Mistimed start of the end

Jason Cowley (Essay, 30 October) is right to argue that, by the late 1970s, Britain had abandoned the politics of consensual optimism. But he is wrong to assert that the turning point came in 1977. It actually came a year earlier.

It was in 1976 that the full scale of our economic failure became clear, forcing a humiliating loan from the IMF. It was in 1976 that we were told, by a Labour PM, that we could no longer "spend our way out of recession", echoing Tony Crosland's claim that "the party's over". It was in 1976 that the Tory counter-revolution began to take shape, with its The Right Approach policy document. And it was in 1976 that Harold Wilson, an icon of Sixties dynamism, departed No 10, to be succeeded by James Callaghan - a Cassandra-type figure with a fatalism perfectly attuned to the new, grim zeitgeist.

Unsurprisingly, it was 1976, rather than 1977, that saw the release of assorted jeremiads - the likes of Stephen Haseler's The Death of British Democracy and Richard Clutterbuck's Britain in Agony. Small wonder that the nihilism of punk surfaced not in 1977, as Cowley suggests, but in the early part of 1976 (check the band Tubes and their single "White Punks on Dope").

Sorry, Jason, but by New Year's Day 1977, Britain was already a recognised shithole.

Richard Kelly
Manchester Grammar School

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The fall of civic culture