Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The economy comes home ... again.

The country’s economic situation got closer to home recently with the news that my job is likely to disappear sometime over the next year. Most of the public sector has been ordered by the government to make cuts in spending, and, for me, a draft plan involves staff cuts. It is only a draft for now but any refinement is not likely to be in my favour.

The silver lining is that I have plenty of notice – many have little or no notice of redundancy – once I turned up to work to be out of a job by lunchtime. But as one enters his 45th year, it does give pause for reflection.

It was in August 1992 when I left Aberystwyth with my shiny new Masters degree to add to my upper second graduate degree, and I settled back in with my parents near Portsmouth ready for the next chapter in my life and to continue the job search. I was then unemployed for the rest of 1992 and then for all of 1993.

This was a very depressing experience. A recession was in full swing and Norman Lamont was in Number 11 with his famous statement that unemployment was ‘a price worth paying’. Businesses closed everywhere, unemployment hit the roof, times were hard all round. And as for us graduates, my counterparts were either with me on the dole, or were doing low paid job in burger bars and supermarkets. I travelled around, had a few interviews – but getting that final handshake remained elusive.

I well recall one morning, having been notified of a new vacancy, getting on the phone and being told that 600 (!) people had already called so they had closed the vacancy.

When Nick Clegg said recently that Labour must never again be trusted with the economy, I remember similar thoughts in 1993, as I walked down Commercial Road in Portsmouth, to the job club, past numerous empty shops and closing down sales, and thinking that the Tories must never be trusted with the economy again. In fact, as soon as Chancellor Lamont moved on, the country began to recover. Coincidence? (He is now Lord Lamont – so clearly he was not one of those who had to pay the price).

In my lifetime, it is clear that both major parties have mismanaged the economy. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, at least one has to be trusted with it!

I recall a statement by Tony Benn, who said that capitalism needs unemployment – it keeps the workers quiet and the unions inactive. At the time this was dismissed as leftie-rubbish, but now one does wonder. Earlier this year, in fact, Oliver Letwin said that public sector workers needed ‘discipline and fear’. Is low growth and unemployment a ploy by the ruling and political classes to keep the status quo in place? Are workers more motivated and productive when fearing for their futures? I guess that is a topic for others to discuss and theorise about.

In my case, I eventually got a job in the summer of 1994 working for a political magazine and have managed, more or less, to stay employed in various roles ever since. But now it is time to dust off and update the CV and see what jobs are out there. Hopefully this time it won’t take me so long.

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