Monday, 15 July 2013

The Summer of '76

We are being threatened with a continuing heat wave comparable to the summer of 1976.  This is something we could do without.  It was bad enough then, it could be even worse now.  The Minister for Sport, Denis Howell, how we laughed at such a thing then, was hastily given extra duties as Minister for Drought and warned us that water rationing would soon be with us as well as other unpleasant arrangements.

We now have a Department of Culture, Media and Sport mingled with Equalities, supported by 44 agencies and public bodies.  If a drought could occur now then the probable expansion of the government along those lines should soon mop up any current unemployment among the chattering classes.

As soon as Howell took up office the first rain drops appeared.  My worry is that if Cameron makes either Maria Miller or Hugh Robertson, two of the current DCMS and Equalities team responsible for drought we shall all expire of thirst while they wait for the deliberations of all the focus groups, consultative bodies and the rest before deciding that we need more water.

In 1976 James Callaghan took over as Prime Minister earlier in the year.  Faced with economic problems he became unpopular in trying to tell us that we could not have the double digit income rises and continuing expansion of expenditure, debt and the rest that we had become used to under Heath and Wilson because inflation with all its evils was destroying the basic economy.

There were extensive riots in South Africa and the question of Apartheid was a key political issue at home.  But here there were race riots notably in Notting Hill, then a decrepit inner London low income suburb.  Now the violence is largely toffs throwing bread rolls at each other at table in their multi-million pound homes in a gentrified district as they debate how to take advantage of Quantatitive Easing in the property market.

This issue affected the Montreal Olympics where many African countries withdrew because the IOC refused to exclude New Zealand because their All Blacks rugby team had toured South Africa despite the embargo desired.  A major feature of The Games was the medals tally by the German Democratic Republic, communist East Germany.  For years afterwards our leading sports and media Left wingers and others took this to be why East Germany should become the template for the UK of the future.

It was also the year that Carter became President, to pave the way for the Reagan reaction four years later.  Little realised at the time were the rumblings of theory in economics departments and financial circles in the USA that would lead to the surge of de-regulation and open season finance that would change all our lives.

In China the Leader, Mao Tse Tung, as the West spelled it at the time, went to the Great Central Committee in the sky and became a Prophet rather than a politician.  Chou En Lai, his Deputy had died in January.  This had the effect of making his hard line adherents in the West and elsewhere even harder. Their extremes made it much easier for those on the Right to label any on the Left as Maoist and therefore beyond reason.

In many ways it was a year of turning points which would need a thesis or major work to set out in full, rather than a brief item knocked out by an idle blogger.  One for the UK was that in September, after the rains returned the economy went down the drain.  The IMF were called in and Austerity, Cuts and Controls introduced impacting on the very people who disliked them most.

Margaret Thatcher had become Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and was slowly but surely building up her position as Leader of The Opposition.  It seemed unlikely that a woman who had very defined views on the Right was ever likely to command a majority at a General Election.  How far her success in 1979 was owed to her own efforts and how far to the splintering of the Labour Party into various factions is a debate for another place.

That was a year when after three very busy ones, I was able to take some overdue leave and had a longer holiday.  While most other people were roasting my youngsters were being taught how to build an igloo in between making snowmen and snow ball fights.  The camping gear had been put into the car and we had headed for the Alps, fresh air, cool  nights and above all as much water as we wanted.

As I thumb through the reference book of that year there were many things I remember.  What did bring joy to most of the nation and the happy home was Southampton beating Manchester United 1-0 in the Cup Final.

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