The coronavirus has done many things; one of the more curious of its effects being the creation of new impetus to revive those national industries that were so needlessly slaughtered by the short-sighted.
Harold Macmillan once likened Thatcher’s privatisation of nationalised industries to selling off the family silver. Indeed, I hope now that people can see the wisdom of those words and learn from the mistakes of the past. Of course, these won’t be easy mistakes to correct, as nothing worth doing ever is, and those who think it will be quick and painless will soon find otherwise.
Industries evolve gradually, building upon one another; we never would have had our steel industry without the famed medieval smiths of Sheffield, and without steel we would not have had a host of other advancements that followed in its wake. Healing the damage done will be no small feat. The most valuable resource in industry, one which we have let wither away to the point of death and that is near-impossible to replace, is skill. Who now possesses the know-how to rejuvenate the manufacturing capabilities of the River Tyne, for instance? It is that knowledge which takes decades to accumulate that is so difficult to preserve.
Now, there are many who dream of a technological revolution, of battery and microchip factories without the noise and fire of a steel mill or the dust of a coal mine. Steel mills will always exist, they may not be here, but they will still exist; it is this infrastructure that allows us to construct the future, to refine materials, create machinery, and construct factories. You cannot extract lithium batteries out of flint, steel, and some elbow grease. The industries of the future must be built from the industries of the past. If we refuse the past, then it surely follows that we also refuse the future.
However, countries like China, South Korea and Japan do all of the above just fine, and so why, you may ask, must we do so as well? Apart from national pride we must understand that the loss of these industries was never replaced. Jobs never came back, wages never reached the same heights, and the communities hurt never recovered. The impact on morale to go from building aircraft carriers to working in McDonalds cannot be imagined. It is often said that mental health is as important as physical health, and so I am left concerned at the potential harm caused to such communities by being stuck in a dead town, with the crumbling ruins of what could have been one’s livelihood on open and mocking display.
Relying on a country like China is an awful idea in itself, but it should be the destruction of our own communities and the degradation of Her Majesty’s subjects that should be paramount in our minds. It is little wonder why the young people of our country are unemployed, listless, and hopeless; they have no prospects, no sense of place or belonging and have nothing to take pride in.
I suppose one good thing to come out of this crisis is that with the destruction of the old economy, we are presented with the opportunity to build a new one. A better one.
Photo by Defence Images on Flickr.