In retrospect, the 1970s was a watershed in post-war British history. We cannot begin to understand Britain as it developed in the 1980s and 1990s, and is still developing, without understanding this crucial decade. During the 1970s, the Keynesian social democratic settlement began to fall apart as successive economic crises seemed to overwhelm governments in general, and the British government in particular. Critics complained that Britain was in danger of becoming ungovernable as a consequence of the growing political and economic influence of ‘union barons’, acute industrial unrest, political polarisation, and low level war in Northern Ireland.
It tends to be forgotten, however, that the 1970s was also a decade of progressive politics. It saw the rise of radical feminism, Green politics, and new overtly-political musical genres. It saw the introduction of equal opportunities legislation and the outlawing of racial discrimination. It saw the emergence of an anti-racism movement, struggles for union recognition and the emergence of a new politics of identity. It might also be argued that, given the economic challenges they faced, the Labour governments of that decade coped reasonably well, managing to get inflation down and restart economic growth.
This blog is an effort to record the views of students and academics from the University of Bristol as we re-read the 1970s this term.