An Alternative History of Britain Since 1979
Workaround: In current version of Panels 3.8, it seems this body field needs to be populated in order for title above to appear. This note is hidden by custom CSS style. Jack Latimer.
The project described: A interdisciplinary history of the recent past in an edited volume with a collectively written introduction plus four chapters all by CRESC researchers with a revisionist sensibility unifying the various contributions from different disciplines and authors. Julie Froud, Sukh, Johal and Karel Williams on the economy, Mick Moran on politics, Mike Savage and Andy Miles on class and stratification, Sarah Green on transnational shifts.
Alternative to what? We challenge the established narrative account, originated on the right but now accepted on the centre left about how Mrs Thatcher reversed national decline reversed. This plays off media images of the industrial problems of the 1970s, newsreel of bin bags piling up in newsreel whose the back story is about the failure of Harold Wilson’s .modernisation The narrative then lists Mrs Thatcher’s achievements in flexibilising labour markets, cutting income and corporation tax, privatising utilities etc which are represented as a pivotal achievement which liberated enterprise, “turned round the economy” and “transformed the country” So New Labour becomes consolidation and the DemCon coalition recovers the patrimony .
Why now? The time is right when the financial crisis has raised questions about the “balance of the economy” and the sustainability of an economy over dependent on its finance sector and prone to asset price bubbles which burst in 1989 and 2007. We’re shifting from Queen Elizabeth’s question about why did nobody see it coming? To another question about how a bubble was mistaken for secular transformation by metropolitan elites in the media and the political classes.
The starting point: A revisionist economic history which empirically opens up the issues closed by the dominant narrative about the enterprise economy. The focus is on unsustainability given the role of house prices in generating feel good and state funding in creating jobs, The private sector in the UK has a sustained and proven incapacity to create jobs; Thatcher increased state employment in health and education while using utility privatisation to boost private employment, Under New Labour, there was a dramatic expansion of publicly funded private employment in activities like care for the elderly.
Beyond Class? Our aim is to reinstate an awareness of inequality as a key aspect of social relations but to do so in a way which does not reinstate traditional class-based accounts Social groups have differential resources and capacities to be agents of political and social change; and politically the Thatcherite revolution was anti democratic. The working class was undermined by deindustrialisation and stigmatised. While the political power of metropolitan elites was confirmed by their capacity to unleash huge structural adjustments first on the private sector and now in the public sector. Our elites also have the power to edit the narrative of cause and consequence so that the disastrous consequences of “deindustrialisation” did come to pass and it was a huge triumph of enterprise.
Without methodological nationalism. We reject the idea that we can focus on Britain as an unitary entity as, for example, in the classic declinist literature about British exceptionalism or in the varieties of capitalism where the Anglo Saxon is defined by complementary national institutions. .Our history is of the UK but not bounded by our island borders eg we will consider job creation problems of other high income countries which are outsourcing to Asia; just as the EU needs to be discussed as well as the British state National institutions remain hugely important in managing recurrent crises and initiating changes of settlement. But the UK is self-evidently and complexly connected to (as well as separated from) other places; and Green’s chapter will consider the UK from the outside looking in as well as from the inside looking out.
A more nuanced story While the argument is revisionist, the end result is a much more nuanced verdict on the failure of successive modernising projects from the 1960s onwards. Now that the evidence is in and our history explains the mixed and disappointing legacy of Thatcher, we cannot presume that Harold Wilson did so badly. The alternative history offers a subtler chronology than continuist decline or epochal difference and instead our history is about the ghostly return of unproductive priorities. We are critical of the right’s triumphalism about how things have changed but would not endorse the left’s sentimentality about the golden age? The one grouo which emerges badly is the intellectuals who were complicit in the modernising projects and endlessly announced epochal change
The team of authors. Offers a spread of specialist knowledge and expertise. Froud, Johal and Williams from economics and business, Mick Moran from political science, Mike Savage from sociology and Sarah Green from anthropology. All have written together on previous projects including the 2008 book Elites Remembered. Their new book grows out of the unique interdisciplinary conversation which CRESC sustains.
For more information, contact Karel.Williams@mbs.ac.uk