Jobless Britain is what should scare the coalition – not rioting students

With 2.6 people on benefits for every job vacancy, Cameron will soon see what Broken Britain looks l

David Cameron came to power promising to mend what he described as "broken Britain". But if Britain ever were to be broken, Cameron is starting to show us what it would look like. The student protests and rioting against the tripling of tuition fees have severely undermined the credibility of the Liberal Democrats, but should also concern the Conservatives.

A government that cannot control the streets of London is in trouble. But the vote was won, and the government, though perhaps not the Lib Dems, will get over it. What should really concern the government is that "jobless Britain" is already a reality before the cuts start to bite. The public backlash to that will make the student protests look like a picnic.

Several weeks ago, Office for National Statistics data showed that nationally there are already 2.6 claimants on average for every job vacancy. Taking data from more than 230 areas of Britain, they found that there are 1,359,282 unemployed claimants in Britain seeking a total of 521,729 job vacancies.

However, while historically poorer areas of Britain such as Scotland and the north-east are far above the average, Scotland having 3.9 claimants for each vacancy and the north-east 3.2, it is London that tops the list at 4.1 unemployed workers to every job vacancy. Meanwhile, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales have 2.7 unemployed workers per vacancy. The south-east, east of England, East Midlands and south-west are below the national average.

But what is most concerning is the pattern of mass regional unemployment. For example, in four areas of Scotland – Campbeltown, Newton Stewart and Wigtown, Wick, and Gairloch and Ullapool – there are more than ten jobless people chasing each job. There are a further 14 areas, nine of which are in Scotland or Wales, where there are at least seven unemployed workers for each job.

The darling bloods of May

This situation is likely to get worse as the coalition presses ahead with its plans to sack 100,000 public-sector workers in 2011. With the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicting an increase in unemployment of at least 1 per cent in 2011, there is a grave risk that this contagion of areas with mass unemployment levels will spread across the rest of Britain, particular in those with a high proportion of public-sector workers.

Moreover, the data reveals that, before the cuts start in earnest, there is already an unemployment crisis in Britain, at a time when there is little evidence that the private sector will be able to create jobs. Indeed, there are only five areas of Britain where there are more job vacancies than unemployment claimants – Penrith and Appleby, Harrogate and Ripon, Andover, Kendal and Rugby.

The reality is that it is the economy, not tuition fees, which will make or break this government. Nick Clegg and his party have been wounded, perhaps mortally, by their tuition fee betrayal. They are now languishing at between 5 and 10 per cent in the polls, and their first dose of punishment will probably be meted out at the local elections in May.

But now attention and the story will shift to Cameron and Osborne. Were the student protests an aberration from normality, or merely the first act in a long drama of public unrest and anger? Is David Cameron a "compassionate conservative", or one hell-bent on taking Britain back to the divided nation of strikes, mass unemployment, private affluence and public squalor that it was in the 1980s? We will soon find out.

The IMF, the OECD and the OBR have all predicted sluggish growth and higher unemployment in 2011 and 2012. If the private sector cannot fill the gap left by public-sector job cuts, then, despite his undoubted class as a politician, and his assured and self-confident start as Prime Minister, David Cameron will see what "broken Britain" really looks like. If that happens, he will find himself, like John Major 15 years ago, "in office but not in power".

Ben Fox is chairman of GMB Brussels and political adviser to the Socialist vice-president of economic and monetary affairs.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit