Saturday, 14 June 2008

'Life on Mars' for real

I didn't watch Life on Mars, but the whole back to the 1970s vibe is really catching on.
Inflation is back, let's be honest stagflation is back.
We have a near bankrupt country, this time with the added twist that the government party is also almost bankrupt.
We have a serious fuel problem, the possibility of petrol rationing is closer than many believe.
Electricity shortages are on their way back, maybe a return to the three day week is next.
We have a terrorist threat, this time with no 5 minute warnings - are schools practising as we did in the 1970s?
We have an incompetent former Chancellor of the Exchequer as Prime Minister (now as then, obviously promoted above his level of ability).
There are public sector pay pressures and public sector strikes in the offing, this time with a far larger number of public sector employees all with massive publicly funded pensions.
The government can only get legislation through with the support of minor parties, once again the Ulster Unionists (of one flavour or another) hold a degree of power.

Are we heading for a repeat of the "Winter of Discontent"?
Then a discredited Labour government tried to keep all pay increases within a 5% limit although inflation was much higher, now a discredited Labour government try to keep public sector pay increases below 2.5% although inflation is much higher.
Then after just winning a vote of confidence a Labour Prime Minister found his government unable to enforce a pay policy under attack from lorry drivers including fuel delivery drivers, now a Labour Prime Minister after just winning a controversial vote finds himself unable to do much at all about striking fuel delivery drivers.
This is where the parallels deserve some more detailed coverage:

The following passage is from Wikipedia's description of The Winter of Discontent:

"Large numbers of the lorry drivers worked on oil tankers, and drivers working for BP and Esso began an overtime ban in support of rises of up to 40% on December 18. With supplies of oil being disrupted, the Cabinet Office prepared 'Operation Drumstick', by which the Army were put on standby to take over from the tanker drivers. However, the Operation would need the declaration of a state of emergency in order to allow conscription of the assets of the oil companies, and the government drew back from such a step. Before the situation developed into a crisis the oil companies settled on wage rises of around 15%.

From January 3, 1979 an unofficial strike of all TGWU lorry drivers began. With petrol distribution held up, petrol stations closed across the country. The strikers also picketed the main ports. The strikes were made official on January 11 by the TGWU and January 12 by the United Road Transport Union. With 80% of the nation's goods transported by road, essential supplies were put in danger as striking drivers picketed those firms that continued to work. While the oil tanker drivers were working, the main refineries were also targeted and the tanker drivers let the strikers know where they were going, allowing for flying pickets to turn them back at their destination. More than 1,000,000 workers were laid off temporarily during the disputes.

A further plan was drawn up to safeguard essential supplies through the Army and calling a state of emergency. The government warned the TGWU leadership of the plan, which resulted in the union accepting (January 12) a list of emergency supplies which were officially exempt from action. In practice, what counted as an emergency was left up to local officials of the TGWU to determine, and practice across the country varied according to the views of the local shop stewards who established 'Dispensation committees' to decide. When strikers in Hull did not allow the correct mix of animal feed through to local farms, the farmers dropped the bodies of dead piglets and chickens outside the union offices; the union contended that the farmer had actually wrung the chicken's necks to kill them, and the piglets had been killed when the sow rolled over and crushed them.

On January 29, lorry drivers in the south west accepted a deal awarded by an arbitration panel of a rise of up to 20%, just £1 per week less than the union had been striking for; this settlement proved a model which was accepted throughout the country."

Fuel delivery drivers on strike - Tick
Army being readied to take over deliveries - Tick
The rest... We will see.

There are some differences, the unions that then held so much power have had that much diminished by Margaret Thatcher's legislation of the 1980s and also the voting intentions:

"According to Gallup, Labour had a lead of 5% over the Conservatives in November 1978, which turned to a Conservative lead of 7·5% in January 1979, and of 20% in February."

A somewhat different picture now...

One of the great songs of 1979 was the Tom Robinson Band's "Winter of '79" with the key line "The government never resigned". This was a time when the left believed that the Labour government might declare martial law rather than let an election be called:

"All you kids that just sit and whine
You should have been there back in '79
You say we're giving you a real hard time
You boys are really breaking my heart
Spurs beat Arsenal, what a game
The blood was running in the drains
Intercity took the trains
And really took the place apart
That was the year Nan Harris died
And Charlie Jones committed suicide
The world we knew busted open wide
In the winter of '79

I'd been working on and off
A pint of beer was still ten bob
My brand new Bonneville got ripped off
I more or less give up trying
They stopped the Social in the spring
And quite a few communists got run in
And National Service come back in
In the winter of '79
When Marco's caff went up in flames
The Vambo boys took the blame
The SAS come and took our names
In the winter of '79

It was us poor bastards took the chop
When the tubes gone up and the buses stopped
The top people still come out on top
The government never resigned
The Carib Club got petrol bombed
The National Front was getting awful strong
They done in Dave and Dagenham Ron
In the winter of '79
When all the gay geezers got put inside
And coloured kids was getting crucified
A few fought back and a few folks died
In the winter of '79

Yes a few of us fought
And a few of us died
In the winter of '79"

Does anyone else believe that Gordon Brown might use the Civil Contingencies Act and
other legislation to "postpone" a general election for reasons of internal security? Don't forget that Tony Blair trialled this move back in 2001.

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