Our recollection of the 1970s is pure Thatcherite propaganda

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Our recollection of the 1970s is pure Thatcherite propaganda

The capture of the British 1970s by the Toriy narrative was a coup that still pays a lavish dividend to Maggie’s heirs

“Crisis? What Crisis?” For more than three years, after September 1975, that phrase simply referred to the fourth album by the prog-rock outfit Supertramp. Only in January 1979 did a Sun headline – a twisted paraphrase of PM James Callaghan’s denial of “mounting chaos” from strikes – inscribe it as an epitaph for the post-1945 social settlement.

By 3 May of that year, Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid had ripped up its old loyalties to proclaim: “Vote Tory This Time.” If the rest is history, then that history remains in dispute. “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past”, as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four puts it.

The battle for the past goes on. This week, in Leeds, Jeremy Corbynmade some tentative remarks about the potential “lessons” to be drawn from a state-led industrial investment policy of the sort that the Labour Government of 1974-79 tried to devise. Speaking in support of his “Northern Future” strategy, the party’s leadership candidate called for public funding to underpin a manufacturing revival. From Stuttgart to Seoul, beneficiaries of the post-war world’s most dynamic economies might have yawned politely at such a banal statement of the bleedin’ obvious. Back in our free-market paradise, in The Times and elsewhere, weary clichés stood up to salute the dogma that they serve. Readers unborn at the time heard all about the Mad Max-style apocalypse of an age when “rubbish piled up in the streets and the dead went unburied”.

True, it’s harder to condense into a snappy one-liner the fact that the Gini coefficient measure of income inequality fell to its lowest point in Britain around 1977. At the same time, the share of total incomes earned by the top 1 per cent hit a 20th-century trough. We were never more equal. Crisis? What crisis? That was the attitude of the New York Times London correspondent Bernard Nossiter. In 1978 he published a paean to the “first citizens of the post-industrial age”, who were building such a fair-minded, tolerant and civilised society. He called his book Britain: a Future that Works. Yes, in 1978

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