No Longer Making It July 27, 2009Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics.
It’s been well over a fortnight since I scribbled a blog and despite several (apparently genuine) queries from friends about the denouement of the Sheep Music saga which had dominated some previous bulletins, I’m not quite ready for that yet. Instead an item on this morning’s R4 Today programme so incensed me that my return to the fray must put that rain-lashed, sleep-free frenzy in abeyance for a few days. Or possibly weeks.
Using a bankrupt circuit board company in the Mid-West as a sorry springboard, the offending interview examined the rapid decline of American manufacturing, tantalisingly referring to alleged currency manipulation by the Chinese government as the main reason why the market for its products had collapsed. What annoyed me that there was no follow-up to either this accusation by the company’s articulate if mournful owner, nor any wider discussion about what would happen to already economically knackered nations if, or more likely when, all manufacturing in the West was finally consigned to Asia and the Far East.
It’s a question that’s been rattling around in my head for months now as one big manufacturer after another has gone to the wall or drastically down-sized, e.g. LDV, Corus, Vauxhall and most ironically of all given Madman Milliband’s tub-thumbing about the employment-creating opportunities offered by green technology, the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight. I should explain that although I allegedly earn my living from what’s essentially a desk-bound, clean finger-nailed enterprise, I’ve always been a huge fan of manufacturing. (I surprised myself how serious this was when, back in the ‘70s on a Japanese motorcycle launch junket, I found myself berating a fellow hack who’d complained that we’d been forced to tour round what he referred to as “a noisy, smelly factory floor” Pretty damn rich coming from someone who earned his living writing about what was made there).
There’s always been something I’ve envied about those who can make a functional metal thing out of, well, solid metal, using machine tools, judgement and craft. Two friends who are trained, if tellingly retired engineers and have lathes, platform drills and other such arcane items in their agreeably oil-stained workshops hold my thrall whenever I visit them, which is usually to expertly fettle a bit of car or motorcycle that’s flummoxed my own pathetic attempts with a Haynes manual and a Halfords toolkit. And thus I have some sympathy whenever I hear a gruff union official – usually also on the Today Show – warning that if the government lets this or that metal-basher go to the wall, then the skills they employ may be lost to the country forever.
My ex-journalist friend might well shrug in resignation if not rejoice that this should be so, but quite apart from my fascination with the whole business of manufacturing per se, what on earth is the country going to do if can’t make anything except beer cans and polystyrene cups… neither of which will earn us export income?
Until the banks and the city spivs who augured their excess went down the crapper, the usually unspoken wisdom was that it mattered not if we didn’t make things any more because financial and other service industries would sustain our balance of payments to the cheap-labour (and by the way, heavily polluting) economies that increasingly supplied our cars, white goods, furniture, clothing and all the rest of the stuff that we once made for ourselves. But that’s patently no longer the case and as in America, the government here seems to be capitulating to what seems to be manufacturing’s total melt-down.
Maybe I’m a simple soul, maybe I’m blinded by my passion for what men in beige workshop coats and blue overalls get up to with their compressed air tools and welding jigs. But next time Messrs. Humphrys, Sturton or Naughtie take Mandleson to task over his role as saviour of Britain’s economy and/or the Crazy World of Gordon Brown, they’ll have the gumption to ask him what the hell will happen when the last machine shop finally closes its door, Chinese vehicles exclusively populate our car showrooms and Tesco decides to outsource its entire ready-meal production to Romania?
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