From the archive: the monuments of Thatcherism, as seen in 1989

The Iron Lady’s legacy included the Lloyd’s building and cardboard city, the collapse of the coal industry and the right-to-buy policy

As Thatcherism was about to enter its second decade and the Channel Tunnel was being dug there were ‘still more striking manifestations of the last 10 years’ according to the Observer Magazine’s writers (‘Thatcher’s Monuments’, 23 April 1989).

Peter Conrad chose the Lloyd’s building in the City (completed in 1986) – which ‘wearing its profits on its walls, looks more like a giant coffee percolator than the coffee house in which the insurance firm started’ – contrasting it with cardboard city, less than a mile away under the Bullring: ‘Their impromptu shelters seem to imitate the whimsies of Richard Rogers, whose building can afford to joke about its own flimsiness. But on the embankment the joke is sourer.’

‘This country still looks like the same jolly tumble-down old place,’ he wrote, ‘but now it’s run not by lovable fuddy-duddies but by a pack of wolves. Lloyd’s sums up the imposture.’

Malcolm Bradbury picked Cambridge Science Park (AKA Silicon Fen) as his Thatcherite exemplar. ‘Cambridge is one of the hard-driving cities of the Thatcher Revolution, capitalising on two key intellectual assets. One is the Newtonian tradition… the other is the tradition of Tarmac, which has given the windswept Fenland capital fast motorway connections with the world outside.’

Peter Kellner eschewed buildings altogether in favour of the highways that were blockaded by the police during the miners’ strike in 1984 to prevent secondary picketing: ‘It is not the only time Mrs Thatcher has shown a casual willingness to infringe what were taken to be inalienable liberties.’

Jeremy Seabrook chose the cynical right-to-buy scheme for council tenants. ‘One of the great contradictions of this decade has been that the appeal to prudent housekeeping has gone hand in hand with the irredeemable slide into indebtedness.’ And, more pointedly: ‘Where the opportunity for making a killing becomes the highest endeavour, we must not be surprised if society is pervaded by an odour of corpses.’

Contributor

Chris Hall

The GuardianTramp

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