Steel crisis: Osborne’s ‘march of the makers’ now rings hollow

Tax credits, personal independent payments, Sunday trading and now steel all suggest a Government whose sure-footedness is eroding fast.


‘We want…a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers.’

With these words George Osborne closed his speech presenting to Parliament his Budget in 2011. Fast forward to today and the Government’s bungled response to the steel crisis exposes the failure of Ministers to match the rhetoric.

It is not often I would quote Peter Lilley MP but yesterday he hit the nail on the head. Speaking to Radio 4’s World at One programme the former Conservative Trade and Industry Secretary argued clearly for the need to protect the country’s Steel industry if it is to count itself as a serious manufacturing nation.

Over the past few days it is clear that Ministers have all but given up on such aspirations.

The facts are clear. The Government knew that Tata Steel was this week meeting in India to consider the future of its operations in the UK. In the wake of the closure of steel production at Redcar the potential threats to facilities elsewhere in the country were very real.

Why then did no Minister think it a good idea that they attend and lobby hard to save the steel industry? It was instead left to Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s backbench MP for Aberavon, in partnership with the Community Union, to mount a valiant effort in India to save our steel.

To make matters worse, the sense of indifference has been palpable from Government since. Whilst Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn made a near immediate visit to Port Talbot to meet with anxious steel workers and their families, David Cameron headed back from holiday to chair a meeting of Ministers in an effort to demonstrate that something, though we do not yet know what, is being done.

What the meeting resulted in is as yet unclear, with the PM pledging vague promises to do ‘all possible’ to save steel production, though ruling out any form of nationalisation, the one option which could yet prove the only way to provide the space and time needed to find a viable buyer for Tata’s steel production facilities in the UK.

As she entered Downing Street to attend the meeting, Business Minister, Anna Soubry simple expressed ‘hope’ that the steel industry could be saved.  One wonders what Ministers do all day if all they can offer is hope but nothing more concrete.

And then there is the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid. Let’s be clear, a trade mission to Australia is important, but why could he not have stopped off in India on route to stand up for British manufacturing and secure the best deal from Tata possible?

His failure to do so gave the worrying impression that the Government is not taking the current crisis as seriously as it should do.  Having taken so long to organise a trip to Port Talbot, if I were a Government spin doctor right now I’d be anxiously awaiting the Secretary of State’s encounter with steel workers and their families.

Underlying all of this meanwhile is the Government’s failure to catch the national and political mood as it should, with Ministers again failing to make the right judgement calls.

Tax credits, personal independent payments, Sunday trading and now steel all point to a pattern of a Government whose sure footedness is eroding and eroding fast.

For Labour the task now is to provide a credible alternative that gives hope to the country that there is a competent Government in waiting.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.