Why Osborne needs that Plan B

The worst unemployment figures since the start of the year show why the coalition needs a “Plan B”.

Just a day after the government rejected advice from the cabinet secretary, Gus O'Donnell, to prepare a "Plan B" for the economy, the worst employment figures since the start of the year are published.

The jobless total increased by 35,000 in the three months to October to 2.5 million (7.9 per cent) and long-term unemployment rose to 839,000, up by 41,000 over the three months and the worst figure since 1997. Turn to youth unemployment and the picture only gets grimmer. The number of 16-to-24-year-olds out of work increased by 28,000 to 943,000, one of the highest figures since records began in 1992 and a jobless rate of 19.8 per cent.

The $64,000 question remains this: will job creation in the private sector be sufficient to offset job losses in the public sector? It would be complacent of George Osborne to assume so. The sector that created a mere 300,000 jobs between 1993 and 1999 is now expected to create more than two million between now and 2015.

There is something dangerously arrogant about a government that rejects all talk of a "Plan B" – merely an exercise in contingency planning – on the grounds that its approach is beyond question. Vince Cable's attack on Treasury officials as "Thirties fiscal fundamentalists" suggests that not everyone in the coalition is so sanguine.

Osborne may have already declared triumphantly: "The plan is working." But he could live to regret such hubris.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Grandpa was ill and wasn’t keen on climbing the volcano – but we forced him up all the same

I squinted. Apart from a gleam of turquoise, the view was of one big cloud. Slowly the words started to form in my head. Just. Like. Scotland.

At first, Grandpa was sceptical about the volcano. “I used to be into that kind of thing,” he said, “but not now.” He did not mention that he was 88.

The guidebook to Indonesia – which he disdained – described how, once you got to the crater, the mist would rise to reveal a shimmering lake. His fellow travellers, my sister and I, often joked about our family’s tendency to declare everything to be “just like Scotland”. This was a living, breathing volcano. It would be nothing like Scotland.

But as Grandpa reminisced about his childhood in the Dutch East Indies, he began to warm to the idea. We set off at 7am and drove past villages with muddled terracotta roofs and rice paddies spread across the valleys like glimmering tables. We talked excitedly about our adventure. Then it began to rain. “Perhaps it will blow over,” I said to my sister, as the view from the windows turned into smears.

Our driver stopped at a car park. With remarkable efficiency, he opened the doors for us and drove away. The rain was like gunfire.

To get to the crater, we had to climb into an open-sided minibus where we sat shivering in our wet summer clothes. Grandpa coughed. It was a nasty cough, which seemed to be getting worse; we had been trying to persuade him to go to a pharmacy for days. Instead, we had persuaded him up a cold and wet mountain.

Five minutes passed, and the minibus didn’t budge. Then another bedraggled family squeezed in. I thought of all the would-be volcano tourists curled up in their hotels.

“Look,” I said to the attendant. “My grandfather is not well. Can we please start?”

He shook his head. “Not till all seats are full.” We exchanged a glance with the other family and paid for the empty seats. The driver set off immediately.

The minibus charged up a road through the jungle, bouncing from puddle to puddle. Grandpa pulled out his iPhone and took a selfie.

The summit was even colder, wetter, rainier and more unpleasant. We paid a small fortune to borrow an umbrella and splashed towards the lake. My sister stopped by a fence.

“Where is it?” I said.

“I think . . . this is it,” she replied.

I squinted. Apart from a gleam of turquoise, the view was of one big cloud. Slowly the words started to form in my head. Just. Like. Scotland.

I thought remorsefully of the guidebook, how I’d put my sightseeing greed before my grandfather’s health. Then I noticed the sign: “Danger! Do not approach the sulphur if you have breathing problems.”

Grandpa, still coughing, was holding the umbrella. He beckoned me to join him. I didn’t know it then, but when we made it back to the car, he would be the first to warm up and spend the journey back telling us stories of surviving the war.

But at that moment, in the dreich rain, he gave me some advice I won’t forget.

“If anyone tells you to go and see a volcano,” he said, “you can tell them to fuck off.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution