Fantastic news – Gordon Brown is to try and add the muscle of the state to the efforts of resurrecting a deal for the doomed Corus steel plant on Teesside.
Oh no, all you economic Darwinians might think, yet more state interference and state funds aimed at propping up an inefficient business that should be allowed to go the wall, from whence shall emerge from the ashes of the moribund blast furnace the fertile new shoots of industry and innovation.
Which, quite frankly, is unfeeling nonsense.
Naturally, this does not stop people from arguing it. With the standard condescension often perceptible in the mouths of those haughty types seeking to comfort embattled industrial communities, it has been suggested that there may in fact be a silver lining – a new low-carbon industrial landscape, that can flourish and lead the region away from all that stinky old-fashioned work and toward lovely new green technologies. ‘Chin up comrade, see this as an opportunity. You can retrain, it will only take a couple of years. You can claim welfare or work in the local supermarket for £5-something an hour in the meantime. And who needs a holiday or a car anyway? Pride and self-worth be damned, this is business, and you must embrace the future.’
Which, I suspect, is little comfort to many. Told just before Christmas that your job is under threat, that the industry that has provided succour and identity to your family and your community for generations, that pays the bills and puts food on the table, and for which stable employment there is little immediate alternative – in the midst of all this, the thought of a Guardianista seeking to provide comfort with the thought that, just down the road, they are testing roll-up computer display screens… well, I can only imagine what many of the responses might be.
Of course, this is far from suggesting any such future is undesirable. New industry and technology should of course be developed, alongside the traditional strengths of the region, but any transition toward it must occur organically, not as the upside of a scorched earth approach that breaks the will and dignity of whole communities forced into the trap of welfare or menial employment in the meanwhile.
Anyway, I digress. The thing that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, and which undermines the neo-liberal argument, is that the wound is self-inflicted, and for this reason I think Mr Brown is absolutely right to pledge governmental support in bringing back to the bargaining table those who walked off with such indecent haste a few months ago.
For you see, according to Christopher Booker (and, being no expert in these things, I shall have to take his account on trust), the idea that the Corus plant is no longer commercially viable, that falling demand has made it something of a white elephant, is complete codswallop. Just as redundancy notices are being served to its workers, so are its owners, the Indian firm TaTa, building a new plant in the Netherlands, whilst simultaneously looking to more than double its steel production back in India over the next three years.
For Booker, the reason for all this lies in the carbon credit scheme, which, when the game is played correctly, will help net TaTa some shiny new steel plants as well as reimbursing them for their new carbon-friendly output to the tune of £1.2 billion or so. As such, Corus Teesside is on its knees, sacrificed as a pawn in a game of carbon trading that has nothing to do with production and everything to do with fraud-ridden ‘climate markets’.
For which reason, the government should of course step in. Having forced British industry to lie prostrate at the feet of the climate lobby, it would seem there is an imperative for the government to then support it through the consequences of the treaties and commitments it has chosen to sign up to. To do anything less would be a failure to protect its people; promises of a brighter, greener future will gain no traction in the dim gloom of a foreboding present.