Saturday, March 7, 2009

Layer 132 Green Custard, the Death of Industry and Ghost Towns.

Springwatch 6 - - Green. Shoots. And Leaves.

Throwing a cup of green custard over Mandleson was an ugly, violent thing to do, and the young woman who did it no doubt felt very angry with him. It’s not the way to go, though. We need to show that as much as we may loathe him we’re capable of non-violent, Gandhian protest, in order not to allow him any opportunity to gain the high moral ground. Strange, though, how the assailant, having carried out her assault, was allowed to simply walk away.

A few trees here and there now in blossom, and a few beginning to show signs of green leaves.

Coventry City playing at their Ricoh stadium today - against Chelsea in the F.A. Cup quarter final. Sky-Bluecollar Motown UK versus the Oligarchs. Next stop the semi, at Wembley. Drogba has just scored, but no matter - we were one down in ’87 at Wembley.


Billy Bragg had an excellent piece in the paper yesterday.

With 25 years' hindsight, Maggie's bitter victory over the striking miners unleashed forces that led directly to this economic crisis.

There is a bitter irony in the fact that the Bank of England chose the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the miners' strike to fire off its weapon of last resort in an attempt to damp down the conflagration currently sweeping through global capitalism. The wry smile that passes across the lips of those who opposed the naked selfishness at the heart of the Thatcherite experiment will be mirrored by the disconcerted frowns of those who, having wholeheartedly embraced the free market, never thought that it would lead to this. Like Frankenstein's monster, Thatcherism has turned on its creators.

Is there anybody out there willing to stand up – on this, of all days – and raise a toast to the willful destruction of our manufacturing industry and its replacement by the financial services sector? Yes, there were unions who were resistant to change, but whoever came up with the idea that the solution to this problem was to import cars rather than make them ourselves sacrificed more than just the entire engineering skills base.

The forces that Margaret Thatcher unleashed in order to defeat the NUM destroyed whole communities before leeching into our society. Untamed by successive governments, these same forces now threaten to devour us all.

Coincidentally (see below) Billy was born in the borough of Barking & Dagenham.


The Other Motown UK.

There was a documentary on BBC4 this week called Ford’s Dagenham Dream which told the story of the phenomenal success of Ford of Britain during the period when Ford was designing and producing Anglias, Zephyrs, Zodiacs, Cortinas, Granadas, Escorts and Capris.

My very first car was a 3-speed Anglia, (slow, very slow and please get up this hill you crap little car), bought for less than £100 by parents who were keen to see me off the Lambretta and travelling in something ‘safer’. Definitely a lot slower. I had special permission to park it in the staff car park when I was in the sixth form. I can’t imagine that happening these days.

I learned to drive at 17, and my dad used to take me out for extra practice in his 6-seat Ford Zephyr automatic, which felt huge compared to the Vauxhall Viva of the driving school, in which I had 5 lessons.

Dad later moved on to a Cortina. Right at the end of the sixties Ford produced the Mark I Capri, which seemed incredibly cool and glamorous in its day. One of my uncles bought one, and it remains in the family to this day. My son, who’s no lover of cars, has definite designs on it.

The point of the documentary was that the massive sprawl of Dagenham is now a ghost town, and Ford has moved most of its production to places where there’s a more docile, and cheaper, labour force.


Coventry was the other British town that was built almost entirely on the motor industry, and the manufacturing and engineering skills of its people.

Coventry was the home of Jaguar, Daimler, Triumph, Standard, Hillman, Humber, Singer and Alvis - all great marques in their day. There was also a massive Massey-Ferguson factory, where members of my family worked for decades.

I also had uncles and aunts who worked in factories like Wickman making machine tools, in foundries, and in factories belonging to GEC, making electrical goods and components.

Unlike in Germany and France, where industrial management was professional and based on solid engineering expertise, boardrooms of the large manufacturers in Britain were dominated by toffs and marketing wallahs, snake-oil salesmen and friends of the Chairman. The kind of people who subsequently went into banking.

Industrial relations were based on all-out conflict rather than partnership. Management tried to screw the workers, and the unions were prepared to use strike action in disputes over the length and frequency of tea breaks.

The original innovative and creative giants who founded the motor industry were gradually replaced by the kinds of idiots who authorised the production of complete rubbish like the Marina and the Allegro, which pretty much put paid to car production by Morris in Oxford and Austin in Longbridge. Engineering and financial disasters.

MG, Rover, Wolseley, Jensen and Aston-Martin, even Bentley and Rolls Royce, were also allowed to flounder and die for lack of investment and expertise - their brand names eventually bought for a song by much smarter operators.

Much the same story applies to the motorcycle industry in England, and in particular the BSA company in Birmingham and Triumph in Meriden.

In the longer term our government, acting on behalf of we, the people, would give hefty bribes to the likes of Nissan and Honda to set up manufacturing in places like Sunderland and Swindon, and teach workers there how to bolt together vehicles like the ‘Bluebird’ and the ‘Avensis’, using components, engines, gearboxes and drivetrains designed and built in Japan.

The ultimate irony was giving huge government subsidies to BMW, a company that designed and built many of the aeroplanes which flattened wartime Coventry, to assemble the revived Mini in the Midlands. Tragic, and pathetic, all of it.

Thatcher, of course, knew nothing about and cared nothing about manufacturing and industry, or the people who had created and sustained it. She hated the working classes and their trade unions. Her family background was in shopkeeping. Buy cheap and sell dear - the ultimate expression of capitalism, and the driving logic of ‘the market’, profiteering and exploitation.

We needed Thatch to teach us that greed is good, that mining, manufacturing and engineering are unimportant, and that the City, the financiers and the oligarchs are the masters of the universe. Having learnt these things from the dear old fool, we’re now having to deal with the consequences. Up the City!


The Specials were quite a phenomenon when they started producing music in Coventry back in 1977/78 for Gerry Dammers’ Two-Tone label. They were the Arctic Monkeys of their day - original, dynamic, ‘political’, authentic, and in complete commercial control of their affairs, determined not to be exploited by the music moguls in that London.

For a while they were incredibly popular, and highly influential on the music scene. Their music was a brilliant synthesis of styles that blended rock with Caribbean influences, and was performed by an eclectic mix of black and white musicians.

Their best-known and best-selling record was Ghost Town, released in 1981 - an atmospheric and eerie musical rendition of what it felt like to live in a city that was run-down, impoverished and largely devoid of people, work and cultural life. That record, written by Dammers, spoke for the working and non-working people of Coventry, and elsewhere.

Shops are now closing down in city centres all over the country at an unprecedented rate. People are being thrown out of work or put on part-week working in this country as well as America, and around the world, at a rate never seen by the present generation of young people, if indeed by most of us.

If it wasn’t for the quick reaction of governments, and their ability to spend public money by the billion and trillion in order to guarantee the viability of the banks and other major financial institutions, then millions of people would have lost all their savings and millions of companies would have gone bust, with unimaginable consequences for employment and wellbeing. Capitalism would have destroyed civilised life on this planet as we know it, let alone destroyed particular mining villages, manufacturing towns and industrial cities.


This week the Coventry Telegraph had a report on the re-formation of The Specials for a stadium show at the football ground (The Ricoh!) and a subsequent tour. Jerry Dammers, the founder member, keyboard player and main songwriter is quoted as saying the other members of the band have decided to go it alone without him, to exclude him, for various reasons to do with petty jealousy, rivalry and Gerry’s continuing purism and political idealism.

Ironically The Specials effectively broke up just after Ghost Town when the lead singer Terry Hall and his two dopy mates left the band to go it alone as The Fun Boy Three (!) - a wretched little outfit if ever there was one, and an obvious reaction to Dammers’ serious intent, political commitment and activism.

So the people who walked out on The Specials now want to claim they ARE The Specials! The fools should reform as the Less-Than Fun Boy Three. Or Four. Or Five.

It’s as though the Beatles got back together without Lennon, or the Stones without Keith Richards or Santana without Carlos. It also brings to mind the deluded Roger Waters trying to stop Pink Floyd continuing to perform after he left, on the grounds that he was effectively the heart and soul of the band, since he’d been the main songwriter. As if! And the posturing front man Terry Hall wasn’t even a songwriter or a musician!

Why are humans so fundamentally vain, egocentric, stupid and pathetic? Green custard on the lot of them. Whoops!

My word of the week - Non-attachment.

My word for next week, and every week - Enlightenment.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment