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The nightmare haunting the Tories Don't be fooled by the spectre of the Seventies

The nightmare on Downing Street (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The nightmare on Downing Street (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)


June 25, 2022   6 mins

In a vast, bleak industrial hangar, endless coffins are laid out, as far as the eye can see. So begins a scene in Dennis Kelly’s conspiracy drama, Utopia, set amid the turmoil of the Winter of Discontent. In February 1979, gravediggers were among the workers who went on strike for higher pay. Ever since, the imagery of the Seventies — the unburied dead, the binbag mountains, the shouty men with unlikely hair — has haunted British politics like a nightmare.

This week’s rail strikes have revived all this, from Monday’s Sun headline (“We regret to announce that this country is returning to the Seventies”) to the appearance of an elderly Arthur Scargill on a picket line in Sheffield. Amid a backdrop of rocketing energy prices that echo the oil shock of 1973, and a Prime Minister who has never looked so vulnerable, there is much talk of a “summer of discontent”.

But if the issues are similar, we have arrived at them from the opposite direction. History is not just a gallery of taboos, laid out in a blank space like those coffins in Utopia, ready to be raised from the dead at will. The backstory of those Seventies images was a decade-long power struggle very different to today’s.

It is hard now to appreciate just how permanently powerful the trade unions once seemed — partly because that power was founded on a shared fear that has long since faded. In the Sixties, free-market economics was a Victorian relic, unsuited to an interconnected modern economy, forever damned by the mass unemployment it had produced before the war. That memory of Thirties dole queues was the nightmare to which Britain must never return: the founding taboo of the post-war consensus, which meant governments must strive for full employment. This hugely bolstered the unions’ position. Striking is less scary if jobs are plentiful.

The long, agonising journey to the Seventies began as strikes became more frequent, and less tolerated. Labour and Conservative governments took turns to try to rein in union power — but without breaking the taboo on mass unemployment. So it was not simply the annoyance of a cancelled train or an uncollected rubbish bin that turned the imagery of the Seventies strikes into a nightmare. It was the battle for power between the unions and governments they represented, and the creeping dread that the unions were winning.

The single event that did most to sear this into ministers’ minds was a stand-off at a spectacularly tedious location: the gates of a coke depot in the Saltley district of Birmingham, at the height of the 1972 miners’ strike. On 10 February, thousands of pickets, marshalled by a young union official from Barnsley called Arthur Scargill, managed to compel the police to close the gates to the lorries queuing to collect coke — breaking the Chief Constable’s promise to the Home Secretary to keep them open.

When news reached Edward Heath’s cabinet meeting a few minutes later, the effect was devastating. The strike had already forced a state of emergency as power supplies dwindled. Heath later described Saltley as “the most vivid, direct and terrifying challenge to the rule of law that I could ever recall emerging within our own country”. A few days later, the miners forced him to surrender, and give them their pay rise. After a second miners’ strike in 1974, and the fall of Heath’s government, Labour gave the miners another raise — and to many, the country faced a choice of confrontation under the Conservatives, or capitulation under Labour.

Along with inflation, the prospect of civil war between the state and unions was becoming a nightmare to rival the old ghosts from the Thirties. This was held at bay for a while by the 1974 Labour government’s “social contract” with the unions — a last-ditch deal to keep wage demands down in return for government benevolence. But finally workers grew sick of prices outstripping their pay. It was this basic settlement that finally came apart in the Winter of Discontent. The sight of pickets outside hospitals and cemeteries allowed Margaret Thatcher to denounce the triumph of union power, and to win a mandate to reduce it. The spectres of the Thirties had finally lost the battle of nightmares.

The new settlement ushered in by the Thatcher government was based on constraining the unions — making what happened at Saltley illegal — and on liberating financial services. This produced a long period of prosperity. For some at least, that lasted all the way through to 2008, when those financial services nearly broke the economy, igniting the power struggle whose latest battle is being fought out this week.

The dominant power under attack was now not the unions but finance: in 2010, the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable pointedly branded bankers “pinstriped Scargills”. But just as the unions continued to hold sway through the Seventies, so has the City since the Crash. The impact of the Crash was absorbed by ordinary workers — not through mass unemployment, true, but through cuts to pay and hours, and the explosion of the gig economy and zero-hours contracts. Pay flat-lined for much of the decade that followed.

Now, under the stress of inflation, discontent has brought the post-1979 economic model under renewed pressure, just as globalisation has gone into reverse. Covid has broken old taboos on high government borrowing. The IMF has called for more to be done about inequality; the chief of the CBI has castigated the legacy of Thatcherism in northern England. Yet so far, despite the promises of levelling up and the talk of a post-Brexit move to a higher-wage economy, labour’s share of wealth remains lower than it was in the Seventies.

So, if the fundamentals remain so different, why has there been such insistence this week that we are “going back to the Seventies”? The Treasury and the Bank of England might be deeply concerned about the development of a wage-price spiral — a phenomenon that can be devilishly difficult to stop — but as the former Conservative minister David Willetts wrote this week: “Overall, pay is rising less than inflation. This is not some inflationary spiral.”

History suggests there may be another reason for this week’s warnings: “going back to the Seventies” is the nightmare that has underpinned the free-market consensus ever since 1979.

In the 1983 election, Thatcher frequently asked for copies of Winter of Discontent newspaper headlines to help her warn against letting Labour back in. She was far from the last leader to deploy this nightmare. In March 1997, Tony Blair promised “there will be no return to the Seventies”. In 2015, Boris Johnson warned Ed Miliband would do just that; as Prime Minister, he has complained that his Cabinet are too young to remember it. He needn’t worry, however: in 2012, four of his ministers co-wrote a book called Britannia Unchained, which begins and ends with fearful visions of Seventies collapse.

But something similar happened in the Seventies, and it only worked for so long. As the post-war consensus came apart, its tribunes redoubled their efforts to shore up the potency of the old nightmares. Labour’s Michael Foot endlessly invoked “the mass unemployment of the Thirties”; so did Conservative leaders whose politics were forged by the Depression, such as Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath.

However, a new generation of historians started to argue that, for those in work, the Thirties had really not been so bad — and all the while, the turn of the generations was eroding the folk memory of the dole queues. As we’ve seen, the Thirties eventually stopped haunting British politics. Likewise, today, to remember the Winter of Discontent, you’d have to be at least 50.

Yet for now, the Seventies nightmares remain tenacious. When Johnson won his 80-seat majority in 2019, it looked as though he might become a transformative prime minister, ushering in a permanently higher-spending state, focused on levelling up and securing its new bases in the Midlands and the north. Covid seemed to bolster that possibility.

For good or ill, the resurgence of inflation and strikes now appears to herald a return to Thatcherite orthodoxies. Yet paradoxically, this would make this government less like Thatcher — in terms of her determination to make a radical break from the past. Of course, the 12% swing to Labour in the Wakefield by-election may yet turbocharge the worries of Red Wall Conservative MPs with sufficient force to push levelling up up the government’s priority list. Even before his defeat, the Conservative candidate could be heard complaining the £25 million allocated to the constituency from the Towns Fund was not cutting through.

But all this presents Labour with a dilemma too — just witness the divisions between the Starmer leadership and those MPs who this week joined RMT picket lines. As John Curtice has pointed out, Labour’s share of the vote in Wakefield rose by only half as much as the Conservatives’ fell. Labour now has to decide how far it wants to risk a break with the post-1979 model of weak trade unions, and the job market that developed in the wake of the Crash. Unlike the Winter of Discontent, it is at least in Opposition, which worked so well for Thatcher. But Labour is always implicated by the actions of the trade union movement which played a huge part in the party’s creation.

Given the unions’ weakness compared with the Seventies, and government determination to face down the strikes, there is no obvious moment of transformation in sight. And yet it may be that the Seventies does offer a precedent here. Just as the remembered nightmare of mass unemployment was finally overridden, in part by the nightmare of mass picketing, it’s possible that very nightmare, now 40-years old, may now be overridden in its turn: by many ordinary people’s inability today to make ends meet, and their desperation for a pay rise. Unions are often dismissed as old-fashioned — but then so was the free market, and that went on to recover quite strongly. Perhaps, then, the most striking parallel between now and the late Seventies is the giddy, ominous feeling that something is coming to an end.

***

Phil Tinline’s most recent series, Pay Freezes, is available on BBC Sounds. His book The Death of Consensus: 100 Years of British Political Nightmares has just been published by Hurst.


Phil Tinline is a documentary-maker with BBC Radio. His most recent documentary, Back Seat Drivers, is available on BBC Sounds. His book The Death of Consensus: 100 Years of British Political Nightmares is published by Hurst.

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James Rowlands
JR
James Rowlands
1 year ago

The real reason nations fail was known over 2000 years ago. We along with much of the West, are up to our necks in swamp, but we don’t do anything about it, just wait passively to drown.

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC – 43 BC

R Wright
RW
R Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

“If I had but one bullet and were faced by both an enemy and a traitor, I would let the traitor have it.”

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Traitors traditionally were always executed until now.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

As far as I’m aware this was not said by Cicero; I have all his works and it’s not in any of them.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
1 year ago

It’s from Taylor Caldwell’s 1965 book A Pillar of Iron.

James Rowlands
JR
James Rowlands
1 year ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole
Last edited 1 year ago by James Rowlands
Tony Conrad
TC
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

Good truths nevertheless.

Oddtaff 0
Oddtaff 0
1 year ago

The idea that a Union shutting down the railways is catastrophic seems silly when you consider our government shutdown the entire economy for months at a time. Nothing organised labour could do is in any way comparable.

Tony Conrad
TC
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Oddtaff 0

That is a mistake most governments repeated. We can only hope that the lesson has been learned.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 year ago

The West in general is not producing a follow-on generation capable of competing with a surging Asia. We are deliberately sacrificing the future so we can behave as we choose in the here and now. What have we produced? A lazy, ignorant, entitled generation with high self-esteem and no ability to compete. It’s the perfect formula for long-term economic decline.

What is going to disappear from the West is wealth. And there isn’t going to be any easy path to get it back because all the moral capital upon which it was originally built will have been dissipated. So what happens when lazy, ignorant, entitled people with high self-esteem and no ability to compete discover they can’t earn enough income to support the lifestyle to which they are accustomed?

Here it is in a few sentences

Bob is part of a politically powerful labor union, so Bob gets a “just wage” as determined by Bob’s relative clout in the political process. Bob’s employer passes on the cost to his customers. But customers aren’t so enamored with the new price and decide to find a new supplier. As a result, Bob’s employer loses market share and 30 people (none of whom are Bob) lose employment. In addition, suppliers to Bob’s employer lose volume and they reduce staff. Bob however is raking in the money.

Meanwhile, across the sea, a competitor of Bob’s employer notices the cost increase and seeks exploit the market advantage. (The competitor is hiring btw. But that isn’t the kind of wealth re-distribution envisioned by the state.) Bob’s employer starts to feel the competitive disadvantage and so seeks some market protection from the state. Bob’s labor union thinks that would be a great idea as well. (Bob’s employer also starts looking a production facilities elsewhere but it doesn’t say that out loud.) The state thinks about imposing a tariff to protect Bob’s company but fears a trade war. So it gives a load of money to Bob’s employer. Bob keeps raking in the money, but finds he is now paying a load more tax, so he demands further increases in salary to compensate.

Time after time, we have simply re-distributed wealth from the general taxpayer or taken loans against our children’s future, to make sure that Bob get a “living wage” and Bob thinks it quite just and the Asians think we are idiots…

Last edited 1 year ago by James Rowlands
Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

James the scenario you describe is what the U.K. was like in the late 1960s & 70s. As this article describes, we live in different times. In the U.K. now, the only places where trade unions still wield power are in the public sector. There’s plenty of places in the private sector that could benefit from some union influence, though not on the scale on the 70s. I’m old enough to remember those days ( I was a young apprentice in the late 70s). What I recall most about those factories was that nobody did any work.

danni baylees
DB
danni baylees
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

Hi I was also a young worker in an engineering factory at the same time as you , we had a strong union and we were prepared to strike if needed and we did do , but we still worked very hard , we wouldn’t allow ourselves to be walked over

Last edited 1 year ago by danni baylees
Tony Conrad
TC
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

It must be great to relax in the government’s employ for life with gold plated pensions and to be able to strike to get higher wages, but I suspect somehow that it is not good for our country.

Diane Tasker
DT
Diane Tasker
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Not only pensions – a whole raft of great T&C’s such as very (ridiculously) generous sick leave….

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane Tasker

One of my former colleagues went to work for the Department of Work and Pensions or, as she calls it the Department of no Work and bloody big Pensions

Andrew McDonald
AM
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

The truth is, though, that since the 80s we have been redistributing wealth away from Bob (en masse) and towards his employer, using the gradual degradation of civil society to help fund the switch. Bob’s union leaders are part of the director class these days, which confuses the issue helpfully for the popular media.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

Very inciteful.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

The young today are working longer hours than their predecessors, and many have funded their own (devalued) degrees in order to avoid a dead end job on minimum wage. To call them lazy and entitled is nonsense.
If you want a generation that was lazy and entitled I suggest you look to the current pensioners who sold off all the public assets built up by the silent generation, did away with every leg up they received at the start of their careers (free further education, on the job training, council houses etc) once it was their turn to pay to help the next cohort, and now insist on a pension that far outstrips wages or inflation thanks to the triple lock

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Excellent. First comment here that echos the reality of living in UK today for most young people trying to scrap a living together without the support of Mum and Dad. There is a clear correlation between the decline in union power and the decline in the proportion of a wealth going to labour. And there is something very unpleasant about mainly baby boomer pensions, who have had all the benefits of the state during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, berating younger generations for being entitled or lazy.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

brilliant!

Gayle Rosenthal
GR
Gayle Rosenthal
1 year ago

Very good comments but all directed at labor/capital. The failings are at the level of political will. Politicians are failing to convey to the voting public the danger of monopoly power, and they are failing to regulate development and urban environments in a way that makes our cities livable and safe. If politicians would give citizens more credit to understand their real choices, articulate specifics rather than speak in slogans and word salads, not only would voters be able to select better leaders, the leaders would have laid a road map that enables them to say no to developers and profit takers. I’m in the real estate business and I don’t begrudge a profit to anyone, but dense housing projects that are all the fashion nowadays yield windfall profits, create inflation in the housing market, drive up the value of land and people out of their homes, make cities unlivable, burden cities with infrastructure redevelopment, cause employment disruption, and a whole host of societal problems. A more judicious use of zoning power by local, state, and district politicians could go a long way in solving some of the economic problems that plague us.
When it comes to monopolies, the lie that vulture capitalism creates efficiencies has become all too apparent. It has caused a concentration of wealth the likes of which the planet hasn’t seen before. And to place the consumer at en even bigger disadvantage, financial education in public schools is terrible; they prefer to teach socialism and critical theory now. Consumer protection legislation has almost disappeared. Consumers are nickel and dimed to death by lousy products, bad business practices, and no redress.
Our legal and constitutional systems may be stellar in their abstractions – and in my opinion, yes, constitutions are abstractions that are designed to secure our liberties and protect us from one another. However it’s the politicians who are failing the voters on a very concrete level.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago

Not quite sure what you are saying. But it sounds like you want more regulation. But surely the mantra that we have heard from most governments since 79 is that regulation is just bureaucracy that holds back the power of the free market. This is also why consumer protection legislation ‘has disappeared’. The cult of ‘personal responsibility’ has come to be the norm. Didn’t you know that it’s not the states job to protect us from unscrupulous traders, the free market should do that. But of course you are right that this culture has lead us to have far lower standards of housing that most comparable (bureaucratic) European countries – who ironically are far more socialist than us.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

The mass unemployment of the Thirties was due to the mistake of returning to the pre-war parity of sterling. The same mistake was made after the Battle of Waterloo. That’s what all those Tolpuddle Martyrs and Captain Swings were all about.
Inflation is nasty but deflation under the Gold Standard is brutal.
But M4 is up SEVEN TIMES over the level in 1990. You could look it up over at the Bank of England. Tell them Mr. Banks sent you.
I don’t care about unions or Scargills or financialization or anything. When you’ve printed that much money, nothing else comes close.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher Chantrill
Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

If tons of money was printed to cover the pandemic then surely that is having it’s affect on the current living crisis. As said it doesn’t come near to Scargill or the financialisation.

Richard Woollaston
RW
Richard Woollaston
1 year ago

I know it flies in the face of conventional economic theory which ascribes inflation to an increase in money supply, but what I have observed over the past year or so is manufactured shortages driving up inflation. The first is, of course, energy; the West has decided to embargo investment in fossil fuel exploration and production at a time when alternative energy sources are neither adequate nor cheap; the second is glibly referred to as ‘supply chain disruption’ which has now lasted so long that I cannot imagine any other explanation than it has been deliberately engineered – probably by corporations seeking to gain pricing advantages from such shortages. Would love to hear comments on my anecdotal views.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

I work in retail and prices have gone up by about a third in many cases. I am being told it is a problem related to transport costs.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
1 year ago

Trades Unions were useful, perhaps even vital, in the Victorian era when single employers (or cartels) often dominated a locale, and relocation was expensive and difficult. Today with working from home and modern transport, I’m struggling to see their point (other than trying to become monopolists, like the rail unions). If you think your working conditions aren’t adequate to what you believe you merit, get another job – there are plenty available.

Tony Conrad
TC
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

Nah it’s easier to strike if your nationalised.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Particularly if you want to avoid the real world

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

The idea that everyone on low pay can get a better job is nonsense. Who would do the (often essential) low paid jobs? In any case relocation still is expensive and difficult. Can all those on low paid jobs in Newcastle relocate to better jobs in Surrey? On your logic there shouldn’t be a minimum wage. Then we certainly are back to Victorian times.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Butler
Neil Ross
Neil Ross
1 year ago

Had to laugh at the 12% swing to Labour! Reality is the voters decided not to bother to vote in disgust with politics and abstained with Tory vote collapsing from 21k to 8k and Labour vote from 18k to 13k. Anyone projecting the GE on this by-election is kidding themselves. Inflation is caused by demand being greater than supply, but politicians are all wanting to increase demand and ignore supply. Check out Ecuador – it could be UK this winter!

Tony Conrad
TC
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Neil Ross

But Starmer is talking like he has won the next election already?

Gill Holway
GH
Gill Holway
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Starmer is delusionary. Politics and beliefs are no longer on the same page

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
1 year ago
Reply to  Neil Ross

I won’t be voting. Just took a look at the Reform manifesto. Pointless band-aid policies, more of the same platitudes.

Paul Howard
Paul Howard
1 year ago

Missing from this and other similar discussions is the question of whether management or unions are best placed to decide the allocation of labour in the interests of passengers/customers and, in state-sponsored industries, the tax payer. As long as union negotiators refuse to accept there will sometimes be a need for compulsory redundancies, there is no possibility for business restructuring in the interests of all stakeholders, including union members.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Howard

I hear the railway is making a loss but the workers want more money, so surely they would be getting charity at all our expense at least the nationised part? This could never happen in the private sector where the company must make money and pay taxes to survive.

Billy Bob
BB
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

If those running the railway are making a loss that’s their own fault for tendering too low to win the contract, and the price of that should be worn by those at the top rather than expecting the workers to take a pay cut to cover the bosses incompetence

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

 This could never happen in the private sector where the company must make money and pay taxes to survive.”

If only we could apply that model to our mining & petroleum industries for example – not paying them ‘subsidies’ and insisting they pay taxes instead would be an experiment worth trying.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“The nightmare haunting Boris Johnson”
We forget how it was just three years ago. Boris was ruler of his world and his enemies in disarray. His nightmares are of his own creation.
I have forgotten the name, but there was a short-lived Roman Emperor whose supporters regarded as by far the best qualified man for the job – Until he got it.

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
Antony Hirst
AH
Antony Hirst
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

The difference here is, old Tories were warning us that Boris was unfit to lead the party. One even called him “a fool” in a TV interview.
I think we all knew Boris is an idiot, but he was the smartest idiot on offer.

Last edited 1 year ago by Antony Hirst
polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Antony Hirst

Point taken, but he did have some supporters.

AC Harper
AH
AC Harper
1 year ago
Reply to  Antony Hirst

And more importantly he was the politician that promised to get Brexit done rather than have the Referendum decision frittered away until it fitted in with the old Tories views (i.e. no Brexit, or Brexit in name only).

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Antony Hirst

He’s a stupid person’s idea of a clever person.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

“omnium consensu imperare – nisi imparasset” – is I think the apt quotation – but alas I too forget to whom it referred.

Bango 0
B
Bango 0
1 year ago

The unions are an easy “dead cat on the table” to divert attention from the utter disaster that this country is facing as a result of runaway inflation, interest rates that will go above 5% and a nation that is too indebted to fall back on savings to weather the storm. Blaming the unions, “lazy civil servants” or immigrants won’t be enough to make business failures, 3m+ unemployment, negative equity & home repossessions. Time people remembered the early 1990s.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Bango 0

Odd how other European countries don’t seem to be going down the pan quite as quickly as us isn’t?

K B
KB
K B
1 year ago

“You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization, and you wonder why it’s crumbling around you, while you’re damning its life-blood–money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men’s history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves–slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody’s mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer, Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers–as industrialists.”

Dustin Needle
DN
Dustin Needle
1 year ago

Last sentence is a feeling I share with the author – “Perhaps, then, the most striking parallel between now and the late Seventies is the giddy, ominous feeling that something is coming to an end.”
Didn’t quite follow the Thatcherism argument, there are barely any Tory conservatives let alone anybody willing to lead that sort of shift, nor a significant number of party big beasts to sort out the leadership of delivery functions and/or energetic young turks ready to rally to the cause. Without that, any movement will quickly fail in Office due to resistance from media, lawyers and Civil Service, see Brexit for the playbook.
However, maybe we see the beginning of the end of London’s pre-eminence? Hollowed out by cheap labour, a carousel of mayors who will be forever anti-business and exorbitant property occupation costs we may see a dramatic change with older buildings being bull-dozed for electric car facilities and parking, or repurposed for residential use.
The rich, the leaders and their tech-savvy enablers will remain in their gated communities.
Where will the work go, and what will happen to the London service sector are for me the ominous parts.

Richard Calhoun
RC
Richard Calhoun
1 year ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

First they said Thatcher would never get elected … when she did they said she would only last 2 years.
Maggie came from nowhere in politics but suddenly she became not only a political force in the UK but in the World.
When the time is right a leader will emerge and he/she will have to be even more radical than Maggie to resolve the social and economic issues in our Country

Martin Butler
MB
Martin Butler
1 year ago

First job is the undo the the economic disaster that is Brexit.

Dermot O'Sullivan
DO
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago

A very well written article.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 year ago

What needs to come to an end is the Big State … it has failed comprehensively in every area of the economy.
We need to dismantle the civil service, quango’s et al and radically reduce taxes.
This would put money in working people’s pockets and at the same time reduce inflation.

Gill Holway
Gill Holway
1 year ago

..and then add all those millions of ex emloyees to the jobs queue. A true catch 22.

Richard Calhoun
RC
Richard Calhoun
1 year ago
Reply to  Gill Holway

Maybe you missed the ‘reduce taxes’ bit Gill … that will grow the economy and with it the extra jobs we need … the danger is staying with tax levels as they are … that will surely destroy the jobs market

Martin Butler
MB
Martin Butler
1 year ago

Lets look around the world and see countries which are successful and see whether they have big states. First stop Germany. Far more successful than us but far more government, far more regulations. All that small government stuff is just neoliberal fantasy. It’s like communism – an abstract theory with no working examples. Don’t say the US – which is a nightmare society.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Butler
Maureen Finucane
MF
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

What did everyone do that day? They worked from home or got an Uber or cycled.

Steven Farrall
SF
Steven Farrall
1 year ago

Not exactly re Thatcher and Finance. You have to wait until Blair’s FSMA2000 Act to make the comparison between the nationalised coal industry and banking. ‘Cos what that 2000 Act did was de facto nationalise banking by regulationism. With all the same problems. And that has not been reformed. Osborne’s FS Act just made things worse.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
NS
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Interesting how few commentators fail to remember, let alone illustrate the real cause of the Callaghan goverment collapse and the arrival of Thatcher?

The City, being the then stockbroking the major UK insurance and pensions institutions used their power to tell the government that they could not borrow any more money via the Government Gilts market, as there were no supportive buyers… it was a form of ” coup”, but beautifully timed and executed…. hence Callaghan had to go to the IMF……

Jonathan Story
JS
Jonathan Story
1 year ago

The parallels to the 1970s are there, but distant. At the time, the trade unions were largely run by pro-Moscow afficionados; there was little appreciation in the Treasury of the sources of inflation; overmanning was everywhere; product quality was very low; the radical left was still largely about seizing the commanding heights, although the young “progressives” were active in promoting pedophilia.
Now, there is a good understanding of the sources of inflation: its as Friedman said it is, always and everywhere government printing money in excess. Western governments have been doing that blithely since 2008. The long march through the institution by cultural Marxism was occurred, and all the Mayites in the “Conservative” party are signed up to the idiocy that if I, a man, think I’m a woman, I can be one. If a legislature can vote such madness into legislation, it is obvious that it has no idea wghy things happen the way they do.

Martin Butler
MB
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

Having said that young people setting out in life could buy a house without the bank of mum and dad. BTW no has voted self-ID in legislation- it just doesn’t happen.