The coalition must rethink its approach to youth unemployment

Ministers must accept that the immigration cap will not help young Britons into work.

Today's rise in the number of young people not in employment, education or training is the biggest since records began in 2000. Compared with the same period last year, there are now 119,000 more 19-24 year olds not in education, work or training, representing a rise of 18 per cent. These figures follow new research published yesterday by the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development showing that while youth unemployment rises, employer demand for migrant workers continues to rise.

Both sets of figures should cause the government to rethink its approach. Tomorrow's migration statistics will confirm whether the trends are pushing the net migration target further out of reach: the previous quarter's figures showed emigration of British nationals down by more than 25 per cent since 2008, and immigration from Eastern Europe rising, both trends which the government can do little about. Last week, the Spectator magazine was one of the first to take the questionable argument that used to be levelled at Labour, that 'too many new jobs are going to foreigners', and turn it against the government. Yesterday's CIPD survey suggests that this pressure is likely to worsen, as employer demand for migrant workers continues to rise, particularly in the private sector, with 32 per cent now saying they are planning to recruit migrant workers in the next quarter:

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Source: CPID, August 2011

This national picture disguises significant regional variation. Employers in London (40 per cent) and the South (30 per cent) are significantly more likely to say they intend to recruit migrant workers than those in the North (14 per cent). There is also anecdotal evidence that the Government has underestimated the disruptive effect on employers of its 'cap' on non-EU migrant workers. In talking to business and other pro-migration audiences, ministers cite the fact that the interim quotas for 2010 were not fully taken up, to suggest that the cap has not been too restrictive. But at a recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on migration, employers and business associations confirmed that unused quotas reflected pre-emptive decisions by companies not bothering to go through the laborious process of applying, in the expectation that they would be disappointed. This new survey gives more detail on how these employers are reacting to the cap by switching to other kinds of migrant workers: more employers say they plan to hire EU migrant workers (34 per cent), than up-skill existing workers (23 per cent), or recruit more graduates. Eight per cent say they intend to offshore jobs abroad.

Why do so many employers still prefer to hire migrant workers? The CIPD survey casts doubt on the idea - a major theme in the reaction to Iain Duncan Smith's recent demand for employers to give priority to British workers - that it is all about 'soft skills'. The survey finds far more employers citing hard skills or specific experience - and interestingly, only 16 per cent saying they prefer migrants because they are cheaper:

Why do you prefer migrant workers? CPID, August 2011

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The overall picture is one of employers struggling to fill skills gaps despite rising levels of unemployment - suggesting that a renewed focus on training and skills would be more useful than attempting further restrictions on skilled non-EU immigration.

With today's NEET figures, last week's ONS labour market figures showing youth unemployment rising above 20 per cent, and the cuts in public sector employment starting to bite, the fall in the proportion of private sector employers planning to hire school-leavers must also be particularly worrying - though there is some encouraging news in rising awareness of apprenticeships.

In relation to immigration policy, the risk remains that a combination of trends beyond the government's control - British emigration, immigration from the EU, and employer preferences - will lead the government to adopt even more drastic measures on those limited areas of immigration it can control, like skilled workers from outside the EU, students, or settlement policy, simply because that is the only way to affect net migration numbers, even though the specific measures are likely to further hamper growth.

It is not too late for the government to break out of this dynamic, redouble its efforts on apprenticeships, and start the long term task of improving vocational education and training, accepting that the cap and net migration target will not solve the crisis in youth unemployment, and will only slow our economic recovery.

Matt Cavanagh is Associate Director at IPPR

Follow him on Twitter @matt_cav_

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David Osland: “Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance”

The veteran Labour activist on the release of his new pamphlet, How to Select or Reselect Your MP, which lays out the current Labour party rules for reselecting an MP.

Veteran left-wing Labour activist David Osland, a member of the national committee of the Labour Representation Committee and a former news editor of left magazine Tribune, has written a pamphlet intended for Labour members, explaining how the process of selecting Labour MPs works.

Published by Spokesman Books next week (advance copies are available at Nottingham’s Five Leaves bookshop), the short guide, entitled “How to Select or Reselect Your MP”, is entertaining and well-written, and its introduction, which goes into reasoning for selecting a new MP and some strategy, as well as its historical appendix, make it interesting reading even for those who are not members of the Labour party. Although I am a constituency Labour party secretary (writing here in an expressly personal capacity), I am still learning the Party’s complex rulebook; I passed this new guide to a local rules-boffin member, who is an avowed Owen Smith supporter, to evaluate whether its description of procedures is accurate. “It’s actually quite a useful pamphlet,” he said, although he had a few minor quibbles.

Osland, who calls himself a “strong, but not uncritical” Corbyn supporter, carefully admonishes readers not to embark on a campaign of mass deselections, but to get involved and active in their local branches, and to think carefully about Labour’s election fortunes; safe seats might be better candidates for a reselection campaign than Labour marginals. After a weak performance by Owen Smith in last night’s Glasgow debate and a call for Jeremy Corbyn to toughen up against opponents by ex Norwich MP Ian Gibson, an old ally, this pamphlet – named after a 1981 work by ex-Tribune editor Chris Mullin, who would later go on to be a junior minister under Blai – seems incredibly timely.

I spoke to Osland on the telephone yesterday.

Why did you decide to put this pamphlet together now?

I think it’s certainly an idea that’s circulating in the Labour left, after the experience with Corbyn as leader, and the reaction of the right. It’s a debate that people have hinted at; people like Rhea Wolfson have said that we need to be having a conversation about it, and I’d like to kickstart that conversation here.

For me personally it’s been a lifelong fascination – I was politically formed in the early Eighties, when mandatory reselection was Bennite orthodoxy and I’ve never personally altered my belief in that. I accept that the situation has changed, so what the Labour left is calling for at the moment, so I see this as a sensible contribution to the debate.

I wonder why selection and reselection are such an important focus? One could ask, isn’t it better to meet with sitting MPs and see if one can persuade them?

I’m not calling for the “deselect this person, deselect that person” rhetoric that you sometimes see on Twitter; you shouldn’t deselect an MP purely because they disagree with Corbyn, in a fair-minded way, but it’s fair to ask what are guys who are found to be be beating their wives or crossing picket lines doing sitting as our MPs? Where Labour MPs publicly have threatened to leave the party, as some have been doing, perhaps they don’t value their Labour involvement.

So to you it’s very much not a broad tool, but a tool to be used a specific way, such as when an MP has engaged in misconduct?

I think you do have to take it case by case. It would be silly to deselect the lot, as some people argue.

In terms of bringing the party to the left, or reforming party democracy, what role do you think reselection plays?

It’s a basic matter of accountability, isn’t it? People are standing as Labour candidates – they should have the confidence and backing of their constituency parties.

Do you think what it means to be a Labour member has changed since Corbyn?

Of course the Labour party has changed in the past year, as anyone who was around in the Blair, Brown, Miliband era will tell you. It’s a completely transformed party.

Will there be a strong reaction to the release of this pamphlet from Corbyn’s opponents?

Because the main aim is to set out the rules as they stand, I don’t see how there can be – if you want to use the rules, this is how to go about it. I explicitly spelled out that it’s a level playing field – if your Corbyn supporting MP doesn’t meet the expectations of the constituency party, then she or he is just as subject to a challenge.

What do you think of the new spate of suspensions and exclusions of some people who have just joined the party, and of other people, including Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union, who have been around for many years?

It’s clear that the Labour party machinery is playing hardball in this election, right from the start, with the freeze date and in the way they set up the registered supporters scheme, with the £25 buy in – they’re doing everything they can to influence this election unfairly. Whether they will succeed is an open question – they will if they can get away with it.

I’ve been seeing comments on social media from people who seem quite disheartened on the Corbyn side, who feel that there’s a chance that Smith might win through a war of attrition.

Looks like a Corbyn win to me, but the gerrymandering is so extensive that a Smith win isn’t ruled out.

You’ve been in the party for quite a few years, do you think there are echoes of past events, like the push for Bennite candidates and the takeover from Foot by Kinnock?

I was around last time – it was dirty and nasty at times. Despite the narrative being put out by the Labour right that it was all about Militant bully boys and intimidation by the left, my experience as a young Bennite in Tower Hamlets Labour Party, a very old traditional right wing Labour party, the intimidation was going the other way. It was an ugly time – physical threats, people shaping up to each other at meetings. It was nasty. Its nasty in a different way now, in a social media way. Can you compare the two? Some foul things happened in that time – perhaps worse in terms of physical intimidation – but you didn’t have the social media.

There are people who say the Labour Party is poised for a split – here in Plymouth (where we don’t have a Labour MP), I’m seeing comments from both sides that emphasise that after this leadership election we need to unite to fight the Tories. What do you think will happen?

I really hope a split can be avoided, but we’re a long way down the road towards a split. The sheer extent of the bad blood – the fact that the right have been openly talking about it – a number of newspaper articles about them lining up backing from wealthy donors, operating separately as a parliamentary group, then they pretend that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and that they’re not talking about a split. Of course they are. Can we stop the kamikazes from doing what they’re plotting to do? I don’t know, I hope so.

How would we stop them?

We can’t, can we? If they have the financial backing, if they lose this leadership contest, there’s no doubt that some will try. I’m old enough to remember the launch of the SDP, let’s not rule it out happening again.

We’ve talked mostly about the membership. But is Corbynism a strategy to win elections?

With the new electoral registration rules already introduced, the coming boundary changes, and the loss of Scotland thanks to decades of New Labour neglect, it will be uphill struggle for Labour to win in 2020 or whenever the next election is, under any leadership.

I still think Corbyn is Labour’s best chance. Any form of continuity leadership from the past would see the Midlands and north fall to Ukip in the same way Scotland fell to the SNP. Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.