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UK politics

We’re heading for a 1970s-style meltdown

A Tory poster in the run-up to the 1979 election. Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images

Britain is at a turning point, says Liam Halligan in The Daily Telegraph, with frightening echoes of the 1970s. Inflation is rising, government debt spiralling. Shelves are empty and workers backed by “stroppy trade unions” are demanding higher wages. It’s worth remembering where all this led last time: the Winter of Discontent, when soaring prices, rampant strike action and the breakdown of vital public services sparked a radical political reset. The difference is, Labour was in charge last time and the reset was embodied by Margaret Thatcher. But it should remind Boris Johnson just how quickly the political and economic tide can shift, and the electorate’s patience can snap.

Unions aren’t so militant or powerful now, but throughout the pandemic the increasingly strident teaching and medical unions have pushed to “dictate” government policy. The UK’s biggest union, Unite, has just elected the “preferred choice of Labour’s Trotskyist fringe”. Most worrying, the budget deficit this Conservative government is running makes the Labour ministers of the 1970s look like “paragons of virtue”. There’s no sign the PM understands the need to get public finances under control. Instead, the Tory top brass have convinced themselves they can carry on printing cash indefinitely. Covid made this profligacy inevitable. Post-lockdown, it has to stop.