Blog : Mrs Thatcher and the British car industry

Yesterday saw the end of Margaret Thatcher. Here, in the UK, it’s fair to say that there’s not a single person alive that’s been untouched by Thatcherism in one way or another – and that’s quite a legacy. AROnline‘s not the place to discuss the wider social implications of her 11 years in power, but there can’t be many readers who would say that the Great Britain of 1990, when she left Downing Street, saying ‘it’s been emotional’, was a very different place when she swept into Downing Street in 1979 quoting St Francis of Assisi.

One thing that we can be confident of discussing with the benefit of three decades of hindsight is the long-lasting effect that her 1979-1990 administration had on the British car industry. Regular readers will have already seen Ian Nicholls’ excellent essay about Westminster’s involvement in the managed decline of British Leyland and it’s well worth a read if you’ve not done so already. That’s because, in one way, Ian’s piece does partially put aside the common-held belief that the Tories destroyed industry in the UK.

British Leyland aside, the Conservative Government’s greatest legacy to the British car industry was the policy of encouraging Japanese manufacturers to base themselves in the UK. Thatcher’s government was more than aware that the Government-controlled car company was in a spiral of decline – and had pretty much decided that it was irreversible in 1979 – and that the Japanese would fill the vacuum created by a retreating BL. We now can see evidence of this policy today – Nissan is now the UK’s largest car manufacturer, having built half a million cars in the north east, selling a range of products not only built here, but also developed and designed in Bedfordshire by British engineers. Toyota and Honda also have significant installations in the UK, so the success of this 1980s policy is plain to see.

During the past few weeks I’ve been sifting through National Archive documents concerning the 1979 Conservative Government’s involvement in the affairs of BL following Margaret Thatcher’s election victory. And it’s amazing to see just how close the company got to closure, even in the wake of company Chairman Sir Michael Edwardes getting the company’s workers to vote in favour of the 1980 corporate plan. And that was explosive, because it effectively meant that management gained the agreement of the workforce to close factories, lay-off staff, agree to new working conditions, and invest in its future.

Much of the 1979 Conservative cabinet felt that Britain could afford to lose BL for the sake of a £130m investment, even if it meant a potential 200,000 jobs and a huge impact on the country’s balance of payments. It was a cliffhanger of a situation, and we know the outcome – ultimately Margaret Thatcher signed the cheque and safeguarded the future of BL.

You can read the full feature and the National Archives documentation on Honest John – there are some amazing revelations in there – especially Margaret Thatcher and Sir Michael Edwardes’ personal interventions in events and their opinions and standpoints. Whatever your opinions on Margaret Thatcher and her handling of the car industry, it’s clear we’re in better shape now – in 2013 – than any of us would have dared to dream about in 2005, when MG Rover’s flickering flame was finally snuffed out.

Keith Adams


  1. Can I just say, regardless to what you thought of her policies-if you don’t have anything positive, or of any value to say, please don’t say anything at all. Keep the jokes and slagging off for the pub.
    Lets remember a controversial but highly important figure in British history who has left us.

  2. It annoys me when people blame Thatcher for the decline in industry, something had to be done. She gave it a chance and was very wise to look to the future and to persuade Japanese investors to come in. If the focus was just on BL then we may have very little car industry in this country.

  3. The problem with the passage of time, is that the myths have grown larger and the recollection of the press has grown blurry. Many things nagative attributed to Thatcher were either before or after her time. Personally, whether I agreed with her party politics or not, believe she was the greatest leader the UK has had since the war and I base that on unbiased consideration of history. It’s a shame many people don’t bother to research history a little closer and instead rely on the vitriolic opinions of others from the time. It seems if your parents were members of a union or lived anywhere near a pit you will hate Thatcher and probably will not fully understand or appreciate why. Yesterday was a very sad day for me and a sad day for politics. We need leaders like her again.

  4. @2, Frankie,

    In which case I expect many will abstain from offering any objective comment on the most controversial Prime Minister in living memory (probably not your living memory, Frankie, as you were most likely not even a twinkle in your daddy’s eye during the Thatcher years).

    Since one is not allowed to make any negative comment, I will say that possibly the most positive thing she achieved was that she broke the power of the Unions and made it compulsory to ballot the membership before taking strike action- which effectively sidelined many of the extreme left-wingers who held much of our industry to ransom during the 1970s- making it impossible for many firms to remain economically viable.

  5. Er, since when has been Frankie been moderating this site. Feel free to say what you want…

    I’d add though that my blog is reflecting on her tenure over the British car industry and how it changed.

  6. I heard this morning one of the few who found it necessary to celebrate in Glasgow her death say that she was directly responsible for the closure of Linwood.

    I think that says it all about the dependancy culture of the hard left, i guess he would still expect a car factory that never delivered on prodctivity or quality to still be propped up by the tax payer.

    I guess it never crossed his mind that if he had spent more time inside the factory gates than outside it on the picket line and when he was inside it actually doing his job properly then Linwood may still be open.

  7. She came to power before I was born, and left when I was halfway through primary school, so I can’t really comment on her contemporary policies beyond what I have read as history. Her policies that would’ve affected my family were her Northern Ireland policies but also the right to buy scheme.
    (I’d say my coming of age politician would’ve been Tony Blair, who it could be argued ran a policy of Thatcherism-lite.)

    I once read that she preferred to keep the upright 1972 ‘Auntie’ P5 than have a P6 or SD1 as a ministerial car.
    Her later car was a Daimler Sovereign (not the Jag XJ on which it was based – a common misconception with Arthur Daley’s choice of wheels too).

    Her policies of attracting Japanese car manufacturing is somewhat mirrored by trade missions by Cameron to China. MG could prove to be the start of SAIC manufacturing, just as Rover was the start of Honda’s UK operations.

    Arguably, though, I’d say the 80s consumerism and credit boom led to the popularity of ‘reassuringly expensive’ German cars. The 911 is a stereotype of 80s London bankers, who have since moved on via M3s to Q7s, the E30 3 series was the predecessor of the likes of the E46, the A4 etc.
    Not to mention the ‘bigger is better’ mantra that is fuelling the popularity of SUVs and crossovers.

  8. In terms of specific actions that hurt BL, the high interest rates causing a strong pound during the early 80s seemed to kill off MG and the TR7 by making them uncompetitive, though it can be argued that other countries (Japan and Germany pre Euro) seemed to cope well enough with strong currencies, and a stronger BL making money elsewhere could have weathered the storm?

    A quick glimpse at one page mentioned the doubts that BL’s volume car division would be large enough to compete even if LC10 had been a success, as the volumes wouldn’t be large enough to generate funds for a replacement which was very true…

  9. Look at the attempts to spin a fictional past, a fake history to hide the truth about Thatcher.

    For those to young to know, or too senile to remember she and her government were the worst thing to happen to the United Kingdom in the last 50 years.

    Almost every single political decision she made has damaged the health of the United Kingdom. The UK used to be a powerful well respected country, but in comparison with other nations that were better governed at the time the UK was in steep decline under margaret thatcher.

    My gran used to live in Grantham, and knew thatcher as a girl, in time her parents forbade her from playing with little maggie as my grans parents recognised maggie as an evil child early on.

    Thatcher was on the sat link when the Sheffield was hit, she indirectly caused it’s sinking. She knew this and was very upset about it, but the fact were hidden to protect her government. The Belgrano was sunk seconds after she ordered ‘kill them’. One of my drinking pals was a high ranking naval officer in the Falklands he has told me what really happened down there. It’s very different from the official pro thatcher story.

    Thatcher oversaw the destruction of manufacturing and mining and promoted banking. Her legacy lives on with ‘Greed is good’ philosophy and debt slavery.

    Another 120 million people will die of starvation this year throughout the world and their families can in part blame thatcher’s idealogical legacy for this.

    If you can’t accept that statement, I used to lobby the World Bank in NY to ‘feed the world’. Thatcherites within that organisation enforced privatisation of third world countries state assets ( these were sold to first world asset strippers ) devastating these third world countries economies.

    So it’s time to celebrate the death of the tyrant and mourn the death of those she killed.

  10. Now you can see what happens when someone swallows a bag of cliches all in one go.

  11. Thatcher represented “her” class of society, she abandoned the one-nation principle, our society is divided in to haves, and have nots, social mobility opportunities are back to 1950s levels, witness the number of well qualified university graduates who are unemployed or over qualified for their employmnent.

    She oversaw the squandering of the economic benefit of North Sea Oil

    Many areas of Britain has still to recover from the chaos created by her economic motives in the 1980s. The booms she oversaw were just froth, not of long-term benefit to Britai. Her original victims were the factory worker and trade unionists today it is the middle classes and professional classes, when Coal mines shut for good it was simply , it had to happen, now it is IT experts, lawyers and bankers who are being shown the door. so much for the service economy.

  12. @10 – thank you for such a balanced and objective response – NOT

    I suppose you’ll never forgive her for the dinosaurs being extinct, the first world war and the sinking of the Titanic.

    Like all politicians there were good and bad aspects to what they did and the picture is never as clear as it sometimes seems or is promoted.

    For the UK car industry there were positives – the introduction of Japanese manufacturers and the success achieved by Rover with the Honda JV models. However, a lot of factories closed in the process meaning that the scale of operations was reduced. The biggest mistake she made with the car industry was that the rest of Europe would play fair which was not the case although future job reductions in France and Germany are inevitable.

  13. This is a day that will live in history, it has seen the end of Thatcher and it will soon see the end of the Conservatives… Please oh please (apologies to Grand Moff Tarkin).

    When I was growing up there were two people who made me cringe who were regularly on tv (bar the Crankies, there are places the mind should never go). Who were they? Saville of ill-repute and Thatcher. There was something of the night about the pair of them. I never figured it out about the former but that the latter was evil personified was plain to see in everything she did.

    Its a matter of record from her own mouth that she maneuvered the miners into the strikes, the less said about the Falklands frell up the better (ooh, I need votes, find me a nice lil war) ad nauseum. What actually shocked me was Simon Weston piping up in defence of the old bat – the same old bat that kicked the living crap out of Wales which probably sent him into the army then sent him to the Falklands and presided over the biggest british military cockup since Elphy Bey lost his slippers in Kabul in ’42. For those too young to remember he was one of the poor sods on a transport ship that for reasons best known to military incompetence decided to play dodge the Skyhawk (you know, the US made plane, built by our allies) in broad daylight, needless to say it failed, dismally. Weston was badly burned for his pains, which were probably excrutiating. But thats ok, Thatcher won her war-ette and got to stay in power.

    I cant say that she single handedly destroyed this country as a respected manufacturing base, there are all sorts of reasons for it happening – but she sure as hell didnt help and alot of the problems we have now can be traced back to her, her sucessors ably assisted by Reagan & latterly Bush the First, High Priest of the Merciful Order of Godbotherers.

    Oh and please, enough with the ‘shes dead so be nice’ garbage. I loved my grandmother, but I didnt like her or her husbands raging homophobia. I dont like the Israeli snuggling my dads partial to (odd how you never see mossad going after Italians over what happened with Rome & Bar Kohba). Its not offensive to someones memory to be honest about how you feel about them, even if you would like them to have been dropped out of the window at birth, its more insulting to their memory to lie through your teeth than it is to admit you hate them with a passion.

    Honestly as to the car ‘industry’ I dont think it needed any help from her to suicide – it did that all by itself. The final nail was administered by a ‘labour’ member (although I use the term under advisement) aka Mandelson long after the iron windbag had doddered into the sunset.

    Finally, anyone who takes up the Feminist line of ‘only female prime minister’ needs to be hung, drawn & quartered, cut down, cloned, rinse and repeat. She made just as many fantastic cock ups and was just as bigoted as the male british PM’s and she didnt even have one to blame it on. She was rabid death to miners the same as Churchill was to Indians (the only functional difference between Churchill & Enoch Powell was Churchill knew when to shut up and think of England (pesky brown people sold separately)). Mrs Thatcher is not someone who should be eulogised or raised up to the heavens, we have the Malalas of this world for that purpose. No, for Thatcher it should be a nice quiet hole in the ground and a fervent wish that we never see her like again (think Oliver Cromwell with better legs).

  14. I’m a foreigner, so maybe I should not say anything about this at all…

    I’m not a fan of her at all to be hounest but know this…

    I was a 10 year old child when I visited britain for the very first time in my life in ’78, and I thought it was a complete mess… I did not want to go there ever again because of it… Nothing (or no-one) seamed to work in your country back then, power outages, “brown water”, FILTH! etc… Poland in ’76 was a lot better…

    Around a decade later I went back to see a concert in the Docklands (oktober 8th) and I saw a changed country, more confident of itsself… And things only improved whenever I visited the UK over the years…

    Today I see a lot of PPL blaming her for the mess we’re in today… Well, the mess today is nothing compared to the mess she inhereted in ’79…

    She does deserve some respect, just don’t tell my radical left-wing parents I said that 😉

  15. Oh and while we’re on the subject, bar the bit about his Gran and Evil Maggie (thanks I now have BtVS images in my head…) everything Joe mentioned is a matter of fact.

    The satellite link on the Sheffield had the unfortunate effect of making the radar receiver which would have picked up La Exocet absolutely useless because of radio interference from the Sat. Link. which meant nobody on the ship knew anything about ’til it was all over. The Belgrano thing was a debacle from start to finish to an extent that’d make even Flashman sigh with weary disbelief.

    Now to be fair this wasn’t Maggies fault per se, but admitting it at the time would not have been too bright, the same as admitting the nuclear sub that went anti-paddling in Scotland a while back was venting coolant (note to the Navy and BBC news, diesels do not produce white smoke/steam in general use).

  16. @10 Joe – I think you’re on the wrong forum here, mate. As for you comments on manufacturing and mining, read post number 7 by Graham.

  17. Jemma,who lit the fuse on your tampon? If labour had still been in power instead of maggie we would have been driving wood burning engines,they was and now owned by the unions.
    Maggie did more for BL-perhaps she had to than Anthony Blair and his government did for Rover,funnily enough another left thinking socialist Tony Benn didnt do the whole outfit any favours either.

  18. I dunno, Keith posts a blog about Thatcher’s involvement in the British car industry and we end up reading unrelated left wing nonsense. Save it for your tree-hugging cronies.

  19. @10 So what if she sank the Belgrano? Good,we was at war,the Argies had CIA mercenaries firing at us in the Falklands i only wish she sank more.

  20. There you are then Keith, after the Jemma rants still don’t think you need a moderator? That crap has put me off my tea!

  21. According to the news today, 1 in 6 cars bought in the UK so far this year was made in Britain, that is definitely due to Maggie.

  22. Well im not a huge Maggie fan but she did kick the crap out of a rapant and destructive left wing trade union movement who basically were dragging Britain to its Knees. And that it would have been better under Labour crap is probably more misty eyed than anything. Coal Mines and factories would have closed as the world would have changed minus Maggie, and remember the current mess was not caused by Maggie pushing a bigger banking sector but labours prime grinner Gordon Brown, who removed all the rules that had been in place to protect us.

  23. @ Francis: You mean as opposed to the coal guzzling Prii and their ilk that everyones so happy about today? You know the cars that are running our poor coal powerstations at 105% ooooh cleany goodness not. BL and the ‘Phoenix'(es) of its bloated corpse Rover have shot themselves in the foot so many times on their own account that you’d need to represent it as a centipede to have enough feet for all the bullet holes. All Heath, Thatcher, Mr Pants-on-his-Head and Tory Blur did was keep in on life support long enough so any customers with brand loyalty died out (kinda like the dinosaurs) – witness the MG (we sold) 6 today… All the popularity of a necrophiliac at a funeral and the necrophiliac probably has better residuals…

    Sigh, no, I dont do the treehugging. Clean energy is simple. As much solar as can be crammed into the country (contrary to popular thought it generates *something* so long as there is some light, even in a Welsh summer). Thorium based nuclear electricity generation, all the benefits of normal nuke, none of the three mile island. You wanna a clean car – micro thorium reactor producing to a closed circuit CO2 or LP steam circuit – none of this wheres the coal bunker crap. Why dont we have it, because no one can get over a nuclear reactor made out of wartburgs going boom in Russia, and too many people have the EQ of a breeze block, thank you education policy for the last 30 years. Maybe those who howl treehugger and let loose the trolls of war should actually look into the subject first? Or are you too busy polishing your LT77 detente ring my precioussss? LED lighting – yes the bulbs are a tenner, but heres the good bit, they last me over 3 YEARS each, so your point was?

  24. @ Mark. Now ask them how many were made by a BRITISH company. The answer will be something on the lines of either ‘ummm…’, ‘does MG count….’ or ‘Sorry I dont have the figures right now, lets do lunch’. I think they used to call it ‘damned by faint praise’ or the more common ‘lies, damn lies & statistics’.
    Anything can be massaged to look good, bar possibly the Paris ‘lets get stoned’ Brown situation – that like the mining industry has the faint whiff of Dodo about it..

  25. @ Jemma.

    None of course, but all assembled by British workers, earning and paying tax in Britain, we all know large companies pay as little tax as possible, so not really a great loss if they are British or not.

    And they are not false figures you can simply look at what makes and models were sold to tell they came from Nissan, Toyota and Mini and JLR.

    As long as they employ staff, and invest in the future production which they seem to be doing, who cares who actually owns the company.

  26. No point in arguing with the woman. She doesn’t want to hear anyone’s opinion but her own.

  27. Oh dear the cliches have come out after Keith’s objective blog.
    Most people seem to object to Mrs T because she didn’t use taxpayers money to prop up ailing industries. The one person who would have done that was Tony Benn, and he was effectively demoted from trade and industry secretary in 1975 by Harold Wilson. If Mrs T was so wrong, why didn’t Tony Benn ascend the greasy pole to the top job?
    If that was the kind of Britain the critics wanted, why didn’t it happen?
    And I am cursing because Keith beat me to it.
    I argue that Mrs Thatcher and Norman Tebbitt did sign the death warrant of MG Rover by funding the development of the K-series engine. BL convinced HMG that Austin Rover needed its own engine instead of using tried and tested off the shelf Honda units, which would also have been cheaper.
    By developing the K-series BL were demonstrating their independence from Honda. Had ARG opted to use Honda engines it would have made the task of persuading the Japanese to take a majority shareholding in BL a lot easier. Rover could have become the upmarket brand of Honda.
    As it was Rover, the company formerly known as BL once again demonstrated its remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with the K-series engine and its infamous HGF. Simply changing senior management while the engineers developing the flawed product did not alter was not a recipe for success. Rover was in denial over HGF and blamed the owners for poor maintenance over the issue. Facelifts came and went, but not a K-series engine that would stay together. When fleet buyers found that their expensive Rover 45’s were off the road because of HGF, they began looking elsewhere. Rectification may have been carried out under warranty, but it was the inconvenience that counted.
    Since the Rover 25 I have been driving needed its head gasket replaced I have become more jaded about BMC/BL/Rover.
    Any company that produced an engine with that kind of reliability record deserved to fail.

  28. Simply put, Labour wasted money, they hired untrained, loud council house morons as councillors, they gave away tax payers money at a rate of knotts, basically ruining the country, whereby the Conservatives stemmed the huge losses instigated by the labour inbreds and tried to rescue the UK (hence their name, they conserved cash not wasted it)
    Thatcher, was passionate about the UK and it’s standing in the world, where Labour only wanted to line the pockets of the lazy greedy idiots within…

  29. I knew this would happen, we’d have a Thatcher hating troll, probably someone who doesn’t even remember the eighties, coming on here and having nothing constructive to say.
    I grew up in the supposedly Thatcher hating North in the eighties and I can tell you, for all it was hard and the traditional industries went, this would have been inevitable whoever was in power, same as British Leyland would have continued the decline that started after 1970. Our car, steel, mining and shipbuilding industries were unproductive, state run or subsidised dinosaurs running at a huge loss and unable to compete with foreign competitors. Sooner or later, whether it was Thatcher or Callaghan, the plug would have been pulled as the country couldn’t afford to bail out these dying industries.
    However, partly thanks to Thatcher, what remains of the car industry( mostly Japanese or German owned) is now highly productive, is expanding again and exports a million cars a year.

  30. @Jemma – You are clearly intolerant of your Grandmother’s views – it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if my Grandmother or anyone else held such views. Not everyone is a raving fag-hag!

    It was the likes of Red Robbo & the unions, along with poor management who screwed the British car industry.

    Harold Wilson’s policies in the 60’s & 70’s put me off the Labour party for life, especially as he turned Britain into a liberalist permissive hole and allowed the unions to hold everyone to ransom.

    Don’t forget to slag off Thatcher’s biggest fan Tony Blair, who was only interested in sucking up to people from minorities and alienating those of us who didn’t conform to a minority, i.e, white heterosexual male motorists.

    I’m not a Thatcher fan either, but most coal mines were loss making and uncompetitive and probably would have died a death eventually anyway.

  31. Another cliche that has been trotted out is that Margaret Thatcher divided Britain.
    This is the product of lazy journalism.
    The two general elections in 1974 revealed a Britain that was already a deeply divided nation, with the left reserving as much bile for Edward Heath as they would later do for Margaret Thatcher. This is a fact, the statistics do not lie.
    Its called class warfare, and to pretend that we were all united up to May 1979 is a myth. Instead of trying to ram down our views on others, we should rejoice in our right to disagree.
    And remember Winston Churchill was soundly rejected by the electorate in 1945. It has long been claimed that voters wanted a change, a land fit for heroes, but I personally think a lot of voters in the privacy of the ballot box resented Churchill and the Tories for the disruption to their lives and indeed the loss of life and destruction they endured in a war Britain could perhaps have sat out of.
    The extraordinary success of the Labour Party in the 1945 election was more than just down to their policies in my opinion.

  32. @28 Ian, you forget the K series was robust and reliable in its first (as designed) form (and award winning, remember).

    The issue with that was that the chronically underfunded (BAe owned by then) Rover group couldn’t afford to design a new larger capacity engine.

    I don’t think Honda would have ever taken on Rover in the way you allude to – they said as much prior to BMW taking over, they wanted to see the company as a viable and strong British entity.

    The trouble with the story of the British car industry is that the failures can be laid at so many peoples doors, various governments, managers etc.

  33. @10 – Are you serious? In 1979 the UK was a world Basket case with little influence, a horrific state of affairs on home turf and generally in terminal decline. The very fact that you believe that the UK was almighty before her and not after means you know diddly squat.

  34. Thatcher destroyed England. She was buddies with Saddam, and several other loonatic dictators, did no favours for women in the workplace, and made the rich even richer, and those below the poverty line poorer. Thatcher and her cronies invented the ‘Greed is good’ 80’s, which unfortunately was when the merde really started to hit the fan with the world economy.

    To see her legacy, get yourselves to places like Barnsley & Grimethorpe, and other former mining towns in South Yorkshire. These places were once prosperous, and now are almost desolate, and have been since the mid 1980’s.

  35. I do wish people would stop dictating “don’t say that here and don’t say this here”. This is supposed to be a free country and everyone is entitled to an opinion about Mrs Thatcher or otherwise – whether you like it or not.

  36. @35, Along with Germany,france and the USA,but she did tell George Bush snr to enter Iraq properly and finish the war before Tony Blair entered into an illegal war.
    Thatcher did not ruin this country,the union barons did for years,self serving and corrupt like scargill whom has lived like a king from the NUM.
    All she said is get of your arse,put something away for a rainy day and support the police.Coal wasnt going to last for ever,why do you think housing departments in councils are run as “arms length” semi private firms? they are not a bottomless purse no more.For sure it was a bitter pill for the miners to swallow,they brought down two governments before,the nettle was grasped and Scargill lost-a very good arguer though.

  37. I reflect on the views of a local business man who ran a small design and engineering firm- “inflation was high during the seventies but it didn’t affect us as we and everyone else passed it on.
    Then MT came to power, immediately doubling VAT (first budget) that put a strain on cash flow as we now had an additional 7.5% to find to fund purchases- before claim back. Then interest rates climbed making investment dearer. It was not only us it affected but our customers too, this hit demand and from then on into the Eighties it was a steady decline.”

    Britiains industrial base diminished.
    Maggie’s economic policy replaced industry with construction.
    Buy your own home with tax breaks, here’s a generous discount to buy your council house, house prices soared and the government did nothing about it because home owners felt wealthier and voted at the ballot box.
    Result being- one generation did very well.
    But, now their children and grandchildren pay a fortune in rent because they cannot afford to buy their own property.

    As a nation we have locked so much capital into housing that we have little to spend to get us out of recession.
    So the Bank of England uses quantitive easing to encourage us to spend money!

    Fait accompli- Maggie’s government strangled the country with monetarism reducing the amount of cash in circulation- pushing up interest rates, now we have low-interest rates but still have to print more to put it back.

    That’s her legacy- many of the problems of today started in her tenure.

  38. Thatcher in some respects was lucky, eg the Falklands effect but she also had guts. Towards the end she lost the plot/political antennae, eg poll tax. What she did to encourage the Japanese investment was good but it’s a shame it wasn’t continued. It may have been a lot different if semi-political deals with Ford and GM had gone through.

    In some respects the 90’s were the hangover to the mid/late 80’s party/boom, partly fuelled by privatisation and North Sea oil. A lot of policy, eg Friedman monetarism, was quietly forgotten, also economic fundamentals such as the balance of payments.

    Possibly Thatcher’s period replaced the importance of real value added activity such as manufacturing with that of financial services. Watch gas prices in coming years and mourn the possibly temporary loss of coal production.

    In coming days we’re going to hear a lot which isn’t the overall true picture (since Diana the UK seems to go into media hysteria mode)- I guess we won’t really know her legacy for decades once Cabinet papers are released.

  39. Mmmm. Manufacturing was going down the tube well before Thatcher. The UK was becoming a byword for shoddy goods and constant strikes. Many in the Labour government and Trade Union movement have since been outed as paid agents of eastern European Nations (the late John Stonehouse being one. The problem with BL was that it needed more investment that BAe wanted to give. I think the Tories mistake was to sell it off wholesale. Instead they should have retained a sizeable minority interest, and continued a proportional investment.

  40. Recessions have always been cyclic,im sure Peter Mandelson regrets being “intensly relaxed about people getting filthy rich” especially as new labour abrogated themselves of any responsibility to reign in the financial industry and its products,the shit started in Lehman bros,USA with all those toxic credit defaults swaps whatever they are.
    Anyone whom invested in bricks and mortar knew the score,when you borrow against it and keep doing so you will create a credit bubble,and they moan about negative equity when its a roof over thier heads.Maggie always said live within yor means.

  41. Ultimately Margaret Thatcher signed the cheque and safeguarded the future of BL: Then management went off to launch the Maestro/Montego and the workers downed tools because of an issue over tea breaks. Business as usual then. 5 years later cap in hand……

  42. Not mentioned much are the Labour party in the 1980s. I’m too young to really remember Michael Foot but seemed to be the wrong person for a party that should have been trying to win back floating voters, instead the SDP split off to do that.

    Neil Kinnock made a better effort but still didn’t seem to inspire the undecided.

    In the same way Tony Blair had a fairly easy ride due to the Tory leaders being too “Nasty Party” for most of his time as PM.

  43. The important thing about the Thatcher Govt and the NZL Lange Government of the time was overall it was a time to start denationalisation of State Owned Enterprises. In NZL the State sold off Telecom, Power companies etc. Presumably in the UK the same occurred. They started the trend (which wont be reversed) whereby the Government is hands off ownership, and is only the Government. One of the problems of GOVT owning large assets (such as car makers) is that they regularly need bailing out, and hence turn into political points of argument or footballs rather than managing key things like health and education directly. it make government very inefficient. I think on the whole the UK and NZL are in a better place now for all of this denationalisation. The unions for example are much better behaved than they were in the 70s for example. NZL an Britain are some of the most respected and wanted to be visited places in the world. While UK might have suffered from flack about invasions to Iraq etc, it is still seen globally as being reasonably Politically Correct and Neutral. This is a good thing. None the less it is sad to see Margaret Thatcher go she certainly had some presence and will off course go down in History with Winston Churchill, and David Lange as some of the worlds great people. My sincere condolences to Great Britain for the loss of Margaret (Im not a Conservative by the way).

  44. Note – I am neither Conservative or a Thatcherite. I have just two points:
    Faced with the problems that MT inherited one does wonder what some of our very opinionated correspondents would have done in her shoes? By the sound of it, it was very easy to put right – yet everyone in powerful positions were complete idiots and got it all wrong! Hmmmmmm.
    I can accept that many of her policies were not popular – that she may have been wrong about some the methodologies used in shaping the country but
    I am neither too young nor to senile (#10) to remember what the Thatcher years were like. They were tough – we were over producing coal and cars, we had a workforce that would down tools ‘cos management looked at them the wrong way, we were financially up a creek without a paddle but hey – let’s blame strongest politician since the War. It’s much easier to blame her than look at our own ‘working man’ performance!

  45. Bringing this back to BL and in particular Austin Morris Division. I worked for the company during the 1980’s. Most management and clerical staff were extremly patriotic. For example foreign cars were banned from the car parks at BL factories and when the advertising agency staff turned up in Audi Quattros they were not always welcome! I remember being called to a meeting in 1983 and we were told by a senior director to vote conservative if we had any sense!! However the launch of Maestro and Montego did for the company. The quality simply was not good enough and the long strike at the launch of Maestro did not help. There was also a strike at Cowley around the launch of the Montego. The view in the company was that Cowley should have not got the investment and Longbridge that had better quality, productivity and less strikes should have been given more investment. Ironic as Cowley survives and Longbridge is now a shadow of its former self. The truth was that the great British public had had a belly full of British cars and stayed alway in droves – especially the fleet managers and Austin Morris cars were also seen as deeply boring and unfashionable compared to Vauxhall and Ford. Unless Austin Morris could have commanded 30% of the UK market and had exports it was not really viable, hence Graham Day trying to take the group upmarket through Roverisation – a policy that worked for a while but eventually devalued the respected Rover brand name. No easy answers, but the new 1986 Metro could havebeen a success if the quality had been right. A big if as Rover 800 got off to a slow start and had a few quality issues until about 1988. Not sure what effect Thatcher had on all that, much of the problems were internal apart from the strong pound that killed exports to the USA.

  46. I think the late John Smith would have made a better PM than Tony Blair,much nicer man.

  47. “British Leyland aside, the Conservative Government’s greatest legacy to the British car industry was the policy of encouraging Japanese manufacturers to base themselves in the UK. Thatcher’s government was more than aware that the Government-controlled car company was in a spiral of decline – and had pretty much decided that it was irreversible in 1979 – and that the Japanese would fill the vacuum created by a retreating BL. We now can see evidence of this policy today – Nissan is now the UK’s largest car manufacturer, having built half a million cars in the north east, selling a range of products not only built here, but also developed and designed in Bedfordshire by British engineers. Toyota and Honda also have significant installations in the UK, so the success of this 1980s policy is plain to see.”

    – There is no doubt that car manufacture in the UK, since the arrival of Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Tata/JLR is in a great, strong position. It’s interesting to view these companies filling the BL void as being Margaret Thatcher’s intention, plan.
    However, I still can’t help feeling sadness at the demise of BL>MG Rover. Was the decline really irreversible? I think not. Had the three M’s hit the market a couple of years earlier and as three separate cars, each with a range of derivatives/body styles, I think the position in the market would have been much better. Such a stronger model plan could have been if there was a greater desire in government to see the company succeed. Also, if one considers the position achieved in the R8 era – quality & image had been turned around; investment to develop cars separately from Honda could have seen a successful, self supporting company.

  48. PS – I think the above photo flatters the Maestro. Imagine this car in 1981!

  49. @46, francis brett,

    Dead men don’t generally make for effective Prime Ministers. You only have to look at John Major’s time in office to see that…

  50. I would say that the real damage to BL/AR was done long before Thatcher came to power so her hands were fairly tied. The roots of BL/ARs failure go further back than Thatcher; from the early Seventies onwards the writing was on the wall in my opinion. I’m not sure what else could have been done with AR in the 80s – I’m amazed that they even managed to sell it to be honest. Without the Honda collaboration (a Japanese company don’t forget) I reckon that AR would have been unsellable. Bringing the Japanese car manufacturers in to Britain was a masterstroke though and at least secured some new car manufacturing jobs.

    I suppose at least you knew where you stood with Thatcher and what she stood for even if you didn’t agree with her (and I didn’t agree with her or like her either!) Blair was the same – he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in, either. It’s certainly not the same now – Cameron’s changes his political direction more often than he changes his ties and I can’t even remember which Miliband is the Labour leader. Where are the personalities these days in politics? Oh, and before anyone accuses me of being a Tory or a Thatcherite, I’m not, but neither am I Labour voter either. There isn’t one political party that I’d vote for at the moment, sadly.

  51. I believe the picture is from March 1st 1983, the day the Maestro was launched. This was the day Mrs T agreed to put another £100 million into BL.
    The whole concept of the Thatcher reforms was to deal with the problems that had confronted Britain since at least 1966.
    That was the year of the seamans strike which damaged exports, vital for a nation struggling to pay its way in the world. There seemed to be regular strikes in the public sector, the most notable being the miners strikes of 1972 and 1974 and the winter of discontent in 1978/79.
    People accused Mrs Thatcher of not being willing to compomise, but James Callaghan was and he was stabbed in the back by the trade union movement who had no qualms about destroying the then Labour governments economic credibility.
    The utilities had their monopolies broken up and sold off to the private sector. This was to stop groups of workers going on strike and holding the country to ransom.
    The miners strike of 1984/85 came with a lot of historical baggage attached. Sooner or later the shock troops of the labour movement would have had their confrontation with the Conservative government, it was inevitable. And the government was prepared for it by stockpiling coal. Strategically the NUM blundered by not holding a ballot and the TUC shied away from calling for widespread sympathy strikes that could have brought the country to its knees.
    Perhaps this was the moment the Labour movement could have got rid of Mrs Thatcher, but backed down.
    The decision to focus on Britains financial services was based on the reality that investing in British manufacturing industry was a licence to lose money.
    By the mid 1980’s buying British goods was hopelessly unfashionable, and some would say ill advised.

  52. Some good and sensible comments at #46/48/51/52 and nice to hear from someone who actually worked at BL in the 80’s.
    Reading these comments one can’t help but get the full picture of the complexity of the political, economical and industrial state of our nation at the time.
    Certainly no easy fix for anyone – whether Labour or Conservative.

  53. Ms. Thatcher has a very complex and dividing legacy as posts here and elsewhere bring out.
    As to her and UK car manufacturing, it was in bad shape long before she became PM, she did the best to salvage it.

  54. [Comment removed – personal insults will not be tolerated on AROnline]

  55. some comparative figures between 1979 and 2013
    1979 2013
    GDP £200bn 1600 bn
    ave wkly wage £250 £450
    ave house price £80,000 £180,0000
    population 57 m 64m

    taken from newpapers

    the GDP has expanded by a factor of 8, yet the average wage has not even doubled in 30 years, how can this be considered an economic success? Too many Macjobs and too much Casino capitalism

  56. I don’t feel delight in hearing of the death of Thatcher. It is no doubt a very sad time for her family.

    Having said that she was not a good person. Not all of her policies were bad but overall she caused much harm to the UK.and it’s people.

    It is significant on those rare occasions she was seen to show emoton and shed a tear it was for herself and her own predicament.

  57. @MM

    I assume your figures are in real terms?
    £250 in 1979 is worth £1,212.50 2013 money!

  58. @49
    Agree looks surprisingly good compared with many of the other products on the market at the time.

  59. With the dawn of the computer age, is was inevitable that electronic brains replaced more and more of the workforce.
    I feel some do believe they still live on an island: in the West the 70’s and 80’s highlighted the need to maximise competiviness, subcontracting and to focus on core business.

  60. 52 a fairly well balanced view.

    Certainly when debating a point some people will concentrate on an effect without considering the cause.

  61. #56 – the meagre increase in average real wage is the result of globalisation – we now have to compete with Asian wages. Who would have bought a Korean or Indian built car in this country in 1979? And for those who think everything was rosy in the UK in the seventies, remember the Labour government going to the IMF with a begging bowl to keep “Great” Britain solvent. Most politicians look one to four years ahead – Maggie’s problem was that she could see 20-30 years ahead, but no-one else could. On a lighter note, I saw her sitting in the House of Lords once – needed a stiff drink afterwards!

  62. Elaborating on my post at no.52.
    I think the Thatcher government saw the 1984/85 miners strike as an attempt to bring down the government, hence the harsh measures during and after the strike. Again this was part of the historical baggage that came with the 1972 and 1974 miners strike and the 1978/79 winter of discontent.
    Maybe Arthur Scargill and others did hope to bring down the government. He did talk publicly about “rolling back Thatcherism” when the dispute was supposed to be about pit closures. Certainly many on the left must have harboured hopes that the strike would bring down the government.
    Part of me does feel sorry for the miners, in that they were hapless footsoldiers in a class war unaware of the bigger picture. Another part of me feels no remorse at all. The miners took part in an attempt to bring down the democratically elected government of Britain by turning off the lights, they gambled everything, recieved no support from the TUC and were defeated by a government who then made sure they would never again have the opportunity to hold the country to ransom by closing the pits.

  63. I”m Irish was 14 when Mrs thatcher came to power&25 when she left Mrs Thatcher & her government opened the door for japanese investment which included the Honda/Austin Rover tie ~up(Not to mention in roads into china& Russia)during that period(84~94) Rover was thriving the Triumph acclaim,Rover 200 series&Rover 600 series all top class reliable cars & top sellers I”ll bet if this marriage was still alive today Rover would still be here!! Mrs thatcher was a fantastic leader”Black& white politics” She”s been proven very correct in her views on the EU & what its become a”Leaderless out of control “Bureaucratic over paid conglomerate” Sarkozy,berlasconi,merkel..Leaders? God help us!Only the tip of the iceberg.

  64. Those leaving thoroughly unpleasant and irrelevant posts here should perhaps have the courtesy of actually bothering to read our host’s article, particularly the second sentence:

    “AROnline‘s not the place to discuss the wider social implications of her 11 years in power…”

    Thanks to Keith and Ian Micholls’ excellent essays, I hope (!) we can agree on one thing: governments should not be in the business of making cars.

  65. interesting to note that we exported less under a Labour government than we did under under this, and the last Conservative government. Certain, with attitudes still spilling over from Thatcher’s decade, many industries were left to go it alone and insurance and banking were allowed to flourish in a way that sucked the life out of the country’s ability to produce product.

    Whilst some of the decline in manufacturing can be rested on the rise of China, manufacturing totally lost momentum as less and less attention was placed on it during 1998 to 2008. In fact engineering and manufacturing were well and truly a dirty words by then and in my view, engineers and designers were treated like something you’d stepped on in the street. Worse still the education system was dumbing down, what with scientology being included in GCSE Science exams.

    Recent resurgence and rediscovery of what we can do as engineers and designers has been made possible.. For which, I’d like to thank the last government for getting us into the mess we are in today. Manfacturing of high value products and the need to focus on intellectual property (IP) is a lot better now and the fact that we are producing more cars than ever is testimony to this… Had JLR not been given loan guarantees (clever way of getting around EU rules) then we would not be celebrating so much today.

    But as it stands productivity is up, quality control is much better, engineers get more respect, there are now elite or specialist institutions to produce our future engineers, labour relations have gone from extremes to one of near consensus, and we export more high value goods, including cars, than ever before.

    The sad human aspect of this is that many did lose their jobs but many from totally uncompetitive factories and unsustainable or unchangeable businesses. What should have happened progressively over the decades before 1979 came around in a major bump. If anything decline of the indigienous car industries started in the 1960… The very fact it lasted so long is a shock in itself.

  66. It’s interesting, I owned one of the last nationalised era Austin Montegos and it was the most unreliable car I’ve ever owned. Someone else at work owned an F reg privatised Rover Montegos and it was largely trouble free and better made. Says something that privatising Rover and removing it from the bailout and subsidy culture of British Leyland improved the product.

  67. There is no doubt that Thatcher inherited a mess, but she picked the wrong option. If your house has been neglected and is falling down, you fix it. Thatcher chose demolition. British industry was decimated in the 80’s and even with japanese car plants, it has never recovered since.

    There are entire industries in which we have no players or only bit part players. It is all very well saying we produce more cars than ever before, that Sunderland is a success. Compared to the German’s our industry is a joke, and a joke that we don’t even own.

    We should be looking at the Germans, in many respects we had a stronger line up of carmakers and marks than they did. Especially when it came to premium and sports cars. We took a god awful wrong turn in the 70’s, but the situation could have been rescued.

    Thatcher’s government could have looked at BMW, and Mercedes and thought that is what we should copy. Revive Rover, triumph and Jaguar, build quality German style cars. Instead they gave up on British industry, including the car industry.

    The BAe deal was a disgrace, the Tories knew the company would be left on poverty rations and run into the ground. The real legacy of Thatcher is the City, they bet everything on big bang and financial services. The City required a bailout far bigger than BL ever required.

  68. @70, bartelbe,

    You can’t turn a failing carmaker like British Leyland with its internecine management/employee wars, and disparate marques with their own agendas into a company like Mercedes from Number 10. Thatcher was in no way responsible for the complete mess that BL was in when she got into office in 79. The rot had already become entrenched. In fact, (and I am absolutely no fan of that ghastly woman), she did give BL a lifeline, but the writing was already on the wall.

    In fairness, had you been in the cabinet at the time, would you have been able to have forseen the flaws in BAe’s gameplan? Would you have, instead, sold BL lock,stock, and barrel to Ford or General Motors? Would they have done better? Or should the taxpayer go on supporting this ailing carmaker in perpetuity?

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

    BMW didn’t do such a good job when they took over MG Rover. And Mercedes made a hash of Chrysler. So the posh German marques aren’t exactly the font of ‘all things wonderful’ in the car business. What’s more, whilst German Motors PLC’s adept marketing and virtual patronage of the UK motoring press has assured them of remarkable sales success in the UK, I doubt that the press would have been nearly so tolerant of the kind of reliability and quality issues in an MG Rover as they are with the likes of BMW and Mercedes.

  69. Jeepers the fruitcakes have infested the place.

    One needed to work at BL in the 1970’s to understand quite what it was like there. I painted machines in a freezing cold, unlit factory, in the dark with only candles for lights, during the miners’ strike. Have you any idea what it is like when the power to a factory employing about 4,000 people goes off ? Going home later to a freezing cold blacked out house ? Despots in the Unions had a sense of “united together” that went as far as their own sycophants, relatives and those who might influence their careers. Not all were such caricatures but too many advanced too far with too much power. What floated to the top was certainly not the cream. There was no love lost across many inter-union boundaries, a truth as poisonous as the days lost due to strikes in Coventry during WWII. Weak leadership at BL in the 1970’s had no resolve to do anything other than try to not be “on watch” when the really bad bits went wrong. Joined up management there certainly was not. Another time & maybe it would be appropriate to detail some anecdotes, but suffice to say Michael Edwards was the right man at the right place at the right time. He was appointed by Sunny, “crisis – what crisis” Jim, not Maggie. However, as was correctly attributed earlier, Maggie signed the cheque that gave a thoroughly broken corporation another chance, it had done very little to deserve. To lay at her door the demise of the motor industry and destruction of employment in manufacturing is to desire to not believe the facts that manufacturing gross product increased significantly even when inflation adjusted, through the period of her office.

    The country was immensely divided in 1973 as inflation ripped, consequent on governments of both colours trying to buy their way to good employment and prosperity (hmm – ever seen that anywhere else since?). By the winter of 1978/9 there was no future. I was at Canley when Speke was closed. Some said “Great – the TR7 would be built with quality and sales would flow.” Sadly the facts give eloquent witness to the truth. I left Canley in 1980 as car production was winding down. There were a lot of people that could not face a series of very unpalatable truths.

    As one MP said today, the bile and vitriol stirred up by her death is a back-handed compliment to her of the highest order. That she was able to change attitudes in the country so much, given so much hostility, makes all her achievements, all the more worthy. Honi soit…

  70. “You can’t turn a failing carmaker like British Leyland with its internecine management/employee wars, and disparate marques with their own agendas into a company like Mercedes from Number 10. Thatcher was in no way responsible for the complete mess that BL was in when she got into office in 79. The rot had already become entrenched. In fact, (and I am absolutely no fan of that ghastly woman), she did give BL a lifeline, but the writing was already on the wall.
    In fairness, had you been in the cabinet at the time, would you have been able to have forseen the flaws in BAe’s gameplan? Would you have, instead, sold BL lock,stock, and barrel to Ford or General Motors? Would they have done better? Or should the taxpayer go on supporting this ailing carmaker in perpetuity?”

    The government had a deal with BAe systems that they wouldn’t sell for five years. It was cynical stitchup to push the selling of Rover to a foreign company into the long grass.

    I would have gone much further than simply proping up BL or selling them to the Americans to simply be asset stripped and shutdown. The key reason we fail and have failed for generations is a lack of investment.

    British industry was falling behind the competition long before the unions became powerful, because of short termist British management, driven by the short termist nature of our financial system.

    BL could have been turned around in the 80’s and to see a modern example of how, look at jaguar/land rover. According to the experts in this country it was finished, just like BL.

    Dated products, hadn’t made money in years, sell the brand and get out of manufacturing. Then Tata buys it and crucially gives the company secure long term investment.

    That is what BL needed in the 80’s and frankly the 70’s. Investment secure over the long term, so it’s car development programme wasn’t stop start.

    One of the main reasons for the woeful performance of the maestro and montego was the fact the development of those cars was so delayed by lack of funds. They were obsolete before they were sold.

    I dislike Thatcher and every government since, because they have given up on British industry. Instead of taking a chance on building up our industry, they simply let it die. A dead company is no longer a problem for them.

    • British industry was falling behind the competition long before the unions became powerful, because of short termist British management, driven by the short termist nature of our financial system.

      This is a significant difference to BMW and now VAG, which are mostly owned and controlled by families, who have a much more long term interest in their investment compared to ownership scattered across the stock markets.

  71. No.74
    It is easy to advocate investment when it is not your money.
    BL was finished and all the money in the world would not have convinced the customers it was worth buying a product from.
    BMW found this out.
    Buying a new car is the biggest investment after a house people mske, and expecting them to purchase a BL/Rover car that might suffer from quality and reliability issues in the national interest was just not on.

  72. @ 10

    Whilst it is true the Type 42 Destroyer Sheffield’s air defence radar was down whilst she used her Satellite Link. It is utter Rubbish and possible the most stupid thing ever written to say it was Margaret Thatcher on the phone. It was in fact sending its crews “telegrams” messages home, but to claim that the Prime Minister was on the phone is not only vindictive but so utterly stupid to think that Prime Minister would be directly on the phone giving orders to the crew of one of Task Force escort ships.

    For those too young to remember the times, communications were virtually non-existent with the South Atlantic task force, communications were mostly handled via teletype terminals with a single channel of communication per ship. During the Falkland’s the war cabinet had no direct communication with the task force, all communication coming via briefings from the Admiralty, the cabinet papers have been declassified and they show that unlike a the popular myth difficult decisions such as the decision to attack the Belgrano came after long debate with significant consideration given to the (very successful) diplomatic campaign that Britain was waging along with the Military one.

  73. It’s insteresting how things get pulled out from the past when these events occour. I was recently reminded of the con parties pre thatcher maverick and do wonder what would have hapened had his ‘birmingham speach’ not been made in 1968, or had he left Virgil in latin. Had He been PM in place of Heath would the unions ever had the time they did to wreak the destruction they did to british manufatiruring or reputation of british goods? Would thatcher have even happened?

  74. German companies, in particular, have cashed in on new opportunities abroad. Their succes is due mainly to hard work and heavy investment. They seem to have gone furthest in putting down roots, building their own dealernetworks and committing serious money to big spare parts centres. In the 80s Japan was the fastest-growing market for imported cars with the Germans grabbing a big slice of the market, and the Rover Group in fourth place, largely to the ever-popular Mini. Another opportunity sadly not capatilised on. What if Rover started working with the Chinese, like VW, in the 80s?

  75. @77 that’s an interesting point. We forget that for all the size of BMW, it’s still a family owned business. The other point is that the way of doing business in Germany is totally different. The business culture is one of family and community. Making profit yes but also realising that those profits need re-investing back into training, R&D, and continuous improvement.

    But then look at Toyota. (and lots of other Japanese car firms). Toyota has not only shaped how the car industry has run globally (BMW only started ‘Right first time’ when they looked at what Rover Group were doing) but also some hosptials in the NHS have embraced the ‘Toyota Way’, as have many buisnesses that have no involvement with the car industry whatsoever.

    My view is that whilst she chopped down the indigenous car industries foreign ones rose in their place. We still have auto engineers graduating universities, and with the tweaking from the recent government and the will of the workers within these factories, coupled together with stronger leadership and a much more positive ideology… The car industry here is in fine fettle and in my view strong enough to weather a fair few storms…

  76. Somewhat back on topic…

    If it weren’t for Mrs Thatcher, might the Delorean company have been given another government grant to maintain the factory in Northern Ireland?
    Might the TR7 plan have gone ahead?

  77. First at all, being a Chilean, I’m very grateful of Auntie Maggie, guess why…

    About topic, until some years ago I used to think that she was the main destructor of the british car industry, but thanks to this site and other books I learned that the industry was ruined much before she took the power. At the end, she just did the best she could under the circonstances with “gems” like the Montego or the Maestro. Only major criticism I could is if it was really necessary to split Leyland into 3 different companies ( lorries, buses and vans) quite small to be viable in the long term.

  78. I can’t say much about how BMW or Mercedes are managed, but Volkswagen profits – like Fiat by the way- of selling crap outdated cars to their brazilian clients at astonishing high prices, and they did the same in Mexico and China until few time ago. No wonder why they could afford to revive Audi for instance.

    In fact, I wonder how many time ago VAG, Fiat and GM had to went to bankrupt without Brazil and other protected markets to keep them alive. That was BL lacked: a huge protected market outside Britain.

  79. @81 – That may have been the belief at the time, this is discussed in some detail in Nick Sutton’s new book The Delortean Story. The TR7 plan was vetoed at a relatively high level but not sure how high. Apparently it is also said that in the time that DMC was supposed to the tune of £70M, Jaguar was supported to the tune of £300M, but the DMC funding never shook off the impression of ‘scandal’!(Though I haven’t verified these figures myself!) But by the time JZD had been arrested, I can’t imagine any government giving any extra work to the enterprise as it was perhaps irrevocably tainted.

  80. @84 Absolutely – Handing even more Government money to a company that had previously embezzled it would be a scandal even worse than blowing £10m of public money on Thatchers funeral.

  81. As for saying negative or positive things about thatcher (small T…..that’s not too offensive?) then as long as it’s a reasoned personal opinion and not offensive, then surely that’s ok? My personal view is she was the worst PM we’ve had. She took the miner out of coal, the worker out of steel and the Great out of Britain. But she’s been inactive a long time. No need for violent protest!

  82. Jemma (comment 14)…so well put. There are far too many people telling the likes of me and you to be quiet. Her family know she was hated when she was alive, we ain’t all going to love her now she’s gone. Freedom of speech is a thing we are allowed to do in the UK…within reason…thank god she didn’t get chance to take that away!

    As for her effect on the UK car industry…hard to say. But BL/Rover group should have had more investment thats true, but most of the damage was done by the incompetency of the Phoenix Four.

  83. Mrs Thatcher did not kill British Leyland, she simply turned the lights out.

    The stupid thing today is that PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) are ot allowed by the French government to close production plants in France and sack over 5000 people.

    British Leyland suffered from the Japanese invasion and the European invasion of cars when the UK became an EEC member back in 1973.

    Today the French seem to face the same challenge as BL did back then : they cannot compete with imports, this time Korea has taken over from Japan.

    When Peugeot closed the Ryton factory back in 2006 it was only done bacause out of severe fear for the domestic French workforce when closing down a French plant.
    The French labour relations look a lot like the pre-Thatcher labour relations in the UK.

    And it becomes more and more clear, that if you are not a world player, there is no place for you in the automotive world.
    Sad but true I guess.

  84. Just as a note, I believe in freedom of speech and generally leave things unmoderated because we have a very intelligent and informed readership – but I can’t allow personal insults between contributors…

  85. Ha Ha she took the miner out of coal? it was a finite resource and they already had a Labour government over a barrel once caused the downfall of two governments and got a hefty payrise which caused every other union dto shout where is mine? She had to crush the unions because these dickheads was bringing the country to a standstill every two minutes.
    The redundancy packages for the miners was good considering the circumstances,and talk about being nasty bastards if you crossed a picket line because you was losing your home or starving,most miners could not be arsed with the strike but for being scared of the bully boys.

  86. I found it disturbing when travelling to Birmingham pre 2005 just how many German cars there were on the roads. Did the locals not think of supporting their local firm?
    On of my vivid memories of the 1980’s was how unpopular you made yourself if you advocated buying British.
    This was certainly born out by the post 1983 car sales boom that seemed to bypass British industry. Ford and GM just imported more cars from their european plants and UK buyers lapped it up. There was money about in the 80’s, people just didn’t want to spend it on British goods despite the high levels of unemployment.
    Thatcher was responsible for high interest rates and public spending cuts, but industry had survived these before, what did the damage was the dire industrial relations that gradually bled dry industry finances and whittled away market share over a long period. I won’t apportion blame for the dire industrial relations because I accept that working conditions in a lot of manufacturing industry was unpleasant, noisy and dirty.
    Lord Stokes back in early 1970 predicted that if strikes in manufacturing industry continued, Britain would be faced with an unemployment rate that only people of his generation could remember. Sadly he was proven correct.
    Stokes himself welcomed EU membership, he saw it as an opportunity to sell more cars in Europe, but BLMC’s car for Europe, the Allegro bombed and European imports flooded into Britain, most notably from Ford and GM.
    It appears BL was finished by early 1978 when its UK market reached 20%. It did well to hold on to what it had for a further decade, but perhaps its customers were ageing Buy British types.
    JLR are successful because of the legacy left by the Wilks family, William Martin Hurst, Bernard Jackman, A.B. Smith, Sir George Farmer and other dedicated old Rover company stalwarts. They left behind a management structure that allowed the cream to ascend to the top. John Barber later admitted that Rover had the best management of all the BLMC constituent companies.
    In contrast BMC/Austin Morris were a bunch of bunglers, stumbling from one crisis to another.

  87. Oh dear, looks like we have got a few interlopers, from Facebook dropped in for this one!Drama teachers perhaps?
    From a motor industry perspective the relative decline of the British industry can be illustrated by the fact that in the early 1950’s Austin/BMC were teaching Nissan how to build cars enabling them to build the A40 and A50 in Japan under licence. By the 1980’s Nissan were looking to invest in Sunderland – under their own strict employment terms – whilst BL were now building Honda’s under licence.
    By the 1970’s British industry was on it’s knees, government meddling and a labour force that seemed to like being on strike. Don’t forget Japanese cars were so popular, that the importers had a ‘gentlemans agreement’ to limit imports. Also, nearly all the Datsuns came with radio as standard! That was a big selling point at the time. The UK owned motor industry was shot to bits before MT arrived. The clever bit was how MT got the Japanese manufacturers in to the UK as a base for Europe. In a global market BL was turning into a bit of a lost cause, the great potential of the early 60’s was now lost. Those great British brands weren’t so great in overseas markets – in Australia, ‘If you want to go to the outback take a Land Rover, if you want to get back take a Toyota’
    MT’s government laid the foundation stones for our current motor industry, that must be good! MT’s government gave BL the money they wanted, BL did not deliver.
    From a motor industry perspective – MT lives on. The motor industry has proved her right, that British workers and management are world class when left to get on with the job by themselves, without the meddling of incompetent governments and disruption of marxist unionists.

    As for not allowing foreign cars into the BL car park – how stupid is that. You want as many of your employees as you can to drive the products of the competition, that way everyone knows what they are up against.

    If MT hadn’t saved Britain in the 1980’s this country would have slid into an eastern European type of economy, now this might be good for some of us as BL would still be alive and would still be making the Maestro and Montego, yes in 2013, you would have to wait about two years for one, it would have Trabant build quality.
    One more point – can we get Tony Benn to write an essay about his time dealing with BL? One other point I would like to make is can we get more opinions of those who were actually there during these turbulent times whether they were line workers, engineers or managers – they would give such a rich insight.

  88. An article in the paper this morning:

    Nissan in Sunderland UK has broken output records by producing more than 500,000 cars in a year,a figure which exceeds the car output of Italy.

    Honda and Toyota produce another 250,000 cars each, that leaves BMW Mini figures on top of that 1 million.

    The UK car worker freed of British managerial incompetence and American short-termism management is truly a world class phenomenen

  89. I’m writing from Canada. My family emigrated there in the late 1950s, and I returned to the UK for postgrad work for 5 years in 1969, so have the era pretty engrained in my mind.

    As a university student, I was immediately tackled by Trotskyites, communists and other fellow travellers who wanted me to vote in elections. Even American students had these wide-eyed idealists getting them out to vote – some of them did to avoid service in Viet Nam as their government took a dim view of their citizens voting in foreign elections.

    Anyway, coming from Canada, I never saw such a culture of entitlement. People seemed to think the country owed them a living. Leaning on shovels, then a tea break. Work? A foreign idea.

    I experienced dock strikes, coal strikes, no electricity and a standard of living worthy of 1910, because few seemed willing to get off their arses to do a solid day’s work. Bloody awful. The place was down at its heels.

    BLMC cars were uncompetitive in Canada before I left, unreliable over-designed unreliable rustheaps. My opinion didn’t change while I was in the UK, but British solidarity meant I was informed that as a bloody colonial, I should recognize their superiority. You lot, upper class and lower, had managed to completely hoodwink yourselves. The upper lot thought British engineering was the best without a leg to stand on, the lower class felt entitled. The middle class had to carry the load in genteel poverty. As usual.

    From my point of view, the country of my birth was simply broken. I’m not a Thatcherite apologist, didn’t particularly like her and Ronnie Raygun, but by god, the country needed a swift kick in the arse to get everyone to wake up and get on with making a decent living in a modern world. So Thatcher accomplished the shock needed. You can debate whether it was the right shock, but something was needed.

    I see echoes in the comments, of the whacked out socialist types moaning about this and that, coal pits, shipbuilding and the docks, etc. etc., but the infrastructure was worn out.

  90. Well, I accidentally hit send before finishing my diatribe.

    People also have short and selective memories, like commenter 74. I quote:

    ” .. BL could have been turned around in the 80′s and to see a modern example of how, look at jaguar/land rover. According to the experts in this country it was finished, just like BL.
    Dated products, hadn’t made money in years, sell the brand and get out of manufacturing. Then Tata buys it and crucially gives the company secure long term investment.”

    Tata? Ford owned Jaguar for 18 years and put $17 billion of investment into the place. Who paid for the V8s, alumin(i)um construction? Hmm? Then had to sell it all for a song to Tata when they ran into their own troubles.

    I don’t know, but people should remember the relevant facts before theorizing.

    As the Queen would say when she visits over here: “Good luck to you all!”

  91. Another myth that needs to be dealt with is that of ‘Red Robbo.’
    Michael Edwardes and his PR man John McKay created the myth that Derek Robinson was a disruptive element at Longbridge. Apart from a February 1979 strike over bonus payments, I can find no evidence in the news archives that Derek Robinson was behind 524 strikes at Longbridge in his time as convener of the plant from 1975 to 1979. Indeed Robinson solved at least one strike during that time.
    I believe that Derek Robinsons cards were marked after he organised the ‘blacking’ of BL exports to South Africa in early 1978. This was part of a week long TUC anti-apartheid campaign.
    The new chairman of BL was a white South African. Now I’m not saying Michael Edwardes supported apartheid, but people of his generation were indoctrinated to look upon the ANC as a communist threat to their priveleged way of life. I believe Edwardes was paranoid about communists within BL, and he later claimed in one TV interview that commmunist shop stewards controlled key parts of BL.
    The reason communists were shop stewards was not some Soviet inspired plot to destabilse the British economy, but because only a politically motivated person would be wiiling to put in the unpaid hours to conduct legitimate union business.
    Prior to February 1979 Derek Robinson was treated as a man with a legitimate point of view, he even wrote and article for the Times newspaper. After February 1979 he was suddenly branded ‘Red Robb’ by the press quite out of the blue and suffered from character assasination. His dismissal for advocating active opposition to the Edwardes plan was spurrious to say the least. Had he actually carried out such opposition, that would have been more reason for dismissal. BL also tried to sack his deputy Jack Adams, who was also a communist and failed.
    This was all unnecessary washing of dirty linen in public and could have been avoided, but the myth of ‘Red Robbo’ has persisted to this day.
    After Derek Robinson was fired he was replaced by Jack Adams, and when he became a full time union official, he was in turn replaced by another Communist.

  92. Robinson features briefly in “The Defence of the Realm” Prof. Christopher Andrew’s authorized history of MI5.

    From what I recall, MI5 obtained the minutes of a meeting between Robinson and Communist Party of Great Britain officials detailing some strike plan or other (there were so many…)

    This was in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s first administration.

    Taken this from here,

    “Margaret Thatcher and Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw agreed an MI5 officer could pass these to British Leyland’s chairman in a brown paper envelope and they eventually found their way to the Sunday Times”

    It appears that Edwardes passed them to Terry Duffy, the leader of the AUEW and whatever was in those minutes convinced Duffy not to lead his union into taking strike action.

    I’m really not convinced that Robinson wasn’t a villain in the whole saga.

    Another thing of which I am not certain is whether we know the full story of Soviet influence in the Labour movement – and if we are mature enough yet to handle it.

    Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB’s bureau chief in London – and who defected to the UK in the 1980s – reported that one of his agents was none other than Jack Jones, the former leader of the TGWU. Don’t know if Jones was able to furnish much high-level information to the Soviets – I suspect he was only able to contribute mundane intelligence such as Moss Evans’ preferred style of hat – but it does make you wonder who else was on the KGB pay-roll…

  93. Maggie left British Leyland, then Rover by 1990, in a far better state than when she inherited it in 1979. I do rememnber visiting Bruges in 1990 and seeing a Rover showroom that looked busy and thinking, foreigners are starting to buy our cars again after largely deserting them for 20 years. Back home there were waiting lists for new Rovers and the rival products from Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Peugeot Citroen looked old fashioned, bland and cheap in comparison. While I know the Rover revival died off as the nineties progressed, for a time it looked like the company had won and to an extent it was Maggie, by getting rid of the company’s subsidy culture, taming the unions and getting rid of lame duck managers.

  94. I can only reiterate Glenn’s comments (98): by the time Thatcher left office in 1990, Rover was an aspirational brand, reflected in its confident advertising, which just 4 years later BMW considered good enough to buy. Would BMW have considered any/all of the car divisions of BL British Leyland a good buy in 1979? No, I don’t think so.

    I doubt whether we would also now have, in 2013, the world class Jaguar Land Rover, and MINI, were it not for Thatcher.

    And on top of this, the UK Japanese car industry success story can trace its roots directly back to Thatcher in the 1980’s .

  95. #51 – “Blair stood up for what he believed in..” Funniest thing I’ve read all week.

    I left school, in a mining/steel town, in 1980, factories closing left right and centre. The UK was an International joke at the time, Thatcher did what she had to do..

    Classmates of mine in college where on day release from the local steelworks, they used to take sleeping bags to work and take it in turns to skive off, overmanning was rife, the unions saw to that. The closed shop agreement dictated hiring and firing.

    Bringing the Japanese in was a win-win situation,
    1. They introduced working & production methods and labour relations that UK firms HAD to adopt to survive
    2. It allowed UK plc to export quality products
    3. It provided a fallback position in case of the inevitable failure of the home grown industries

  96. One of the major things that did immense damage to the Thatcher governments popularity was the long delayed rationalisation of British Steel.
    Sir Monty Finiston had proposed it as far back as 1975 but was vetoed by Tony Benn.
    The closure of several plants led to staggering numbers of job losses, and not surprisingly feelings ran high and still do. Steel making is seen as a symbol of an industrialised nation, so closures on this scale were a major knockback to a nation with pretensions of remaining a major economic power.

  97. Ian @102, British Steel was losing a billion pounds a year in 1980 and had been badly affected by an 11 week strike and the world recession. While the job losses in places like Consett caused massive unemployment, the slimmed down corporation that survived was vastly more productive.

  98. @101, The thought is scarier than the reality!Did we have a lucky escape.

  99. Someone pointed out on Radio 4 that according to Thatcherite principles, her funeral arrangements should have been put out to tender, with the contract going to the cheapest bidder.

    I think an Allegro estate would make a suitable hearse…

  100. According to the BBC Maggie got us a £70 Billion EC rebate which no one else would have fought for and won.
    The mining industry was going to die just as steam trains had done years earlier – much as I love steam trains I can hardly blame the decision makers for moving on to diesel can I?
    The world did not want any more Queen Mary’s and certainly not at the price the UK ship yards would want – and we blame the UK PM for that?
    The UK car industry was a mess – made up of poor management and a militant workforce producing half as many cars as they should have done with twice as many people as they needed – but hey, let’s blame Maggie!
    I don’t think so. Pay the money – give a good send off that she deserves for her consistent effort to make Britain great – and competitive again.
    Oh’ – and I’m not too convinced that Red Robbo was actually Whiter than White Robbo as we are now being lead to believe. Dozens of books on my shelves written by dozens of different authors with dozens of different agendas are all wrong? Hmmmmmmm

  101. As I stated before, one major factor that kept alive VW, Fiat, GM and Ford was- and still is- their presence in major protected markets outside Europe, by selling oldies but goodies outdated cars or even crap like Fiat Duna or VW Gol 1st generation and Santana. Now the question is why BL didn’t tried to enter in Brazil and China, renforce ties in India or trying agreements in Russia like Fiat did with Lada.

  102. #108 : I think the answer is that by and large , BL’s mainstream technology was too advanced by the late 1960s. Assembling a VW Beetle or Fiat 124 – or a Hillman Hunter – and repairing them later , was one thing , but an 1100 and/or a Mini was a different matter . I would hardly describe the Golf as crap – it was, and still is, a wonderful little car

  103. #95,
    in your analysis of the British economy, did you account for the fact that Britain was bankrupt following the expenditure of WW2, and was forced to beg and live off credit from the USA for a considerable number of years, credit which was withdrawn at a moments notice, supply ships actually turned around mid-ocean, only to be reinstated after emergency talks, credit which was subject to paranoia of the USA who considered British reforms such as NHS and nationalisation of near-bankrupt industries, (railways, coal) etc as a communist takeover.

    The terrible financial situation benefited Europe, Germany got away scot free for the trouble they caused, they (and others) were able to modernise leaving poor old Britain to carry in the old inefficient ways, low wages, low productivity. the seventies were the breaking point for Britain, hence we got Thatcher

  104. @ 108 – Rodrigo
    @ 109 – christopher storey

    Kind of a Pity BL did not sell cars like the Allegro, Marina / Ital and 18–22 / Princess / Ambassador (ADO71) to places like South America, India, China, North Africa and the Eastern Bloc, albeit in a more spartan form.

    Given how much at home the original Mini looked on the streets of Mumbai in that TG episode, it is kind of shocking that BL never considered producing even a more spartan / cheaper to produce Mini (A-Series powered along with the 948cc diesel or 545-656cc 2/3-cylinder engines from the Honda Today) or even made use of a more utilitarian Austin Metro for the Indian market to rival the likes of the Maruti 800.

  105. Ladies and Gentleman,

    I am in my 40th year, I was at 6th form when Baroness Thatcher was ousted.

    Frankly the UKs most succesfull leader from an economic standpoint.

    It disgusts me that so many people are so ignorant about FACTS, and confuse myths etc with facts.

    A serving police officer seemed to find amusement in her death, parties to celebrate. Plain wrong….makes me ashamed to live in the UK sort of wrong.

    Gemma @ 14….Personal insults are forbidden, I am sorry you are too far off the mark.

    MM@ 93 you sir are on the money

    98 again on the money.

    Mike is fettling a Rover 800, my memory serves me, the honda JV rover cars were all decent, the K series you had to be lucky.

    The success of Honda/Toyota/Nissan/Mini/Ford/JLR are based on the principles of economics, a product made to a quality at a profit THAT PEOPLE WANT TO BUY.

    The labour government have SOME responibility for the demise of Rover, as do the bean counters that didnt address the HGF issue.

    My beloved boat has twin BMC 1.5 diesels, yes the venreble old B series lumps. 30 years old and in fine fettle. England can manufacture world class products, but sustainability is the key word.

    I salute the late Mrs. T, she and her government gave an 18 year old ideas….I own a nice house here and in France, a boat, and run my own company.

    Without MT the UK would have been like Cyprus/Greece 30 years ago.


  106. @ 109 I was talking about VW GOL(goal like in football) not GOLF. Don’t worry, current mistake even over here. And yes, maybe Marina could had a very good chance over here and in all these markets,

    About Mini and ADO16 1300, were bulit in Chile and were quite succesful given the extreme times when they were sold, that could make seem British 70s and winter of discontent like a trip to Ibiza! So only could wonder how good could work these cars, plus the Victoria/Apache, Marina and Land Rover all over Mexico, Brazil, India, Russia or Poland.

  107. @112, A perfect example of the Mrs T doctrine and legacy-get off your arse,work hard and be enterprising.
    Well said by the way.

  108. @ 103 costing 1bn on a turnover of 3bn p.a.! Does anyone else remember the Nationwide British Steel special where they ran a clock from beginning to end of the show, identifying how much money British Steel lost during the program. Everyone I knew who saw it was in shock.

    108,109. Keeping the mogggie going so long was to answer the reason you gave. I remember Lord Stokes appearing on TV justifying the design of the Marina as being a “re-clothed” moggie to address the issues of “bah humbug – damned, fangled, mini cars”. “Traditional underneath but with better interior space and a nice contemporary appearance – what is not to like ?”, he told us. This was in response to a news story about a Vicar getting his BL dealer to make him a new moggie from parts because he hated everything BL made.

    110 – another myth, much promulgated by the – Clem was a superstar – brigade, who want to find a scapegoat for rationing getting worse post war and devaluation. In the Marshal Aid plan, GB received more than Germany. We just didn’t spend it on the same type of things the Germans used their money on, which is why we got to 1974 and 1979, led straight there by both parties.

    @111. Early 1950’s GB was the number 1 exporter of cars in the World. The footprint of overseas assembly plants producing GB models was enormous. It is hard to begin to conceive of the degree of mismanagement that moved the GB motor industry from this point of high tide, to the mess of the late 70’s.

    Divided society once Maggie came to power ? Leftists born since, spouting fantasies learned at Daddies knee. The older Union brigades ‘aving a larff. As small company after small company went broke and the aged found their savings dissolving before their eyes as inflation ripped through the 70’s, many were desperate for the country to pay its way and not spend its children’s money of tomorrow, paying a bribe to today’s gangsters. That is why she was voted in. That is why the country took its medicine and voted for her again and again.

  109. In the late seventies British Leyland jokes were nearly as common as Irish jokes, as the cars were so bad. I can remember we traded in a Maxi, actually not that unreliable but very poorly built and with heavy fuel consumption, for a Toyota Corolla, where everything felt solidly built and it started in all weathers. Also a fitted radio, bucket seats and a sunroof made it a pleasanter environment to drive in.

  110. I think the time has come to terminate this discussion.
    Not because of what has been said but because it can no longer be viewed through the Mozilla Firefox browser.
    I have had to go into google chrome to type this.

  111. We live with the history of the past and a woman’s vision on what she thought was best for the country she evidently loved.

    We all mourn the departed and its only fair that the Thatcher family be allowed to grieve like anyone else – state funeral or not.

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