Friday, April 19, 2013

Politics in black and white

I've been meaning to write this post since last week, when everyone on Twitter simultaneously told me to read Caitlin Moran's article on why hating Thatcher was understandable. The basis for it is that Caitlin grew up on benefits in Wolverhampton, a town devastated by Thatcherism and the unemployment that it brought. For people in that environment, Thatcher brought nothing but ruin.

We can leave to one side the fact that of Wolverhampton's three constituencies, two voted for Mrs Thatcher. Caitlin is clearly talking about the third: Bilston/Wolverhampton South East.
We would drive into town, and my father would start the same, rattled monologue: “When I was a kid, at this time of the day, all you’d hear was the tramp, tramp, tramp of people’s feet as they walked to the factories. Every bus would be full, the streets would be seething. This town had something to do, and money in its pocket. People used to come here for work, and get it, the same day.
“Look at it now,” he’d say, as we went right through the centre: boarded up buildings, buddelia growing out of windows. “A ghost-town. Where have they gone? Where have they all gone?"
Caitlin's father was right: Wolverhampton had been a town heavily dependent on jobs in heavy industry, particularly the Bilston steelworks, and the Norton Villiers Triumph motorcycle factory. Along with coal mining and shipbuilding, the two industries that saw the greatest decline in post-war Bitain were steel and car/motorbike production. Nationalised, centralised, over-manned and under-capitalised, the story of these industries is a deeply depressing one. But here's the thing: Caitlin (and many on the left) are compressing this story down into anti-Thatcherism.

Bilston Steel Works closed on 12 April 1979. Norton Villiers Triumph closed its Wolverhampton factory in 1975 and finally went under in 1978.

The story of the British economy post-war has been the slow transformation of an industrial economy to a post-industrial economy. By the 1980s, the decline in employment in industry was a story that was at least 20 years old. If the unemployed of Wolverhampton should be shouting at anybody it is those politicians of the 1960s and 1970s who thought that they could hold back the tides of modernity by shovelling public money into moribund industry - and those that failed to create an education system capable of training a post-industrial workforce.


Blogger Recusant said...

Caitlin Moran's high profile is based entirely on the high quality of her writing. Unfortunately the content is usually odious, where it is not wrong.

11:46 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

I generally think she's fine when she's not talking about politics. But that may be because I know so little about pop culture that I can't recognise when she's wrong about that...

9:52 am  

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