Who governs Britain?

France is suffering one of its periodic bouts of industrial unrest. One of the main trades union organisations, the CGT, is mounting sustained protests against a government proposal, already heavily compromised, to modify employment legislation. Oil refineries and power stations are blockaded. Riot squads are tear-gassing demonstrators on the streets of Paris. It’s all quaintly reminiscent of Britain in the 1970s.

In February 1974, the National Union of Miners called a national strike. Prime Minister Edward Heath called a general election for 28 February using the slogan “Who governs Britain?” Once the results were in, the answer was clear: not Edward Heath’s Conservative Party.

A decisive¬†intervention in the campaign was that of Enoch Powell, who argued that the main issue in the campaign was whether Britain was to “remain a democratic nation … or whether it will become one province in a new Europe super-state”.

After a second general election that year, Harold Wilson formed a majority Labour Party government. After his so-called renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU, and the subsequent 1975 referendum, the answer to our initial question was even clearer: neither Heath’s Conservatives nor Wilson’s socialists any longer governed Britain. The unelected and unaccountable European Commission did. And still do.

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