chapter  6
12 Pages

An anti-industrial society?

When Rupert Murdoch blasted the anti-entrepreneurial bias of British broadcasting at the Edinburgh Festival in 1989, he was merely repeating the deep-seated and enduring conviction that British culture has been the root cause of Britain’s industrial decline. The central tenet of this tradition is the belief that the British people-and especially those of the middle classes-have long been averse to industry. For them, the real Britain has been the “green and pleasant land” of the traditional British countryside. Their heroes have been those knights of the shires who have owned the broad, bucolic acres and who have devoted themselves “to the more aristocratic interests of cultivated style, the pursuits of leisure, and political service.” Toward their stately homes British manufacturers have long gazed with admiration and envy. Those businessmen who could forsake industry and trade for a life of gentility have eagerly done so. Those who have been obliged to remain in business have harbored “antibusiness values” that lent “a particular ‘gentry’” cast to their

endeavors and undermined their “dedication to work, [their] drive for profit, and [their] readiness to strike out on new paths in its pursuit.” This “gentrification of the English middle class” thus caused “a dampening of industrial energies”—and the decline in Britain’s economic prowess (Wiener 1981: 13, 24, 97, and 127). The gentrification of the British state is said to have accompanied this gentrification of the British businessman. The politicians and civil servants whose actions have shaped the economic environment in which private enterprise has functioned have been drawn from the gentry or, if of humbler birth, educated to the ideals of style, leisure, and service at a public school or one of the ancient universities. The financiers and traders of London to whom they have looked for economic expertise have likewise been imbued with an anti-industrial disposition. Industrialists themselves have been excluded from the corridors of Westminster and Whitehall, and, consequently, decision-making has exhibited an indifference, if not a hostility, toward manufacturing. As a result, British industrialists have persistently found themselves wrestling with macroeconomic policies that hampered efficiency and profitability, as well as with foreign competition (Pollard 1982: chs 4 and 7; and Pollard 1989: ch. 4, especially sections 4 and 5).