How the UK handled the 1973 energy crisis

STORY: Soaring energy prices, a cost-of-living crisis and rising worker unrest,

history looks like it is repeating itself in Britain as the country grapples with an economic crisis that bears similarities to that of the 1970s.

So how did Britain handle the crisis back then?


Energy rationing marked then-Prime Minister Edward Heath’s tenure.

The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries had declared an oil embargo, forcing Heath’s government to consider some extreme proposals.

This footage from December 1973 shows customers being led by workers with gas lamps in darkened stores on London’s main shopping street.

Britain today is unlikely to face such prolonged blackouts.

But experts say anything that threatens a world of contactless payments and computerized tills will add to anxiety over the country's ability to withstand social and economic shocks.


Consumer price inflation peaked in 1975 at 24.5%

and it was not until the 1990s that it fell sustainably into low single-digits.

Like 50 years ago, Britain today faces double-digit inflation.

The Bank of England expects to see inflation exceeding 13% this October, which would be the highest rate in 42 years.

Political analyst Peter Kellner was a Sunday Times journalist in the early 1970s.

"There is potentially a double parallel between Britain today and Britain in 1973, or thereabouts, in which the inflation which took off in Britain in 1973, and stayed high for the rest of the decade, was the first impulse towards inflation. It was a combination of domestic forces."

Historian Alwyn Turner agrees there are similarities,

but also big differences, such as the background of top politicians.

"I think our problem now is a lack of knowledge. We don't have anybody around in politics who can remember what it was like with inflation - certainly not in office, and many of them not at all, because this is quite a young generation of politicians we have right now. So I think there's a danger possibly in the other direction, that people are slightly lost by it.”

Heath - like Johnson today - had aspirations to shift Britain's economy into a higher gear.

In 1972 his government announced a budget to double the rate of economic growth, which stoked inflation.

Today's leadership frontrunner, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, has been accused by rival candidate Rishi Sunak of making a similar mistake with her vow to slash taxes.

“Potentially the Liz Truss approach to growth can also contain inflationary forces, or unleash inflationary forces, at a time when we're getting a lot of imported inflation - again, because of global energy prices."

In the end, Heath paid the price for his handling of the economy and worker relations.

He lost to the opposition Labour Party in a 1974 snap election.

Johnson’s successor is expected to face voters in 2024, with polls showing the Conservatives trailing Labour.