students better (these areas are covered but you have to dig for them).

In this respect, “Thatcherism and the wider world” is better arranged, but has only three papers: Richard Vinen on the Cold War, Stephen Howe on decolonisation and Gamble, who bravely and succinctly takes on Europe and the US in just 16 pages. I would have liked to have seen separate pieces on Europe, the US and the Falklands conflict to better mirror the UK’s international profile in the 1980s.

Thus the topics for inclusion are more selective than comprehensive, as is to be expected from a colloquium. Together with its slightly loose thematic structure, this means that the volume, despite its wide coverage, cannot serve as a stand-alone textbook on the Thatcher era; but it is to be highly recommended nonetheless.

Importantly, students will be exposed to some excellent recent scholarship from leading authorities that may inspire them to delve further. In this respect, the section on further reading is most valuable: arranged in clear thematic order, it does not try to cram in every possible related title, thereby avoiding dauntingly long lists. (It is also bang up to date: for example, Richard Aldous’ 2012 book Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship is included here.) The appendices include a detailed timeline and electoral and economic statistical tables.

There are bound to be minor quibbles over content and interpretation. While it is understandable that the term “Falklands War” is used, war was never declared; indeed, this was carefully circumvented for legal and political reasons. And I am not sure that “the war was very obviously imperial”; but this is all quality grist to the historian’s mill.

Who is it for?
Required reading for undergraduates in contemporary British history and politics, and researchers of Thatcherism.

Very clear, as is to be expected from Cambridge University Press; however, the binding on my paperback is a bit dodgy.

Would you recommend it?
Yes, highly. It is a valuable collection from a range of leading authorities.

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