Back to the Seventies

John Rentoul
Harold Wilson 300x247 Back to the Seventies

Harold Wilson, PM in 1975: No danger of inflationary fires now

I asked an idle question on Twitter this morning: “Are we moving from long periods of one party in government to one-term governments as in the 1960s and 1970s?”

As is often the case, the responses were unexpected and diverting. First I had the usual pedants complaining that there were no one-term governments in the 1960s, which led to a discussion of whether the double elections of 1964-66 and 1974 could be regarded as single stuttered elections.

Which led in turn to the question of whether David Cameron in 2010 should have followed the example of Harold Wilson in 1974, and run a minority government before calling a second election in, say, October 2010. Would he now be governing with a small majority, or would David Miliband be doing so?

This was discussed at the time, most pertinently by Sunder Katwala. He concluded that the most likely outcome was another hung parliament, with the risk for Cameron that David Miliband and Nick Clegg would be able to do a deal.

So you can see why Cameron made the full, open and comprehensive offer. At best, if he had gone for the Wilson option, as Matt Hoffman pointed out, “he would have resigned in June 2012, worn down by stress”.

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  • David Boothroyd

    The answer to the question in the third paragraph is clearly ‘No’. Britain in 2010 needed a government with a solid majority which had a clear plan to deal with its economic problems, and the only one which could have been formed after the 2010 election was a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. The national interest dictated that it was the duty of those two parties to form such a government.

    That they came up with an economic plan which did not work is their fault, of course.

  • Raymond Burke

    ‘That they came up with an economic plan which did not work is their fault, of course.’ There is still well over a year to go before the next general election, of course.

    Labour was in office for 13 years, having inheriting an economy in sound shape, and was kicked out in 2010, the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury leaving a note apologizing for there being no money left. But it did not stop him trousering a severance payment of a tad under 20 grand.

    What the Coalition government has done is create a million jobs since it has been in office, no mean achievement. Latest figures from the ONS show the number of people in work rose to 29.73m – the highest level since records began in 1971. Some of those jobs are admittedly not the highly-paid, highly-skilled sort available in Britain’s manufacturing industries, before Gordon Brown’s economic policies shrank the manufacturing sector from 20pc of GDP to around 12.5pc in less than a decade, a worse rate of decline than during the Thatcher years*.

    Employment should be the first priority of any socially-aware government, a fact recognised by Lord Lipsey, Labour member of the House of Lords economic affairs committee, who recently wrote in The Times: “The employment figures mean that, whether or not the recession is working, it is not really hurting – at least not really hurting the people who still have jobs and don’t claim benefits,” he said. “An unemployment-lite recession has nothing like the social impact of a job-crushing one.” Such refreshing realism from a Labour politician!

    *FT, Dec 3, 2009, Decline in manufacturing greater under Labour than with Thatcher.

  • David Boothroyd

    That reply is only tangentially related to the post and my comment, isn’t it?

  • creggancowboy

    There was a choice in the 1960’s and 70’s in that we had a left & right wing dichotomy now all we have are Tories (TM) and ZaNuLabour (Tory Lite)

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