UK Politics

Car Trouble

The last British owned high volume car maker went into administration this week. In today’s Times Matthew Parris examines the political fallout surrounding Rover’s troubles and compares the reaction from the press, the Trades Unions and the public with the very different situation which he remembers from two decades ago:

Listening to my radio these last few dawns I have heard hardly a peep from the trades unions. Their only response is what used to be the response of Tory ministers in the 1980s: that what’s important is retraining. Listening to phone-in programmes I have heard an overwhelmingly similar response from the public. Twenty years ago you couldn’t close a loss-making sweet shop without a wave of protest. Now its seems you can close a whole wedge of a regional economy, and people shrug their shoulders. “Tough,” they say.

Twenty years ago, earnest and intelligent voices would have insisted that this was about more than the sweet-shop; it was about the sweet shop’s suppliers, the sweet shop’s shop assistant, the structure of local employment, the cohesion of the local community, the health of high-street trading, the needs of the shop’s mobility-impaired customers.

He’s right, times have changed and the reaction to the fate of Longbridge reflects that.

Parris writes that he hopes that a potentially massive hole in the economy of the West Midlands which a closure of the factory would represent will be filled in, that ‘something will turn up’, and reminds himself of his days as a Thatcherite pioneer arguing that the collapse of vast swathes of British industry would eventually be proved for the good:

We believed it then with a confidence which our sense of being ideological missionaries in a hostile world served only to bolster. This weekend it seems the whole world believes it. I begin to feel unnerved. I sure hope we were right.

Laban Tall isn’t convinced:

Well, yes. Better indeed to be part of a vibrant future. It’s just that isn’t the place where the Rover employees and their suppliers find themselves. That little weasel word, ‘perhaps’. After all, it’s better to have a nice Georgian house with an acre of lawn than a three bedroomed semi. Try knocking dowm someone’s semi and then telling them what an opportunity they have.