Nevill Boyd Maunsell bows out of the Birmingham Post after 36 years
Aug 7 2009 By Nevill Boyd Maunsell
On his final day, the Birmingham Post’s economics editor, Nevill Boyd Maunsell, reflects on his 36 years
A fearsome recession was gathering momentum when I joined the City office of the Birmingham Post in London 36 years ago. I sign off this morning with fingers crossed that we have seen the worst of another.
It is not a bad moment to remind ourselves that things really have been worse before. Last winter, this recession was cracked up to be the worst since the Great Depression of the 30s, or even the short, but shocking slump at the end of the First World War, when the famous flu epidemic coincided with demobilisation and mass unemployment.
Take note, then: I am not aware of any suicides among West Midland industrialists this time. There was at least one in 1981. The man had been in the audience when Sir Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s industry minister, came to Birmingham to deliver a crass and insensitive speech about the unimportance of manufacturing industry to Britain.
West Midland industry never returned as the lavish employer of labour it had been before that recession. Yet it survived to stage a powerful revival in the mid-80s. In 1986 the M&G investment group’s Midland & General unit trust topped the league table of all packaged investments.
One of the first lessons I learned at the Post was that the real economy is rarely as bad – or as good – as the City thinks.
Months after I arrived, Ted Heath ordered industry to work no more than a three-day week. It was mid-winter, the miners were on strike and coal stocks were running low. Heath panicked.
Suddenly we found West Midland companies that had been previously been avid for free publicity were refusing to let journalists near their premises. Some stopped answering the phone.
Afterwards they confessed that they gone on working at least five days a week, whatever Mr Heath decreed, but dared not be found out.
The stock market, though, was behaving – as it does from time to time – as if the capitalist world as we knew it had imploded. The worst shock came when NatWest put out a formal statement that it was not going bust.
The silence last October from NatWest’s new owner, Royal Bank of Scotland, when it faced the beginnings of a run, has turned out far worse – for British taxpayers anyway. In 1974, they never had to stump up a penny.