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A ludicrously vague plan

“AN UNFUNNY joke” was the GMB’s verdict on the Tories’ new industrial strategy white paper.

The strategy is so divorced from reality that reading any substantial part of its 250 pages would be time badly wasted.

Many of the “key policies” identified in the strategy are things that the government has already announced — and already been taken to task for.

And its guiding principles are a mix between the ludicrously vague and meaningless (“ideas”) and the things the Tories have spent the past seven years wrecking (“good jobs and greater earning power for all”).

What Britain needs is a change in direction. We don’t need wide-eyed fantasies about “innovation” nor pledges to support the whizz-bang eye-catching sector of the moment, such as the “artificial intelligence and data revolution” identified as a “grand challenge.”

Britain faces plenty of grand challenges — many created or exacerbated by Conservative and Con-Dem rule — but the tools needed to meet them are boring and obvious.

Principally that means substantial public investment to boost demand in our economy — a straightforward idea that shadow chancellor John McDonnell had to spend the entire weekend defending against economic know-nothings.

Private investment has flatlined since the bankers’ crash, and productivity growth hasn’t been this slow since before the electric motor was invented in the early 1800s.

Similarly wage “growth” hasn’t been this low for 150 years. We have lived through a decade of decline in real wages, and if the Tories aren’t turfed out sharpish it could easily become two.

This is the result of deliberate government economic policy, using the bankers’ crash as a fig leaf to cover a wholesale assault on the working people of this country and the public services on which we all depend.

Britain is a low-investment, low-wage, low-productivity economic disaster zone, where the priority has been giveaways to the richest, who have more than doubled their wealth since 2009.

Any industrial strategy has to be aimed at righting those fundamental problems. The one published by the Tories is not — they have no reason to reverse course on policies that have benefited their constituency very well.

It’s an open question as to how seriously it’s meant to be taken.

How on Earth are we to establish a “technical education system” that “rivals the best in the world” when our existing schools have been cut to the bone and atomised by being forcibly changed into academies?

What is the point of “local industrial strategies” when penniless councils can barely pay for statutory services?

How will we ever achieve “clean growth” when nearly all support for renewable energy has been binned and further backing banned until 2025?

Who will “meet the needs of an ageing society” when care workers are forced into insecure privatised jobs, NHS nurses are so poor they have to rely on foodbanks, and EU health and care workers flee the country to avoid being used as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations?

That the Tories have even felt the need to publish one is a victory for Labour, but the content of a Labour industrial strategy would be worlds apart.

Support for the industries needed to revitalise this country and avoid climate catastrophe; renationalising and reinvigorating core infrastructure and utilities; ensuring everyone is paid enough to live on and can depend on well-funded and well-staffed public services.

These are hardly radical solutions, but they don’t need to be. The Tories offer nothing but more of the same.


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