Farewell MG Rover: Britain doesn’t make stuff anymore

Countries, like people, have to play to their strengths and Britain’s strength hasn’t been manufacturing for a very long time. So while the collapse of MG Rover is a terrible blow to many families whose breadwinners will earn no more, there’s a fatalistic acceptance of the end. It’s the kind of event that leads to complaints that Britain that doesn’t make stuff anymore.

Longer term, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ironically, given that her government presided over a huge decline in manufacturing, Thatcher did have a solution. It was for Britain to be in the EU minus the social legalisation covering stuff like working times, health and safety et cetera. In this way, British-based manufacturers would have unrestricted access to European markets, but our workers would be far cheaper because they’d be paid less, have fewer benefits and work in less safe environments. Manufacturers would relocate from the rest of the EU: we’d import jobs. And this strategy did help attract Nissan to Sunderland amongst others. But other EU governments aren’t stupid. They saw how the British were trying to tilt the playing field and put a stop to it; the Conservative vision of Britain as Europe’s sweatshop was thwarted.

Fortunately, we don’t need sweatshops to keep people off the dole as the UK today enjoys near full employment. Less developed nations will always treat their workers less well and imposing tariffs on their products might protect jobs at home, but at the cost of ensuring they remain less developed. So we need to play to our strengths; knowledge based and service industries.

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