Monday, 2 July 2012

Thatcher -v- Churchill

The industrial revolution started in the British Isles. Our maritime fleet gave us a trading network that spread around the world. Manufacturing was driven by the need for an energy source that was derived from coal. The canals provided a convenient method of moving significant amounts of coal between the pits and the industrial centres long before the advent of the railway. The canals also transported the manufactured articles to other towns, cities and ports. 

Our Engineering prowess and Manufacturing prowess brought with it great acclaim and prosperity.

The pits, canals and railways co-existed together for some time with a gradual run down of the canals in coal carrying capacity. Much of their previous work moved onto rail. But the coal industry as an energy source remained king.

After the second world war, the Clement Attlee's post-war Labour government  realised that the coal industry, railways and canals needed to be nationalised for the good of the country. Hundreds of different mines became the National Coal Board. 

The British Transport Commission (BTC) was created as part of the nationalisation programme, to oversee railways, canals and road freight transport in Great Britain. Its main holdings were the networks and assets of the Big Four national regional railway companies: Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway. It also took over 55 other railway undertakings, 19 canal undertakings and 246 road haulage firms, as well as the work of the London Passenger Transport Board, which was already publicly owned.

The Transport Act 1962 dissolved the British Transport Commission which had overseen the railways, canals and road freight transport and established the British Railways Board which took over responsibilities. The Act put in place measures which simplified the process of closing railways. The "Beeching Plan" was published in 1963 and was adopted by the Conservative Government; it resulted in the closure of a third of the rail network.

In the UK there are only a few remnants left of our once large and crucial coal industry.  It is possible that there are now more mining museums than there are working pits.  The railways are now fragmented and carry little in the way of freight traffic when compared to their heyday. The canals have become part of an insignificant leisure industry.

For us the coal industry is almost history. Still very emotive and real for some who remember the privations of the miners strike. Just another heritage thing for others. Gas production and electrical generation went the same way. Nationalised for the common good.

It was the Conservative Thatcher government that introduced a series of political and economic initiatives to reverse what Thatcher perceived as Britain's manufacturing decline. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation particularly of the financial sector and the privatisation of state-owned companies. This policy sent the manufacturing industry into a tail spin of decline.

Our Engineering prowess and Manufacturing prowess were brought to their knees with great speed.

First it was the conversion to natural gas, then the sell off (Remember Sid?) of the gas industry. Then came the new reliance on nuclear generation. Then the sell off of the Electrical industry. This was followed by the wholesale closure of the pits and the fragmentation of the railways. Selling off the nuclear bit has never been possible because business wants massive handouts to go with it. But massive handouts happen elsewhere such as the railways. 

But coal in the UK is not dead, it is very sick but continues to hang on. Many have concluded that coal, in an era of nuclear, solar, wind, tides and natural gas has finally displaced itself due to its problematic extraction, distant transportation, and overall costs. Yet the demand for coal in the developing world remains gargantuan.

We were told for years that coal was a dirty dangerous form of energy. Well until a few nuclear plants blew their top. Then it was manufacturing was cheaper in other countries. Now the costs of manufacturing abroad are spiralling upwards. Look at most devices in your home and they were built in the third world. Our capacity has long since been destroyed. The skilled workforce made redundant and the apprentice a thing of the past. Don't get me started on the carbon footprint.

Most people are unaware that global coal consumption has advanced by over 50% in the past decade. According to data from the just-released "BP Statistical Review, from 2001 through 2011" Global consumption of coal rose an astonishing 56%. Using the energy unit Mtoe (million tonnes oil equivalent), global coal consumption rose 1,343 Mtoe, from 2,381 to 3,724 Mtoe. And this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Oil's price revolution has killed a great deal of oil demand. While oil has fallen as a significant portion of primary world energy supply, coal has stormed to prominence. This is why the export of coal, and world trade in coal, is huge.

In addition, what was left of the manufacturing industry has shifted its manufacturing to the developing world over the past few decades. Coal has been the cheap energy source that has powered the rise of such manufacturing, especially in Asia. Accordingly, the extraordinary increase in global coal consumption the past decade is partly due to the UK off-shoring its own industrial production. Where are most consumer goods made? In the developing world manufacturing centres, using electricity generated by coal.

Now, the banks have gone into meltdown as a result of Thatchers deregulation of the banks. The process of deregulation was continued by successive governments. Bankers were given large rewards for speculating with huge amounts of money. The deregulation means that they had a free reign and no consequences. Financial services are the next big looser.

Now, its beginning to dawn on the public what the legacy of the Thatcher era was. Short term game - long term lame!

Seumas Milne in the Guardian "The Tory prime minister wasn't a great leader. She was the most socially destructive British politician of our times."
The Tory London mayor, Boris Johnson said "Thatcher's name had become a boo-word, a shorthand for selfishness and me-firstism."

But most shocking are the secret preparations now being made by the Conservatives to give Thatcher a state funeral. In the 20th century only one former prime minister, Winston Churchill has been given such an accolade.

This is a politician, after all, who never won the votes of more than a third of the electorate; destroyed communities; created mass unemployment; deindustrialised Britain; redistributed from poor to rich; and, by her deregulation of the City, laid the basis for the crisis that has engulfed us 25 years later.

Thatcher was a prime minister who denounced Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, defended the Chilean fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. Her government's savage deflation destroyed a fifth of Britain's industrial base in two years, hollowed out manufacturing, and delivered a "productivity miracle" that never was, and we're living with the consequences today.

Thatcher is said to have approved a blueprint for an eye-wateringly expensive state funeral. Plans are said to include similar arrangements to those given to Winston Churchill, including a send-off at St Paul's Cathedral and a concert orchestra playing Land Of Hope And Glory.

Whitehall officials are said to be concerned about the cost of a state funeral and there are fears of a public backlash against the plans from those who view her as a hate figure after the Falklands War and miners strikes of the 80s.

The final word should go to George Galloway who said "She should go to an unmarked watery grave." after details of plans for the expensive pomp were leaked. He said: "A far better plan would be to for a funeral at sea off the Falklands at a spot where she ordered the sinking of the Belgrano."

You can sign a "No State Funeral For Thatcher ePetition Here"


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