Saturday 9 May 2009

Cheer up, mate - oh dear, it's happened

If scientists ever bring us a time travel machine, they will surely leave the 1970s off the destination dial. Who would ever want to go back there?

In my memory, over-mighty trade unions, inept government, high taxation and advancing world communism combined with terrible fashion and hairstyles to make it the decade from hell. Made even worse by personal poverty and the sense that an era of unprecedented sexual liberation was passing me by.

It was all brought flooding back by spending the bank holiday weekend in Cambridge, where I wasted most of the 1970s, and by the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory. Despite her cringe-making debut, quoting a prayer wrongly attributed to St Francis of Assisi, that seemed a ray of light after the years of strikes, inflation and general misery.

Today we are in a far bigger hole, where even the option of calling in the International Monetary Fund may be closed to us. I envisage a gloomy official shaking his head, like a typical British builder, saying “Wouldn’t touch it, mate. What cowboy done this?” While Gordon does his cheesy YouTube grin and points at Alistair Darling, like the bear in the hunter’s gun sight in my favourite Gary Larson cartoon.

Remembering the unreconstructed attitudes of the time, it surely took a mood of true national desperation to put a woman into No 10. Opting for a smooth Old Etonian PR man next year seems decidedly tame by comparison. Yet despite our truly appalling financial plight, morale now seems perversely higher than it was after the Winter of Discontent. Those of us who are still in work are far richer than we were then, mortgages are cheaper than ever, and even the tax rises are deferred. Hotels and restaurants still seem busy, and retail sales nowhere near as bad as the pessimists predicted.

The fact that every big media scare, of which swine flu is but the latest, turns out to be massively overblown, must surely be encouraging a mood of “Cheer up, it may never happen.” Perhaps we will look back and realise that it had but we simply failed to notice, like cartoon characters continuing to run long after they had crossed the edge of the cliff.

Keith Hann is a financial PR consultant who really enjoyed the 1980s.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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