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Some Views of Mrs. Thatcher’s Victory

Kingsley Amis

Before trying to interpret this election we might notice what happened at it. Mrs. Thatcher’s victory was unusually decisive in two senses. She won by a bigger margin than any other Opposition leader since the Second World War, and she overcame the general tendency of the British electorate to give only cautious support to a potential prime minister they haven’t seen in office before. The personal polls (“Which leader do you think is most likely to govern the country well?”) had shown Mr. Callaghan well ahead, but an incumbent prime minister always is ahead during an election campaign, especially when, again, the other contender is a newcomer.

Anyway, who saw to it that Mrs. Thatcher got in? Only British middle-class intellectuals—and any American chums they might have—thought her middle-class ways would put the working class off her. In the event, while middle-class Labour support held pretty firm, it was the working-class swing that won the election for the Tories. (The New Statesman was still, after the election, pathetically trying to suggest that Mrs. Thatcher was born to the purple; her father was a small shopkeeper but he left no less than $15,000, the bloody plutocrat!)

The picture begins to clear when we observe that the Labour MPs who lost their seats were mostly left-wing and the survivors mostly social democrats committed to maintain a mixed economy.1 All we need after that is the result of a poll that asked, “Which do you prefer, capitalism or socialism?” Eighty percent preferred capitalism. The essential fact is that quite recently we in this country, unlike you in the United States, have had some socialism along with its inevitable adjuncts, bureaucracy and inefficiency. The British people have seen the future, found it doesn’t work, and want to go somewhere else.

The consequences of the Conservative victory are unlikely to be very marked. Mrs. Thatcher and her ministers haven’t much elbow-room, what with the pitifully, scandalously low productivity of British industry and inflation on the climb again. Inch-by-inch progress and a second term seem their best hope. They can however take great political satisfaction in having inflicted a crushing defeat on Labour, its heaviest since the war and at a time when that always fissile party was nearer than ever before to an actual split. Mr. Callaghan has suffered a grave setback in his attempt to go on getting everyone to behave as if the divide between the left wing and the social democrats were not the most fundamental one in modern British politics. What separates a social democrat from a Liberal or a left-wing Tory is an irrigation ditch in comparison.

Some things the new government can do at once, others it must do. For the first time, education was a major issue in the election. Mrs. Thatcher picked up a lot of votes from parents wanting to be able to choose their children’s school. A quick measure to safeguard the private sector is called for. Of external issues, Rhodesia is the most pressing. The Conservatives are expected to move toward recognition of the Smith-Muzorewa settlement and the lifting of sanctions. This will involve standing up to the US. For a small power to face down a large one is not impossible, as de Gaulle showed. But it takes firmness. I believe Mrs. Thatcher can draw on that when necessary.

Northern Ireland is not of course an external issue. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is peculiar in that it consists of the whole of one island and a smallish part of another. But that smallish part is as much its sovereign territory as Piccadilly Circus is, and public order will continue to be defended in the one place as in the other. This sort of thing is hard to explain to Americans, always hopelessly at sea with matters outside their own shores (and many within them).

Kingsley Amis’s most recent novel is Jake’s Thing.


Noel Annan

Does Margaret Thatcher possess a new elixir of life to rejuvenate aging and ailing Britain? She certainly has a new style detested by the intelligentsia because she makes it clear that she doesn’t mind offending them. They believe their influence has made Britain more tolerant, less uptight, and more “caring.” She thinks they have made it soft and have encouraged people to evade reality and to sneer at the simple virtues on which good societies depend.

After a hard, cold winter in which the media told you that trash piled up on the streets, that your sister-in-law would miss her operation for breast cancer because she would be turned away from the hospital by pickets, your children learned little at school because it was closed by striking teachers, you could not commute to work because the train drivers called day strikes when it pleased them, and your dead mother lay unburied in a warehouse—no wonder the British voted for a change. Militant trade unionism is hated, people want fewer agencies and bureaus, less “public spending” if by that is meant larger and less efficient bureaucracy, less direct taxation, less skiving and scrounging. The south went solid Tory but the swing was less strong in the north, and Scotland voted Labour. Still, the gospel of compassion has become shop-soiled. People now no longer are so keen to see that the lowest paid are paid better: they have seen differentials for the skilled eroded, foremen paid less than the men they supervise, management become an occupation to avoid, an ill-rewarded life of endless quarreling with shop stewards.

This is what Mrs. T says she wants to change. Her troubles will be twofold. First the margin for maneuver in Britain is tiny. Health first tried a strategy of growth at all costs. Within two years he overheated the economy and had to do a U-turn. Policy is dictated not by party manifestoes but by Britain’s situation where the money supply has to be balanced against the cost of imports and where the stronger the pound the harder it is to export in a world market getting ever more difficult. When things go wrong both Conservative and Labour governments blame the Treasury knights for thwarting their plans; but the Treasury simply reflects the country’s immobility, bound by obligations to her partners in Europe and burdened with obsolete heavy industries.

The quarrel between Heath and Mrs. T is revealing. They both come from the lower middle class, and Heath, who genuinely wanted reform, believed that the old Eton and Oxbridge image of the party was wrong: he wanted Tories to be technocrats. Mrs. T’s new government is filled with Etonians and Oxbridge. True, they may be more technocratic than their elders, but she does not believe as Heath did that Tories should heal the rift between the classes. On the contrary: she shows no signs of concern for the unemployed, she wants the successful to be rewarded for success. She wants to return to a past when hard work, self-reliance, and respect for contracts were honored, but she also wants to stop do-gooding and feather-bedding. The difference in the style of Toryism over a century ago between Peel and Disraeli was just as striking.

The second check on Mrs. T’s ability to change course is the trade unions. When Mrs. T was asked by a German journalist whether she had enough troops and police to keep order if she were elected premier, she answered, “I don’t think we are on the same wavelength.” She certainly tuned onto it quickly. Within the first week the pay of the armed forces and police went up by over 30 percent. Sagacious people scoff at the idea of the Trades Union Congress challenging Mrs. T: nor will they. But everyone knows that there are certain groups such as the power workers, the railwaymen, and, above all, the miners who brought Heath down and can bring the country to a halt if they do not get what they want. She has warned that change cannot come overnight. But to bring about the changes she wants, to contain inflation, cut taxes, and placate the unions, will require a miracle.

Meanwhile the power of the trade union bosses over their rank and file has weakened, and the rank and file are easily manipulated by extremists outside the Labour Party who are itching next winter or the one after to get at her. If that were to happen, Margaret Thatcher’s style to the astonishment of many might carry the nation with her in the way that Heath did not. But if it does not, Britain will drift a stage nearer South American politics.

Noel Annan, a member of the House of Lords, is Vice Chancellor of the University of London.


Ronald Dworkin

Has Britain had an ideological revolution? Did the voters throw out Callaghan’s Labour government because they had come to see that the welfare state leads only to national poverty, and that Britain’s hopes lie in free enterprise after all? American conservative commentators, who have often used Britain as an example of the folly of socialism, might be tempted to think so. Wrongly.

It is true that Labour was badly defeated. It received its smallest percentage of the vote since 1931, and the post-election polls show that many groups on which it had counted—skilled workers, for example—deserted it for perhaps the first time. But last October (when everyone, including Labour party executives, expected Callaghan to call the election) the polls showed that the voters were equally divided. Since Labour would likely have gained in the election campaign by the personal contrast between Callaghan and Mrs. Thatcher (as it gained in the actual campaign, sharply, but not enough to avoid disaster), Labour would almost surely have won. Indeed, it might well have won if the election had been held six months later than it was.

The difference between fall and spring was, of course, Black January and the winter of discontent. Callaghan made the mistake of pressing his luck. After two years of his remarkably successful incomes policy, which brought Britain’s fearsome inflation rate down to single figures, he asked for a 5 percent limit on raises for the next year, and the unions rebelled. They chewed up his incomes policy in a series of strikes that included truckers, garbage men, ambulance drivers, and—politically worst of all—gravediggers. The impact on the lives of most voters was much less than that of the miners’ strike, with its three-day work week and blackouts, which brought down Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1974. But the political damage was even worse.

Shifts like this, when large numbers of voters change sides from month to month, are possible only because politics in Britain has now become so non-ideological. There is of course a firm Labour left which believes that the party should move closer to militant Marxism, and there is a firm Tory right which was disappointed by the relatively moderate cabinet that Mrs. Thatcher has now appointed. But the swing voters of Britain were not converted to international socialism when they voted out Heath or to Adam Smith or Milton Friedman when they voted in Thatcher. They fire a government, not because they have changed their theories of political economy, but because the government can’t keep on the lights or collect the garbage.

Mrs. Thatcher’s campaign did show a distinct doctrinal character, and this was confirmed in the initial statement of her program in the Queen’s speech to Parliament. She cannot, of course, undo the social security system or the national health service or the other main strategies of the welfare state. She did promise in the campaign to push for free enterprise and (in unspecified ways) to curb the unions. But it is not yet clear that she will move very far or very fast in these directions, which could be dangerous because the first threatens more inflation and the second more strikes.

But the Queen’s speech made plain that Mrs. Thatcher will try to redeem campaign promises on less dangerous terrain. She proposes, for example, to cut the top rates of income tax dramatically, which will cost little money but may provoke resentment. She will stop Labour’s program of replacing intellectually selective grammar schools with comprehensive schools designed to accommodate children of widely differing abilities. She will try to increase the number of private, fee-paying patients who jump the queue for scarce beds in national health service hospitals. (The National Union of Public Employees has just announced that it will refuse to care for any such patients after January 1, unless she reviews her policy and announces a date for eliminating all such patients.) She will provide a free vote in Parliament to consider bringing back capital punishment, and though capital punishment will probably lose, she will vote for it herself.

She won in spite of rather than on these policies. Except for capital punishment, they appeal mainly to the minorities that will benefit directly, and her stunning lead in the early April polls shrank steadily as she disclosed these policies in the campaign. They will do her little good if she does decide to pursue her main economic strategies and if (as then seems likely) her version of free enterprise aggravates inflation and her industrial policy pulls the unions out on strike all over again. The country would be in terrible shape, and the voters who swung to her in May would be unlikely to stick by her then because they think that her principles of fair play for high wage earners are right.

Mrs. Thatcher is an ideological woman, but she did not win an ideological victory. Nor did Labour suffer an ideological loss—but that is not to its credit because it suddenly seems to have no ideology to lose. The old picture of the party as the political arm of the union movement, working to take power from the privileged for the working class, is undeniably obsolete. Far from being battles in the class war, the winter strikes were aimed mainly at securing relative advantage within the working class at the expense of the truly poor and at the predictable cost of the Labour government itself.

The leaders of the party have tried to substitute technical skill for fresh principle. They pointed only to that skill, claiming to be the party of experience, in the election. That made it not a contest between Mrs. Thatcher’s conception of social justice and theirs but a straight test of their record as managers, and since that record had most recently been bad they lost.

Labour is not the natural party of government, as Harold Wilson hoped it would be. But it is the natural party of principle and it cannot survive with none. It must give up trying to deduce a vision of the fair society from its historical association with the trade unions. The basis of that association must follow from the party’s principles, not the other way around. The left, which has taken control of many of the disorganized and understaffed local constituency groups, is unrepresentative, and has nothing to offer but exaggerated versions of the obsolete class conflict.

The party last set out its principles in the birth of the welfare state over thirty years ago. Britain and the world are different now, and Labour must state what its fundamental commitment to equality requires in the new and strained circumstances of world energy shortage and new technology that promises relief but threatens jobs. If it does not, then it might find that its place as the party of equality in British politics has been taken, within the decade, by a new social democratic party that will.

Ronald Dworkin, formerly Professor of Law at Yale, is Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford.


Karl Miller

A few months ago, there was a quarrel in Britain which concerned “free collective bargaining” between labor unions and employers. Some union leaders called for a return to free collective bargaining: for an end, in other words, to the Labour government’s fairly successful attempt to check inflationary wage settlements. The Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher, called for the same thing. It is, though these union leaders appeared to miss the point, a Tory thing: free collective bargaining is a form of Conservative “free enterprise.” Mrs. Thatcher’s disgruntled predecessor, Edward Heath, then came out in favor of a policy of general wage restraint, and the opinion polls took his side. From that day to this, Mrs. Thatcher has been silent on the subject of free collective bargaining, and she has yet to produce a policy on inflation. Instead, she has offered, in the manner of California’s mobile Jerry Brown, to cut taxes—together with welfare services, presumably.

Labour’s long run in office terminated in a winter of strikes and distress—the streets piled high with rubbish, the unburied dead queuing in graveyards, hospitals halted. Meanwhile the union leader Moss Evans made himself a household name for arrogance and complacency. What with all that, and with the late leader of the Liberal Party awaiting trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder, this was not an election which the Tories could easily have lost.

James Callaghan, for Labour, fought a decent and eloquent campaign, and received more in the way of personal support than Mrs. Thatcher did. Mrs. Thatcher’s campaign was a cloud of spun-sugar and fairy-godmother’s blue georgette which was sold like an advertising product. Out of this cloud came a stilted voice which had talked in the past, to a nation with millions of unemployed, about enterprise and rewards and the problem of idlers, and which had steeled itself to sweetness for the campaign. Having been associated with a hard line on lame ducks of one kind or another, she quoted for the cameras, on her way to Downing Street, from a sermon on the healing of divisions which she attributed (wrongly, it seems) to St. Francis of Assisi.

She is said to have told some of her ministers, when she appointed them, that they will need to have strong nerves. It is the unions who are expected to get on their nerves. The reforms in trade-union practice that she wants to see (postal ballots, restraints on picketing, conscientious objection to the “closed shop”) will not attack the real difficulty, which is to bring the union leadership around to a further effort to secure wage restraint. Many Labour supporters believe that the election was lost because there are those in the party and in the unions who seek, as Mr. J.R. Frears put it in a letter to The Guardian, “to justify as ‘socialist’ any manifestation of union power however gangster-like, however self-seeking, however damaging to the community and to the weakest groups within it.” If their view is correct, the new government is bound to have trouble.

It might not be all that bad if the British were forced to face up to that trouble, and it will certainly give pleasure to those American journalists who, for the last ten years, have been writing about a country ruined by shop-stewards and national health, about old ladies rushing to the airport with their savings in their handbags. The truth is that Britain has not been all that bad over these last ten years of international recession and internal tension, and none the worse for not always resembling America.

We shall soon find out what interest the government will take in meaningful wage claims from the weaker unions. It was a claim of this kind which lay behind last winter’s strike of lower-paid workers in the public sector. The unions have been asked, on several sides, to show a “public heart,” in the words of a nineteenth-century Parliamentary Reformer. But the new government will have to show one too. So far, Mrs. Thatcher has kept hers well hidden.

Karl Miller is Lord Northcliffe Professor of English Literature at University College, London.


H.R. Trevor-Roper

I am very glad that the Callaghan government is over.

James Callaghan, in one sense, rescued the credit of the Labour government, which had been brought into contempt by the personal rule of Harold Wilson and Lady Falkender. Callaghan gave the government a respectable face, and his rule was the rule of the “moderates” in the Labour Party. But behind this respectable face the government was, I believe, worse than that of Wilson. Essentially, it was a government of indecision, inaction, and appeasement. Even its “moderation” was spurious: the effect not of a positive policy but of surrender to a balance of pressures: the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the need to secure the votes of minority parties—first the Liberals, then the Scottish Nationalists.

The great problem for Britain is to recover a positive policy; and the problem for the Labour Party is to decide whether it is the means to social democracy or to a corporate state dominated by trade unions. Harold Wilson, for all his faults, is a social democrat. Callaghan, as far as can be seen, has no beliefs in this matter, but has merely yielded, here as everywhere, to the strongest pressure. Long before he became prime minister, he told a Cabinet colleague, George Wigg, that there was never any problem about policy: “One asks the unions what they want and gives it to them.” It was Callaghan who organized union power to bring down the Heath government and when Wilson sought to curb union power it was Callaghan who used that power to break that attempt.

In the winter of 1978-1979 Callaghan himself faced union power and showed that he could or would do nothing to limit it. His boasted concordat with the Trade Union Council is not evidence that he could control that power: only that the unions would support him with fair words when there was a danger that they might lose their creature in parliament. The problem of exorbitant union power is a problem that has to be faced; and Callaghan never showed any will to face it. Rather, he allowed it to grow.

The same general policy of appeasement for the sake of survival without any long-term intelligence is shown by Callaghan’s policy, or absence of policy, in other matters. In foreign affairs he has simply yielded to events, and has sacrificed the dignity of his country by running out to appease pressure groups in black Africa and even (for—mistaken—internal electoral reasons) to court two blood-stained military usurpers in Pakistan and Bangladesh. He has allowed British defenses to slide, law and order—the judiciary and the police—to be undermined. His policy of devolution for Scotland and Wales, which ultimately brought him down, was merely a device to secure an endangered fief of the Labour Party. It was irrelevant to the real needs of Scotland and Wales.

Harold Wilson has compared Callaghan to Stanley Baldwin. The comparison is legitimate—up to a point. Baldwin restored a certain social harmony after the General Strike, but at the same time ignored vital British interests abroad and began the fatal policy of appeasement. Callaghan, equally insular, has sought the semblance of social harmony, but in fact has presided over a policy of appeasement which, being internal as well as external, jeopardizes both that harmony and British interests in the world.

I hope that a more resolute and more intelligent government will have the ability to redress the fatal slide of those wasted years.
H.R. Trevor-Roper is Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford.


Emma Rothschild

It would be a mistake not to consider the question of sex. Not that it has been greatly in evidence in the first weeks of Mrs. Thatcher’s government. In the intoxicating atmosphere of deference and consensus which attends these rituals of power—“experience and experiment in this cabinet are in good balance,” “Mrs. Thatcher needs a unified nation,” and so on—the more divisive classifications (right/left, south/north, female/male) are by convention transcended.

But Mrs. Thatcher presides, nonetheless, over a country in the throes of social and sexual transformation. She is the first woman prime minister of what is becoming the first feminized economy. And this transformation is of central importance to the British crisis, and to Mrs. Thatcher’s place within it.

The structure of employment in Britain has changed in the 1970s. In ten years, the British economy has lost more than a million and a half jobs in production industries. The source of new employment is the capacious “service sector”: in particular, the categories of employment called “financial, business, professional, and scientific services,” as well as “catering, hotels, etc.” and “miscellaneous services.” The tendency has been orderly, in the decade from 1967 to 1977: just under 1.3 million jobs lost in manufacturing, mining, and agriculture, and 1.2 million gained in (“financial, etc.”) services; a third of a million jobs lost in other production industries, and another third of a million picked up in (“catering, etc.”) and (“miscellaneous, etc.”).

These new boom occupations provide women’s work. They are dominated by women workers, at least in their less exalted echelons. Nearly two thirds of all workers in (“financial, etc.”) services were women as the boom got under way; only a quarter of workers in production industries. The tendency toward a service economy has brought a trend toward feminine occupations, for women and for men. (“Sir: Have things gone too far? My sovereign is a woman; my prime minister is a woman; my boss is a woman; and my wife is a woman”—letter to a British newspaper.)

Not that women workers are themselves well off. They are worse paid than men. They are somewhat less likely to be unemployed, but they are also less likely to be registered as unemployed. They “usually hold positions of lower responsibility” (Social Trends, 1974), i.e., such jobs as typists, office machine operators, clerks.

Men are also entering the “expressive” occupations which constitute women’s employment. And even here, the future is grim. If one believes, as I do, that an important reason for the decline in employment in production industries is the effect of labor-saving technical change, derived recently from innovations in electronics, then one should not be optimistic about employment prospects in finance and business, as related innovations are applied in offices, telephone exchanges, banks, and the other loci of women’s work.

These tendencies toward a feminization of employment are common to virtually all advanced countries in the 1970s. But they are rather highly developed in Britain, the original rentier state. And they are of rather intense consequence for Britain’s original crisis.

The feminization of the economy corresponds to other divisions of the British crisis. South/North: in financial and business services, more than half of all workers have been employed in the prosperous southeast, and fewer than 3 percent in the region called “North.” Finance/Industry. The State/the Private Sector: the category of professional and scientific services includes those nests of socialization and feminine work, education and medicine. The course of the British economy, through its century of decline, has been determined by the tension between such opposites, and in particular between financial-mercantile and industrial capital.2

Mrs. Thatcher, assuming office as the pure expression of England south of the Trent, addresses herself to this tension, and to the comforting task of reviving British industry. She insists, a little more fervently than has become customary, on the virtues of free competition: both for itself (“freer movement of capital and people”) and because such freedom (tax cuts, incentives, “economic liberty”) will somehow liberate the spirit or Geist that is fluttering within the obsolescent machine of British industry.

In this, she is within a lingering tradition. The present dispute was well rehearsed—in fact perfected—by Asquith and Joseph Chamberlain in the winter of 1903. Asquith was a forthright exponent of invisible exports, or exports of services, the business of the “South”: “We perform services…and, in particular, we do services in performing the carrying trade of the world.” The “North” was taken to task. (“Defective knowledge, inferior processes, lack of flexibility or versatility, a stubborn industrial conservatism, these are the real enemies of British trade.”) Asquith was, of course, all for free competition as a force to liberate the sprightly Geist inherent in British industry. But to this prescription of “freer movement” Chamberlain had a reasonable answer, as he loomed around the dispirited industrial regions of the north and northwest. “The cotton trade is threatened,” he asked acidly: “Well what does that matter to you? Suppose you try dolls’ eyes….”

The modern, feminized Britain is the inheritor of Asquith’s South. It is the out-of-control child of the more gentlemanly “services” of 1903 (merchant banking? underwriting?). In the stylized disputes of the endless crisis, finance and industry fight over the future of the British economy; finance wins; the two agree solemnly on the need to revive the spirit of British industry; the play begins again.

What the changes of the 1970s show is the extent to which this comedy is beyond the scope of exhortation. It is not to be ended by psychological changes (less stubbornness, more flexibility). Its resolution, as Chamberlain perceived, requires the movement of people and machines—between regions and industries, and even between sexual stereotypes. Will people return to newer, more modern production industries? Such a reversal requires changes in the political conventions that link services, public spending, the British state.

Mrs. Thatcher is in this sense the perfect symbol of the new British economy. But this economy is only, of course, symbolically feminine. It offers employment which is oppressive for men and for women, and more so for women. Women—low-paid workers, the poorest pensioners—were much less likely than men to swing to voting Conservative in this election. It is generally unwise to predict change as a consequence of British electoral rituals. But out of the bones of Mrs. Thatcher’s victory, there might even arise a new socialism, and new stereotypes.

Emma Rothschild, the author of Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age, is Associate Professor of Humanities at MIT.


A.J.P. Taylor

The British general election of May 3, 1979, demonstrated a simple rule: a government that fails to control inflation is likely to lose the next election. So it was with Heath’s government in 1974; so it has been with Callaghan’s in 1979. Politicians of all parties shy away from this. The cause and cure of inflation are well known. If a government spends money it has not got, there will be inflation; if a government lives within its means, inflation will be stayed. This is confirmed by all experience from the time of the Roman Empire to the present day. Capitalism and socialism have nothing to do with it. Austria and Germany both have Social Democratic governments, but these balance their budgets and there is virtually no inflation. Politicians, however, in Britain as in other countries, like to spend money, particularly on what is misleadingly called “defense.” So we shall reel on from one political reversal to another.

There is a second simple rule: if a Labour government follows a Conservative policy, as Callaghan’s government did, the electorate will prefer the genuine article and turn to the Conservatives. The consequences will be small: a reduction perhaps of direct taxation which will increase inflation; some tinkering with education to the detriment of the school children; maybe a weakening over Rhodesia that will estrange black Africa; and a good deal of rhetoric about the virtues of individual enterprise, enthusiastically endorsed by the multinational corporations.

The voting pattern showed the traditional division between the old industrial areas of Scotland and northern England which remained faithful to Labour and southern England where even the new industrial areas turned Conservative. The new skilled workers have no class solidarity. Like all aristocrats they are only concerned to defend their differentials and are better remunerated than most of the professional middle class. Indeed it seems possible that the Labour party may be left only with the support of middle-class intellectuals.

The election had some cheering aspects. The National Front, a milk-and-water version of fascism, received a derisory handful of votes, as did the fringe groups of the extreme left. The great party machines are still unshaken. Nor was there any serious desertion from Labour. The Conservatives won by attracting voters who usually do not vote at all. It was also admirable that devolution, for either Scotland or Wales, was shown to be a movement without substance which had caused a lot of unnecessary trouble. Northern Ireland remains just where it was: an insoluble problem within British terms of reference. There as elsewhere things will go on much as before. If the Conservatives try to apply their principles, there will be industrial conflict. If Labour tries to discover a policy there will be much hot air generated.

Neither of these outcomes is likely. We shall lurch on with inflation. One day the British people like others will be confronted with the fact that world energy is running out. Perhaps this will bring the collapse of industrial civilization as we know it. At all events the old rule applies: “Make the most of it; it won’t last.”

A.J.P. Taylor’s many books include English History 1914-1945.

Letters

The Rise of Mrs. Thatcher August 16, 1979

  1. 1

    The only Cabinet minister to be defeated, the professed moderate Shirley Williams, had seemed to condone picket violence at the Grunwick industrial dispute. But she was also Minister of Education.

  2. 2

    See Tom Nairn on “The Future of Britain’s Crisis from Matthew Arnold to Tony Benn,” in New Left Review, January-April 1979, pp. 113-114.

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