Is Liz Truss the new Margaret Thatcher? How UK in 1979 and 2022 are scarily similar – Susan Dalgety
It’s all gone a bit Back to the Future hasn’t it? There are days when I log on to my Evening News app and I’m not sure whether I am in 2022 or 1979.
For those readers too young to remember the glory days of the 1970s – or weren’t even born then – bear with me as I indulge in a spot of nostalgia.
Rampant inflation, widespread strikes, a Royal Jubilee and the unexpected rise of Maggie Thatcher are what I remember about the decade that also gave us David Bowie, punk and Watergate. Sound familiar?
Inflation peaked at over 22 per cent in 1975. Today it stands at 9.1 per cent, and rising. Strikes peppered the decade. In 1974, industrial action by miners forced PM Ted Heath to introduce power cuts to conserve energy.
A three-day limit on power was imposed on businesses, with only newspapers and supermarkets exempt. TV stations were forced to close down every night at 10.30pm and domestic electricity was rationed.
I shudder when I read of threats of energy rationing this winter, recalling the misery of windows frozen from the inside and of going to bed early with a hot-water bottle to keep warm.
As the 1970s drew to a close, widespread strikes by workers demanding pay rises to keep up with inflation paralysed the country.
Lorry drivers, angry at having to work 80 hours a week because of staff shortages in their industry and fed-up of low wages, stopped working and essential supplies dried up.
Walking round my local Lidl earlier this week, I was shocked by the empty shelves. “There aren’t enough workers in the warehouse to get the stock to us,” an assistant told me.
In 1979, during the coldest winter for years, public sector workers staged a series of strikes after the government tried to impose a five per cent limit on pay increases. Even the grave-diggers downed tools, and refuse bins went unemptied for weeks on end.
Today, union bosses representing council workers warn that unless the current two per cent pay offer is increased substantially, waste and refuse services will be disrupted from mid-August, and there will be school closures from next month.
But it is Liz Truss’s Maggie Thatcher tribute act that triggers me the most. The woman who would be Prime Minister is slavish in her mimicry of Thatcher, from her helmet of blonde hair to her pussy-cat bows and Tory blue power suits.
And her insistence that only she can stop inflation and curb the unions is eerily reminiscent of Thatcher’s successful general election campaign of 1979.
Thatcher broke the trade unions and reduced inflation by pushing interest rates to 17 per cent and imposing swingeing cuts on public services. Unemployment soared to four million and we spent the whole of 1980 in recession.
Truss offers a similar prescription – promising to introduce swingeing tax cuts which will push interest rates up and threatening tough action against trade unions.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that militant action from trade unions can no longer cripple the vital services that hard-working people rely on,” she said last week. Back to the future indeed.