As a bit of a history nut I have a theory that decades don’t really start in nice tidy places, like at midnight on the last day of the decade before. Rather they often take a few years to get going. The 60s looked very like the 50s until the Profumo Affair and The Beatles came along, and as for the 70s the events that characterised the decade – electricity strikes, glam rock and the arrival of swinging 60s attitudes outside of London – didn’t really happen until 72/73.
If you are looking for a starting point for the 90s then 9th April 1992 is probably your number one suspect. It was a glorious sunny day that I, along with the rest of the Camden Labour party, were convinced, would end with our woman Glenda Jackson defeating the odious Oliver Letwin in the Hampstead constituency and Britain finally kicking the Tories out replacing them with the Neil Kinnock led Labour party.
As we know all too well, in spite of prediction polls suggesting that Kinnock would edge it, John Major secured the largest ever vote for a party and the Tories were back in. The celebrations slated for Camden Palace turned out to a be a damp squib and we hopped off home at 2am after greeting our new MP, and the sole source of any sense of victory on the night, Glenda Jackson. I spent the next day sitting contemplating my future while overlooking central London from Neasden’s Gladstone Park. The future looked utterly grim.
For me it was the end of my serious involvement with the Labour party. I hung around for a few more years, but any political ambition had gone. My journalistic career was just starting to take off and I didn’t fancy spending five years as someone’s constituency agent knowing that in all likelihood the Tories would win again in 1997.
The idea that a whole generation of people ditched politics after that night is the premise behind a new book by Alwyn Turner – Things Can Only Get Bitter. Turner has already written excellent histories of the 70s and 80s and this is a taster for what promises to be an ground breaking work on the 90s.
Turner argues that those who were marginalised by the 90s – think the cast of Pulp’s Mis-shapes – gave up on politics and focused on other pursuits. They jetisoned the more extreme elements of what had passed for politically correct in the previous decade, forgot about changing the world and instead concentrated on reinventing British art, media and culture. So that day 20 years ago was partially responsible for Britpop, Loaded, Lad’s media and the gentrification of football.
Such was the fear too that the Tories would get back in that even with the polls showing a massive labour lead in 1997 Tony Blair wouldn’t contemplate victory until the final seats had been won. That fear too sparked a hangover which characterised much of the first Blair era in that in spite of that monster majority the Labour grandees simply wouldn’t chance anything that might upset the electorate.
I fundamentally agree with Turner’s arguements and am glad that someone way more articulate than I am has put strung them together. The book itself is a corker. How could you not love chapters about Morrissey at Madstock, discussions about the Hornbyisation of football and nods to Luke Haines’ Baader Meinhof album project.
Anyway, here is Turner reading the intro from his book. It is well worth your £2!