ONE of the Government's "successes" has been to neutralise unemployment as a political issue. All the polls record how voters think that this is the number one home issue, and yet when it comes to saying how they will cast their votes, the very same people put the Government in the running to win the next election.
The Government has successfully convinced the electorate that there is no alternative. The argument is a clever one: "given the unpopularity of unemployment why would we refuse any sensible move to bring down the numbers of jobless?"
This view has held sway since 1979. Indeed, to be fair to Mrs Thatcher, the unemployment total was rising before her first election victory. And this is a background which the Prime Minister has exploited in her usual professional manner. The feeling is put around that unemployment has been inexorably rising, and the recent increase is just part of a normal long-term trend.
What is lost in the haze of this argument is the difference in moving towards full employment when the total stands at 1.3 million and when it is registering nearly 3.5 million as it does today — despite all the changes the Government has made to the way the official figures are collected.
The feelings each unemployed person has are not made any easier just because there are many other standing in the dole queues too. But the rise to 3.5 million has occurred because of the closure of firms, and indeed sometimes whole industries. The fall in manufacturing jobs is around 1.8 million over the past few years, and this fracturing of Britain's industrial base shows up each month as record deficit in the balance of payments figures.
The closures of recent years have been so widespread — with the capital equipment being sold off as scrap and the buildings bulldozed — that it is difficult to think about how to return to full employment again.
Consequently those in the dole queue now find it more difficult to get out. Long-term unemployment is rising — it stands at a higher proportion than in the 1930s.
When this period enters the history books the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on the Inner City will rate as more than a footnote. That report Faith in the City — has changed the debate in a very subtle way.
You may remember that the weekend before it was published' a senior government minister tried to "rubbish it" to the media. The effect of this was to guarantee its success in publishing terms. Stocks soon sold out.
It had another effect too. More people began to assert that mass unemployment was wrong and an alternative way to running our society must be found. To have millions condemned to idleness, while inner cities fall into everincreasing decay, and the big outer city estates begin to appear as a new and even more horrible form of ghetto, is now seen as a crime against the creation.
Faith in the City was chaired by Sir Richard O'Brien, Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission until the incoming Tory Government sacked him. He is also Chairman of the Employment Institute. When that body was established a couple of years ago attempts were similarly made to "rubbish it" in the eyes of the media.
This time the campaign met with some success; it stymied the Charter for Jobs which is the campaigning side of the Institute. Recently a relaunch of this Campaign was initiated under the guidance of Molly Meacher.
The Campaign's purpose is to get a clear commitment from all political parties to cut the dole queues to two million, and give a job guarantee to all long-term unemployed people. The Campaign will break new ground to achieve these aims initially in four ways. .
(1) A private member's bill is to be introduced on the Charter's Job Guarantee Scheme for all the long-term unemployed.
(2) A league of jobs is to be set up so that the unemployed can campaign for more jobs. They will also have the chance of telling those in work what it is like being unemployed.
(3) Material will be published on unemployment which the Government has either distorted or obscured.
(4) Education packs for schools will be produced so that Britain's young people will have an opportunity to think for themselves about the serious inadequecy of the Government's jobs policy and the Charter's alternative.
If you would like to know more about the Campaign, and ways in which you can help, please write to Molly Meacher. She can be reached at Charter for Jobs, Southbank House, Black Prince Road, London SE1 7SJ.