From the ar­chive

A look back at the Ob­server Mag­a­zine’s past

The Observer Magazine - - Up Front - Chris Hall

‘This is the start of a very un­usual so­cial sur­vey,’ says the in­tro­duc­tion to the Ob­server Mag­a­zine cover story of 16 Septem­ber 1984 (‘Bri­tons ob­served’). ‘What do we think about the fam­ily, about sex, re­li­gion and tele­vi­sion – as con­trasted with how we ac­tu­ally be­have?’

Peter Kell­ner says it’s ‘the most ex­ten­sive opin­ion poll ever con­ducted for a news­pa­per’, in­ter­view­ing 1,068 peo­ple. The broader con­text was to get a han­dle on the coun­try af­ter a se­cond land­slide gen­eral elec­tion win for Mar­garet Thatcher the pre­vi­ous year.

The sur­vey of­ten found a gap be­tween per­cep­tion and re­al­ity. ‘We found out that four out of five peo­ple think the nu­clear fam­ily is still the norm,’ but ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment House­hold Sur­vey ‘only 5% of homes con­tain fam­i­lies at the stage where Dad is work­ing, Mum is not and there are school-age kids.’

The ‘mid­dle-class habits’ of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­cal care and – es­pe­cially – home own­er­ship were now in­creas­ingly en­joyed by bet­ter-off work­ing-class peo­ple. ‘That we are an in­creas­ingly home-ori­ented so­ci­ety is be­yond doubt; and in this, the sell­ing of coun­cil houses was the clever­est thing the Con­ser­va­tives ever did,’ writes Katharine White­horn, who ar­gues that, iron­i­cally, it was the Labour party who put ‘the big­gest elec­toral lol­lipop in his­tory’ into the hands of the Tories by push­ing to drive up stan­dards in pub­lic hous­ing.

‘Ask what we’d do with more time: three-quar­ters would spend it with our part­ners. Ask about money: most would spend a wind­fall on their homes. Ask where the money comes from: a lot of it comes from women.’

Look­ing back, the prob­lem for the Labour party was ex­em­pli­fied by ‘Wendy, house­wife, 25: “I voted Con­ser­va­tive for the rea­son that they were keep­ing the mort­gage rate down be­cause you al­ways think about your­self first.”’

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