Words by Luke Alland.
Flares are in, ABBA are on tour (although now they're holograms; we really are living in the future) and inflation is getting out of control. As temperatures rocketed to over 40 degrees, Facebook was awash with aunts and uncles attempting to cool off climate change narrative by harking back to the summer of 1976. Yes, it was hot (temperatures reached 35.6C), and yet, none of the days in the heatwave of that year make it into the top 10 hottest days in UK history. I'm not exactly sure how the rose tinted sunglasses of nostalgia are faring, but seven of the top 10 hottest days have been in the last 19 years.
This got me thinking. There seems to be a huge amount of parallels between the teenage years of the Baby Boomers and Gen Z, although neither would probably like to admit it. I decided to trawl the history books without any real sense of narrative and discovered that yes, aside from the heat, this decade has already ticked off a whole lot of what the '70s achieved, and maybe even foreshadows some of the things to come.
We kick off in 1970 and in the build up to the World Cup being held in Mexico (the 2026 World Cup returns to North America, with Mexico, USA and Canada hosting), England captain Bobby Moore is arrested and released on bail in Bogota, Colombia, for allegedly stealing a bracelet from a local market. Eventually he is cleared of all wrongdoing and the incident is long forgotten. Fast-forward to 2020 and England's Harry Maguire is arrested in Greece for getting into an altercation with the police. Unfortunately for him, he was actually convicted of all charges, and found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery.
In February of 1971, the Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling announced an Immigration Bill that was to strip Commonwealth immigrants of their right to remain. A bill that was supported by one of Nigel Farage's political heroes, Enoch Powell. The incumbent Home Secretary, Priti Patel, also had a well-documented interest here, approving and standing by her plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Reginald Maudling lasted only a year, and resigned in the summer of 1972 after a scandal involving one of the companies he was a director of. While she may have lasted longer than a year, on the 6th September, 2022, she announced her resignation following the appointment of Liz Truss as the United Kingdom's Prime Minister.
Shortly after Maudling's resignation, and rather ironically, the Houses of Commons voted by over 100 votes in favour of joining the European Economic Committee—a decision that 52% of Britons would later overturn. Inflation was in the news, hitting a 30-year high of 8.6%, eventually reaching a point where the government would impose a rent freeze. (Maybe worth popping it into the ideas box at Number 10). By November, the government would also introduce a price and pay freeze to counter the ever-increasing inflation problem. As much as the pay continually seems to be frozen, I think we can all wish for prices to follow suit.
1,600,000 workers joined the Trades Union call for a one-day strike on the 1st of May, 1973, to protest the government's pay restrain policy in addition to the worsening price rises. Industries hit hardest included mining, docks and the railways. Sound familiar? As the year rumbled on, the ongoing industrial action involving the miners lead to the implementation by the Conservative Government of the Three-Day Week electricity consumption reduction measure. Coming into place from the 1st of January, 1974, it would last over three months and would eventually end on the 7th of March. Many families could not afford to heat or light their homes, with no energy provided from council estates to Buckingham Palace. Once the power was back on, ABBA would win Eurovision with "Waterloo" in April, and inflation soared to 17.2%—the highest in 34 years.
The next summer, snow fell across the country, including in the south and London. The last time this happened in June was over 200 years prior. The dark clouds remained though, as inflation seemed to emulate ABBA by topping charts again and again, this time reaching 24.2%, the second-highest level since records began in 1750. A White Paper called the Attack on Inflation is commissioned and delivered to all households as the government's anti-inflation policy is put into full effect to try and stem the problem.
1976 includes the aforementioned heatwave, and for 15 consecutive days between June and July, it reaches 32.2C in London. Towards Christmas, the Labour government announces in Parliament that they have negotiated a £2,300,000,000 loan from the IMF (and we worry about student debt?), however, this comes on the condition that £2,500,000,000 is cut from public spending. Somehow, the NHS, social benefit sectors and education are not affected by these cuts. With inflation hitting 25% and the oil-crisis of 1973, sterling was in absolute crisis. If you thought that it was bad that the railways were striking, October and November of 1977 brought two new unions to the table. Undertakers in London left more than 800 corpses unburied as they took strike action. Then, in their first ever national strike, Firefighters were hoping for a 30% wage increase in November.
Margaret Thatcher, who'd come to be almost a pantomime villain in British politics over the next four decades started off 1978 by saying that many Britons "fear being swamped by people with a different culture". Although I am pretty sure this is not the same 'culture' that Liz Truss is talking about foreign nationals having the "skill and application" that Britons lack? I'll let you decide. A few months later, Viv Anderson, whose parents came to Britain in the mid-50s from Jamaica, would be the first Black player to be in a Championship winning side, the winning side in the Football League Cup and, more importantly, England's first Black international player, appearing in a 1-0 friendly win over Czechoslovakia. Whilst this would undoubtedly break down boundaries, the year-long investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality would conclude that the Pollyanna's nightclub in Birmingham was in fact racist for having a ban on Black and Chinese revellers. As Christmas approached once more, even the BBC was not immune to strike action with BBC One and Two taken off air from the 21st December to the 23rd, BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4 were also effected by strike action.
The strikes didn’t end there. In January 1979, both tens of thousands of public-workers and Lorry drivers would join them, causing shortages of heating oil, fresh food and—coupled with the coldest winter in 16 years—would come to be called “The Winter of Discontent”. The government would later announce £3.5 billion in public spending cuts and up prescription prices.
Finally, the Jubilee Line would be opened in May 1979 to much fanfare and expectation. Not too dissimilar to the Elizabeth Line making its grand entrance to London’s network in May 2022. After all of that, you'd hope we’d have learnt from history, but as you’ve seen, it just can’t help repeating itself. Hopefully we skip pass the bad bits and boogie to a new wave '70s revival. A third Winter of Discontent, however, seems a lot more likely.