Britain in the 1970s: Economic Crisis and the Resurgence of Radicalism

  • David Coates


The world recession of the 1970s did not qualitatively alter the character of British political life. Instead, it threw into sharper relief issues and processes that have long been of central concern to British politicians and their electorates. For most of this century politics in Britain have been dominated by the problems of an ailing economy, and at least since the war electorates have come to measure their governments primarily against the benchmark of economic performance. Indeed, both governments and party support have been persistent casualities of that measuring exercise. No government since 1959 has managed to win the general election with which its first full five-year term of office closed, and neither of the major political parties has managed to reverse permanently the long-term loss of electoral support. In 1951 the Conservative and Labour Parties together captured 96.6 per cent of all the votes cast. By October 1974 they could only manage to capture 75 per cent1; and at the heart of that loss has been the growing alienation of voters from politicians who have repeatedly failed to deliver that economic regeneration which they had so regularly promised in their pursuit of government office.


Industrial Relation Labour Movement Labour Government Labour Party Income Policy 
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Notes and References

  1. 3.
    To give 1964 as one example, in that year gross fixed asset formation, as a percentage of GNP, was 17.6 per cent in the United Kingdom, but 33.6 per cent in Japan, 26.4 per cent in West Germany, 26.9 per cent in France (cited in G. F. Fay, The Competitiveness of British Industrial Products: A Round Up (Woolwich Economic Papers 10, 1966).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    The United Kingdom share of the value of world exports of manufactures was 25.5 per cent in 1950, but only 9.3 per cent by 1977. See F. Blackaby, Deindustrialisation (London: Heinemann, 1979) p. 241.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    See P. Jenkins, The Battle of Downing Street (London: Charles Knight, 1970);Google Scholar
  4. E. Heffer, The Class Struggle in Parliament (London: Gollancz, 1973);Google Scholar
  5. and R. Crossman, Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, vol. 3 (London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape, 1977).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    See D. Coates, Labour in Power? (Harlow: Longman, 1980) chapter 3.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    There are many examples of Labour politicians experiencing problems with their civil servants. The 1964–70 Labour government provided material on this for Marcia Williams, Inside No. 10 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972); for Barbara Castle, ‘Mandarin Power’, Sunday Times (10 June 1973); and for Richard Crossman in his diaries. On the 1974–9 Labour government, see Joe Haines, The Politics of Power (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1978);Google Scholar
  8. and Brian Sedgemore, The Secret Constitution (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    A Singh, ‘U.K. industry and the world economy: a case of deindustrialisation’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 1 (1977) p. 119.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Andrew Cox 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Coates

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