We like to think we can learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes twice. The 1980s were full of significant events, of types that could recur: the Falklands war, privatisations and the miners' strike, the Chernobyl disaster, the transformation of work through digital development, and the democratisation of Eastern Europe. But what can we really learn from history? The 1980s are close enough to be relevant. But are they too close for us to have a clear view of the really important forces that drove change?