Hard Times: The winter of discontent and the first female Prime Minister

Local Opinions

Our newest community reporter Spring Heeled Jack has written a series of short articles which we will share over the next few weeks.

Here is the latest installment of Hard Times.

The winter of discontent

Jim Callaghan could not then curb the excesses of the union leaders’ demands after he replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister.

This finally led to what was commonly known as the ‘winter of discontent’ when dead people couldn’t be buried or cremated due to several industrial conflicts and domestic and business waste wasn’t uplifted for several weeks.

Many British people then became heartily sick of the constant unofficial strikes and walkouts provoked by union leaders, which was reported regularly in the media.

In the late 1970s people couldn’t rely on essential services being available particularly from the end of 1978 and the start of 1979, which was a general election year.

A new political agenda

Margaret Thatcher originally fought to be selected as the Conservative candidate for the Finchley constituency in London and was finally chosen despite strong male opposition to her candidature.

She eventually won the seat and became MP for Finchley.

It was the Prime Minister Ted Heath who appointed her as Education Secretary in 1970.

Thatcher’s hard line political stance could be seen immediately where she stopped free school milk for children attending state schools.

At that time the media gave her the title of ‘Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher’, which became an infamous and memorable name to trouble her throughout her time as a senior politician.

However, Margaret Thatcher was later appointed as the Conservative party leader in 1975.

Margaret Thatcher was later elected at the start of May 1979 as the first female British Prime Minister and she was determined to make her mark on British politics immediately.

New laws were passed quickly to curb union bosses and their ability to call wildcat or unofficial strikes.

A rigid system was introduced regarding economic policy and this led to the de-industrialisation of the manufacturing industry in Great Britain.

Britain would thereafter choose nuclear rather than coal for fuel, thus closing many pits throughout the UK.

The Conservative government was also focused on the privatisation of public utility services such as British Telecom, the electric and gas companies along with the closure of many uneconomic businesses.

For example, the government was no longer prepared to financially support British Steel or the ship building industry, which had been in decline for several years.

All of these measures were deeply unpopular with opposition politicians of all parties and even with many Conservatives.

The media often referred to one side of the Conservative party as being the ‘wets’, being soft on socio-economic policy with the others named as the ‘dries’ or hard line Thatcher supporters.

This subsequently led to many fallouts with several senior Conservative politicians who resigned from ministerial office due to the hard line policies government ministers had to follow under Thatcher’s party leadership.

Many industries closed in the 1980s such as the coal mines, British Steel and several shipyards throughout Great Britain providing people with thousands of jobs.

Heavy and light engineering companies plus textiles were decimated because of the government policies, where the Conservatives would rather import foreign goods than produce those in Great Britain.

 Article submitted by Spring Heeled Jack.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the Digital Sentinel.

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