Talking heads ’77

The latest annual batch of secret papers declassified under the 30-Year Rule* makes, as ever, for great reading.

They always do, by virtue of being 30 years old in the first place, and for originally being considered so desperately important as to be hushed up for so long. But given we’re now deep into Cream territory, the revelations have that much more potency than those being released, say, 10 years ago, when all the talk was of mid-60s George Brown and gigatrons.

For one thing, this year’s dose, from 1977, reek of particular kinds of crises you just don’t get anymore; crises that threatened the way people went about their lives day to day, not abstract crises involving sub-prime mortgages and bluetongue disease.

Windscale, Grunwick, the Lib-Lab pact, sterling, prices (of course)… yup, Britain in the late 70s was a far more hands-on, gritty, grubby place, where the stuff they talked about in Parliament actually affected the cost of a loaf of bread or whether you’d be able to afford to fill the car with petrol before pay day.

Tony Benn pops up a few times, almost getting sacked, flogging reactors to the Middle East and refusing to switch on the spotlights outside London’s public buildings during the Jubilee because it wasted energy.

Again, you don’t get these kinds of folk anymore: career politicos, if you like, who don’t hold especially high ranking jobs but are in the Government and who become national talking points. Peter Shore, Merlyn Rees, Eric Varley, Albert Booth, Fred Mulley: all ministers, and all – you’d think – figures likely to provoke an instant reaction among the population at the time. Fast forward today and, well, the rest of this sentence writes itself.

Special mention for the obligatory would-you-credit-it story, this year involving Thatcher getting stuck in the loo. Still, at least for once she couldn’t go around blaming the cistern ((C) Janet Brown).

*Something that still sounds like a relic from a rejected Yes, Minister storyline.

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