Listening to the shriller critics of Margaret Thatcher, they claim that she uniquely divided the country. They attribute to her job losses and pit closures, implying either that she wanted this or that it was the result of her uncaring policies.
They should read a little more of the history of post war Britain. In the early 1950s the National Coal Board, the new nationalised coal industry, employed 700,000 people. By the time Margaret Thatcher took office in 1979 465,000 or two thirds of the entire workforce had lost their jobs. These losses occured under Conservative and Labour governments. They pursued a consensus policy of nationalised subsidised monopoly closing pit after pit on the grounds that the losses on individual pits were too great or the coal was exhausted. No-one seems to attack those governments for doing so much damage to pits and mining communities.
In the mid 1970s the nationalised steel industry under Labour was in deep trouble. Around 40,000 jobs were shed. Between 1950 and 1967 the nationalised rail industry removed 300,000 jobs, a collosal figure. Not all these related to the Beeching cuts, continuing under the Labour government.
The best way to lose your job was to work for a nationalised industry. That is one of the reasons a few of us thought we needed a new model for industrial organisation in the 1980s.
During the Thatcher years manufacturing output expanded by 7.5%. That was not a huge increase, but it belies the image of a government allowing or deliberately encouraging the decline of industry. Much of our time was spent trying to find new ways to encourage investment and innovation in the industrial opportunities of the future. The UK motor industry commenced its important resurrection with big inward investment of money and talent from abroad.
By way of contrast manufacturing output at the end of Labour’s period in office in 2010 was a little lower than it was in the last year of Margaret Thatcher. Mr Brown did not discover how to stop industrial decline on his watch.
I will resume my Japanese analysis later this week.