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Researchers present Prime Minister Rutte with book on the parliamentary history of the 1970s

Date of news: 7 September 2022

The issues that arose in the 1970s share striking similarities with our current crises, from energy crises and inflation to concerns about the quality of life on earth. Researchers from Radboud University have written a book about how Dutch parliament dealt with these issues in the 1970s. On 1 September, Prime Minister Rutte was presented with the first copy of this book. Later that same day, the researchers discussed their research results with other dignitaries, including the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The publication, Grote idealen, smalle marges: een parlementaire geschiedenis van de lange jaren zeventig 1971-1982 [Lofty ideals, narrow margins: A parliamentary history of the long 1970s (from 1971 to 1982], is the tenth volume in the Post-World War II Parliamentary History of the Netherlands Series from Radboud University’s Centre for Parliamentary History. In addition to the book, a website has been launched; this contains in-depth articles, podcasts, videos and authentic archive material about the 1970s.

“The remarkable thing about the 1970s is that there are striking parallels with today’s hottest topics,” says researcher Anne Bos, who edited the book together with Carla van Baalen. “Examples are the current energy crisis and the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, the rapidly rising inflation from then and now, and the environmental concerns that were documented in the Club of Rome’s influential report that was published in 1972, which was extremely well read in the Netherlands.”

Oil crises

“In the 1970s, the major increase in prosperity that followed the Second World War was curbed drastically, which caused a turnaround on the financial-economic front,” Bos continues. As examples of this turnaround, she cites the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, which led to the well-known Car-free Sundays (see illustration). These crises had an impact on the global economy and therefore also affected the Dutch corporate sector.

This development raised the question of whether the welfare system that had developed during the previous decades was still affordable. In response to this situation, the Den Uyl cabinet cautiously began to reduce government spending. “The idea that this cabinet merely wished to increase their spending is not true,” claims the researcher.

The Den Uyl and Van Agt cabinets

The researcher claims that when it came to their approach to financial-economic problems, the differences between Den Uyl’s predominantly left-wing cabinet (1973-1977) and Van Agt’s first confessional-liberal cabinet (1977-1981) were not as great as is often assumed. “It is primarily the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) that has successfully portrayed the Den Uyl government as a ‘squanderers’ cabinet’ that had allowed the public sector to completely spiral out of control.”

“In the following cabinet, which included Deputy Prime Minister Hans Wiegel and Prime Minister Dries van Agt, the Liberals presented themselves as those who had come to ‘clear away the rubble’ that had been left by the previous cabinet. In actual fact, not all that much was achieved when it came to clearing away this so-called rubble. The problems had only increased, unemployment was rising fast and economic growth was slowing down more rapidly than expected; this was partly due to international developments.”

Ethical issues

The hefty book covers a wide range of topics, from renovations at Binnenhofto ethical issues such as the treatment of war criminals, abortion laws, the sanction of porn cinemas and stricter laws on soft and hard drugs. Many ideals that were first championed in the 1960s, such as women’s emancipation, employee participation and equal pay for men and women, were shaped by the bills and regulations that were adopted in the 1970s.

The fervent desire to change society is what Bos finds most fascinating. “A fierce battle was fought during that time. Politicians continued to receive encouragement and opposition from many different quarters, whether they were political parties, activist groups or top entrepreneurs. On occasion, people would strongly disagree with each other, but the truth is that parliament played a central role in society.”

The book ‘Grote idealen, smalle marges: een parlementaire geschiedenis van de lange jaren zeventig 1971-1982’ is available from Boom Publishers Amsterdam via https://www.boomgeschiedenis.nl/product/100-10290_Grote-idealen-smalle-marges.

If you have any questions about this research study, please contact Anne Bos at anne.bos@ru.nl. Any journalists who have questions can contact Radboud University’s Science Communication Team by calling 024 361 6000 or by sending an email to media@ru.nl.