Watching white workers protesting in the snow, I cast my mind back 30 years to the Winter of Discontent. The year 1978/79 is the last time I remember being so cold, and taking such keen pleasure in ‘bad’ weather. It is also the last time that one had a prevailing sense that the country was falling apart. Then, as now, a Labour government whose claim to power was a special ability to deal with difficult economic questions was discredited. There are some differences, though. Thirty years ago, the strikers were much more unreasonable and unpopular than the men in the north today who resent being excluded from British jobs which appear to be reserved for foreigners. Another difference is that the Conservative opposition at that time was more clearly in tune with what was worrying people. I generally resist a class analysis of the modern Tory party, but it is hard for people with the comfortable, protected life of David Cameron and most of his entourage to anticipate and sympathise with the reactions of upper-working-class men from Lindsey or Heysham or Sellafield who feel excluded by a global system which manifestly, at present, is not working. As with the 10 pence tax rate, the Tories have not foreseen the source of discontent, and therefore have few satisfactory remedies. Surely the ‘British jobs’ issue is one where the Tories should expose the impositions of the EU. Peter Mandelson told the Lords on Monday that Total, the employer at Lindsey, made sure that ‘UK workers are considered in the same way as anyone else’. What a paltry assurance. UK workers are UK electors and UK citizens, as foreign workers are not. Is this the best the UK government can say about them?
The denunciation of the Labour peers who tried to take — or did take — money to amend legislation refuses to confront the really difficult question about all this.