At the end of the seventies, the UK was in an industrial crisis. The once great industrial engine of the world was suffering from under-investment, decline in technological supremacy and well publicised industrial relations problems. There were many strikes, where the workers stopped work, usually demanding more pay. Some of these were of a political nature and affected who governed the country.
The Thatcher revolution in 1979, changed all that. Support to industry was removed, those companies that could not survive perished. A more ruthless attitude to make the UK leaner and meaner was taken. Free market economics was the name of the game. The market was everything. The Miners’ strike in 1984-85 was fought to preserve the old order and the Government won. The coal industry was shut down as was the traditional industrial base.
But the future looked brighter as the economy improved. The plan was for small businesses, home owning and share owning for everybody. Those who had had redundancy payments could invest in ventures free from over-regulation and soon the 3 million unemployed would get motivated to get back to work. The City of London financial hub had the most to gain. In 1986 they computerised the Stock Market and the possibilities for profit were endless. By the end of the decade much of the money in small businesses, home ownership and share ownership had gone back to the city and it made a lot of money for the economy.
Now even that part of the UK appears to be being demolished as the Brexit nightmare has led to Banks looking elsewhere in Europe for their bases. One has to ask how the economy will continue with this main industry leaving, another financial collapse, almost a cyclical inevitability and a 2 trillion pound debt.
It is understandable that people need to work hard to pay off the debt and keep the economy going. But would it not be sensible to make contingency plans. Another financial meltdown could bring the world economy to a halt. We would have to consider what the vital industries are, so we could continue to exist. Although this is a bit of scaremongering, there was quite a bit of this done in the seventies with the threat of energy crises bringing the world to its knees and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation within 4 minutes of the siren going off.
If the international banking system collapses, then what would we do. The initial impact could be traumatic, but we will fight on because that is the nature of humanity a core value of this country. Food, shelter, public utilities, transport, healthcare, entertainments, communications and a justice system would seem to be essential. We do not produce enough food in this country, we are about 60% self-sufficient. Clearly we would have to trade with Ireland as an important supplier and other European countries. But we would have to have something to trade with.
One natural resource is our people. Currently our main income earner is Financial Services, but they would all have left. One resource we have is coal. There is about 300 years of the cheapest deep mine coal in the world buried underground. People are trying to reduce carbon emissions to save the planet, but if there is a financial disaster we won’t need to fly around the world or drive up and down the country for marketing meetings. Coal can be used in a way to filter out the gases produced in its consumption. Electric cars are being developed, trains would be improved and bicycles could be used on the great empty motorways.
Another industry we could return to is shipbuilding. At a slower pace of life, people could travel on ships around the world, working on the internet and being provided with all of their needs on board. We basically started the building of steel ships in the 19th Century. Glasgow, Birkenhead, Belfast and Sunderland were some of the greatest shipbuilding sites. With technological advances, Ships could be built with aluminium. There is plenty of potential for aluminium smelting in Ghana. They have vast amounts of Bauxite and a Dam that was built for the purpose of providing hydro-electricity to power the smelting. Why not invest in the infrastructure for our friends in Ghana, restart shipbuilding back in its traditional areas and return to our industrial base to trade more fairly with the world.
This is all future speculation, but if the country is not prepared for a financial meltdown, how will we move on. A contingency fund would have to be set aside, free from the ravages of the market. If we do make contingency plans, then we need to enlist the help of the men and women who were involved at the end of the British industrial age. There would have to be better conditions, fairer wages and better designed environments for management and workers. There is no future in the old divisions. All would have to cooperate to benefit and work together. We had miners, welders, metal-workers, managers, engineers, union representatives, entertainers, public health and sports teams that represented the local industrial areas.
There are people who remember, there are those on all sides who can reflect on the breakdown of the industrial base and the divisive aftermath. We could look back honestly and evaluate whether the Thatcher revolution worked. It appears to have worked for a small minority, but if there is a financial collapse they won’t be here.
In a new world, where things would have to get back to basics and life would simpler and slower, things would be extremely tough. But planning ahead would be very wise rather than hope we can work our way out of the current hole.
Thatcherism was an experiment, if you failed to make it work for you then tough! There are those that called her the “Prince of Darkness”, I always agreed with that assessment. But now is not the time for saying I told you so, or harbouring old grudges. This country is facing a severe crisis as its slides toward the edge of oblivion. Churchill warned the world in the thirties and he was right.
He brought world leaders together. He brought industrialists, unionists, newspaper magnates, Monarchs, aristocrats, workers and the whole spectrum of the class system with the vast range of different skills that they possess. Everyone in the UK and most of the world, got behind him, as equals, to defeat the enemy.
It was nowhere near as easy as he would have you believe. But if a storm is coming, and personally I have believed that for a long time, we must make contingency plans to be self-sufficient in the future. That means using what natural resources we have and the skills and experience that we currently losing to the memory. We must make use of every resource we have before it runs out,
History always repeats itself and we need to go back and do things differently when we get it wrong. But our finest hour was when we stood together as one. We need to prepare and not give up as there appears to be no alternative to the selfish meanderings of neo-liberals feathering their nests.
From the stately homes of Oxfordshire. The coalfields of South Yorkshire. The clerks of South London. The manufacturers of the Midlands. The steelworkers of South Wales. The professionals in Edinburgh. The shipbuilders in Glasgow, Birkenhead, Belfast and Sunderland. The railway workers of Crewe and Swindon.
We were made of steel, fired by coal and driven by industry. What will the next great leap forward be from this once great Nation be? Our education, ingenuity and determination in adversity led the world to new pastures. We are going to have to do it again and we have to do it together and we have to do it now.
Conway- Laird (2017)