Columnists > Steel, in particular, was a symbol of early post-war modernity

28 April 2016 | by Peter Hennessy

Steel, in particular, was a symbol of early post-war modernity


The possibility that steel making might end at Port Talbot in South Wales has touched a national nerve. The seemingly relentless loss of heavy manufacturing capacity over the decades since oil prices quadrupled in 1973-74 has affected us far more than I think we realise.

The cumulative psychological effect is far greater, in my judgement, than any mental scars left by the shedding of the United Kingdom’s colonial or imperial territories (and there were more than 40 “independence packages” between Indian/Pakistan in 1947 and Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in 1980).

Those of us who grew up in the years after the Second World War absorbed with our powdered milk and orange juice that Britain was a manufacturing country with a range of industrial “commanding heights”, to use a favourite phrase of Nye Bevan, who was himself a product of the coal-mining and steel-making areas of Tredegar/Ebbw Vale in South Wales.


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