The sound of silence now spreads across the country as the economy dies. As I walk through my home town, I see even the few brave small shops closing earlier and earlier as the customers vanish.
I ask them how business is – carefully keeping the prescribed distance – and they give me strained smiles as they confess that it has all but disappeared. I genuinely do not know how much longer they will bother. And once those familiar doors close, will they ever open again?
People are so used to a world in which the lifeblood of commerce flows smoothly and reliably, that they seem unable to grasp what happens when it just stops. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was an industrial reporter.
I spent my life writing about the strikes which then convulsed many of our major industries. I had some sympathy with the strikers, who were, after all, only trying to protect their pay and conditions against inflation and attempts to wring more work out of them for the same pay.
But they were badly and often quite stupidly led. In the end they killed their own jobs.
Ultimately, it was obvious that their actions were self-destructive. Newspapers and Government Ministers used to warn dramatically about the millions of irreplaceable working days lost through strikes.
They said that our economy would be crippled, and that foreign competition would sweep in and take their place. And they were right. When did you last see a British car?
The April wind now blows over the graveyards of dozens of great industries whose workers ignored this warning. Not much more than a mile from where I am writing this, you may see the place where the huge Morris Motors car factories and the Pressed Steel plant that fed them used to stand, enormous, busy and seemingly indestructible, with dozens of smaller businesses clustered round. Now they have quite vanished, as if they had never been.
But the damage done by those strikes is a pinprick compared to the damage now being done by our own Government.
Much of this lost industrial work was replaced by the busy service industries. But now they are being strangled by a Great Lockout, whose end we cannot foretell, but which destroys a job every few seconds, and a long-nurtured business every few minutes. On this occasion, it is the Government which has caused millions and millions of working days to be lost.