Are we seeing a re-run of the politics of the 60s and 70s?
With council workers starting two days of strikes this morning there’s almost a 1960s and 1970s feel to the way the political scene is evolving. For in the run-up to the last time that a Labour government lost power, in 1979, it was public sector industrial action – the so-called “winter of discontent – that dominated the agenda and paved the way for Mrs. Thatcher.
Only five years earlier in 1974 Edward Heath’s Tory government had lost power after his battle with the the miners, then in the public sector, and during a period of massive price hikes in the cost of oil.
It was industrial relations and Labour’s abandoned attempt to curtail trade union power that characterised the period up to the 1970 general election – the only time since the war when a party with a workable commons majority was replaced by another also with an effective majority.
The issues are just the same. Alistair Darling’s call for below inflation level pay increases at a time of rising prices all feels very familiar.
While this is going on the trade unions are putting more pressure on Labour to extend union rights and there’s a story in the Times that looks set to cause a big row – “Companies wanting to win government contracts will be told that they must promote trade union membership”.
Ministers will not need reminding of the parallels with the 1978/79 period when the last Labour leader to have been elevated to the office while the party was in power, James Callaghan, pulled the plug on an autumn general election only to see Labour go down badly the following year.
So can Darling and Brown steer a course out of the latest disputes? It could be crucial to their survival.