Will Labour benefit from falling unemployment?

Most expected unemployment to stand at three million by now

It was amusing to watch premature headlines such as "Jobless rate soars to 2.5 million" swiftly amended this morning, after new figures showed that unemployment has actually fallen by 7,000 to 2.46 million.

This time last year, most economists were predicting that unemployment would hit three million by early 2010, so clearly the government's fiscal stimulus has had some effect. The much-derided VAT cut, for instance, is estimated to have raised real consumption by 1.2 per cent.

Labour can plausibly claim that this would not have been the case had the Tories been in power. Will Hutton recently calculated that under a low-spending Tory government, nearly half a million more people would have lost their jobs.

The government can also point out that the labour market has begun to recover more quickly than in previous recessions. Labour has published a new interactive map showing how unemployment is lower in every region compared to the recession of the 1990s.

It isn't all good news for the government. The number in full-time employment fell 113,000 to 21.2 million in the three months to November, while those in part-time jobs grew by 99,000 to 7.7 million. Moreover, the number of economically inactive people, including students, the long-term sick and the retired, has reached a record high of 8.046 million.

All the same, Labour can probably expect a modest poll boost as economic confidence increases. But the argument that the government prevented the recession from turning into a depression is not, as Barack Obama is finding, one that will necessarily resonate with voters. While the electorate blames governments for economic failure, it rarely credits them with recovery.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.