Saturday, 13 April 2013

A little bit of history - time to challenge the 'Consensus'

As a momentous event in our history has recently occured, and being a former student of politics, I thought I would take this moment to throw my thoughts into the ring for whatever worth they might be to you, my readers. 

Over the past couple of days I have watched a large number of eulogies, scathing critiques and in-depth political analyses of someone who it cannot be denied - changed the very fabric of British society, in many ways for the better and in some to its detriment. However there is no denying that, when she assumed office in 1979, the UK was in dire need of a sharp kick up the proverbial arse. 

Listening to dramatic rhetoric from a number of Old Labour stalwarts, like thespo Glenda Jackson (who’s greatest crime has been to portray some of the most boringly pretentious roles in cinematic history) and David Blunkett (who contrary to his carpings about his socialist roots, turned out to be one of the most draconian, right-wing home secretaries of the last fifty years), one would think that the ‘Sceptred Isle’ of which they talked was akin to a Betjeman essay on cream teas, steam locomotives and country churches. This is so far from the truth that it makes me concerned that history is subtly being re-written to imply that we were far better off between 1945 - 1979. 

Ken Loache’s recent film, The Spirit of ’45, worth a watch for its sheer lunacy, adds to this rose-tinted and incorrect assumption. Charles Moore has written a brilliantly scathing review - which, having watched this fantasy film myself I completely agree with - cutting through the dross of a highly partisan and over-lauded director and so I will leave you to draw conclusions on this work from him. 

These so called ‘consensus’ years, so many like to reminisce about, were punctuated by unprecedented and highly damaging swathes of strikes across British industry. throughout the coverage this week, no broadcaster had the courage to highlight some of the appalling industrial action that occurred during the 60s and 70s, episode like the communist infiltration of the Seamens strike in 1966,  the crippling Dagenham Ford Plant Dispute   of 1968-1969 (which has cynically been re-appraised to serve as a key moment in feminist history), the 1972 battle at Saltley coke depot  (which led to the three day week) and the 1976-1978 Grunwick dispute (which even saw the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, inappropriately join the picket). Sadly, there are just a few of many example that show why we were readily given the moniker ‘The sick man of Europe’ by both allies and foes. 

Days lost to stoppage of labour make horrifying reading even for the casual observers, and remain figures that those who idealise the old left’s cause choose to ignore or have never bothered to research before making their grandiose claims of the reserve, dignity and quality of British industry during this period. Just so you don’t think that I am exaggerating my own critique, I will back up my assertions with some government statistics which states that the number of days lost to ‘unofficial’ (spontaneous, undeclared) strikes was 1,857,000. Couple these with ‘Official’ strikes and ‘Partly Official’ strikes and you have the grand total of 2,530,000. A shocking number by any standards. 

These taken from the seminal white paper ‘In Place of Strife’ (which I have an original copy of from the dissertation I wrote on that very document) which so many of the left have been now lamenting the premeditated shelving of. Most of all David Blunkett’s current praise of the document on Question Time seems quite rich, coming from a man who would almost certainly would have balked at the mere idea of such an initiative when it was published in 1969. Even more harrowing was that it was a white paper commissioned by a centrist faction within Labour Government, who had finally realised that the post-war compacts between state and industry had got out of hand! 

Wilson lost in 1970 and having read a number of accounts of this tumultuous period over the years, his failure to deal appropriately with the ever present issue of industrial action was one of the key factors in his loss. Likewise with Ted Heath, who passed the hardline Industrial Relations Act 1971 based on the very proposals he was elected on by a thoroughly fed up British public, fed up of paying extortionate taxes and subsidised high prices for sub-par British products. Would you buy and Austin Allegro?

Of course, as always seemed to happen in these days of conflict-riven cabinets (of which Wilson’s 1966-1970 government was notorious for) where no decisive decision could be taken without committee-like block votes and unanimous consent the Act cost Heath the election when he lost his nerve and allowed unprecedented amounts of strike action to occur without a ‘plan b’. A sick and alzheimer-ish Wilson repealed the Act in 1974, and his arrogant, pompous ‘Union Man’ successor Jim Callaghan complacently let Britain slide deeper into a mire, creating a culture where unions knew that they could hold government over a barrel.  

You only have to read the diaries and memoirs of the various characters who strolled the corridors of power, paced the picket lines or tucked into beer and sandwiches at Number 10 to see this ‘consensus’ time as one of chaos where the basic constructs of state and governance had become hideously muddied, sinking into the quagmire of its own creation.  

Rant over! But it makes me sad when I see so many of those who, like me (I was born in 1987), weren’t even conscious during her time in office, distastefully celebrating her death with some media outlets passively encouraging it. Before out history becomes whitewashed to reflect the dictatorial, sanctimonious and guilt-ridden complex of the Liberal Left, let’s all just take a look back on the last fifty years and realistically evaluate Mrs Thatcher’s legacy in context to the three decades that preceded it. 

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