|Not such diamond years|
|Tuesday, 12 June 2012 18:57|
When Elizabeth II ascended the throne, Britain was the third most prosperous country in the world, lagging behind only the almighty United States and the Soviet Union.
Our corporate giants - a list of household names stretching from Blue Circle cement through Imperial Chemical Industries to shipbuilders SwanHunter - ruled global commerce like colossi.
Indeed, back then, the FTSE 30 read like a Who's Who of Britain's industrial might, encompassing every facet of business from shipbuilding tocar-making, electrical industries to chemicals, and banking to insurance.
Today, many of the illustrious names that helped put the 'Great' into Britain have been beaten to dust by more efficient competition from overseas.
Others have been sold off to the highest foreign bidder as if they were unfashionable vases on offer in a car boot sale.
The sense of national pride that has been expressed across the country over the Diamond Jubilee weekend can no longer be seen on the floor of the London Stock Exchange, in the boardroom of Britain or among the workforce.
It would be easy to dismiss the disappearance of the nation's industrial and manufacturing behemoths as of no consequence; simply a result of the globalisation of the world economy and the advance of technological change.
Certainly, these have been important factors. But it can be no coincidence that in the same 60 years, the US and German economies - the first and fourth largest in the world (Britain is now sixth) - have maintained and expanded their industrial heritage.
In the US many of the firms whose stock was listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Index in the Fifties are still sitting there proudly: DuPont, General Motors, General Electric, Boeing and industrial equipment maker Caterpillar.
Similarly, in Germany, most of the companies quoted on the Deutscher Aktienindex (DAX) reach back into the nation's manufacturing past, including chemical firms BASF and Bayer, Daimler and BMW.
In contrast, great names from Britain's industrial landscape have largely vanished. The Fort Dunlop factory in Birmingham, once a world leader in rubber, has been demolished and the site is now a shopping centre. The Westland helicopter test field in Weston-super-Mare has been turned into a helicopter museum, with the engineering work moved to Italy.
Of the parent companies that were quoted on the stock exchange when the Queen acceded the throne, only a handful survive.
Those that are no longer independent enterprises include textile makers Coats and Courtaulds, music firm EMI, the General Electric Company, aircraft maker Hawker Siddeley, Leyland Motors, Vickers and brewers Watney Combe Reid.
Those corporate survivors include financial firms Barclays and Prudential, Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco, engineer Rolls-Royce (saved from the scrapheap by Ted Heath's government) and every woman's High Street favourite, Marks & Spencer.
The transformation of Britain's industrial landscape is often attributed to the advance of the free market. The most pure form of this is Anglo-Saxon capitalism, whose advocates say ownership doesn't matter, and that only efficiency and profits count.
But the truth is that other nations have carefully nurtured and looked after key industries, while successive British governments - of all political colours - have been less keen to play the patriotic card.
Instead, they have concluded that keeping markets open is what is most important, and the best measure of success is the amount of inward investment rather than a question of ownership.
This is all very well if every country plays by the same rules. But they do not. Despite being the home of Milton Friedman's school of free market economics, the US does not practice what it preaches.
For example, control of our ports passed from one of the nation's great historic shipping companies, P&O, into the shoddy hands of Dubai Ports World in 2006. Yet the American government took a typically robust position. Though happy for Britain to control ports on its eastern seaboard, it did not want to see them in Middle Eastern hands.
Similarly, no foreigner is allowed to buy an American airliner. In fact, US government workers are only allowed to travel on American carriers when on official business!
The same applies for broadcasting companies. Rupert Murdoch had to become a US citizen and move his News Corporation to Delaware before he could buy the TV stations that became his Fox network.
In France, ten key sectors of the economy - from aerospace to yoghurt manufacture - are regarded as strategic industries and prevented from being bought by foreign firms.
Even British companies that have survived down the decades, such as Prudential insurance, have diluted their Britishness.
Six decades ago, the Pru stood at the centre of the UK's commercial empire. It held at least a three percent shareholding in all other major companies, giving it a major influence over decisions in businesses such as ICI and British Leyland. However, it tossed away that home-grown culture as if it were of no importance.Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Daily Mail.