Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two Brains, but only half a wit

David Willetts positively threw the cat out of the bag on the Politics Show this week in confirming that the Forgemasters loan cancellation was a policy decision, not a financial one.

Quite aside from his confirmation of budget measures coming up this week - matching the trails in the press this weekend - which would, as guest Peter Bazalgette pointed out, have led to resignations in an earlier age, he affirmed that government should not be involved in financing private firms and that if the scheme was any good, then it should be supported by corporate borrowing. So far, so Thatcherite free-market. Of course, that isn't the reason that has been cited elsewhere - where Tories and Liberal Democrats (indistinguishable as they currently are) have been lining up to blame the last government for making unfunded promises.

Where this leaves the bank bailouts - massive sums given to private companies to prevent the total collapse of the British banking system - isn't clear. You could make a strong argument, as Labour rightly did, that this intervention was justified in the national interest, although I seem to recall some Conservatives opposing that at the time. On a much smaller scale, the argument about the national interest can also be deployed here, particularly when you consider how difficult it is to obtain £80 million on the corporate market.

It has to be restated that this wasn't a grant, but a loan that would be repaid with interest. It would have directly created 180 manufacturing jobs in Sheffield and supported other trades and retailers in the city and beyond. When we come to build the next generation of nuclear power plants in this country - which Tory policy says we will and the Liberal Democrats will not actually do anything concrete to oppose - we will be buying steel parts forged by one of two suppliers in Japan or South Korea, not giving more work to British employees. This is a specialist niche market where a British company could be taking a global lead for a small initial investment by a government committed to supporting manufacturing industry with more than just a few words.

Hidebound Tory ideology has stopped Forgemasters moving forward and Nick Clegg should be ashamed of his part in this. In an interview yesterday, he said that the decision was "very tough for me personally." No it wasn't Nick. You have your salary as an MP, your huge majority might even allow you to survive at the next election, although I sincerely hope not, and you have your ministerial perks and salary to see you through. If all else fails, perhaps your new Tory mates will offer you a chicken run to a safe Conservative seat. Let's face it, you have sold your party and your principles for only a semblance of power, so crossing the floor would be a doddle.

That's if they don't abandon you like they have abandoned the people of Sheffield.

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