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Maggie’s playlist: the soundtrack to a decade of dissent

The Specials, “Ghost Town” (1981)

In 1980, the Birmingham ska band the Beat pointed to urban decay with "Stand Down Margaret", but it fell to their Coventry-based contemporaries to provide the most enduring song of the decade. "Ghost Town", with its eerie, loping beat, was released against the background of riots in Britain's inner cities and for many people it still sums up the mood of that era. "Bands don't play no more/Too much fighting on the dance floor," as the lyric goes.

The Jam, "Town Called Malice" (1982)

During the 1970s, Paul Weller damaged his street cred by admitting to the NME that he voted Conservative, but by the time of his band's 1982 album, The Gift, he was raging at the state of British society. Weller went on to front, along with Billy Bragg, the Red Wedge alliance of musicians who supported Labour in the 1987 general election.

Robert Wyatt, "Shipbuilding" (1982)

Written by Elvis Costello, this anti-Falklands War single drew parallels between the decline of traditional manufacturing and workers' dependence on the arms industry. Wyatt's plaintive delivery gives the song a bitter-sweet poignancy. A blunter anti-war message came from the anarcho-punk band Crass, with their single "How Does It Feel (to Be the Mother of 1,000 Dead)".

The Enemy Within, "Strike" (1984)

Recorded by a collective of musicians that included the dub producer Adrian Sherwood and the future NS contributor and science writer Marek Kohn, this number was released as a benefit single for the Miners' Solidarity Fund during the strike of 1984-85. Possibly the weirdest protest song ever, it is constructed around a sample of the National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill addressing strikers.

Pet Shop Boys, "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" (1985)

Although it's right-on of us to have chosen a selection of politically engaged songs, the real sound of the Thatcher era was the slick pop promoted by the likes of Billy Ocean and Wham!, and the assembly-line hits of the producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman. The Pet Shop Boys took the sugary rush of 1980s dance music and subverted it, most effectively in "Opportunities", which parodies the greed-is-good message.

Billy Bragg, "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards" (1988)

Written after Labour's defeat in the 1987 election. The stridently left-wing singer muses on the pitfalls of "mixing pop and politics".

Elvis Costello, "Tramp the Dirt Down" (1989)

Angrily surveying Thatcher's decade in power, Costello contemplates her demise and delivers the searing couplet: ". . . when they finally put you in the ground/I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down". Imagining Thatcher's death was fertile ground for songwriters, including Morrissey with "Margaret on the Guillotine" (1988), a number reprised, with wry humour, by the indie band Hefner in their song "The Day That Thatcher Dies" (2000): "We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies/Even though we know it's not right . . ."

Kirsty MacColl, "Free World" (1989)

The folk-rock singer (left), best known for her appearance on the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York", begins with a direct address to Thatcher: "I thought of you when they closed down the school/And the hospital too".

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Thatcher: 30 years on, the final verdict

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.