Saturday, March 22, 2008

Quote Of The Day

From this Polly Toynbee thread, credited to Larry Elliot :

"Only counter-revolutionary defeatism could explain the failure of the masses to appreciate just how good life was under Labour....the voters greeted the litany of achievements with the same sort of world-weary cynicism characteristic of the Soviet populace under Brezhnev; they assumed the figures were meaningless and that the real beneficiaries of the extra spending were the bureaucrats. They were right on both counts."

I imaigine the quote is from his book. The nearest I can find on the web is this piece, also quotable.

"The sad truth is that nobody in Britain has built a major manufacturing company from scratch since the time of the Attlee Labour government in 1945. All our major manufacturers pre-date the second world war. And yet countries that didn't exist, were only partially literate or were engaged in endless conflict 20, 35 or 45 years ago have managed to build major manufacturing businesses from scratch."

This is not just about competition from low-cost rivals. If globalisation was really to blame for Britain's industrial decline, the same effects would be seen in Finland and Sweden, where costs are even higher. Medium-high technology manufacturing comprises only 3.6% of the UK economy, compared with 9.6% in Germany and 6.5% in Sweden.

How have these countries managed to succeed where Britain has not? My guess is that they are more hard-nosed about it. They probably don't think the development of "soft skills" is a substitute for knowledge; they don't think "emotional intelligence" is a substitute for real intelligence and they don't think whizzy schemes for tax avoidance are on a par with dominance of the global mobile telephone business.


Rob said...

And perhaps they don't have a catastrophic education system dominated my Marxists.

TDK said...

I can't remember the book now but I recall reading a theory about the decline. the author thought it dated from the nineteenth century. A wave of entrepreneurs had made fortunes on trade or engineering in the industrial revolution. The upper classes despised them for being nouveau riche but could see the great wealth. The entrepreneurs saw that they were too common to be accepted into society. Consequently the two groups married their children but retained the sense that being in trade was rather non U. The result was that by the late nineteenth century the major businesses were run by the descendants of the original pioneers but their hands-on experience and ability had been lost. Thus although we led the world in the iron age we were already behind in the steel age.

TDK said...


This attitude carries over to the modern day. CP Snow identified the divide between arts and sciences in the 1950s in Two Cultures. This is the same division. Today, of course the content of the arts has changed dramatically - few study classics - but the divide remains. In Britain the cultural elite despise the entrepreneurs who make the money as they have for centuries.

Dave said...

I think its a bit simpler than that.

At the end of WW2 the government pressured some companies to amalgamate as well as nationalising many others.
Such as British Aerospace, British Rail, British Leyland, British Coal, British Shipbuilders Corporation, etc.

When this happened it gave these companies powerful monoplies and created incredibly powerful Unions, making it difficult for rival British companies to merge and stifled R&D.

Without those 30-40 years of nationalising and wrecking perfectly good companies who knows where we'd be now?

You have often questioned bandit capitalism Laban and I generally agree, but I think post war statism has done more damage to our industry.

Also the British government always buy foreign even when British owned products are better,
Something the French would never do.

dearieme said...

Actually, we did build up a petrochemicals industry post-45, tho' it's largely gone now. We also built up a pharmaceuticals industry. What no-one would have been mad enough to attempt was to build up a labour-intensive manufacturing industry - our unions and the attitudes that underlay them guaranteed that. Petrochemicals and Pharmaceuticals aren't labour-intensive.

Foxy Brown said...


The current government's obsession with making sure everyone goes to university has a lot to answer for. Most end up on useless courses like "Celebrity Studies" or "Golf Course Management." While at the same time there is a huge skills gap, meaning that we have to rely on Polish plumbers to fill the void.


It is most peculiar how using your head to generate money or employing your hands towards some technological aim that will benefit mankind is regarded as "dirty." It's tragic because a large chunk of the brain drain deserting this country, for pastures green, consists of those Brits who have valuable skills in technical fields. Worse, they are not being replaced, due to the poor teaching of scientific disciplines in our schools by unqualified and uninspiring staff.

Someone like Isambard Kingdom Brunel is greatly revered in Germany, where the engineer is king and held in high esteem. But here we're all very indifferent to his achievements. It's all a bit odd.

Lurker said...

tdk - I think you might be thinking of The Audit of War by Correlli Barnett:

Which he followed with The Lost Victory:

Finally there is the Verdict of Peace:

Ive read the first two and Im assuming the 3rd follows on nicely. Covers this debate in great detail. Very readable, I recommend them.

Trofim said...

I'm struck by PT's apparent attempt to rebrand Middle England, only ever used pejoratively, in my experience, as I posted there. There is hardly anything I detest as much as the careless use of language. I also tried to add another post, but apparently comments have stopped there. It was this:

And another thing.
A while back I read an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on how she had become brave enough to venture into Middle England for a family wedding. This was in prosperous Cheshire, which ain’t the south. You should have the basic intellectual honesty to be clear about the meanings of any terms you use. Are the criteria for defining Middle England geographical, social, monetary, or is it essentially a boo word?

Anonymous said...

The amazing thing about post-war Britain is that despite all the problems listed in the previous posts the economy expanded, albeit with serious interruptions, and everyone benefited.

As for the Polish plumbers: Mrs Thatcher brought in compulsory competitive tendering and th end of councils direct labour scheme. This meant that tradesmen employed by councils were sacked. then the apprentices schemes collapsed and hey presto we have a shortage of plumbers, carpenters etc.

I like Corelli Barnett's books but he seems to think that post-war UK is the worst period in our history instead of being the most prosperous.

TDK said...

tdk - I think you might be thinking of The Audit of War by Correlli Barnett

That's not the one. The one I had in mind discussed the causes of the loss of Britain's industrial lead, which had indisputably occurred by the late Victorian era. I also recall (perhaps wrongly) some discussion on the merits of protectionism as used by Germany, Japan and the US in order to build up their own industry.

I remember at university discussing the balloon game, wherein you imagine some leading characters in a rapidly descending balloon. In the absence of ballast, one or more people must jump (or be pushed) to save the others. It was notable that everyone wanted to save the artists. Few ever wanted to save a scientist, even amongst those who were doing science degrees. There was an unquestioned priority granted to people who had enriched the culture over those who had made inventions that improved people's health or lives. Moreover, there was no recognition that culture is a by-product of wealth (ie that our capacity to produce and consume culture is made possible by having sufficient wealth to have some leisure). That attitude is no different than the classical disdain of the upper classes to those in trade.

I think it a mistake to assume that all the ills of Britain post date WWII.

CaptainZlog said...

That post was written by Radished (one of my favourite CIF posters) and as always with Radished, worth reading in its entirety. I have no doubt the book was Fantasy Island by Larry Elliot – although I haven’t read it. Radished never misses an opportunity to promote it.

In Radished’s post, he also makes a reference to ‘Prawn Cocktail Party’, which is another book Radished used to recommend. It is well worth getting hold of a copy. It not only documents New Labour’s efforts to woo The City in the nineties, but also gives a fascinating account of how The City rose to its powerful position in the British economy under previous Governments, as well as some intriguing stuff about MI5 and the SDP and New Labour.

I haven’t read any Corelli Barnett books, but a fascinating book, well worth a read is ‘A Century Of War – Anglo-American Oil Politics and The New World Order’ by William Engdahl. Despite its title, it does not attribute Britain’s industrial decline to the Illuminati, lizard men or the Jews and neither is Britain’s industrial decline the main topic, but in the first few pages it details how after 1815 power started to shift away from manufacturing towards finance. A critical moment was the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The campaign for their repeal is how The Economist magazine came into being. After that Britain became rather like the USA today, an imperial power living on borrowed time running an empire that benefited a few at the expense of the many. Downgrading its own industry in order to financially control an overseas empire.

The rot set in way before WWII.

A name worth googling is Friederich List.

Friederich List is worshipped in the tiger Economies of the Far East but is a non person written out of the history books in the Anglo-American world. IMHO the mistake many people make in the USA and in the UK is to make a false dichotomy between free trade and state controlled socialism. Friederich List offered an alternative that South Korea, Japan and China have seized. If we are really going down the toilet and facing financial Armageddon, Friederich List may well be worth rehabilitating.

Anonymous said...

hang on - what about Dyson?

ok ,no longer actually manufacturing out of england, but originally it was.