Harold Wilson vs Tony Blair

5 July 2008

Francis Beckett contrasts Harold Wilson with Tony Blair in a review in The Guardian: not to Blair’s advantage:

The children of the 60s and those of the 70s thought New Jerusalem was around the corner, its arrival hindered only by the conservatism of Harold Wilson’s Labour governments. They did not realise that they were living in New Jerusalem and that their generation, which benefited from this dazzling array of freedoms, would, within 20 years, destroy them. Nor did they realise – for they had never heard of Tony Blair – how lucky they were to have Wilson to hate. Wilson courageously kept Britain out of Vietnam, founded the Open University and made such cautious moves towards greater social equality as were allowed by the difficult economic circumstances.

Proud of having conquered their inherited inhibitions, the 60s and 70s generations thought, in their innocence and foolishness, that there was little else to conquer. Their parents had battled for healthcare, for education, for full employment and economic security. These battles having apparently been won, the young fought for, and won, the right to wear their hair long and to enjoy sex. These were the battles that the young Blair fought and won at a stifling old-fashioned public school, Fettes, at the end of the 60s. He rejected the statism of the Attlee settlement. It is precisely because Blair is an authentic child of the 60s and 70s that he threw away. Labour’s chance to change the Thatcher settlement of Britain’s affairs. He had no quarrel with it. The children of that time saw themselves as pioneers of a new world – freer, fairer and infinitely more fun. They were wrong.

The review is also good on the unions and the 70s:

[Alwyn] Turner shows how all the signs of their demise were evident in the 70s. Doom-laden books of the period included Anthony Burgess’s novella 1985, published in 1978, which predicted a dictatorship by the unions. Turner’s account of the Grunwick strike portrays the sad reality: that both the unions and their enemies thought the unions had power, but when unions had to protect workers against really bad employers who fired them for joining a union, they failed.

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