Cameron misleads parliament on jobs figures

The PM falsely claimed that 500,000 private-sector jobs had been created since the election.

One of David Cameron's favourite myths is that half a million private-sector jobs have been created "since the election". He repeated it at today's PMQs. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the data tells a different story.

Since March 2010, private sector employment has risen by 575,000 but Cameron's use of the phrase "since the election" means that any figures from before 6 May are irrelevant. However, to complicate matters, the Office for National Statistics figures in question straddle the election, covering 1 April to 30 June. But the fact that private-sector employment has risen by just 264,000 since June 2010, means that, as Channel 4's Cathy Newman has previously noted, Cameron's claim only holds good if we assume that 236,000 jobs were created between 6 May and 30 June. The ONS doesn't publish month-by-month figures but the data that we do have suggests that the majority of job creation in Q2 2010 took place before the election. The ONS's "experimental" labour force figures show that 129,000 jobs were created in April 2010 but that 89,000 were lost in June.

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Cameron and George Osborne have consistently claimed that private-sector job creation will "far outweigh" the job losses in the public-sector. But in the last year, 240,000 public-sector jobs have been lost and 264,000 private-sector jobs have been created, a net increase of just 24,000 [see graph]. Worse, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development [CIPD] has predicted that 610,000 public-sector jobs will be lost by 2016, 210,000 more than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility [see Box 3.6 on p. 73 of the OBR's Economic and Fiscal Outlook].

You don't need to be a statist social democrat to be troubled by this prediction. Every public-sector job that is cut costs the state around £8-10,000 in benefits and lost taxes. The CIPD, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, has called for the government to halt its public sector job cuts until the private sector has recovered. If Osborne wants to avoid even worse unemployment figures, he should follow their advice.

P.S. Don't miss our special Plan B package in tomorrow's issue. Nine of the world's top economists, including Noble Prize winner Christopher Pissarides, Jeffrey Sachs and Robert Skidelsky present George Osborne with their alternatives to austerity.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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