Terry, Arthur and Maggie Thatcher

Some are one-eyed enough to look upon pre-Thatcher Britain fondly – good jobs and more equality. Watching re-runs of The Minder, I do not see Terry and Arthur, after a hard day of ducking, diving and ‘strictly cash only’ operations, sitting at the bar of the Winchester Club with Dave talking about how they never had it so good.

British TV of the 1970s was gritty. The Sweeney is another example, reflecting the economic stagnation of that time.

The Minder was a slow starter in the ratings, not helped by delay from a 9-week technicians’ strike which blacked out the ITV network. It was almost cancelled after one season.

The 25% annual CPI inflation, the productivity slowdown, the three-day week, and the 1978 winter of discontent earned the U.K. in those good old days of good jobs and more equality the moniker ‘the sick man of Europe’.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the main parties competed to reverse Britain’s relative economic decline. There was a growing awareness that the economic league tables showed that Britain was at the wrong end for figures regarding strikes, productivity, inflation, economic growth and rising living standards.

Virtually all European countries, except Britain, had so-called ‘economic miracles’. The targets for blame included: failure to invest in new plant and machinery, restrictive working practices and outdated attitudes on the shop floor (‘us and them’), amateurish management, loss of markets, and rise of competition.

Some believe, as surely as night follows day, that life got worse under Thatcher

“The 70s was Britain’s most equal decade. The jobs that went during the 80s tended to be good, skilled jobs, delivering decent incomes and some security. She failed to replace those jobs with well-paid equivalents. Demonising unions and stripping the great mass of private-sector workers of a voice and power in the workplace is still the root of the great living standards crisis that saw the share of wealth going to wages slide long before Lehman Brothers failed.”

My high school economics teacher took us on a tour of a carpet factory. The boredom in the eyes of those workers motivated me big time to go to university.

Some members of the educated middle-class forget what a factory job was like in the 1970s. Dangerous too were those good jobs of the 1970s. One reason for low-paid jobs paying a little less now is they are safer and less boring.

What would a socialist Britain look like today – again the Guardian backcasting to a decade of nationalisations, nuclear disarmament and state-run pubs:

Perhaps we would be waiting six months for a mobile telephone, and paying the bills to the post office, headed by the Postmaster General – I don’t believe it would be a very advanced telephone, either. Perhaps there would be three TV channels and the requirement for a licence before you could use the internet.

Thatcher won office and stayed in office for so long because the previous arrangements were not working and there had to be a better way. UK Labour spent 17 years in the political wilderness because its ideas failed Britain in the 1970s. As the Minder progressed, the series reflected the improving British economy and Arthur becoming CEO of Daley into Europe Ltd.


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