My history of British Manufacturing

My history of British Manufacturing
My history of British Manufacturing

Sunday 26 November 2017


Apparently it IS our problem: our productivity is stagnant. The amount 'produced' by each worker is not growing and so there isn't the money to pay people more.

Hold on. As Ian Jack says in today's Guardian, only 10% of our economy is in manufacturing where workers produce things; the remainder is all about services, people doing things for other people.

I can understand productivity in manufacturing, where the use of machines can enable a worker to produce more. The Guardian Magazine article on robots helped me to understand the application of productivity to distribution centres.

Where I struggle is how productivity relates to the rest of the economy i.e. most of it. Let's take some examples.

Ian Jack talks of Baristas. Does increasing productivity mean that a machine will serve me my coffee?

There is much talk of the care sector. Are we to be looked after by machines, rather than people? The same might be said at the other end of life; are children in nurseries to be minded by machines? Of course not. Indeed if we are to improve the quality of care, we should have more rather than fewer carers.

The creative industries are said to be economically important. As a writer of non-fiction, I can vouch for productivity improved by using Google for research and my lap top for writing. But what of those whose work is what it is, because it is made by hand: Maggie's hand blown glass. What of musicians, what of actors and other who delight audiences? What of writers?

We can all see productivity savings in retail with DIY checkouts. As the Guardian leader says, one fifth of Amazon's employees are robots. I guess larger rubbish and recycling bins are examples of productivity.

Again, quoting the Guardian leader, millions of clerical jobs are now done by machines. This image from the Army Centre for Mechanisation at Chilwell in WW2, says a lot.

I would like to understand just what better productivity produces. Is it good for the many young people who now deliver parcels for their living? Another Guardian article by Sam Knight, on the billions of sandwiches we eat, highlighted the need for robot sandwich makers when we leave the EU since, apparently, the native British worker doesn't want to.

To my mind the question is bigger, and is much more about 'what is work on a post industrial society' and the related question of how the national cake should be shared out. Robert Peston touches on this and much more in his new book, WTF The question of a universal income needs to be explored. We are heading for a society of a mix of a small amount of high paid highly skilled work and low paid work that can't be done by robots.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Refugee crisis - what crisis?

Perhaps there has always been a refugee crisis somewhere in the world; somewhere so bad that made people like you and me flee for our lives?

We see it with Burma, in the Yemen, but also in Europe. Not that that makes it any worse or indeed better. It is part of the natural order of civilisation; the more powerful oppress the less powerful, so much so sometimes that they have no choice but to up sticks and leave home behind.

They leave Syria and Afghanistan for the Greek Island of Lesvos even when they know both the danger of getting there in the first place and the hell that awaits. Some thought they were lucky to be able to move on to continental Europe until they arrived in Calais. It is simply no good politicians saying that better conditions would only encourage more to come. As if people would actually decide to stay in a war zone? Men, women and child will always flee for their lives if they have too. Civilised nations must always be prepared to offer safety.

The news today out of Lesvos is so horrific. It is of the camp where Maggie and I worked nearly two years ago now. We thought it was bad then; it was nothing in comparison to now. it just gets worse and worse.

Civilised and wealthy nations simply have to man up to stop this inhuman treatment; it could after all so easily be any one of us next time.

We must never allow our leaders to forget. The new film Human Flow should help.

Big Give Christmas Challenge

What does Lincoln Drill Hall mean to you?

A place for fabulous Panto?

A place for comedy or great music?

A place for provoking theatre?

The place where children and young people gain confidence through performance?

The place where people with disabilities can come and have fun?

A place when we can meet and belong?

Or, perhaps, its history?

That it was given to the city, for the use of the Lincolnshire volunteers, by the great Lincoln engineer Joseph Ruston who insisted that there should be a kitchen there to provide soup for the poor of the city?

The venue for the massively popular dances in the forties and fifties?

The place where the Rolling Stones performed before their first Top of the Pops?

You can make a big difference to help it continue to be there for the city.

The Lincoln Arts Trust has been entrusted with the running and care of Lincoln Drill Hall. This Christmas we are delighted to have been chosen as part of The Big Give Christmas Challenge (

Earlier in the year, I and a number of businesses and other key supporters pledged a total of £3,750 to the campaign.  In order to unlock our pledges, the Trust needs to raise the same amount again in a one-week challenge that runs from Midday on the 28th November to Midday on the 5 December 2017.  Each pound donated in that week will unlock a pound of pledges and we are determined to raise the full £3,7500 to give us a fundraising total of £7,500.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Thanks to a generous Arts Council England scheme called Catalyst Evolve we will then be able to take that £7,500 and double it again, meaning a total fundraising income of £15,000.  In reality each pound is worth £4 to us and every penny will be invested in ensuring that we have a huge impact upon young people across the city, giving them chances to take part in the arts.  People like Scarlett who joined our youth theatre and, by the time she went to University, had programmed events on our main stage and served as a trustee:

‘Thank you so much for being such a huge part of my life and helping to make me who I am today.  From a Fishtank (youth theatre) member to a trustee, this building has helped me grow in ways I cannot even express.’

I urge you to join our campaign and to consider donating £10. This will turn into £40 and have a massive benefit for the charity as we aim to continue changing lives, changing place and changing perceptions.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead

Awake remembrance of these valiant dead, and with your puissant arm renew their feats.

2015 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the time I played a very young looking Bishop of Ely in Shakespeare’s Henry V. This line from the first Act has stayed with me over the last fifty years but its resonance has changed. The valiant dead we honour today and indeed sang about in our hymns. This time of year when we remember All Saints and, in All Souls, those whom we love but see no longer, we do awake the remembrance. These days though we have many reminders as in my childhood when wounded servicemen were quite common sights; so too in the 21st century with casualties from Afganistan and Iraq. What has changed is the imperative to renew their feats.

Something seems to have changed, whether in me or more widely. The bellicose reaction of George W Bush to the twin towers is replaced by the way the west now looks on as Syria destroys herself.
A question that perhaps I never expected to ask is whether we can be sufficiently valiant to say no to renewing their deeds. This is not that we don’t honour; it is that we do. It is about politicians being brave enough to say to the electorate, force will not work; our sons and daughters will lose their lives along with the sons and daughters of those whom we oppose, and nothing will change. This is not something that would command universal support and equally it is not the focus of what we are doing today. I am simply reminded by the death of Senator George McGovern who stood against Nixon over the Vietnam war. He came to politics from a distinguished service career and he said after losing the election that if his standing had brought peace one day closer it would have been worth it.

The reading we heard from St Mark’s gospel is about Jesus calling his first disciples. These men followed quite oblivious to their destination, their route or the hazards they may encounter en route. Those whom we honour today may have found themselves in not dissimilar situations. I remember my Uncle, who with my father fought in the first world war, telling me of the jubilation in the streets following the declaration of war. He then fell quiet.

The same is shown in a film I have watched more than almost any, Richard Attenborough’s a Bridge too Far. This is a crazy thing to do; it is an horrific film, showing as it does in graphic detail the consequences of an overly ambitious decision by a great war leader, Field Marshall Montgomery. There is one sequence in the film that always sticks in my mind. Somewhere in then free France, a hall is filled with British army officers chattering nervously; there is an overwhelming air of expectation. We see why as General Sir Brian Horrocks enters; a huge round of applause and this lauded general takes the stage to his obvious delight. He tells his assembled officers what lies in store. It is an ambitious plan. He tells them, it not the easiest party we have been too, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. He goes on with a joked allusion to Henry V at Agincourt. It is perhaps quintessential fiction, but may well be based on truth. The inspiring speech, necessarily skirting round the fears of what the reality might be and we know he has fears since only a little later he discloses them; you didn’t actually believe all that rubbish?

It is inappropriate to draw on the hype of war movies when we are here to remember those who sacrificed actual lives in two world wars and later conflicts, inappropriate but perhaps revealing.
Our reading was from the very start of St Marks gospel, the shortest of the four accounts of Jesus’ life and one where no word is wasted. Jesus made no great speeches to encourage Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him, simply the request. So why did they? Was he charismatic as, by all accounts, Horrocks was? Was it just an attractive young man with fresh exciting ideas that made sound men leave all to follow him? They had no idea of what was to come.

I am reminded of another film, that of Churchill in the year preceding the second world war, the Gathering Storm. Churchill is talking about the young civil servant who at great personal risk fed him the secret information that enabled him to bring parliament to appreciate the danger that was mounting in Nazi Germany. He said of the young man and of bravery, ‘it is one thing to undertake a dangerous task blind to its dangers, it is true bravery where fully aware of the dangers that the task is undertaken.

This brings us to the essence of remembrance. Who could have watched the Paralympics without a sense of awe at how these people had overcome the difficulties they live with. It all started with those young men at Stoke Mandeville inspired to take up the life that had so nearly forfeited. They, I believe, may have done what they did in the full knowledge of what lay in store. True bravery for which we give thanks.

This all begs a massive question: if they knew so too did their leaders: Churchill, Bush and Blair. Sometimes it feels with this latter group, the politicians, that they don’t truly think through the consequences of their demands. The demand is massive; can the end possibly justify it? It is the oldest question in the world, but perhaps one that is now at last being asked. We sit in agony as we see Syria destroying herself. We should send the troops in, is the kneejerk reaction that cost so many lives in Iraq and Afganistaan. Perhaps the world is learning however painful it may be.
That though is not our focus today. We remember, we give thanks too for those many, I fear probably like me, who were not so obviously brave, but rather were scared and died in fear. For them too we give thanks, but also for those caught up in the cross fire, the innocent victim, as if any victim was ever anything else. Those whose young lives were stolen from them. All these we honour and give thanks.

But what of Jesus and his call? Do we take a reality check and ignore it? Or for the sake of those whom we remember, respond to it in the faith that by doing so we make the world more like the heaven for which we pray.