The Government will need to prove its steely resolve as it comes under pressure

The fate of Britain’s steel industry continues to dominate headlines and heap pressure on a Government that increasingly looks like it is being forced to fight a rearguard action. Ministers are coming under renewed fire for their handling of the crisis after it emerged that Business Secretary Sajid Javid elected to go ahead with a trip to Australia despite being informed that Tata had held a meeting in Mumbai to discuss the future of its UK operations. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has questioned Mr Javid’s judgement and called on him to resign. For his part, Mr Javid appeared on the Andrew Marr show yesterday to insist that no options were off the table even though the Government has made crystal clear its deep-seated aversion to nationalisation. The Business Secretary said the Government was working on plans to reduce energy costs and take on some pension liabilities in order to make Tata’s business more attractive to private buyers.

Despite the Government’s best efforts to get the crisis under control, the prevailing view is that it has been caught off guard, allowing Labour to seize the initiative. Jeremy Corbyn’s party has now forced the Government to backdown on a number of issues, ranging from the Saudi prisons contract to cuts to working tax credits and disability benefits. Labour will hope that the #SaveOurSteel campaign helps it to be seen as a credible opposition by the electorate. Only time will tell if that is indeed the case. But with the Conservative Party plagued by divisions and infighting over Europe, it certainly looks as if Labour is beginning to build momentum of the right kind. Advocating Government intervention to prop-up the British steel industry is bound to play well among Labour’s traditional supporters and help sure up the party’s core vote in the run-up to local elections on May 5. But the Labour leadership’s approach is not without its perils as it could reinforce perceptions of Labour as overly free with public money and too keen to reward its own constituencies.

Chris Warne

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search