During a recent conversation, I suggested that the circumstances in which the coalition have found themselves is not dissimilar to those faced by Margaret Thatcher when she became Prime Minister in 1979 - in that both were forced to make unpopular decisions in order to get themselves (and the country) out of the mess left by their predecessors.
In 1979, however, the dilemma was slightly different from that in 2010 - because, in addition to the issue of debt repayment which Conservative governments perennially inherit, the more pressing problem of how to re-establish the government's authority over the trade unions needed to be addressed.
Now, lest it be forgotten, during the period leading up to the Winter of Discontent, industrial action had become known throughout the world as, "The British Disease." In the motor-manufacturing industry, for example, the likes of 'Red Robbo' were creating havoc on the shop-floor and, at a more senior level, TUC leaders seemed to be able to wander in and out of Downing Street pretty much as they pleased - whilst the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, seemed powerless to intervene.
From Mrs. Thatcher's point of view, therefore, addressing these issues must have seemed daunting; however (and I don't expect very many to agree with my opinion), in Arthur Scargill, she had the perfect accessory to implement the changes many considered were necessary. I really do mean this, by the way, because, putting aside the rights and wrongs of the argument and the militancy of the response, I believe that a more astute negotiator - Jack Jones, for example - would have been able to extend negotiations for years rather than weeks. Furthermore, I don't find it difficult to suppose that those who were advising Mrs. Thatcher, at that time, had a pretty shrewd idea of what might happen. Accordingly, it could be argued that Mr. Scargill was thoroughly 'conned' into behaving in the manner in which he did. Certainly, the ease with which the subsequent 'so-called' anti-trade union legislation was introduced was, at least in part, parliament's response to the bitterness which had been introduced into the equation.