Billy Bragg on Margaret Thatcher’s Legacy

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Margaret Thatcher
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During her time as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher provoked diverse reactions: some thought she saved the country, others thought she ruined it. Many prominent British artists — from the filmmaker Mike Leigh to the musician Elvis Costello — railed against her conservative policies. The changing social and political conditions under Thatcher drove Billy Bragg to activist songwriting, including “Between the Wars.”

Call up the craftsmen
Bring me the draughtsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I'll give my consent
To any government
That does not deny a man a living wage

The song “was my attempt to evoke that kind of consensus around a caring society that I’d benefited from and grown up in,” Bragg explains.

Kurt Andersen asks Bragg if Thatcher’s premiership might have benefited artists simply by giving them something to push against. “I’m not sure a few good Billy Bragg albums was worth the price of lost industries and wasted lives,” Bragg says. Although he’s been recognized for his politically-charged songs, those themes have also kept him off the charts. “She helped define me, but she also helped to marginalize me,” he says.

For Bragg, the best Thatcher-related song from that era is “Stand Down Margaret” by the English Beat, which he’s listened to again this week. “It was interesting looking back at the music from that period and seeing the pressure that we were able to put on,” he says. “[It] ultimately moved not just through our supporters, but her own supporters and her own party and her own cabinet, and she was forced to stand down.”

Billy Bragg is touring the US all this month supporting his new record Tooth and Nail.


→ Do you have a favorite Margaret Thatcher ode or send up? Tell us in a comment below.

Music Playlist

  1. Thatcherites

    Artist: Billy Bragg
    Album: William Bloke
    Label: Yep Roc Records
  2. Between The Wars

    Artist: Billy Bragg
    Album: Life's A Riot
    Label: CD PRESENTS
  3. Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret

    Artist: The English Beat
    Album: I Just Can't Stop It (Remastered)
    Label: Shout! Factory