A stirring article by Boris Johnson in the Daily Mail has ignited the election. which until now has been too close to call. Boris has been fighting a street to street campaign on his own, which has galvanised every Tory supporter he met. Now he has galvanised the nation.Boris begins: “The other day I was driving past the port at Bristol and I saw all those thousands of cars lined up on the quayside – and whoa… I did a double take. There they were: phalanx upon phalanx of shiny new vehicles glinting like Dinky toys in the sun; and I suddenly realised that they weren’t arriving in this country.
These cars hadn’t just disembarked from France or Germany or Japan. They were about to make their own journey overseas – they were British cars, for goodness sake.
They were examples of British manufacturing and design and engineering – and they were about to be loaded on to ships and taken to other European countries, and to Africa, and Asia; and I reflected on one of the most stunning turnaround stories in the economic history of this country.
Britain last year produced more than 1.5 million cars – the most since 2007 – and we are poised to overtake France and become the second biggest car manufacturing power in Europe.
Across the West Midlands – and indeed across the country – there are now literally thousands of businesses, large and small, that are engaged in automotive innovation and supply; and there was a time when no one would have believed that was possible.
I remember the 1970s. You, too, may remember that mullet- haired decade. The music was superb, the food was mediocre, and British industry was on its knees.
I remember when our motor manufacturing industry was in the hands of ‘conveners’ and ‘shop stewards’, and when the man who ran British Leyland – then our biggest car company – appeared to be an avowedly communist trade union official called Red Robbo.
When I was a child I am afraid to say that British cars were the butt of international derision. They leaked oil, and they were generally assembled with such slovenly imprecision they gained a reputation for unreliability that it has taken decades to shake off.
Lemon after lemon rolled off our production lines, culminating in the ludicrous rustbucket called the Austin Allegro – and there was a reason for the disaster.
We had atrocious relations between management and unions, and a legal framework that gave all the power to the unions.
We had a Labour government that believed companies existed not to serve the needs of the market, or the desires of their customers – but to satisfy the rights of their workers.
We had an era of tea breaks and ‘demarcation disputes’ and closed shops and one-out-all-out strikes, with the Labour government trying to impose such insane solutions as Tony Benn’s communist-style motorbike ‘collective’ at Meriden.
It did not work then, and it seems to me to be deranged that we could be even contemplating going back to such arrangements now.
I am not surprised to discover that one of the key authors of the Labour Party manifesto is my former adversary Ken Livingstone, who has long been on the Bennite wing.
By Ed Miliband’s own admission, Livingstone has been a big influence in his thinking – and in their return to the Benn/Livingstone approach Labour’s plans are truly nightmarish for business and enterprise.
Miliband is turning the Labour Party sharply back to the Left, and actively repudiating the chief insight of Tony Blair – that the party can only be successful if it makes a sensible accommodation with capitalism and the market economy.
That is why British business people are so unanimous in their horror, including many former Labour supporters and donors.
They are not wrong. Labour wants to hit small- and medium- sized businesses with more corporation tax and higher national insurance – but it is worse than that.
They want to recreate the stifling environment of the 1970s, in which management was deprived of the ability to manage.
They want to make it easier for employees to take firms to employment tribunals – when you might think the system was already out of control, with people endlessly and automatically and indeed very often vexatiously claiming racial or sexual or age or disability discrimination.
They want all companies with more than 50 employees to have a system of profit-sharing – a return to Bennery – and they want the workers to be able to block takeovers.
That is before you have even begun to calculate the impact of their attacks on the City, higher income tax, and the higher interest rates that small firms would have to cope with – the result of Labour’s failure to tackle the deficit.
What makes this anti-capitalist agenda so dangerous is that the British motor manufacturing industry is not in the hands of a few giant firms.
We are talking about huge numbers of often tiny companies – firms that pride themselves on making a more efficient windscreen-wiper or a quieter air-conditioning unit or a more easily wipeable dashboard fascia.
It is incredible but true that Britain now has more specialised motor manufacturing marques than any country on earth – Lotus, McLaren, Bristol, Morgan, Caterham, TVR… the list goes on.
Think of London’s new hop-on hop-off Routemaster bus, a glorious piece of low-carbon technology and one of the greenest new buses on the market – made in Northern Ireland by Wrightbus. The West Midlands is once again the epicentre of one of the world’s densest ecosystems of motor manufacturing and development.
British brands have shed their 1970s reputations; they are taking on the world and winning.
How mad, how tragic, that this extraordinary British triumph should be faced with a Labour government that regards capitalism as ‘predatory’.
The problem with Ed Miliband is not his method of consuming a bacon sarnie – in fact I totally sympathise on that one.
The problem is not even that he crashed the economy last time, though he did. He and Balls were at the controls in Downing Street when this country experienced the worst economic catastrophe in living memory – a catastrophe that was gravely exacerbated by their irresponsible fiscal policies.
The problem with Ed Miliband is that he wants to take the country back to the 1970s.
He genuinely thinks France is the model we should emulate, when the French – whatever the splendours of their civilisation – have 12 per cent unemployment, and when huge numbers of the most talented French people have decided that they wish France was more like Britain. How many Brits work in Paris? 16,000. How many French men and women live and work in London? About 400,000. Mais oui. That should tell Miliband all he needs to know about the relative dynamism and competitiveness of the two economies.
Labour wants to go back to the 1970s, Ukip to some non-existent version of a monochrome 1950s, the Greens would like to go back to the middle of the stone age, and the Lib Dems would probably settle for any epoch in which they were above five per cent in the polls.
There is only one party presenting itself for election on May 7 that seems to believe in the genius of this country, and that has a plan to take it forward.
t is only the Conservatives that understand the real economic and social significance of all those British cars lined up at Bristol. They aren’t the results of an evil and predatory system, by which workers are exploited and the boss class luxuriate in ever greater privilege.
They are the fruits of a long and painful post-war period in which Britain has learned that in order to survive we must innovate and compete, and that we cannot hope to compete if we over-tax and over-regulate in the way that Ed Miliband is proposing.
Those British-made vehicles are the sign of an economy that is back on its feet after the Labour-made disaster of 2008-9, in which motor manufacturing fell by half a million cars; an economy that has seen the creation, since 2010, of about two million jobs.
And those glistening British cars at the Bristol docks therefore embody the great moral purpose of wealth creation – because it is only if you have a strong and vibrant economy that you can hope to raise the tax to pay for roads and schools and hospitals and pensions and welfare – not to speak of strong defences – and all the other civilised objectives that we want to meet.
I really don’t think Miliband gets that.
He is one of those theoretical socialists who thinks the problem with socialism is it has never been properly tried; and I am horrified at the idea he should be given another go.
There is only one party presenting itself for election on May 7 that believes that on the whole today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be better than today. That is David Cameron and the Conservatives.
We need five more years to entrench this economic recovery, five years to take this country forwards and not backwards.
That is the Battle for Britain next month, and one this country can’t afford to lose.