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Pound Store Thatcher And Trump - The Worst Of All 80s Revivals

19/10/2016 14:35

The 80s revival has been gathering momentum in recent years. The way things are going, it is possible that Glastonbury 2017 revellers will be able to see Howard Jones, Shakin' Stevens, Simply Red and Bros.

Phil Collins has also announced a comeback, and will be feeding his particular brand of musical gruel to estate agents and bank managers in the near future.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of much of what emerged in the 1980s, though would rather see The Levellers, Throwing Muses, The Waterboys, James and The Stone Roses on the Pyramid Stage than the musical Mogadon of Phil Collins or Simply Red.

There are darker aspects to the 80s revival, however, than Rubik cubes and Howard Jones. We are seeing these in all their horror in the UK and US, and the rest of the world is looking on in alarm - or doing their own hideous timewarp.

In Britain we have Theresa May, who I regard as a pound store Margaret Thatcher. She came to power in a post-Referendum puff of smoke, as her colleagues lay all around with knives in their backs.

From her home secretary days commissioning vans emblazoned with demands that illegal immigrants 'Go Home', May has been 'leading' the country at a time of greater and greater anti-immigrant sentiment. Hate crime has been increasing, and the recent Conservative Party conference did less than nothing to tackle rising xenophobia.

Suddenly, in the UK and the US, racists who had been selective about who they would vomit up bile in front of are doing it all over the place. Social media is splattered with the sort of racist bile that was unacceptable when I was at infant school.

Another echo of Thatcher's Britain that May seems quite happy with is massive and increasing social inequality, with the young bearing the brunt of uncertainty and poverty. May claims to want build a fairer society - than that which her party has been actively creating. I'm not convinced. The hard Brexit she is pushing for will harm the poorest and the young more than anybody.

The Cold War and nuclear threat was one of the darkest shadows hanging over the 1980s. But those who missed that have the chance to experience a more volatile version of it. Spectres of that past rose in Ukraine in 2014, but in Syria the new Cold War has rapidly become a hotter conflict. Propaganda machines on all sides of the most complicated tug of war ever played have been whirring clunkily into action, like 1980s printers.

It is unfortunate that the huge problems we face in Britain can seem less significant when we look to the US. Donald Trump can be seen as the must hideous bit of the 80s revival we are enduring. He is the bloated narcissistic embodiment of the grasping materialist era satirised in Wall Street and, with each new allegation of sexual assault, seems increasingly reminiscent of some of our 'light entertainers' of yesteryear.

The 1980s also was a decade when environmental concerns came to the fore, and there was growing recognition that we needed to move to renewable sources of energy. There has been progress on this, but government and global corporations running roughshod over local opposition to fracking, and rapidly melting polar ice caps, suggest we haven't moved as far since the 80s as a supposedly clever species should have.

In the 1980s there were also explosions of public - and especially youthful - energy. Some of these were generally peaceful, like rave, and some not so much. There were, however, profound long-term positive impacts.

The 1981 Brixton riots were a response to a number of factors, including racial disadvantage, inner city decline and institutionalised racism within the Metropolitan Police, which often treated black people as third class citizens. In the lead up the riots, police (mis)used the 1824 Vagrancy Act to stop and search a vast number of young black people.

Other riots in the 1980s were also fuelled by the treatment of minorities, but the one that ultimately paved the way to Thatcher's downfall occurred at a poll tax protest in 1990. The largest of several such protests happened on March 31 in London, with up to 250,000 in attendance, from many walks of life. Rioting appears to have started after mounted police suddenly charged protesters in Trafalgar Square.

In the aftermath, questions were raised about policing methods, and widespread public opposition to the highly regressive tax led to Thatcher being pushed from office. She was replaced by John Major, who announced in his first parliamentary speech that the poll tax would be abolished.

Although we have seen footage of UK police behaving in atrocious ways at protests in recent years, they are arguably better at dealing with demonstrations now. And the institutional racism seen in the 1980s has, hopefully, reduced somewhat. However, fundamental political problems haven't gone away.

It could be argued that it is good if Theresa May is a pound store Thatcher rather than the real thing - arrogant, antisocial and vindictive. But unless the government truly addresses underlying problems of inequality and racism in Britain, the shadows of the past will keep coming back to haunt us. Just as Phil Collins has.

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