Opinion with Christine Tongue: We need a fresh look at our economy

Christine eats out before the virus but should we also be looking at more support for farms, allotments and key services

Did you “eat out to help out”? And did it help anyone out? Only the Chancellor Rishi Sunak may know. But things aren’t too good at the moment whichever way you look at it.

I’m still scared of getting the virus, or passing it on, so we missed out on the £10 deal, but loads of people crowded out places with the offer, and many of the pubs and cafes were packed all of August. Broadstairs was fun again!

But after the fun people were told to go back to work, get on the buses and trains, and buy their sandwiches and takeaway coffees etc to support the economy.

What kind of economy are we talking about?

Years ago, after Mrs Thatcher decided manufacturing wasn’t for us any more and farming was for the French to worry about, the future for Britain was seen to be in service industries – anything that didn’t involve miners or factories. So the West Midlands (where I come from) lost its production lines and smelly polluters like Goodyears – which was just round the corner from where I lived and whose stink filled my childhood years – disappeared almost overnight.

In Thanet, the local plan from 20 years ago, plotted to bring a “night time economy” to our high streets while proper shopping would move to a smart new out of town centre, Westwood Cross – which at the time was fields of good farm land and a quite pretty Victorian isolation hospital, (might have come in handy now!)

Instead of growing stuff and being a traditional seaside, Thanet was supposed to be full of fancy coffee shops and “twenty-four hour” hospitality venues.

Obviously, it wasn’t just us. If you believe the telly, half the businesses in Liverpool and Manchester now depend on young people getting off their heads every night.

But shouldn’t we be looking at a wider economy?  In total lockdown didn’t we all start to think about things differently?

We discovered a lot of jobs could be done from home without wasting our lives commuting to offices for hours on crowded trains. Or we questioned whether what was going on in those offices needed to be done at all!

What I’ve learned to value, like most of us, is those tremendously committed NHS workers, care home staff, people delivering food to the vulnerable (me!), local farmers and allotment holders growing food and getting it to my door, and the “service” staff we really need – teachers, bus drivers, checkout workers in the shops that stayed open and everyone else who kept our lives ticking over in a crisis.

“Eat out to help out” for me was a total misunderstanding of the people who couldn’t eat out, those using food banks and low paid workers, who must have been dismayed to be told to spend a tenner.

Rishi Sunak is struggling to convince me that he’s understanding this properly. Can’t he see the connection between paying people less and having problems feeding their kids?

What we badly need is to get workers into things like food production, health and social care and whatever keeps people safe. Put money into retraining for useful stuff. Stop building on good farmland, stop thinking that rich companies need subsidies. Stop being mean with money when people have to stop work because of the virus or because their company has gone bust.

Above all, start valuing life not money. Keep us alive, all of us, and then we can think about what jobs we really don’t need. Rishi, that might include yours!

Christine Tongue is a Broadstairs resident and former Labour Party member. She now does not belong to a political party but does represent disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. The area hit hardest for loss of productive jobs, under Thatcher, was London and South East.

    As far as Thanet is concerned Christine lives in denial. The night time economy was killed by TDC and police decisions years before local plans of the past 20 years. The agricultural land of Thanet has poor quality ground water even though TDC has headed off evaluation of PFOA and PCBs spread. When that is evaluated you might even find Thanet produced veggie and salad banned.

  2. When I suggest we should relook at the way food is sold I am told it is capitalism at work, the free market. . Well it isn’t. I am not sure it ever was. The market place is never free from interference, vested interests, trade barriers and sales incentives etc.
    I feel entirely free to try to create a different way to do things. Food is about sustenance, health, creating something to be shared and enjoying doing so. It is sensuous, has meaning in our lives and links us to nature.
    We have lost our way. By broadening our experience of food, by increasing our skill, our knowledge and our confidence with food we become less easily controlled. We move away from being a part of the consumer based economy which creates false demands, bamboozles us with marketing messages , creates false economies and becomes voracious in its need for novelty to keep stimulating us.

    • I wish you were chancellor, Sharon! I really admire how you think and your energy in carrying out your ideas.

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