If a week is a long time in politics, how long is a Royal Jubilee as far as the UK economy is concerned?
It’s the small matter of 35 years since the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 (the Golden Jubilee celebrations were somewhat muted by comparison) and an eve of Diamond Weekend retrospective throws up a few interesting counterpoints.
Back in 1977 the world was a very different place as the UK prepared to get out the bunting and the Union Flags. The average house price was £13,650, interest rates were seven per cent, the annual inflation rate was a frightening 15.8 per cent.
At the end of 1976, the Labour Government under ‘Sunny’ Jim Callaghan had been forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund for a loan of nearly $4 billion to ease the financial crisis, slight shades of Greece’s problems of today.
As if all this were not grim enough for Jim, his government was facing an increasingly desperate battle for survival under a twin-pronged attack from power-crazed union barons and a woman called Margaret Thatcher.
Striking miners had seen off Ted Heath in a victory for union solidarity and excessive pay claims, but Mrs T was lying in wait.
The unions of ’77 had been drinking in the last chance saloon, had they but known it. Heavy manufacturing industry, in the shape of the mines, shipyards, steel, docks etc were about to be swept up in a perfect storm of shifting energy priorities, looming privatisation and globalisation. Nothing would ever be the same again for millions of workers.
If there was a turning point for a confused nation it was the Winter of Discontent of 1978-79, a near apolcalyptic power struggle between over-mighty trade unions and their outdated Spanish customs raging against the dying of an industrial light.
A few months after bodies had been left unburied following a council workers’ strike, Thatcher swept to power in May 1978 and the world moved on, leaving much of the union movement kicking and screaming in retreat. For better or worse, much of heavy, inefficient industry was swept aside, with a brutal impact on communities. Murdoch defeated the printers at Wapping, Thatcher routed the mineworkers.
Today the digital information age rules, an era of Facebook and Twitter rather than beer and sandwiches at No. 10 and union closed shops. The Queen has truly seen it all.