Believe it or not, Labour has a good-ish story to tell

Today’s growth figures confirm the recession is over -- for now.

So, it's confirmed. We didn't slip back into negative growth in the first quarter of 2010 and we have -- so far! -- dodged the deadly "double-dip" recession.

From the Guardian:

The Office for National Statistics said its first estimate of GDP for January to March showed growth of 0.2 per cent following 0.4 per cent growth in the final quarter of 2009. Economists had predicted growth on average of 0.4 per cent, although predictions in a Reuters poll had ranged from 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent, with some forecasters warning January's harsh weather could have knocked output.

The article, however, goes on to point out:

Economists said the growth figure was likely to be revised higher when the ONS issues two more detailed estimates in May and June once it has collated more data.

That is exactly what happened in March when GPD growth for the last quarter of 2009 was revised up to 0.4 per cent, from an initial estimate of 0.1 per cent. So, it's not all bad news.

In fact, this has been a week of economic clouds for Labour -- but each with a silver lining. The growth figure was not as high as hoped for, but, let's be frank, at least there was growth (and the BBC's Stephanie Flanders highlights the "stonking 0.7 per cent estimate for growth" in manufacturing, which is, she says, "the strongest quarterly performance for that part of the economy in many years").

Unemployment hit a 14-year high but the claimant count continued to fall -- and you'd be twice as likely to be on the dole in the 1980s as you are today. And the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the Budget deficit in 2009-1010, while a record for peacetime at £163bn, was more than £3bn lower than anticipated.

Oh, and while Ken Clarke invoked the spectre of an IMF bailout to fearmonger about the prospects of a hung parliament, the IMF itself released a report that implicitly backed Labour's fiscal strategy. In its influential World Economic Outlook report, the IMF said that the west's economies were too weak for spending cuts, concluding: "In most advanced economies, fiscal and monetary policies should maintain a supportive thrust in 2010 to sustain growth and employment." Bad luck, Ken.

On the non-economic front, the latest statistics from the British Crime Survey and the police show that crime is down by 7 per cent, despite the recession. "The British Crime Survey shows the risk of being a victim of crime is at the lowest level in almost 30 years," said Keith Bristow, head of crime at the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Net migration is falling, according to the ONS. Households are better off in 2010 than they were in 1997, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Higher spending has "improved quality" in the NHS, according the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance election report. And so on . . .

Let's not be under any illusions -- or get carried away. This Labour government screwed up a lot (especially abroad), and could have achieved wide-ranging and irrevocable social-democratic and constitutional reforms to the UK had it chosen to do so. Attlee achieved more in six years than Blair and Brown achieved in 13. And so there is no doubt in my mind that, overall, the party squandered its 13 years in office and its large Commons majorities.

But, nonetheless, it has a good-ish story to tell in this particular post-crash, post-expenses election -- despite the broken-Britain/bankrupt-Britain propaganda pushed by the Tories and their supporters in the right-wing press.

So why don't Brown and co tell it? As Steve Richards of the Independent points out:

Labour is seeking a fourth term. As David Miliband has put it, his party is making "a massive ask". Such a quest would be challenging at the best of times. After a recession and the expenses scandal, this is not by any means the best of times. In such circumstances it should be seeking to set the agenda ever hour of every day. Brown and members of the cabinet (what happened to the idea of presenting Labour as an experienced team?) should be at early-morning press conferences, mid-afternoon press conferences, rallies, and giving interviews around the clock.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era