The 'Stuttering Seventies'

The ‘Stuttering Seventies’

Economic Challenges

  • The 1970s were characterised by economic stagnation, with high inflation, high unemployment and low growth.
  • A global oil crisis in 1973 caused by an oil embargo by Arab nations against the west had a significant impact on the UK economy.
  • Excessive public spending led to a balance of payments crisis, leading to the IMF loan in 1976.

Political Unrest

  • This decade witnessed numerous strikes by miners, dockers, and other unions over pay and job security, culminating in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1978-79.
  • Under both Conservative and Labour governments, there was an attempt to counteract union power, with significant confrontations between the state and the unions.
  • The period also saw the rise of militant nationalism in Scotland and Wales, and escalating violence in Northern Ireland, known as ‘The Troubles’.

Government Policies

  • The Conservative government (1970–1974) under Edward Heath implemented a policy of ‘selsdon man’ economics — a market-oriented approach towards managing the economy.
  • However, faced with economic crisis and mining strikes, he made a U-turn introducing the ‘Barber Boom’ – an expansionary fiscal policy leading to inflation.
  • The subsequent Labour government (1974–1979) under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan pursued a policy of incomes policy to control inflation but it didn’t yield the desired results, leading to widespread public unrest.

Social Change

  • The 1970s saw the outbreak of the ‘Sexual Revolution’ – greater acceptance of homosexuality, the legalisation of abortion and increased use of contraceptives.
  • The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, aimed at reducing gender inequality in the workplace.
  • An increase in immigration led to growing multiculturalism but also caused social tension, highlighted by the rise of the National Front and race riots in several cities.

Foreign Relations

  • Membership of the European Community (EC) in 1973 marked a significant shift in Britain’s foreign policy, though it was a contested decision, leading to a referendum in 1975.
  • The Cold War continued to influence foreign policy, with Britain maintaining a close alliance with the United States while also trying to improve relations with the Soviet Union.
  • There was progressive decolonisation, with Britain handing over its remaining colonies, marking the end of the British Empire.