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4.0 out of 5 stars
Comprehensive review of 1970s politics, 31 July 2009
I like books the size of bricks which can keep me company over a few days. So I was pleased when the weighty parcel arrived from Amazon. To say it follows a conventional format for such a history is not a criticism, neither was I disappointed that it was almost wholly a history of seventies politics ("when politics was interesting") rather than a wider picture of seventies Britain. It was a reminder that not so long there really were two tribes in Britain - lefties and righties - and most of knew which one we belonged to by the time we were five. Today, we no longer have this clear-cut choice and people vote according to the degree of teleginicity of the party leader (which is why Labour's keeping Gordon Brown is evidence of a suicide wish).
The problem with a history of a period you remember is that you read it, impatiently waiting for the really interesting bit which, for me, should have been the winter of discontent. But, thorough though Becket was in his description and analysis up to this period, I thought he was rather superficial when it came to this period when the unions thoughtlessly conspired to put Thatcher in power. He hardly mentions the gravediggers' strike. Was it not the stories of unburied bodies which really did for poor old Sunny Jim? Becket is good, though, on Callaghan, and it was the first time I had read that it was Callaghan who first moved Labour into the middle to enable them subsequently to be seen as a natural party of power - it was not Kinnock or Smith or Blair.
He's rather dismissive of Thatcher (Beckett, you must remember, is a Guardian features writer), but I suppose it's fair enough not to use his knowledge of the 80s to colour his analysis of the 70s. He's right that Thatcher was lucky in the gifts given her by the trades unions at the end of 70s, just as she was lucky to have, firstly, Galtieri and secondly, Scargill, as her incompetent enemies in the 80s.
It's a good read, quite kind to poor old Ted Heath, and rather scathing about Harold Wilson.