Tag Archives: monetarism

The 1979 General Election – three rivals in the election of the century


1979 was a pivotal year for world politics – only rivalled by 2016 with the election of Donald Trump as US president. Back in 79, Margaret Thatcher swept to power in the UK followed by Ronald Reagan in the United States. It heralded an era of free market economics and initially a drift to socially conservative attitudes – especially towards ethnic minorities and LGBT people.

The election marked the end of a post-war era of political and economic consensus. Since 1945, both main parties had accepted a mixed economy – part state and part privately owned. Industry was managed in a tripartite arrangement between bosses, unions and government with formalised structures for regular talks.

State owned bodies had run the utilities and key industries with commissions regulating pay and prices. Government departments determined policy and practice in large swathes of the economy because Whitehall owned the steel, gas, mining and other sectors.

All of this came to an end in 1979. Thatcher and her free market coterie took on organised labour but also elements in her own party who preferred a “One Nation” vision of society to her more aggressively individualist vision. On the left, there was a parallel movement of Marxists and socialists who also rejected the post-war consensus but wanted a very different kind of society with workers’ control and the end of capitalism.

The 1979 election saw three main protagonists duke it out for the keys to Number Ten. Thatcher was by far the most energetic and with everything to win. Labour leader Jim Callaghan was more popular as a person but had dithered over calling an election for a year in which the unions had staged major industrial action – the so-called Winter of Discontent – eroding Labour’s standing in the polls. By the election, he came across as a man weary of high office.

In the middle was David Steel, the Liberal leader, who had been propping up Labour in the so-called Lib-Lab pact – as Labour lost its majority during its 1974-79 term in office. This pact would damage the Liberals, many of whose supporters switched to the Tories. In fact, Labour’s vote didn’t slump so much as the Liberals collapsed into Thatcher’s arms.

Steel (left), Thatcher (centre) and Callaghan (right)

Monotony – the game for the unemployed in 1979


There was a dark humour among the unemployed under Thatcher – many knowing they would never, in all likelihood, work again. These were people thrown out of manufacturing jobs and facing a labour market that was unforgiving if you over 35 – let alone unwilling to up sticks.

Graduates couldn’t even find summer jobs in the early 80s as the unemployed competed for shop and bar work. Dole newspapers sprang up all over the north, Midlands and London. This one developed a game for the jobless called Monotony – a skit on Monopoly.

Thatcher first year in power


Here’s an interesting front cover from a Sunday Times colour supplement in 1980 “celebrating” the first year of Thatcher in power. Me or my sister defaced Maggie’s face with a beard and moustache at the time! Around her head – framed like Joan of Arc – are winged angels representing (from left to right) Geoffrey Howe, Lord Carrington, Willie Whitelaw, Keith Joseph and Jim Prior. Down below is Michael Heseltine looking a little wistful. At that stage, Thatcher was embattled and rumours were flying that Heseltine had his eye on Number 10.

Give Us A Future – the cry of 80s unemployed youth


This is a T-shirt from the 1982 People’s March to London that saw thousands of young people converge on the capital to make the point that all over Britain – but particularly in the north – teenagers were out of work with no hope and no future. That outstretched hand sums up the desperation many were starting to feel. I lived near Toxteth in Liverpool in 1984 when 90% of those aged between 16 and 25 were out of work. Grim times indeed.

Jobs for Youth leaflet from 1982


One million young people found themselves on the dole in the grim recession that gripped Britain at the start of the 1980s. Jobs Not Dole was a familiar slogan at the time. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out, Out, Out – a very familiar cry on the countless demonstrations. The monetarist economic experiment had resulted in mass unemployment – but for the Tories, it was the price that had to be paid.

High youth unemployment – we knew it too…back in 1980


Young people are on the dole all over Europe once more – 50% of young people in Spain without jobs. It’s all a horrible echo of the 1979-81 economic downturn in the UK during the first term of the Margaret Thatcher government. I was at university in Liverpool from 1981 to 1984 and jobs were things that very lucky people had in that city. Disused factories and warehouses were everywhere.

So bad was the situation that a bleak humour arose – evidenced by this front cover of the satirical magazine Private Eye in 1980. Here we have arch-Thatcherite Keith Joseph saying it’s not so bad – he’s spotted at least one job.

Keith Joseph explains

Recent Entries »