The parliamentary Labour party has raised the steel crisis in parliament 208 times since the general election. From urgent questions to opposition day debates to ministerial questions to PMQs and Westminster Hall, we have deployed every tool in the parliamentary toolbox to hold the government to account.
But our parliamentary work is the tip of the iceberg. Community union’s Save Our Steel campaign has had a huge impact, playing out on our televisions, and on the streets of towns and cities all over the country.
The Labour movement has shown, in no uncertain terms, that when we stand together we truly are the Voice Of Working Britain. We have shown, in stark contrast to the government, that we will strain every sinew to stand up for the 15,000 steelworkers and the 25,000-strong supply chain workforce whose futures are hanging in the balance. We have demonstrated the cost of inaction, and exposed the failings of free market dogma.
This has been a concerted and relentless team effort, a testament to the strength and power of our movement, and I am proud to have been a part of it.
But this is just the start. As Angela Eagle pointed out in her barnstorming speech on Tuesday, the British steel industry, and by association the entire manufacturing sector, is facing a set of existential threats.
The coming days and weeks will be critical. Tata must be a responsible seller, the customer base must be secured and the future of the pension scheme clarified. But, above all, the government must step up.
Sajid Javid’s announcement on Tuesday that he is now committed to ‘co-investment’ represents a radical shift. We welcome this move in the right direction, and know the secretary of state must have been on a tortuous and painful journey to get there (although we are yet to learn what he thinks ‘co-investment’ actually means).
Let’s hope that his long walk to understanding the value of government support to industry will continue. Let’s hope that it will take him to Brussels, where he must reverse the government’s positions on the Lesser Duty Rule for anti-dumping measures, and on Market Economy Status for China; let’s hope that it takes him to Mumbai (preferably not via Sydney this time), to make clear to Tata Steel that the mooted 16-week timeframe for securing a buyer is not long enough to identify and secure the right buyer.
During the emergency debate on Tuesday I noticed a worrying trend: Tory MP after Tory MP standing up to condemn the Labour benches for ‘grandstanding’. Let me be clear: the steel crisis is not a political football; it’s a national emergency. The failure to find a buyer and closure would cost the government just under £1bn this year (almost £2.2m a day), in lost tax income and benefit payments. The economy would lose out on a further £500m next year and £3bn over the next 10 years, from the drop in household income. So, the loss of the steel industry would therefore be felt well beyond steel communities and the supply chain.
Everything Labour MPs, unions and the workforce have done has been to uphold the interests of the country, the industry and our communities, and to support the prime minister’s view that it is ‘inconceivable’ that Britain could ever be a country that does not produce its own steel. We are acting in the national interest, not in the interest of narrow party politics. We are putting country before party, and it is essential that the Conservatives follow suit.
The secretary of state has said that, ‘Britain’s steel industry is a vital part of our economy’, that he wants ‘to secure its long-term future’ and that he wishes to see ‘Made in Britain’ stamped on steel that is used around the world.’ Well, we are taking him at his word.
Everything that Labour MPs, the steel unions and the workforce say and do is designed to uphold the interests of the steel industry. And, let’s be clear: this is a truly national emergency – our arguments and assessments are strictly about the effort, performance and effectiveness of the British government, no more no less.
We are working to ensure that the government matches words with actions, using all the means that it has at its disposal to deliver steelworkers and steel communities from the menace of mass unemployment.
We are working to avert the terrible economic, budgetary and social costs that would result from failure to Save Our Steel.