What do the unemployment figures actually show?

There was no good news in today's figures -- and this is just the beginning.

The awful unemployment numbers today came as no surprise to those of us who have been arguing these many months that George Osborne's economic strategy is disastrous for the British economy. There was never the slightest prospect of a expansionary fiscal contraction in the depths of a once-in-a-century financial crisis.

This is all likely to get a lot worse over the next few months. Unemployment rising, the number of jobs and total hours falling and rising unemployment durations. There was no good news.

David Cameron, master of understatement, admitted at PMQs today, at which he took a batterring over the economy, that the numbers were "disappointing". Indeed, Labour today accused Cameron of "bluster, evasion and untruths" in his attempt to defend what they called his "failing economic record". Liam Byrne, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said:

David Cameron's complacency today was simply breathtaking. And, under pressure to explain why unemployment is rising and the economy flatlining, he once again resorted to bluster and evasion and got his figures badly wrong.

So what did the ONS data release actually show, rather than what the Prime Minister wished they showed?

1. An increase in ILO unemployment of 80,000 on the rolling May-July quarter, going over the 2.5 million mark. The unemployment rate remains at 7.9 per cent.

2. The more timely claimant count for August increased by 20,000.

3. There was a growth of 29,000 of discouraged workers, who were out of the labour force but reported that they wanted a job

4. Employment fell by 69,000 on the quarter but was up 24,000 on the year. Workforce jobs were down 100,000 on the quarter and down 41,000 on the year.

5. Public-sector jobs fell 111,000 on the quarter and 240,000 on the year, contrary to what Cameron falsely claimed at PMQs today. Private-sector jobs were up 41,000 on the quarter and 264, 000 on the year. This is approximately half the 500,000 jobs that Osborne recently claimed had been created under his watch. It is becoming clear, as we get more data, that most of the jobs created were under Darling's watch.

These numbers are set to worsen further and as each month goes by, it will become increasingly obvious that private-sector job creation is slowing fast. Time to own these numbers, George. Your policy is failing fast.

6. Hours picked up a little, but as I suggested in an earlier blog, the decline observed over the past couple of months was not just because of bank holidays, as David Smith recently claimed on his blog. Total hours were 914.3 million on the quarter, down from 921.3 million in May-July 2010 when the coalition took office.

7. Youth unemployment rose by 78,000 on the quarter to 973,000. Especially worrying was the rise of 35,000 of 18-to-24-year-olds on the quarter who had been unemployed for 12 months or more. The number of 18-to-24-year-olds on the claimant count for at least 12 months was also up on the month. Long duration unemployment is especially bad and shamefully, the government seems to have no policy to deal with this growing problem.

8. Wage pressure remains benign. Regular pay rose by 1.7 per cent on the month so, with inflation at 4.5 per cent, driven primarily by Osborne's VAT increase, most workers are having real pay cuts.

9. Scotland was the only region that saw falling unemployment on the quarter.

This is just the start of a flood of dreadful economic news that is expected to hit us over the next couple of months. The coalition government's economic strategy is in tatters.

Ed Balls and Ed Milband are going to have a field day with Natalie Rowe's -- aka Mistress Pain -- claims of Osborne's cocaine use and his interest in her work as a dominatrix. Talk of paddles, whips, chains and handcuffs are certainly not going to do much for his credibility, which is already in tatters as the economy tanks. Osborne's sneering is going to come back to haunt him. The Labour leader today suggested at PMQs that the Chancellor had "lashed himself to the mast. Not for the first time perhaps!"

Sadly, the coalition appears to believe that unemployment is a price worth paying. I suspect that the British people will have something to say about that.

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

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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

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