I SPENT the best part of the 22 years between the beginning of the 80s and the early years of this century outside the UK.

I wasn't too far away, in Brussels and Paris, but distant enough for the socalled Thatcher Revolution to pass me by. I was a mere observer, not a participant, as the events of those years rolled out.

When I returned to live in this country a few years ago, it was obvious that their impact on the institutional, political, social and psychological life of the UK had proved to be enormous, and that their consequences were still making themselves felt.

One reality which they had brought home to many people was the Canutian futility of trying to overpower the market, to bring market forces to heel. This was an almost impossible pill to swallow for those who had been brought up to believe that somehow economic prosperity could be engineered by governments in the teeth of market realities.

The ultimate supremacy of market forces was a harsh fact for many to face up to.

It is therefore depressing so see how the Trades Unions appear to have learned nothing and to have forgotten nothing. Market forces are to be tolerated during an upturn, but abandoned when the cycle goes into reverse. As if we had the choice!

Doubly depressing is to hear the rhetoric and the ideas of the 1970s being re-played, that time in post-war British history when the trades unions almost brought the economy to its knees!

Bereft of new ideas to meet the challenges of the 21st century, they are compelled to fall back on the failed remedies of a period that may have been only thirty years ago, but in terms of attitudes could be a different era altogether. It is not to be wondered at that trade union membership has plummeted everywhere except, perhaps, in the public sector which is, by definition, protected from the economic realities of the globalised world in which we all live.

So the message to the unions has to be: what the country needs from you is some serious, productive thinking; soap-box politics in the present circumstances is not only unhelpful, but profoundly irresponsible.

  • With STEVE RANKIN of the CBI