Weekly briefing: Has it ever gone so badly?

June 26, 2022

By John Ashmore

‘Back to the 1970s?!’.

What a few years ago was a warning about the the perils of a Corbyn government has lately become a semi-rhetorical question about the state of contemporary Britain.

The parallels are pretty obvious. Skyrocketing oil and gas prices, salaries that do not follow the cost of living and a chaotic political situation. At the same time, taking a 50-year journey down memory lane is very instructive in exploring the profound and overwhelmingly positive changes the UK has gone through since. Problems abound, but we should not hide the fact that we are a much richer, healthier and better educated country today than we were then.

Those who lament “neoliberalism” or the excesses of the 1980s often seem to forget the extent of the malaise that Margaret Thatcher experienced when she took office in 1979. For living in 1970s Britain meant was to know an economy plagued not only by inflation (peaking at 24% in 1975), but by a stagnant and indigestible corporatism, encouraged by unions as powerful as they are intransigent.

It was living in a country where the state was not just active, but authoritarian in a way that most young people today would find confusing. Utilities, railways, British Airways and even car manufacturers were run by the state – with all the efficiency, dynamism and dedicated customer service that entailed. It’s tempting to portray Thatcher’s victory in 1979 and the privatizations that followed as the triumph of a particular ideology, but it was just as much a pragmatic reaction to the fact that people were fed up with the state of their services. public.

Heath, Wilson and Callaghan certainly faced exogenous economic shocks – two massive oil shocks in particular – but they were exacerbated by local issues, including excessive power and union militancy.

Indeed, this week’s RMT strikes stand out precisely because of the rarity of such large-scale industrial action now. In 1979, which began with the winter of discontent, nearly 30 million working days were lost due to strikes. Over the past three decades, the highest annual figure (2011) was 1.4 million. Audiences naturally complain about the inconvenience, but it’s much better than paralysis.

Politics was similarly crippled, for most of the decade. bad like this week by-election defeats were for Boris Johnson, when James Callaghan lost successive by-elections it meant he no longer had a majority in the House of Commons.

To all of this, there is one very important aspect in which the 1970s were better than today – many more people could afford to buy their own homes, and housing costs did not deplete the salaries of people like they do now. This national housing crisis was exacerbated by another post-70 phenomenon – the growing detachment of London and the South East from the rest of the country, both in terms of wages and house prices.

It has undoubtedly been good for some, but it has been very bad for others, especially those under 40 who thought they might one day buy their own home. Add to that low to non-existent growth, stagnant wages, inflation, a brutal war in Europe, and a dark and often far-fetched culture war and it’s easy to see why people feel deeply discouraged.

Nevertheless, despite all the volatility and economic malaise we are currently seeing, the fact remains that Britons are living much longer, consuming much better and more varied products, traveling the world with ease and – for the most – enjoy a much more open and tolerant society than in decades past. We should really take a good look at the history books before declaring that we have never had it so bad.

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John Ashmore is editor of CapX.

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