“When the lights went out” by Andy Beckett is an absolute must-read if you’re interested in British politics in the 1970s, and let’s be honest, the 1970s is where so many of the political movements that affect us even now were born. The Green movement started, as did the recognition that there were economic forces in the world even more powerful than national governments. The 1970s was also the period of time when the post-war liberal consensus started to break down, and the New Right of Thatcher and Reagan began to win over socially conservative working class voters to a new type of conservative thinking.
What particularly sells this book is the writing style of the author, who along with giving a picture of the time, describes his own attempts to visit some of the key places and people of the era, including the proposed site of the airport in the North Sea that Ted Heath wanted to build, or the TUC “Worker’s Hotel” in Bournemouth, or the fact that one of the famous IMF meetings bizarrely took place in the back of a tailor’s shop.
The book addresses many of the myths of the 1970s (1976 was the year where the gap between rich and poor was the narrowest in British history, something that has been airbrushed out of modern British politics) and paints a broader picture of the era than just strikes and the far left.