Rethinking Europe

The U.K. in the 1970s and Today: Déja Vu All Over Again

We had rising inflation and unemployment. Same today.

Takeaways


  • In the 1970s, rubbish piled high on streets in London. In the England of the 2020s, there are empty shelves in supermarkets.
  • In the Labour Party of the 1970s, it was all but impossible to be pro-European. Now, pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party are an extinct breed.
  • The government refuses to contemplate any tax that might mean the wealthy pay a fair share. Poverty is again going up.

Why do I feel I am reliving the 1970s? That was my first proper political decade, after the warm-up excitement of being part of the 1968 generation at Oxford—student occupations, Vietnam, Paris, sex, drugs, Stones in the Park, rock’n roll.

Balliol, take two

The 1970s opened with Edward Heath, a Balliol Boy prime minister—arrogant, a good speaker despite an odd accent. At the time, has was the darling of his Tory party and on a mission to take Britain into (!) Europe.

Half a century later, we have Boris Johnson, another Balliol Boy prime minister. Cocky, he is the darling of the new Ukipised Tory party – and on a mission to isolate Britain from Europe by all and any means.

Shortages, shortages

We had energy shortages and had to use candles for light in the autumn and winter months.

Now, we have a petrol and diesel shortage. Drivers watch the sun going down as they wait in queues hoping for a few litres of fuel.

Who’s To Blame?

Back then, the Gulf States and wicked Saudi Arabia were blamed. Today, it’s Europe. Its fuel tanker drivers are reluctant to work in a country where – to mask their own insufficiencies, ineptitudes and high-handed ways — the government, press and sadly too many people in the street denigrate and disparage anyone with a European accent.

We had rising inflation and unemployment. Same today.

In the 1970s, rubbish piled high on streets in London. In the England of the 2020s, there are empty shelves in supermarkets. Then as now, there was a run on sterling.

Targeting women, then as now

In the 1970s, there were gruesome murders of 13 women. The Yorkshire Ripper, a rapist and killer, caused the biggest manhunt ever in British police history. Women in northern English towns were warned to stay indoors.

Today, in south London, the police advise women to stay off the streets after two young women were raped and murdered, one of them by an on-duty police officer.

Getting to the continent

Travel to Europe was more awkward then. You could buy a paper passport in the Post Office for £1 if you didn’t have the thick black British passport that was too wide to fit into a shirt pocket.

But you had to fill in a form about the amount of money you were taking out of Britain.

Now, we have to go through expensive and pointless formalities to travel back and forth to my country—with forms filled in, swabs up the nose, and paying through the same nose to so-called Covid testing companies linked to the ruling Tory party and its MPs.

1970 militants

In the 1970s, a small group of devoted political fanatics helped bring Britain to its knees. They were militant trade union leaders, often former or active communists or Trotskyists.

They knew in their bones that what Britain wanted was revolutionary change, to ditch old alliances and partnerships and reshape the nation, just as the Puritans sought to do after Britain’s revolutionary civil war of the mid-17th century.

They had good communication skills and fervent enthusiasm. They didn’t care what happened to their country –so long as it broke Britain’s economic and other treaty relations.

Today’s fanatics

Today, the political fanatics — this time on the political Right — have spent a decade or more bringing about a complete rupture with Britain’s friends, allies and centuries-old trading partners just across the Straits of Dover in Europe.

They take pride in disrupting trade, while imposing a giant new homegrown (!) bureaucracy on British businesses and discouraging investment.

Much as in the 1970s, overseas investors have looked at the ideologues with so much power in Britain and gone elsewhere with their FDI.

Pro-Europe role reversal

In the Labour Party of the 1970s, it was all but impossible to be pro-European. Now, pro-Europeans in the Conservative Party are an extinct breed.

In the 1970s, tax rises hit middle England hard. Poverty increased. Today, tax rises are imposed on the poorest of workers as the government refuses to contemplate any tax that might mean the wealthy pay a fair share. Poverty is again going up.

Ineptitude galore

The dead were left unburied in the 1970s, as workers and the government squabbled over pay. Today, ten million surgical procedures have been pushed back for years.

Doing the same as other modern nations in Europe was impossible in the U.K. of 1970s. The fanatical Left preferred to reject social partnership models or the moderate social democracy that worked for European trade unions.

Today, the fanatical right refuses to learn from, let alone cooperate with, anyone in Europe about smarter ways of containing the pandemic.

Not a great decade for British prime ministers

The 1970s were not a great decade for British prime ministers. Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and James Callaghan all lost office in the febrile decade when stability, continuity, common sense and compromise were expunged from the British political lexicon.

Is the same happening now?

Is the same happening now? Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost two big by-elections and failed to win back seats in Scotland. Scottish independence would do far more damage to the United Kingdom than the IRA-led uprising in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

His party is not popular in local government elections. But Labour and other parties are not doing well, either.

Conclusion

The 1970s was an endless spinning wheel of politics, and when the wheel stopped, voters preferred Mrs Thatcher to endless confusion and chaos.

The 2020s are only just getting underway. No one knows how they will end.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a former UK Minister for Europe, a Contributing Editor at The Globalist -- and author of “Brexiternity: The Uncertain Fate of Britain”.

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