Osborne's cheerleaders have got their facts wrong

One extra bank holiday can't explain the dramatic decline in working hours.

David Smith of the Sunday Times seems to enjoy taking potshots at me on his blog. This time, he has criticised the blog I posted yesterday regarding the decline in working hours, because he seems unable to believe that the economy is tanking. He, of course, has been one of Osborne's main cheerleaders in the press and has constantly argued that the recovery is in full force and all is well in the UK economy. He has called the recovery again and again and has been proved wrong again and again.

This is what he said under the headline "Blanchflower and the missing hours":

But hang on a second, didn't we have an extra bank holiday in the second quarter? And wouldn't that naturally lead to a fall in hours worked? Of course it would. In fact, there's an 11m drop in weekly hours worked between the first and second quarters. The sequence of weekly hours worked numbers, Q2 2010 917.6m, Q3 921.1m, Q4 920.7m, Q1 2011 921.9m, Q2 910.6m, points strongly to a bank holiday effect, as the Office for National Statistics says in its explanatory notes.

He went on: "Danny needs to get his facts straight."

Actually, David needs to get his facts straight as first, he clearly didn't read the explanatory notes that say, and I quote, "The quarterly falls in the estimates of total hours worked and average weekly hours were PARTLY due to an additional public holiday on 29 April 2011 (for the Royal Wedding) which occurred four days after the Easter Monday public holiday."

That doesn't quite cut it, as we can see from the monthly data from the ONS website that hours of work were around the same level in March, April and May (see below).

2010 May 917.6 hours
2010 Jun 921.3 hours
2010 Jul 919.7 hours
2010 Aug 921.1 hours
2010 Sep 918.8 hours
2010 Oct 914.7hours
2010 Nov 920.7 hours
2010 Dec 925.4 hours
2011 Jan 929.6 hours
2011 Feb 921.9 hours
2011 Mar 910.9 hours
2011 Apr 911.0 hours
2011 May 910.6 hours

Good try David. So how exactly would a bank holiday in April lower hours in March or May? Time to get your facts straight, mate, before coming after yours truly. The coalition is responsible for reductions in the demand for labour, hence the poor spending data.

PS Note Smith's coalition supporting spin today on his website. The media are full of the disappointing retail sales data but Smith's headline today is "Retail sales edge up". On 14 August, it was: "Labour's VAT plan would threaten Britain's AAA rating". It is pretty easy to see his true colours.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.