Consumer confidence up? Sorry, it's not

And here's why . . .

Many newspapers are carrying the story that the GFK NOP consumer confidence improved between August and September, although apparently not significantly so. It seems that UK consumers became more optimistic about the economic outlook and spending; GFK NOP apparently reported that their index of sentiment gained 1 point from August to minus 30. Sorry, it didn't.

This presents data watchers like this correspondent with a puzzle, because, on the same day, the EU Commission reported the results of the same survey. (Note that the GFK conducts the survey for the EU, which pays for it.) And the answers are completely different.

This is where the puzzle really starts, because on its website yesterday, the commission argued that the survey of consumer confidence, using the same data actually fell in September, to its lowest level since April. You can take a look here and even download the data as an Excel file across all the EU countries here.


A decline does seem rather more likely than a rise, given that answers to seven questions show that confidence worsened between August and September. So surely it's going to be pretty hard to get the survey to improve?

The EU calculates its index as (Q2+Q4-Q7+Q11)/4. Note, of course, that a higher number to Question 7 is bad. So consumer confidence fell between August and September from -20 to -22. It looks pretty hard to get a positive from 12 numbers when seven of them worsen and two show no change.

Also the overall index that the EU publishes, which is a combination of business and consumer confidence, worsened sharply to 89.5, down from 92.9, which is its lowest level since September 2009.

Up or down? Which is it? GFK and the EU had better sort this one out. It makes little sense to produce estimates that go in different directions from the same bloody survey. It looks very much to me that consumer confidence worsened in September, not improved. Somebody at GFK has a bit of explaining to do!

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

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.