Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies

by Tom Watson

They’re re-running Boys from the Blackstuff on the BBC. We all remember Yosser Hughes, who struggles to keep his children while unemployment erodes his mental health. And we tell ourselves that this is drama and not real life. And we tell ourselves that it is history. We know what unemployment did to a generation whose skills no longer matched the demands of the market.

But that was then. Those of us from Nick Clegg’s generation (he’s one day older than me) remember kids who left school assuming that work didn’t apply to them. There were no jobs for them to do.

Nick Clegg was 16 years old in 1983. I move in unusual circles but I’ve hardly met a 43 year old who’s a Tory. Even the toffs remember how bad it was in the formative years of their adolescence. Not Clegg though; he’s being “morally challenged” but still propping them up. I don’t know what he was doing in 1983, but he wasn’t living in the same England as me.

1983. Teenagers at my Kidderminster school were told that things were so bad they wouldn’t even get a job in the local carpet factory. The full effects of the 1981 budget were raging through the manufacturing heartlands of the West Midlands.

Over a quarter of a century later, Sir Peter Tapsell, the last of a generation of Macmillan Tories, rebuked Ken Clarke in the House of Commons for suggesting that the ’81 Budget was the finest of the 1980s.

What Thatcher and Howe did then was “financially and economically illiterate”, said Sir Peter. “The West Midlands has never recovered. The 1981 Budget is the reason now, with the collapse of our financial industry, we do not have a proper industrial base”.

Sir Peter knows that every job lost is hope extinguished. You can’t measure it, but unemployment damages us all.

The police are already voicing concern. Just this week, the chief constable of greater Manchester police said:

“The level of crime is not just affected by urban policing. Our
concern would be the wider impact of not just a rise in unemployment,
but a generation of young people that don’t see much hope.

“They find what gang members and drug dealers are up to more attractive than going to college if they think that they are not going to get a job at the end of it.”

I fear George Osborne gets rather excited about the 1981 Budget. He’s the sort of bullied-at-school weird kid who gets all goosepimpley at being tough on people who are different to him. You know the sort, people without trust funds who have never shot animals with rifles or holidayed on a school friend’s yacht.

Axing 490,000 public sector workers’ jobs during the comprehensive spending review statement, he looked like he was on some kind of autoerotic high. At one point, I thought he might pass out with joy, so omnipotent did he look in front of his cheering newbackbenchers. How they admired his cutting and slashing. How they cheered his job losses. And how they showed the naked truth that nothing has changed but Tory party packaging.

Unemployment wrecks lives. It breaks communities. That’s why older, wiser heads in Parliament are so concerned about Osborne’s giant experiment. They quietly think that the CSR will be Osborne and Cameron’s and Clegg’s undoing. But what do they care? By the time the full effects are felt, these three will have had their day.

And, right now, we’re all jumping to their tune on deficit reduction. I can’t help feeling that in two years time, we will not be obsessing over deficit reduction. We will be obsessing about jobs. Growth and jobs.

When Labour came to power in May 1997, employment stood at 26.5 million. When we left office in May 2010, employment was at 28.9 million – nearly 2.5 million more people in work over 13 years. It’s a proud record, one that should not be forgotten.

Think back to Bleasdale’s Yosser. The saddest episode is “George’s Last Ride”. George dies. Before he does, he reminisces about times long past when men were in work. He died without hope and his dignity destroyed.

Are we heading back to those days? Who knows? I hope not.

If we do, it will be Cameron and Osborne’s fault. But it will be Nick Clegg whom I will never forgive.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.

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12 Responses to “Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies”

  1. Dames says:

    Fair enough but it does come across like you enjoy the lyricism of your own voice a bit. ‘I will never forgive’ Steady.

    West Mids is basically the way it is due to it being a bit of a complacent dump, full of thickheads who litter everywhere and irritating walking stereotypes. Would YOU do business with someone who doesn’t try to get rid of that annoying, self-fancying Frank Skinner accent and better themselves ffs?

  2. Anontory says:

    Watson boasts of an extra 2.5 million more people in work are a function of increased population caused by immigration.

    The planned public sector job cuts of 490,000 over 3 years can easily be offset by private sector job creation.

  3. Bransby says:

    Employment is important, but it would be nice to aspire to meaningful employment. Many of those extra 2.5 million jobs created whilst Labour were in power were soul-destroying, minimum wage service sector/ retail jobs, utterly lacking in skills or development. Manufacturing/factory work of the past might have been tedious but at least there was a sense of building or making something, a possibility of pride in your work. Where is the pride in selling cheap, crap stuff to people that they don’t need?

    Germany’s economy is recovering well now because they build things and export things, things they can be proud of, that are useful and well made. Flogging cheap clothes imported from China may result in employment, but there’s more to self-worth than a wage.

  4. SpursSimon says:

    The first thing to hit me is that I listened to John Cooper Clarke on the train this morning, and have also just finished re-watching Boys From the Blackstuff.
    One of the major issues is that we have outsourced and offshored almost all of our industry, and that is where we need the jobs.

    As I have written on my blog, we need to start supporting local businesses and creating jobs here – and stop supporting the huge companies (Vodafone etc) who offshore as much as they can, and then don’t pay their tax bills.

    Capitalism is failing, and we need to get to a steady state as soon as we can, and the current government is not going to help us do that at all.

  5. Paul says:

    And what responsibility and accountability does Labour have with regards to our current situation?

  6. AnneJGP says:

    I share your concern for young people with little or no prospect of finding work.

    The Labour government created 2.5 million extra jobs, then, but it seems that the West Midlands did not benefit at all. It would be interesting to know why that was. Labour MPs witnessed the damage themselves and knew the problems, yet in 3 terms of office they were unable to begin to address them. There must be other factors at work.

    I’m starting to wonder whether “hating Thatcher” has become more important (or just much easier?) than finding real ways to tackle real problems in real life.

  7. Tim E says:

    I think you’re probably right, but it’d be nice to not try and win the arguments with facts and ideas, rather than caricatures and cartoons of our chancellor 🙁

  8. ad says:

    They’re re-running Boys from the Blackstuff on the BBC.

    You do realise that the play was written in 1978, when Labour were in power?

  9. Colin says:

    Tom, you’re the one who is isolated. The vast majority of people don’t hate Margaret Thatcher. Nor do they think Tories are evil.

    Fill your head and heart with bile if you like but don’t try to validate it by pretending to be normal.

  10. I’m older than Osborne or Cameron. The most amazing thing about the 1980s was how the Conservatives devastated industry. This was unparalleled in the “developed” world. In the 80’s Germany and Japan were supporting industry and we can see the great benefits that brought them. In the 1980s I was living in Belfast in Northern Ireland and the Conservatives were destroying the ship building industry, upon which Belfast was so dependent. The Japanese government was subsidising its industry but the Conservatives refused to do the same for Harland & Wolf and so it brought an end to the construction of major projects. Japan was simply handed that work on a plate by the Conservatives.

    The consequences of Conservative policy was to massively increase unemployment in Northern Ireland and personally I think this very large unemployment fed into the awful troubles which blighted the province. I think that the high unemployment added a decade of violence to the longstanding problem.

  11. cashado says:

    I hate Thatcher and the overwhelming majority of people that I know over 35 hate Thatcher. However, I don’t hate Thatcher and Tories because I think that they’re somehow the incarnation of pure evil. It is more that Conservatives were, and remain, oblivious and unconcerned with the plight of the communities that their policies were, and will be, destroying. But evil? Probably not, smug and dim most certainly. I hate Thatcher and her adoring acolytes because of their ignorance.

    To class this pile of toxic waste as evil would assume that Thatcher and the Tories have a grand plan, a vision or intellect. I don’t think we can reasonably credit anyone on the British right of possessing any of these. The disastrous and unintended consequences of half-baked policies are due not to an inherent evil but are more the result of the arrogance and self-belief of some extremely moderate people that have ‘benefitted’ from the best education that money can buy.

    But sit back and watch because the destruction that these mediocre chinless wonders, these sons of aristocracy and entrenched privilege are about to rain down on the poor will be blamed on the ‘complacent West Midlands thickhead stereotypes’, the mancs and scousers, those perennial victims of a victimhood culture indigenous to the north west, the uncouth Geordies with their impenetrable accents, aggressive Glaswegians, resentful Yorkies that can’t get over the closing of their mines, dodgy cockney sparrow benefit cheats, Norfolk inbreds, thick Cornishmen….. That is to say anyone apart from this despicable, self-congratulating cabal of human waste, whooping and hollering as they consign generations to the dustbin.

    The last time these morons were in power the dustbin of the ‘complacent’ West Midlands into which the hopes of generations were thrown caught fire, along with similar dustbins in Liverpool, London and Bristol. The Tories were and, always will be unconcerned, aloof and above all dim. They’re not evil, they’re fucking thick!

  12. tim says:

    The common man has become complacent but look around you at other countries in EU and further afeild the common man is a sleeping giant, the tories, the millionaires, the billionaires, the tax exiles, the bankers and all their crooked friend had it easy even under tony blair they were being pandered to now the sleeping giant is stirring and restless its like the politicians the powers that be and those stupid enough to vote for them have all ignored the signs… the signs are big bold clear and claret red


    If you have anything to lose from an outright socialist regime dont anger it.

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