Sunday, March 21, 2010

Any Answers

We know whose side they're on

Don't know if anyone heard BBC R4 Any Questions this week, but it was a cracker - Hague, Balls, Heffer, and some pantomime eco-communist woman (no, really).

William Hague's appearance naturally allowed the BBC to spend yet more time on the Ashcroft saga*. But let's not dwell on that. As we've said many times, if Cam's got any sense he will ensure the BBC gets a serious pruning post a Tory victory - it's insane for the Tories to tolerate a taxpayer-funded lefty propaganda organ of the BBC's vast size, and we taxpayers need a break.

But the bit that made Tyler scurry off to the datavault was Balls' argument that we shouldn't get so upset about the BA and railway strikes because strikes were much worse under the Tories.

And that reflects a developing Labour theme. On Friday, C4 News told us that comparisons with the 1970s are ludicrous because "this is nothing like the 1970s". So let's look at some facts.

First, here's the UK's history of strikes - ie days lost through strike action:

There are a couple of things to note.

First, compared to the 1920s, even the strikes in the 70s and 80s pale into insignificance. The grand-daddy of all strikes was the 1926 General Strike, when Britain lost 162 million working days. Which makes the 29 million lost in 1979 look like a virtual blip.

Second, almost all the big strikes were down to one particular group. Yup, you guessed it, the heavily unionised working-class-hero miners. They were behind nearly all the spikes in the chart - 1912, 1921, 1926 (with support from other unions), 1972, 1974, and 1984. In fact, the only spike not down to them was 1979 - Labour's Winter of Discontent year. Overall, the miners and their unions inflicted more damage on the British economy than probably even the Third Reich managed.

Of course, as soon as we discovered gas in the North Sea, the miners were living on borrowed time. But it was only after Thatcher had actually faced them down that the single biggest source of strikes was removed from the equation.

And the mine unions were not the only unions Thatcher had to face down. Which is why the average days lost to strikes during her administration ran at 6.7m pa (about 4m pa if you exclude the miners' strike). But even that, note, was way better than the average 12.7m pa during the dire 1970s.

And note too, that under Major, average days lost to strikes fell to 0.6m pa, almost exactly where it has stayed ever since. Until now, that is.

So yes, Balls - a member of the striking Unite Trade Union - is right in saying that that there were many more days lost to strikes in the 80s than there have been under Labour. But the reason is that Thatcher was dealing with Labour's creators and paymasters - the unions that had brought our economy to its knees.

25 years on, we're getting a sharp reminder that Thatcher couldn't finish the job. The public sector remains highly unionised, which will be a major obstacle as we wrestle with our fiscal deficit. And underneath all the spin, Labour remains a creature of the unions - a creature that once again will be supporting the unions all the way as they strike against Cam's attempts to bring the public sector pay bill back under control.

*Footnote - Ashcroft continues to command headlines at the BBC, at the same time as they persist in glossing over Labour's tax-dodging donors. It will be interesting to see what coverage they give to the freshly broken cash for influence scandal involving Labour ex-ministers like Pants-on-fire Byers, CPO Commissar Hewitt, and the dreaded Hoon. We all understand that Westminster is a sleaze pit, and the BBC ought at least to make some vague effort to cover all the sleaze, not just the bits that suit their prejudices.

1 comment:

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