When Labour last ruled

Ross McKibbin

  • ‘Goodbye, Great Britain’: The 1976 IMF Crisis by Kathleen Burk and Alec Cairncross
    Yale, 268 pp, £18.95, March 1992, ISBN 0 300 05728 8

This is a timely and exceptionally interesting book. 1976, the year of IMF intervention, together with the winter of 1978-79, represents in purest form what was for most people (insofar as they have any memory of the Seventies) characteristic of that decade: persistent economic failure and social disintegration at home, humiliation abroad. It is a memory that has also had profound political consequences. In the public mind the Labour Party is inextricably associated with these failures and humiliations; though it bears no more ‘responsibility’ for them than the preceding Conservative government, the Conservatives have been much more successful at distancing themselves from their own part in the debacle; and it is undeniable that the Labour Party was in office for most of the decade (just) and during what is now thought to be its lowest moments. Thus, as Labour tries to convince us that it is a responsible party led by grave statesmen, it is speaking from within the long shadow of the Seventies. And it seems very likely that during the course of this election the Conservatives will have been insinuating into our consciousness all those now familiar words – ‘chaos’, ‘ungovernable’, ‘inflation’, ‘trade unions’, though not ‘unemployment’ – just in case we have forgotten the Seventies.

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