Looking at 1963 50 years on
Thursday 03 January 2013
Twenty-thirteen is the 100th anniversary of one of the more important events in labour history, the Dublin lockout. Numbers of events in Ireland and Britain are planned to mark it.
But looking back 50 years, to 1963, suggests another landmark period that helped to shape the world we know today.
In a society driven by a 24-hours news culture where events are continually “breaking” it is important to keep historical context in mind when responding to the news.
The institutional changes which were started 50 years ago have made a significant impact on our world.
On March 27 1963 Richard Beeching produced his report on the future of the railways, which successfully recommended the closure of many miles of branch lines.
Beeching was reporting to a Tory government that was in hock to the roads lobby. As the railways declined, the age of the motorway and car began.
Fifty years on we may see that as a massive folly in various ways but the incoming Labour government in 1964 did nothing of note to reverse it. Railways were seen as old-fashioned.
On September 23 1963 the Robbins report into universities was produced.
This reminds us again of how different perspectives were then.
The report led to a significant expansion of higher education with new “red brick” universities such as Sussex and Warwick established and a considerable rise in student numbers, nearly all of whom qualified for free tuition.
It was an era of “you’ve never had it so good” capitalism, the long post-war boom that was to shudder to a halt with the 1974 oil crisis.
Nineteen-sixty-three was also a year of significant political developments in the West.
On January 18 Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell died. A month later he was replaced by the leftish figure of Harold Wilson.
Later in the year Harold Macmillan stepped down as prime minister for health reasons and was replaced by the aristocratic old Etonian Alec Douglas-Home on October 19.
The stage was set for a general election a year later which Labour would narrowly win – on the basis that the 1960s required new, forward-looking policies, not the Tory ones of public-school privilege.
These were important changes but the US trumped them.
This was the year the US civil rights movement reached its peak, and on August 28 Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech.
Just a few months later on November 22 US president John F Kennedy, who had brought the world to the brink of annihilation with the Cuban missile crisis the previous year, was assassinated.
He was replaced by the southern Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, known for prosecuting the war in Vietnam, but, history also records, taking action on civil rights at home.
Without conceding too much ground to social historian Dominic Sandbrook, who tends to view the past through cultural landmarks, we’ll note that May 27 saw the release of Bob Dylan’s landmark second album The Freewheelin’.
It was also the year in which the Beatles stormed the US charts and started their journey to world superstardom.
Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, involving an iconic red London bus, premiered on January 11. But more importantly for today, November 23 saw the first episode of Dr Who. The Daleks made their first appearance on December 21.
One suspects that it is these events that will be most recalled in the months to come.
But is worth remembering that with Beeching and Robbins 1963 set important cornerstones of our world today and that both reports represented political choices that could have been different.