The Cleveland hills which surround my home town of Stockton on Tees, in the North East of England, are rich in Iron Ore. For the past 170 years the hard working men of Teesside have extracted that raw material and turned into Steel which shipped around the world. Teesside steel almost singlehandedly built the industrial revolution. Wherever you are in the world, reading this, there is a very good chance the road bridges and train lines you take to work in the morning, or the skyscraper you work in or the car you drive, is made from Steel products made in the North East of England. Today the last remaining smelt in Teesside closed with the loss of 1600 jobs. It was the largest in Europe.
The closure of the Corus Steel plant in Redcar today will reverberate around the economy for decades to come. With the lack of orders being sent out around the world the Middlesbrough ship yards are probably next to go, followed by what remains of the chemical plants which also line the coast, which once formed part of one of the largest industrial complexes in the world.
The UK government has had months to negotiate with the Corus parent company Tata to keep the plant open. Raw materials being the biggest cost in making Steel made the Teesside plant’s close proximity to the Cleveland Hills one of the most competitive in the world. But a 10 year contract to supply Steel was cancelled when the global economy went into nose dive. Instead of seeking recompense for this in the courts, which might have forced some of the customers who originally cancelled those orders to reconsider, Peter Mandleson and the 5 constituency MP’s who represent workers from the plant, sat around doing precisely nothing.
As recently as the day before closure, the entire cabinet were in Durham. None of them had the decency to attend the recording of BBC Question Time which was presented from Middlesbrough town hall and attended by the men whose jobs are affected by their lack of ability to govern the UK properly. None of them could face the people of this part of the world who put the Labour government in power, to answer the basic question of how they can justify pouring literally billions of pounds into the pockets of their banker friends in the City of London, while a tiny fraction of the cost of bailing out Lloyds, RBS and Northern Rock would have kept open one of the few remaining businesses in the whole of the UK that still actually makes something to be proud of.
I am 37 years old. The first time I was old enough to vote in a general election, the Labour Party leader was Neil Kinnock. The day of the 1992 General Election, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun news paper ran a front page headline saying, “If Kinnock wins today would the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights”. John Major won the election and continued a campaign of closures—affecting the mining and industrial manufacturing industry all around the UK—which were begun in the late 1970s by his predecessor Margaret Thatcher.
One of the hardest hit regions in this series of closures was the North East of England. But the Steel works remain unaffected, such was the quality of the product they produced at the competitive rate at which they produced it—but it was no easy survival and closure always loomed on the horizon and when the state of the UK economy under Gordon Brown began to make it increasingly cheeper for customers to source Steel in China and India the writing was on the wall.
In 1997, when Tony Blair’s New Labour Party broke the Tory’s winning streak, almost everyone believed that Labour would put in place a long term strategy for rejuvenating the parts of the economy which 18 years of Conservative mismanagement had destroyed. Britain had gone from being one of the largest manufacturing economies in the world to a bankrupt and dejected mess. Both Blair and his successor Gordon Brown failed to do that—in fact they made it 10 times worse.
At some point in the next few weeks the British people will find out the date of the next General Election. I sincerely hope that when the results of that poll are known, not a single MP from this region is returned to the House of Commons. They all deserve to lose their jobs just as the men and women of Teesside, who have traditionally supported the Labour movement, no matter how it is rebranded and spun, have lost their belief in on-the-take bastard politicians.
Unfortunately the nature of democracy means that someone has to win in place of these Labour candidates and for the most part this is almost certainly bound to be MPs from the very same Conservative Party who presided over the slow decline in UK manufacturing in the first place. But we have to remain optimistic that the man who would be our next Prime Minister, David Cameron, despite his rich boy background and his private school boy chums in the city, isn’t entirely cold hearted.
We have to hope that he saw the faces of the people who lined the streets of Redcar today, to pipe the last post for the men ending the last ever shift at the Corus Steel Plant. Their tireless, but ultimately doomed attempts to save not just their jobs but the legacy of this region was a heartbreaking site to see and they have no-one to blame but the Labour government.