Tuesday, July 04, 2017

When the Lights Went Out

Andy Beckett's longish book is a history of Britain in the 1970s. Having lived through that decade, aged 14-24, it was fascinating to understand more of what was going on.

Becket sets out the dark days of the seventies - strikes, power cuts, three day weeks - against the backdrop of a country trying to learn to live within its means and using public sector (much larger in those days) pay restraint as its only real tool. No-one had a huge majority in that decade. Heath had 30 in 1970. Wilson had a minority government in the first half of 1974 and then, in a second election on the same year, a precarious majority of 3. No-one was quite sure what would happen in '79 but  Thatcher came out on top over a Callaghan administration that had become, by the end, closer to New Labour than socialism. She won with a majority of 43. The combination of luck, a memorable campaign and a tiredness that left a desire for change, led to a decade of change - some drastic and much-needed but some cruel and unnecessary.

It was a decade of IRA terrorism, inflation and industrial unrest and where monetarism pushed post-war Keynsian economics aside.

Beckett uses archive material well but also travels extensively interviewing those players who are still alive and sensible. He was researching and writing 2003-2008 and the book was published in 2009, his conclusion being set in the days of the banking crisis.

Someone once said that to prophesy is difficult, especially regarding the future. Someone else said that the only good test of a prophet is whether or not their words come true.

This is bang on:

'The Liberal Democrats, their shadow chancellor Vince Cable apart, are rather timid, over-disciplined, and close to the Tories in many of their ideas.' Less than two years later they were bed-fellows for five years.

But how hard it is to learn from history. This paragraph didn't see Brexit coming:

'These days Britons no longer mourn their empire. They are more comfortably European. They are more relaxed about race, sexuality and gender.' Really?

Some of us wonder if the lights might not go out again, soon.

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