Why doesn’t Britain make things any more?

But before coming to the results in the north-east and elsewhere, let’s set out the promises made by the politicians. Over the past 30 years, there have been three main versions of the de-industrial revolution. I call them the Thatcher argument, the Blair vision and the Cameron update. I’ll come back to the coalition and the future at the end, but let’s start with Mrs T.

By the mid-70s, the press, politicians and academics agreed that Britain was in crisis. And as far as correcting the critical weakness of the British economy went, the Thatcherites had a clear answer. In a word: competition.

In 1974, Keith Joseph – the man Margaret Thatcher described as her closest political friend – gave a speech in which the key section was titled “Growth Means Change”. He argued that British industry was “overmanned” with “too low earnings and too little profit and too little investment”. The answer lay in shedding factory workers, which would make industrial companies leaner and free up labour for new businesses.

“This is growth,” Joseph said. “Whether the new work is in industry, commerce or services, public or private … The working population must choose between narrow illusory job security in one place propped up by public funds or the real job security based on a prosperous dynamic economy.”

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