"None of the Labour ministers has ever done a real job!" Back in the Seventies, when anyone uttered that slander to rising star Roy Hattersley, he had a finger-wagging retort: "Don't say that to me. My first job was in the steel industry!"
Now in his seventies, the working peer and writer admits he over-eggs his industrial pudding: "I like to give the impression that I wore dungarees, carried a hammer and led a workers' revolt." This is an improbable image, even for those of us who consider Roy to be the greatest Deputy Prime Minister the country never had. "What do we want?" I imagine him yelling as he vaults over the barricades. "Twenty per cent more for hard-working columnists!" "When do we want decent royalties for authors of books like The Edwardians and The Secret Diaries of Buster?" "Now!"
It is certainly true that on leaving university 50 years ago he became a management trainee in the steel industry. In fact, his long-term ambition was politics and he hoped to begin with a council seat in Sheffield, his home town. This meant getting a job in steel. "Sheffield didn't manufacture steel but it processed it." And no one processed it better than the small subsidiary of United Steel named Daniel Doncaster's and Sons Ltd, Makers of High Quality Stampings, Forgings and Pressings, Established 1772.
There was a brief and inadequate training period. "Then I went to the Fuel and Efficiency Department, where I tried to improve the efficiency of the factory by timing various tasks.
"Also I did odd jobs for 'Mr Richard' Doncaster, who used to terrify me by taking me with him for a tour of inspection on the catwalks above the open furnaces." Unlike his boss, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather had been in the business, the young trainee did not have nerves of steel. Otherwise, he had no complaints.
"It was extremely congenial, certainly for the for junior managers. Everybody was very friendly and helpful. There was a family ethos, very benevolent. It was better than paternalism, although there was the paternalist attitude of 'You don't need a trade union - we'll look after you', and I was the only member of a trade union in junior management. They gave me time off when I got the Labour nomination for a winnable seat on Sheffield City Council and the unwinnable Parliamentary seat of Sutton Coldfield.
"I was never sufficiently elevated to learn anything about management or sufficiently technical to learn anything about steel processing," he concedes. But as for a real job, he has been there and got the T-shirt (even if it says: "Buster the Dog - out soon!").Reuse content