RUTH'S BLOG
An unwelcome return to the 1970s

Protests for women's rights, widespread strikes, rampant inflation. Have we turned the clock back fifty years?

01 Jul 2022
BY RUTH SMEETH
General scenes at the Saltley Coke Depot in Birmingham, as the miners attempt to close the depot down during their strike in 1972. Photo: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

Index on Censorship was launched in the early 1970s. In theory the world was a very different place, but in recent days the news does feel a little like déjà vu.

Fifty years ago, the world was split into two main camps – the West and the Soviet bloc – with a Cold War dominating geo-politics in the hope of preventing a hot war.

In 1972 the inflation rate in the UK was 7.13%.

The wider economic situation in Britain led to significant industrial action, with 23,909,000 working days affected in that same year.

China was still diplomatically isolated – although 1972 saw the first public efforts of engagement with the West, when President Nixon visited Beijing.

Back in the US, women were demanding rights over their bodies, with Roe vs Wade being upheld by the US Supreme Court the following year.

As Mark Twain said: “History doesn’t repeat – but it does rhyme.”

I really want to believe that as democratic societies we are on a progressive arc – that governments, and more importantly their electorate, over time becomes more liberal, more tolerant, and more enlightened. That is after all why I am an advocate of freedom of expression – the more people can debate and engage and argue, the better our collective societies become.

The events of 2022, so far, are challenging this core belief. And it would be easy to roll over and believe that the end is nigh. But we can’t and we won’t. I believe in people – I believe in the power of politics and most importantly I believe that our core democratic values overcome tyranny.

But there is one thing that we need to embrace as the world seems bleak. Nothing happens in isolation and our core values are not things that we can be complacent about.

Democratic leaders let our global institutions atrophy – our post-Covid world is a direct consequence of failing to invest in the global post-war institutions which we established to protect international law and to provide a place for global diplomacy.

The attack on women’s rights in the US hasn’t happened by accident, it’s a consequence of people voting – or not voting. Turnout in the 2016 general election in the US was less than 60% and that gave us Donald Trump.

So, there is a lesson to be learned from what is happening in democratic societies across the world – and that lesson isn’t to walk away, it is to get more involved. It’s to demand more and to demand better of those that seek to lead us. It’s to exercise every campaigning option that is given to us and protected for us by our rights to freedom of expression. And, most crucially it is to make a stand against those politicians that seek to cultivate hate and division – because their success leads to attacks on our core human rights – including what we do to our own bodies.

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