Posts Tagged ‘Manufacturing’

Health and Safety Legislation and the Fall in Fatal Accidents at Work

March 15, 2016

One of the Tories’ favourite targets, shared with positive zeal by the right-wing press, is health and safety legislation. This they claim is a terrible burden on businesses, and has resulted in stupid, nonsensical rulings against even the most harmless and trivial pastimes. A few years ago, if you can remember that far back, there were reports that children were now no longer able to play conkers in school, unless they wore safety goggles.

Presumably the health and safety legislation being attacked is the body of legislation, which began with the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which stipulated that every firm must draw up rules governing safety at work, and brought a further eight million workers under the protection of the new regulations. This did have a significant effect in cutting down accidents at work, despite the fact that during the 1980s many firms decided to cut corners and failed to observe much of it during the depression. Eric Hopkins in his book, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes, quotes the Chief Inspector’s Report of 1985 on this:

Economic pressures have adversely affected working conditions in many premises, and an increase in the numbers of small firms and sub-contracting businesses, some of which have standards of safety and health which fall well below … what is acceptable, has added to the Inspectorate’s problems of source deployment. the recession has led many employers to economise on safety. Some firms have made safety officers redundant and passed responsibility for safety to personnel officers, line management or security officers with little or no experience in safety matters. (Pp. 210-211).

He also gives the comparative statistics for fatal accidents at work between 1975 and 1985. These are as follows.

1975
Factories … 231.
Construction… 181.
Docks and Warehouses…15
Total … 254.

1985
Manufacturing … 100
Construction … 95
Service Industries … 59
Total… 427

Mike over at Vox Political reported the other day that the Tories are planning to shift the burden of proof for accidents at work from the company to the victims, in order to cut down on the number of people successfully suing their employers for industrial injuries.

As this shows, the Health and Safety Legislation has succeed in cutting down on the number of accidents at work. If the Tories succeed in getting it scrapped or significantly reduced, it will mean more workers will suffer injury and permanent disability at work, without any chance of recompense from the guilty employers.

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Meme: Reward and Strengthen Labour to Make America Great Again

January 25, 2016

This another political meme I found over on the Tumblr site, 1000 Natural Shocks. It advocates strengthening the unions, and giving working people jobs and a proper, living wage, to restore America’s place in the world. The meme may come from the other side of the Pond, but it equally applies over here in Britain as well. And, apart from the country, there’s not a word I’d change.

Working people of all countries, unite!

America Labour Meme

If you want to look at the original, be aware that it is an over 18 site.

Gorbachev and the Introduction of Co-operatives in Perestroika

May 7, 2014

Aganbegyan Pic

Abel Aganbegyan, leading economist of Perestroika

One of the ways the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, attempted to reinvigorate the country’s economy was through the establishment and transformation of state industries into workers’ co-operatives. They were also intended to create jobs for workers, who had been made unemployed through Gorby’s other reforms aimed at making the country’s industries more efficient. This started with 1986 Law on Economic Activity, which permitted a very limited amount of private enterprise. The only people permitted to work for themselves, either as self-employed or in co-operatives, were pensioners, students and employees working after hours. The materials they used had to be surplus to those of the state industries. The co-ops were restricted to a list of 29 permitted activities, such as taxi-driving and dress-making. This effectively legalised what many Russians were already doing any way. In March 1988 the restrictions were further lifted, so that the co-ops were allowed to pay staff and do business with foreign nationals. A further law in August 1990 allowed the co-ops near total freedom. By the end of 1990 there were nearly 260,000 co-operatives employing 6.2 million people, including those with other jobs. They produced 70 billion roubles’ worth of goods and services. 10 billion roubles were for the Soviet population. The co-ops were originally envisaged as small firms, but three-fifths of the new enterprises were in the former large state industries.

However, the impact of the co-operatives on the retail market was much smaller. Co-operatively managed garages, home decoration, household repairs, tailoring and dressmaking, catering, small manufacturing and retail only accounted for 2 per cent of the products bought by Russian consumers. Many of the new co-operatives also became more-or-less ordinary capitalist industries by a law which allowed profits to be drawn on investment, rather than the amount of work put in. See ‘Co-operative’ in Andrew Wilson and Nina Bachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London: Andre Deutsch 1992) pp. 49-50.

Abel Aganbegyan, the Soviet economist and chief architect of perestroika, describes the reasons behind the establishment of the co-operatives and the experiments in setting up the system in his book, The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: Hutchinson 1988) pp. 196-9. He states that they were set up to give Soviet workers a sense of responsibility as co-owners, describes the co-operative’s management system, including the election of brigade officials and directors. There was even a nationwide competition to find the new manager for the Riga car factory, organised by Komsomolskaya Pravda, the newspaper of the party’s youth group. Describing the election of managers and officials, he writes:

The working collective carries out its functions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but out on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, for example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of action and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise. (pp. 197-8).

He then proceeds to describe the election run by Komsomolskaya Pravda for the ailing Riga Car Factory.

This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to them was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even h7undreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but were competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development for the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, this democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8 % of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. In this was the quality of managers has been improved. pp. 198-9).

apprentice_sir-alan_pink-pigeon

The Apprentice’s Sir Alan Sugar: Now imagine someone in overalls and work boots saying to their boss ‘You’re fired!’

The competition sounds like a radical Socialist version of Top Gear or Dragon’s Den. Certainly it would have been interesting to see Clarkson covering the election by car factory workers of their manager, all the while careering round Moscow or, in this case, Riga, while making sneering comments about the condition of the roads and Soviet era cars. As for Dragon’s Den, it might be a bit too dangerously subversive for the Dragons. After all, it turns the class system on it’s head by empowering the workers to sack incompetent bosses. Which might actually make it perfect as a kind of anti-Apprentice. After all, how many of the more pompous captains of industry, priding themselves on their ability to make ‘tough decisions’ to close down factories and throw thousands out on the streets for their profit and that of the shareholders, would welcome standing in front of committee of proles and being told ‘You’re fired’. Now that really is an idea for a TV show.

Lobster on Neoliberalism’s Trashing of the Land of the Kiwi

March 29, 2014

lange-celebrating

David Lange, the Labour leader, who introduced Neoliberal economics into New Zealand, celebrating 1984 election victory.

Early this week in the post ‘Letter from Australia’ I republished Gathering Swallows comments on the way Abbott, the current premier of Australia, was introducing the same policies Down Under that are being used to destroy the welfare state over here, and attack the poor and working class. The same Neoliberal programme of privatisation and cuts to the health service and the welfare state was also carried out about two decades ago in New Zealand. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, no. 31, for June 1996, pp. 34-5, carried a review of Economic Fundamentalism: A Laboratory Experiment by Jane Kelsey, a New Zealand law professor (Pluto Press: London 1996). It was an account of how a handful of bureaucrats and their supporters in New Zealand big business took control of the nation’s economic policies and imposed a mixture of Neoliberalism, Thatcherite privatisation of state assets at rock-bottom prices, and the type of restructuring schemes imposed by the IMF on developing nations.

The review describes just how bizarre these policies were, considering their background in American economic imperialism:

The oddity of what they did can’t be exaggerated. IMF restructuring programmes traditionally have been implemented at gun-point, imposed by the US-dominated IMF on developing countries with the ever-present threat of political action – from economic sanctions, through CIA subversion, up to full-blown coup in the background. They have to be imposed by force because they are simply schemes whereby the imperialist powers (until recently usually America) extract wealth from the Third World. Loan-sharking or extortion would describe them. In New Zealand, a bunch of true believers imposed this catastrophic nonsense on their own country.

Like Blair’s administration in Britain, this occurred under a Labour government. The review states that it was allowed to go on, because Labour politicians didn’t know enough about economics and opposition to these policies were divided. As in Britain, the Left was more concerned with opposition to nuclear weapons and feminism, while the unions failed to combat these policies. The policies also succeeded because the media, who really don’t know a thing about economics, absolutely believed everything that the businessmen and their economists told them, and then marginalised the opposition to them.

Lobster states

The result has been entirely predictable: less economic activity and/or depression, unemployment; massive redistribution from poor to rich, from manufacturing to money-lenders; massive rip-offs; destruction of unions, welfare state and health service; export of NZ capital, purchasing of NZ companies and former government assets by foreign capital.

Ramsay suspects there was a strong American influence controlling this somewhere. He notes that at the time there was a major effort by the Americans to counter the anti-nuclear stance of the New Zealand Labour Party and the trade unions at the time. Part of the programme of mass privatisation and destruction of the welfare state involved US-sponsored trips to America for New Zealand personnel. Again, there’s a parallel here in the way the British American Project and similar schemes has operated to influence and train up aspiring British political and industrial leaders, like Tony Blair.

The real responsibility for inflicting these policies on New Zealand lies not secret diplomacy by the US, but the uncritical adoption of Neoliberalism by New Zealand Labour politicians themselves. The review cites Bryan Gould’s description of meeting them in 1987 in his 1995 book, Goodbye to All That:

I recall a stimulating evening over dinner with [Labour Finance Minister] Roger Douglas and a group of “young Turks” from the Treasury. They had all the conviction of religious zealots. They were convinced they had found the Holy Grail and were seemingly unaware that their prescriptions had been tried and largely abandoned elsewhere.

Gould had been a British Labour politician, but was side-lined by New Labour, and as a result left politics to become a vice-chancellor at one of New Zealand’s Unis.

Throughout the world the same Neoliberal economic policies are being ruthlessly pursued, resulting in the destruction of welfare provision, massive unemployment and poverty amongst the lower middle and working classes, and the further, colossal enrichment of an extremely wealthy elite. This has happened not just because of Conservative administrations like Thatcher’s in the UK, but also through nominally left-wing parties, such as New Labour under Blair.

It’s high time this was stopped. It needs people across the world to learn from each other, and formulate a truly global campaign of resistance. For what’s being done elsewhere now, will be done here today.

Third World Thatcherite Britain and the Grab for North Sea Oil

March 1, 2014

oil_rig

Last week both David Cameron and Alex Salmond held separate meetings in Scotland with the petrochemical companies in order to discuss the vital question of the ownership and future of North Sea oil. This is a vital issue. The Scots Nationalists I’ve talked to in the past have all been of the belief that not only should an independent Scotland have a right to the oil reserves off its coast, but that this would support the newly independent nation’s economy. Although this wasn’t mentioned in the news reports, Britain faces the same question. If Britain does not retain revenues from the North Sea if Scotland leaves the UK, then the British economy will plummet. It’s a question of economic survival.

I was taught at school that Britain has a ‘third-world economy’. This meant that Britain was like the various nations of the Developing World in that its economy was heavily based on primary industry. In the Developing World these industries were either mining – the extraction and production of diamonds, for example, or copper in the African Copper Belt, or the various nations around the world specialising in a particular agricultural product – groundnuts, bananas, coffee and so on. In Britain in the primary industry that fundamentally supports the country’s prosperity was North Sea oil.

The authors of the book Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986), Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuberger and Adam Sharples, make exactly the same point:

Third World Britain

Under the Thatcher experiment, Britain’s underlying economic decline has continued and gathered pace. Only North Sea revenues now disguise its true extent. Without them it would be impossible to sustain the living standards which the working population currently enjoys. Britain’s present levels of employment, industrial activity and public services are all being paid for on borrowed time. (p. 20).

They then survey the way the Thatcher government effectively devastated the UK economy, while Labour unfairly got the blame for economic mismanagement.

It is worth emphasising how disastrous Tory economic policies have been for Britain in purely economic terms. The Tory Party has never succeeded in cultivating an image of compassion or concern for social justice: but at least, so the convention goes, it can be relied on to promote ‘sound’ economic policies and generally do the things that are in the interests of business growth. The Labour Party, by contrast, seems to have a acquired a reputation for economic mismanagement. The really remarkable achievement of the Thatcher Governments has been to find a set of policies which, while designed to make ‘economic efficiency’ the overriding objective in almost every sphere or our lives, has actually had the effect of making our economy less efficient – as well as having all the more predictable results such as a huge increase in social deprivation, inequality, injustice and division. As a result we are now in a situation where socialist economic and industrial policies offer the only serious hope not only of healing deep social divisions but also of reconstructing a viable and efficient economy.

Employment levels in manufacturing, construction and the public services plummeted after 1979. The international climate worsened, it is true, following the oil price rises of that year. All the major Western countries have faced increased unemployment during this period. But in Britain’s case, government policies have played an almost uniquely important part in creating a fall in national output and an increase in unemployment. By pursuing exceptionally high interest rates as part of the attempt to reduce money supply growth and inflation, and then letting the market determine the level of the exchange rate, the Tory Government precipitated a massive crisis in the manufacturing sector in the period 1979-81 – especially among companies which were relatively dependent on export markets or which had recently expanded investment or stocks in anticipation of sales growth. Meanwhile attempts to reduce public spending and borrowing resulted in a further deflationary effect: there was a particularly severe impact on employment as capital projects and welfare services were sacrificed to pay for the escalating costs of increasing unemployment – not merely a vicious circle but an insane one.

If we look at another traditional measure of economic success or failure, the balance of payments, we see a similar story. Since 1982, a surplus on manufactured goods has been replaced by large annual deficits – the first such deficits since the Industrial Revolution. Imports and import penetration have risen sharply in virtually every sector of manufacturing. These imports have, of course, been paid for out of oil revenues. But declining oil revenues will no longer be able to offset the growing manufacturing trade deficit in the late 1980s and 1990s.

They then go on to consider some of the contributing causes to British industrial decline, such as the price of British goods, lack of investment in research and development, and the lack of an education workforce, some of which is now extremely dated.

Nevertheless, I think the main point is still valid. Thatcher destroyed the British industrial base, and it is still only North Sea oil revenues, which is propping the economy up, despite the Tory and New Labour attempt to promote the financial sector. If Britain loses these revenues, then the British economy will collapse. My guess is that we would still be in the Developed World, but go from one of the most prosperous to one of the least.

The result of this would a further massive collapse in living standards, accompanied by bitter discontent. In the Developing World, mass poverty traditionally gave rise to extremist political movements – Marxist revolutionary groups, and the various Fascist dictatorships like those of General Pinochet, Manuel Noriega et cetera ad nauseam used to contain and suppress them. The same is likely to arise in Britain. This would effectively discredit all of the main political parties, as all of them have been influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Thatcher’s legacy. But those most effected would be the Tories as Thatcher’s party.

No wonder Cameron was up in Scotland last week trying to keep hold of North Sea oil. If that goes, then so does a large part of British prosperity and the Conservatives/ Thatcher’s image as the party of British prosperity.

Thinking the Unthinkable: Move Parliament out of London

October 19, 2013

From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us

-16th Century beggars’ prayer.

Last week The Economist recommended that the government cease trying to revive declining northern towns and leave them to die. The main example of such a town, where further intervention was deemed to be useless, was Hull, but the magazine also mentioned a number of others, including Burnley. The Economist is the magazine of capitalist economic orthodoxy in this country. Its stance is consistently Neo-Liberal, and the policies it has always demanded are those of welfare cuts and the privatisation of everything that isn’t nailed down. It has loudly supported the IMF’s recommendations of these policies to the developing world. Some left-wing magazines and organisation like Lobster have pointed out that the IMF’s policies effectively constitute American economic imperialism, citing the IMF’s proposals to several South and Meso-American nations. These were not only told to privatise their countries’ state assets, but to sell them to American multinationals so that they could be more efficiently managed.

The Economist’s advice that economically hit northern towns should be ‘closed down’ also reflects the almost exclusive concentration of the metropolitan establishment class on London and south-east, and their complete disinterest and indeed active hostility to everything beyond Birmingham. This possibly excludes the Scots Highlands, where they can go grouse shooting. It was revealed a little while ago that back in the 1980s one of Thatcher’s cabinet – I forgotten which one – recommended a similar policy towards Liverpool. Recent economic analyses have shown that London and the south-east have become increasingly prosperous, and have a higher quality of life, while that of the North has significantly declined. The London Olympics saw several extensive and prestigious construction projects set up in the Docklands area of London, intended both to build the infrastructure needed for the Olympics and promote the capital to the rest of the world. It’s also been predicted that the high-speed rail link proposed by the Coalition would not benefit Britain’s other cities, but would lead to their further decline as jobs and capital went to London. A report today estimated that 50 cities and regions, including Bristol, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Cambridge would £200 million + through the rail link. The Economist’s article also demonstrates the political class’ comprehensive lack of interest in manufacturing. From Mrs Thatcher onwards, successive administrations have favoured the financial sector, centred on the City of London. Lobster has run several articles over the years showing how the financial sector’s prosperity was bought at the expense of manufacturing industry. Despite claims that banking and financial industry would take over from manufacturing as the largest employer, and boost the British economy, this has not occurred. The manufacturing has indeed contracted, but still employs far more than banking, insurance and the rest of the financial sector. The financial sector, however, as we’ve seen, has enjoyed massively exorbitant profits. The Economist claims to represent the interests and attitudes of the financial class, and so its attitude tellingly reveals the neglectful and contemptuous attitude of the metropolitan financial elite towards the troubled economic conditions of industrial towns outside the capital.

Coupled with this is a condescending attitude that sees London exclusively as the centre of English arts and culture, while the provinces, particularly the North, represent its complete lack. They’re either full of clod-hopping yokels, or unwashed plebs from the factories. Several prominent Right-wingers have also made sneering or dismissive comments about the North and its fate. The art critic and contrarian, Brian Sewell, commented a few years ago that ‘all those dreadful Northern mill towns ought to be demolished’. Transatlantic Conservatism has also felt the need to adopt a defensive attitude towards such comments. The American Conservative, Mark Steyn, on his website declared that criticism of London was simply anti-London bias, but didn’t tell you why people were so critical of the metropolis or its fortunes. This situation isn’t new. At several times British history, London’s rising prosperity was marked by decline and poverty in the rest of the country. In the 17th century there was a recession, with many English ports suffering a sharp economic decline as London expanded to take 75 per cent of the country’s trade. The regional ports managed to survive by concentrating on local, coastal trade rather than international commerce, until trade revived later in the century.

It’s also unfair on the North and its cultural achievements. The North rightfully has a reputation for the excellence of its museum collections. The region’s museums tended to be founded by philanthropic and civic-minded industrialists, keen to show their public spirit and their interest in promoting culture. I can remember hearing from the director of one of the museum’s here in Bristol two decades ago in the 1990s how he was shocked by the state of the City’s museum when he came down here from one of the northern towns. It wasn’t of the same standard he was used to back home. What made this all the more surprising was that Bristol had a reputation for having a very good museum. Now I like Bristol Museum, and have always been fascinated by its collections and displays, including, naturally, those on archaeology. My point here isn’t to denigrate Bristol, but simply show just how high a standard there was in those of the industrial north. Liverpool City Museum and art gallery in particular has a very high reputation. In fact, Liverpool is a case in point in showing the very high standard of provincial culture in the 19th century, and its importance to Britain’s economic, technological and imperial dominance. Liverpool was a major centre in scientific advance and experiment through its philosophical and literary society, and its magazine. This tends to be forgotten, overshadowed as it has been by the city’s terrible decline in the 20th century and its setting for shows dealing with working-class hardship like Boys from the Black Stuff and the comedy, Bread. Nevertheless, its cultural achievements are real, quite apart from modern pop sensations like the Beatles, Cilla Black, Macca and comedians like Jimmy Tarbuck. The town also launched thousands of young engineers and inventors with the Meccano construction sets, while Hornby railways delighted model railway enthusiasts up and down the length of Britain. These two toys have been celebrated in a series of programmes exploring local history, like Coast. Hornby, the inventor of both Meccano and the model railway that bore his name, was duly celebrated by the science broadcaster, Adam Hart-Davis, as one of his Local Heroes.

And Liverpool is certainly not the only city north of London with a proud history. Think of Manchester. This was one of Britain’s major industrial centres, and the original hometown of the Guardian, before it moved to London. It was a major centre of the political debates and controversies that raged during the 19th century, with the Guardian under Feargus O’Connor the major voice of working class radicalism. It was in industrial towns like Manchester that working class culture emerged. Books like The Civilisation of the Crowd show how mass popular culture arose and developed in the 19th century, as people from working-class communities attempted to educate themselves and enjoy music. They formed choirs and brass bands. Working men, who worked long hours used their few spare hours to copy sheet music to sing or play with their fellows. The various mechanics institutes up and down the country were institutions, in which the working class attempted to educate itself and where contemporary issues were discussed. It’s an aspect of industrial, working class culture that needs to be remembered and celebrated, and which does show how strong and vibrant local culture could be in industrial towns outside London.

Back in the 1990s the magazine, Anxiety Culture, suggested a way of breaking this exclusive concentration on London and the interests of the metropolitan elite to the neglect of those in the provinces. This magazine was a small press publication, with a minuscule circulation, which mixed social and political criticism with Forteana and the esoteric, by which I mean alternative spirituality, like Gnosticism, rather than anything Tory prudes think should be banned from the internet, but don’t know quite what. In one of their articles they noted that when a politician said that ‘we should think the unthinkable’, they meant doing more of what they were already doing: cutting down on welfare benefits and hitting the poor. They recommended instead the adoption of a truly radical policy:

Move parliament out of London.

They listed a number of reasons for such a genuinely radical move. Firstly, it’s only been since the 18th century that parliament has been permanently fixed in London. Before then it often sat where the king was at the time. At various points in history it was at Winchester near the Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings’ treasury. It was in York during Edward I’s campaign against the Scots. In short, while parliament has mostly been resident in London, it hasn’t always been there, and so there is no absolutely compelling reason why it should remain so.

Secondly, London’s expensive. The sheer expensive of living in the capital was always so great that civil servants’ pay including ‘London weighting’ to bring it up to the amount they’d really need to live on in the capital, which was always higher than in the rest of the country. The same was true for other workers and employees. As we’ve seen, these inequalities are growing even more massive under the Tories, and there is talk of a demographic cleansing as poorer families are forced to move out of some of the most expensive boroughs in the capital. MPs and the very rich may now afford to live in luxury accommodation in the metropolis, but I wonder how long it will be before the capital’s infrastructure breaks down because so many of its workers simply cannot afford to live there. The government has declared that it is keen on cutting expenses, and public sector employees’ salaries have been particularly hard hit. The government could therefore solve a lot of its problems – such as those of expense, and the cost in time and money of negotiating the heavy London traffic – by relocating elsewhere.

Birmingham would be an excellent place to start. This has most of what London has to offer, including excellent universities and entertainment centres, such as the NEC, but would be much cheaper. Or York. During the Middle Ages, this was England’s Second City. It’s an historic town, with a history going back to the Romans. The excavations at Coppergate made York one of the major British sites for the archaeology of the Vikings. It also has an excellent university. One could also recommend Durham. When I was growing up in the 1980s, Durham University was considered the third best in the country, following Oxbridge. Manchester too would be an outstanding site for parliament. Apart from its historic associations with working class politics, it has also been a major centre of British scientific research and innovation. Fred Hoyle, the astronomer and maverick cosmologist, came from that fair city. While he was persistently wrong in supporting the steady-state theory against the Big Bang, he was one of Britain’s major astronomers and physicists, and Manchester University does have a very strong tradition of scientific research and innovation. British politicians are also keen to show that they are now tolerant with an inclusive attitude towards gays. Manchester’s Canal Street is one of the main centres of gay nightlife. If parliament really wanted to show how tolerant it was of those in same-sex relationship, it would make sense for it to move to Manchester.

Furthermore, relocating parliament to the north should have the effect of reinvigorating some of these cities and the north generally. The influx of civil servants and highly paid officials and ministers would stimulate the local economy. It would also break the myopic assumption that there is nothing of any value outside London. If the government and its servants continued to feel the same way, then they would have the option of actually passing reforms to improve their new homes by providing better road and rail links, improving local education, building or better funding theatres, orchestras and opera companies, investing in local businesses to support both the governmental infrastructure, but also to provide suitable work for themselves and their children, when they retire from the Civil Service. In short, moving parliament out of London to the midlands or the North would massively regenerate those part of England.

It won’t happen, because the current financial, political and business elite are very much tied to the metropolis as the absolute centre of English life and culture. They won’t want to leave its theatres, art galleries and museums, or move away from nearby sporting venues, like Ascot. They would find the idea of moving out of London absolutely unthinkable. But perhaps, as Anxiety Culture suggested twenty years ago, it is time that these ideas were thought, rather than the banal and all-too often ruminated policies of cutting benefits and penalising the poor.