1979 to 1981 – how we de-industrialised!


Use whatever analogy comes to hand but dominoes falling or a house of cards collapsing are appropriate ways of visualizing what seemed to be happening to UK manufacturing between 1979 and 1981.  In those days, Trots like to trot out figures as they were all uniformly awful. I would stand up and chop the air with my hand while reciting stuff like this at the university Labour Club circa 1981:

  • Manufacturing jobs collapsed by 20% in the ten years to 1980
  • Textiles alone fell by a third
  • In six months in 1980, 100,000 engineering jobs disappeared in the Midlands
  • The UK share of world trade went from 16.5% in 1960 to 9% in 1980
  • Only North Sea oil was shoring up our balance of payments
  • A huge manufacturing trade surplus in 1960 was overturned in 1980 when the UK became a net importer of manufactured goods, a position not seen since before the Industrial Revolution

British industry had been run by old buffers who’d not been very competitive, nor had they invested to keep up with foreign competition. There was a history of low productivity in UK manufacturing and much of it had been taken into state ownership.

There were two responses from the right. Firstly was a financial one from the likes of James Goldsmith and the Mayfair set in the 1970s who delighted in asset stripping old British companies and releasing the shareholder value, as it came to be known, without regards to the human cost. The political response was Thatcher and privatisation. The results – love it or loathe it – is Britain as you see it today.

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