Britain’s 1970s retread

By The Economist online…

The similarities between the prime ministers who took Britain into, and are taking it out of, the EU are striking. But markets are much less concerned

THE strange 1970s revival in Britain has another twist. The main focus has been on the Labour party which, under Jeremy Corbyn, wants to return to the era marked by nationalisation and higher taxes. But in a sense the Brexiteers want to take Britain back to the 1970s too; to the “golden era” before 1973 when the country was outside the EU.

In fact, the early 1970s were marked by strikes, power cuts and rapid inflation. They were presided over by Edward Heath (pictured left), the prime minister whose main achievement was to take Britain into what was then the European Economic Community. And it is striking how many similarities he had with the current prime minister, Theresa May (pictured right).

Both PMs were/are (Heath died in 2005) loners with few friends in the party and rather “buttoned-up” personalities. Both were uncomfortable on the campaign trail, finding it hard to connect with voters. Both talked of relaunching their party’s political philosophies but struggled to turn their principles into practical policy. Both called early elections and suffered disappointing results. Heath called a poll on the slogan “Who Governs Britain?” in February 1974; the result was a hung Parliament.

And both have been overwhelmed by turbulent times. Heath had to deal with a powerful miners’ union, the break-up of the Bretton Woods exchange-rate system, the economic impact of the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and IRA terrorism; Mrs May is stuck with negotiating Brexit (she backed Remain), a newly assertive Russia, a volatile American president and Islamic terrorism.



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Category: Business and finance, Buttonwood’s notebook

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