March of the makers? Hardly

More like the march of the ex-builders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and roofers.

Today, it is the turn of the construction industry to enter centre stage and, as usual, these days, the news isn't good.

First, the ONS published its New Orders in the Construction Industry: 2nd quarter 2011. Unfortunately, there weren't many. New orders in the second quarter of 2011 fell by 16.3 per cent in comparison with the first quarter.

The total volume of all new orders is now at its lowest total since the third quarter of 1980.

New construction orders fell by 23.2 per cent, compared with the same period in 2010. Private industrial was the only sector that showed positive growth from the first to the second quarter (6.6 per cent).

New orders in construction have collapsed under the coalition. Here is the data in constant (2005) prices, seasonally adjusted in millions of pounds, showing the collapse of new orders from the second half of 2010 -- in other words, when the coalition took office.

2010
Q1 £13,376
Q2 £12,375
Q3 £11,503
Q4 £12,983

2011
Q1 £11,349
Q2 £9,502

Also, today, CIPS/Markit published their PMI for UK construction, which showed that rate of growth in construction continued to weaken in August. It was notable that employment levels and sub-contractor usage continued to fall during the latest survey period, which respondents linked to either lower workloads or expectations of weaker market demand

Sarah Bingham, economist at Markit and author of the UK construction PMI said:

August data signalled slower growth of both output and new orders as headwinds caused by uncertain economic conditions impacted on sector performance. Confidence regarding future business expectations weakened to an eight-month low, highlighting concerns in respect of further potential cuts in government spending, but also a dampening of wider business sentiment, which may act to reduce investment on construction projects. Another month of job cuts again reinforced lower confidence over future activity levels within the construction sector.

In my column this week, I worried that the march of the makers may become the march of the unemployed ex-makers. The march of the ex-builders, ex-plumbers, ex-carpenters, ex-electricians and ex-roofers appears to have already started.

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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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