It is odd how much decades matter. The Twenties evoke an unmistakable image of self-consciously post-war modernity and frivolity; the Thirties of ideological polarisation in the face of the twin challenge of depression and dictatorship; the Forties of plain living and high thinking about the world after Hitler; the Fifties of affluence and complacency and the end of ideology. Then there were the Sixties, swinging from the technocratic confidence of the Kennedy era - imported into Britain in the youthful Harold Wilson's hand-baggage - through the unfolding of the permissive society, to the radical disillusion on the left associated with the Vietnam War. Quite a lot of this actually spilled over into the early Seventies, although they never became charged with the sort of visceral response memorably conveyed in Norman Tebbit's dismissal of 'the insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naive, guilt-ridden, wet, pink orthodoxy of that sunset home of that third-rate decade, the 1960s'. And the Eighties? Already we seem to have turned a corner in the winter of 1989-90, which saw the virtually simultaneous collapse of two central, load-bearing pillars of Thatcherism: the Communist menace and the British economic miracle. In each case this was suddenly brought home in an impatient, insistent, irresistible, ultimately unanswerable manner.
LRB 30 August 1990 | PDF Download