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In september 1995 I watched Tony Blair’s extraordinary conference speech: “A young country,” he said, “must build the economy of the future—no more bosses versus workers, but partnership at work.” I once believed in partnership at work in industry. It was 1975, the year I joined Charles Villiers at British Steel, when Eric Varley appointed him chairman. Villiers had just published a pamphlet called We all Live Here, a guide to a mixed economy which was “social, fair and democratic.”

To transform British Steel Villiers proposed a “steel contract.” I still have his handwritten notes: “We propose partnership of…

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