JUDAS Priest‘Making Plans for Nigel’, the first top 20 hit for that most brilliantly quirky of British bands, XTC, tells the tale of parents mapping out their son’s future without much consultation with the son himself. ‘We only want what’s best for him,’ they say. ‘Nigel’s whole future is as good as sealed’ because ‘he has his future in British Steel.’ The wry, witty lyrics portray parents fixed in the belief that a job with a state-run industry – steel was first nationalised in 1949 and again in 1967 – is a job for life. Within months of the single’s release, steelworkers went on strike, presenting the Thatcher Government with its introduction to industrial unrest and presumably wrecking the plans of Nigel’s parents.

British towns that morphed into cities during the white heat of the Industrial Revolution bore the scars of their industries like an old boxer’s broken nose and cauliflower ears. Most were smelly, dirty and dark. Should anyone head north from the capital – or west to Wales – they would have embarked on an eye-opening journey into the black underbelly of the Empire’s engine, confronted by skies discoloured with the discharge of chimneys and cooling towers, the toxic fallout from industry that had put the city on the map and served as the supplier of employment for its population. It was the Faustian pact that population entered into, and however miserable their living conditions and however low their wages, a pride was imbued in the industry that their city was associated with as generations earned a living from it. The industry was a benevolent cushion that kept its beneficiaries from being thrown upon the mercy of the state.

The decline of Britain’s manufacturing industries in the decades following the end of the Second World War went hand-in-hand with the death of Empire and the country’s diminishing status on the global stage. In the space of a generation, Britain had to make its biggest adjustment to its place in the world since the advent of the era that had made it such a force to be reckoned with in the first place. Certainties that provided the nation with a great deal of its identity for more than a century, whether a map sporting huge swathes of pink landmasses or an industry that sprawling metropolises had grown around, were clung to with a sense of futile desperation as though the populace were scrambling for the boats jettisoned from a sinking ship.

The slow, painful extinction of Britain’s mining industry perhaps spawned the most extreme reaction from people who had known nothing else, and losing the battle left their communities decimated, smashing the framework of those communities without offering a tangible alternative; many remain struck in the shadows of that defeat to this very day.

The reasons for decline in British industry are myriad: Competition from nations whose economic fortunes improved in the aftermath of WWII as ours nosedived, the cheapness of imports over home-grown produce, lack of long-term investment, the materialistic, self-aggrandising greed of union leaders which was then followed by the often ruthless individual profiteering from privatisation at the expense of collective benefits, EU restrictions on government subsidies and bailouts, the increasing preference for service industries over manufacturing ones, the financial sector being awarded seemingly ‘special’ status – many of these aspects have played their part in the sorrowful situation that the British steel industry finds itself in today.

Unusually for a declining industry, demand for steel is high and supply is abundant – perhaps too abundant. China’s steel industry outgrew its own domestic demand and began to export its steel at knockdown prices that quickly rendered the native steel industries of the countries buying-in the cheaper Chinese version unprofitable. Despite the money that Tata, the Indian company that purchased what used to be called British Steel in 2007, has poured into the business, it continues to operate at a loss, making this week’s announcement that the industry is up for sale the kind of apocalyptic news that everyone who works in it has been dreading. As was the case with mining, the steel industry isn’t centred on just the one specific region of the UK, and the loss of jobs if the industry is allowed to go under has the potential to affect far more lives than if it were restricted to a solitary city or county.

There’s no doubt that cities which suffered the loss of their major industry have emerged from the wreckage as cleaner, healthier and less polluted places to live; but their spirit has been broken in the process, leaving youngsters without the guarantee of following in the footsteps of their forefathers little option but to up sticks and try their luck elsewhere, getting on their bikes and looking for work as someone once famously said. Consett, Corby, Ebbw Vale, Shotton and Motherwell all suffered high unemployment in the wake of their steel plants closing down; workers at the remaining plants in South Yorkshire, South Wales, Scunthorpe, Teesside and Scotland now bite their collective fingernails to see if the Government will intervene and prevent similar devastation laying waste to their own corner of the country.

© The Editor


      1. In the interests of fairness I should say that the accused (Ian Lavery) claims to be the victim of an anti-Corbyn attack by the press, not particularly convincingly so far as I can see, but…
        The way he swapped lucrative jobs with Denis Murphy is astonishing, and the whole thing under-pinned with abundant cash courtesy of P.I. compensation payouts: all aboard the gravytrain!

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  1. Good summary. The sad truth for those affected is that you can’t make low-value bulk products in a high cost-base economy, whether that cost-base comes from wage costs, energy prices, transport costs, whatever. Blame may indeed be shared between investors, unions, green policies, EU etc, but the thuth of it is that the basic economics no longer work. It happened to the textile industry and others, it makes more sense to do bulk processing nearer to the sources of raw material, where the overhead costs are also generally lower, then ship on the higher-value output for finishing.
    Thinking globally, it also helps less-developed nations to grow by doing a lot of the work there – OK, Bangladesh doesn’t have very good factory safety standards yet, but it’s a county that’s only 45 years old and their embyonic, of shambolic, textile trade brings jobs, confidence and futures to millions who would otherwise starve.
    Whether a ‘dirty’ industry like steel should be subsidised as ‘strategic’ is a matter for the poliicians, but their judgement may be influenced more by electoral issues than the realities of manufacturing in the modern world.
    And Port Talbot is a dump.

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  2. And even further off-topic – much, much further…
    An old article of yours Petunia, ‘All Coppers Are Bastards’ (published ‘elsewhere’ but no longer available) prompted me into engaging with the BBC Complaints Procedure over some Newsnight bullshit based on Simon Danczuk’s fantasies & fairytales, and that procedure has now been exhausted one-year (!) later.

    You can probably guess what the final decision was – it’s on page 58 here:

    Click to access feb.pdf

    Frustrating in a way, as during the voluminous correspondence it was accepted that there WAS an ‘obligation’ to offer a right of reply to those “subject to allegations of wrongdoing or incompetence” & that this obviously did not occur (i.e. they failed in their obligation) but the complaint had to come from those directly effected (police, station staff or British Transport Police) and not a nutter such as I, and being time-limited it was already too late for those smeared to now do so.

    Moral of the tale: don’t waste your time fighting other people’s battles! Oh well.

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      1. Oooh, that’s weird – I made my first-ever FOI request a while ago & was successful.
        (Trying to track down a police ‘Special Notice’ which apparently was in part responsible for the Met’s decision to start ‘believing’ accusations of sexual impropriety.)
        They needed a nudge when the promised ‘reply within 20 working-days’ didn’t appear, but apart from that it went through okay.

        Good luck in the archives at St. Pancras! There are a few newspaper articles I’d be searching for myself if I was in London & I think I’d quite enjoy doing so as I have fond memories of micro-fiches at the library as a kid, although God knows what I must have been looking for…

        You’ll get there in the end, and the obstacles put in your way now will just make the moment more rewarding when it comes… er, at least that’s what you must keep telling yourself now!

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      2. I should have pointed out, actually, that the post was from a year ago. I did indeed go to the British Library, though unfortunately couldn’t find what I was looking for mainly due to the fact I only had a limited amount of time and had a train to catch before I could finish. I couldn’t afford the fare for a second visit and thus ended that phase of the project!


  3. Unless you are rich in this country today – it’s over, there is no hope and no life – indeed this government is hurriedly pursuing it’s ‘death agenda’ so that it can luxuriate in the wealth it has stolen

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