As the subtitle indicates, as the author tells us on the first page, and as he reminds us in the last chapter, 'a simple question' states the theme and explains the origin of Jeremy Paxman's book: Who runs Britain? There are fitful efforts to generate a sense of mystery about the answer. Thus at the outset 'the only serious answer' is mooted in terms which invite suspicion that we might be in for a counter-intuitive disclosure later: 'Exaggerated though her influence might be, the hand of Britain's first female prime minister was seen behind everything from the management of industry to the appointment of professors.' This turns out, however, to be a double-bluff, setting up the Iron Lady as a straw woman, only to have her high ferric valency confirmed by analysis. No whodunit, this book belongs in another popular genre which has taken up an awful lot of shelf-space in recent years - the shedunit. Margaret Thatcher's paramountcy remains 'the only plausible answer' after more than three hundred pages which have tracked the experience of the Eighties. 'Scarcely any of the great institutions remained untouched by Thatcherism in its various manifestations, and when even museums and opera houses are talking the language of the marketplace, there can be no doubting the depth of its influence.' Paxman's theme is how this irresistible force met a hitherto immovable object - the Establishment - and succeeded in denting it without, however, permanently replacing it.
LRB 22 November 1990 | PDF Download