AT THE Labour Party conference in Blackpool exactly 40 years ago this week, then prime minister Harold Wilson made one of the most prophetic speeches any politician has ever made. He warned of the extremist direction that the Conservative Party under its new leader Margaret Thatcher was heading in, and how, if her party was elected, Conservative policies would adversly affect Britain.Having actually lived in England while Harold Wilson was Prime Minister (1974), we can only laugh, or cry, over any dire warnings he made. London was like a third world city back then, with its electricity supply determined by the real rulers of the UK; the coal miners and their union. Wilson had to resign the PM-ship in 1976 due to the hardships in the country. Leaving the mess to James Callaghan. Which the comrades at Morning Star seem to be forgetting;
.... To some, Wilson’s warnings in 1975 might have sounded far-fetched. But Thatcherism, as he so correctly pointed out, did mark a real and radical break with the egalitarian politics of the post-war era. Too many on the left did not appreciate just how much of a threat Thatcher posed, until it was too late.
Forty years on from Wilson’s speech, there are at last signs that this incredibly regressive chapter in our history may be coming to an end. In Jeremy Corbyn, Labour now has a leader who wants to break with the neoliberal policies first introduced by the Conservatives in 1979 (and continued by Labour when in office from 1997-2010), and which have done so much harm to our economic and social fabric.The election that brought Thatcher to power followed The Winter of Discontent in which the UK's unions flexed their political muscles to extort above market wages. As Wikipedia puts it;
The Winter of Discontent refers to the winter of 1978–79 in the United Kingdom, during which there were widespread strikes by public sector trade unions demanding larger pay rises, following the ongoing pay caps of the Labour Party government led by James Callaghan against Trades Union Congress opposition to control inflation, during the coldest winter for 16 years.And, the social fabric of that day? Let's let a Labour Party insider, Bernard Donoughue, from back in the day, tell it;
The 1970s were, after all, a generation ago and it was a very different age, dismal in many ways.The wild men would quickly return if Corbyn ever got into power.
The economic climate facing Jim Callaghan was far worse than anything that confronts [Gordon] Brown or the Chancellor, Alistair Darling (when the latter finds time to read the economic history of the 1970s and early 1980s he will want to revise his curious claim that today's [2008's] is the worst economic situation for 60 years). Inflation peaked around 30 per cent just before Callaghan took over, and was usually in double figures. Most other economic indicators were worse than today's, with growth and productivity very poor over a long period and strikes continually disrupting industry. Not for nothing was Britain then known as "the sick man of Europe".
Politically, the challenges facing Callaghan were daunting. Labour was in a Commons minority throughout his premiership (he skilfully cobbled together small majorities through pacts with the Liberals and the Ulstermen). Labour itself was riven by deep ideological differences of a kind and on a scale unknown today, with the strong left wing consistently on the edge of rebellion and limiting the policy options available to the government. The unions and activists facing Brown at this  month's conferences are mere pussies compared to the wild men fighting Callaghan.