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Heard about the plan for manufacturing?

As the party conference season ends, with an air of unreality which lifts the divide between politicians and people to new unheard-of levels (which takes some doing), there has been one extraordinary omission from all the babble of the last 3 weeks which takes the breath away about the state we’re in. Everyone, including the Tories, proclaim we need growth, but just prodding the private sector to produce it is like pushing a piece of string when there’s a lack of demand to pull it. That’s why a public sector-driven jobs and growth strategy is urgently needed to inject new economic activity when the private sector is contracting, and to do so on a sufficient scale to achieve the turnaround to set the economy on a sustainable recovery course. But how then would that sustainable revival take place?

If a resuscitated housing or credit bubble is ruled out, as all 3 parties declare it is (if you can trust that), and if the restoration of the City to its Thatcherite-Blairite glory days is equally not going to happen (though since the Tories get half their donations from the financiers, I wouldn’t bet on it not being tried), where does sustained growth come from? The only possible long-term answer is a hugely revamped manufacturing industry. That is going to be very difficult since successive governments fixated on neo-liberal global markets have allowed British industry to be hollowed out. So what was the buzz at the party conferences about how this should be done? Too much concern about Clegg’s meaningless promises, Miliband’s adenoids and Cameron’s vacuous rhetoric telling the country to buck up (surely the most threadbare speech yesterday from a prime minister in living memory). On manufacturing, all but nothing.

Britain’s trade deficit last year was a staggering £100bn, nearly 7% of GDP. If our standard of living is not going to collapse, that is unsustainable. What needs to be done to pay our way like any other nation? Several things – a much more relentless emphasis on improving skill training and productivity, steadily shifting the nation’s scarce capital away from financial speculation towards innovation and high tech in manufacturing, restoring the crucial supply chains which have been broken up when the neo-liberals put out a sign saying Britain was up for sale, blocking (in the way the French do) foreign takeovers that threaten our strategic industries, and helping small and medium enterprises to move upwards to higher tech where British genius is already proven and where they would be better shielded from Asian competition. And that’s just for starters.

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