Is Labour really, deep down as anxious about Longbridge as we have been led to infer from Stephen Byers’ worried countenance? If volume car production were to end on Tony Blair’s watch, would the government suffer politically? In the corridors you hear two answers. Some MPs (and members of the government) say they cannot just sit still while international companies turn workers out and restructure our economy. A long-forgotten name has recently been cropping up, that of Stuart Holland – who in the 70s argued that the giant corporations running the ‘meso-economy’ could be taxed, constrained and forced to serve the public interest. You don’t hear much of that from top ministers or their advisers these days. Privately, their take on the fate of the car industry is remarkably complacent, even welcoming. The potential electoral consequences are minimised. Labour’s top brass is now worried about a ‘heartland’ affect but believe Blair’s bonanza for the health service and new dollops of regional assistance for the North East and North West will do the trick over the next few months. As for cars you just have to accept, said one special adviser, that the UK was never any good, at least since Lord Nuffield’s day. The buzz word is sunrise. Brown’s Budget and Blair’s rhetoric have small and medium enterprise, especially hi-tech business at their heart. The government’s mission is to shape the British economy for 21st century stakes. Blair has tempered his enthusiasm for biotechnology since it became clear genetic modification of crops and foodstuffs was becoming politically difficult, but the white heat of the technological revolution (Harold Wilson’s old cry) warms his thinking still. If the boom continues, there will be enough slack in the system to absorb the workers who lose at Longbridge, keeping things steady till the ‘new economy’ kicks in. Patricia Hewitt’s vocal enthusiasm for e-millionaires is part and parcel of the Blairite approach. Tony Blair thinks he has a map of the UK’s future, mass production of cars is not on it. – David Walker writes for The Guardian.
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