Resisting the lure of protectionism

I’m living in Derby at the moment, so have been particularly conscious of the news that new carriages for Thameslink will be built by German firm Siemens rather than local firm Bombardier. Well, I say local. German/Canadian, actually, as if you couldn’t tell by the rum foreign way everyone pronounces it. Still, it means the loss of 446 permanent jobs and 983 temporary contract staff, which is sad for a city that’s already struggling.

What has been still sadder, though, is the protectionist rhetoric that the decision has prompted.

Bob Crow and the RMT today announced that they are considering a legal challenge to the decision. The general response from the popular press has been to demand British jobs for British people. Local Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Margaret Beckett have been doing the same. Which I suppose is fair enough– they could hardly be expected to do otherwise. But the Shadow Cabinet have also jumped on the protectionist bandwagon, which is the height of irresponsibility from the Labour Party.

Most of the Tory argument has been evasive – just noting that the previous Labour Government wrote the tender rules and are technically responsible, and noting that Labour also left the incoming Government with a project 16 years overdue and £600 million over budget. Fair enough, but good on Philip Hammond for also making the point of principle in the House: “I firmly believe that free trade and open markets are the best way for us to proceed.”

Shirley Williams was a hero on Question Time last week, making the case for Free Trade:

“I’m going to say something very unpopular: think very hard before you go for protectionism. We have thousands of people in this country who work for German firms, French firms, Japanese firms, and they have on the continent thousands of people who work for British firms. If you want to start down this train, I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: you will lose at least as many jobs as you’ll gain. If you bring in protectionism, you’ll see the 1930s back again.”

The World Depression was caused and exacerbated by protectionist policies.

We need world trade- free trade. It will be vital to the country and the world’s economic recovery.

If you’ve ridden the railway in South Africa recently, you may have been on a train manufactured at the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works. Likewise if you’ve been to Taiwan. If you’ve traveled on a high-speed train in Switzerland, Italy, or China, ridden the light rail in Madrid or Melbourne, been on the Metro in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, or a tram in Strasbourg or Milan, it may have been one of those designed by one of the hundreds of design engineers employed at the Derby plant.

Which is to say, British manufacturing relies on exports as well as the home market. What would have happened in Derby if the government in Pretoria had demanded on a policy of South African jobs for South Africans?

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Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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