The jobs crisis is worsening

The pace of public sector job cuts means that unemployment is certain to rise this week.

Jobs, jobs, jobs, is the refrain that will echo through Westminster this week. The latest figures are out on Wednesday and unemployment, which currently stands at 2.57m (8.1 per cent), the highest level since 1994, is expected to rise again, while youth unemployment, which currently stands at 991,000, is expected to top a million. The danger of a lost generation is increasing every month.

To add to the gloom, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned that the labour market faces a "slow, painful, contraction" with firms delaying recruitment of more staff. Its quarterly poll of 1,000 private, public and voluntary organisations showed that employers in all three sectors intend to add fewer jobs in the coming months. CIPD public policy adviser Gerwyn Davies noted: "recruitment intentions are falling, which will make further rises in unemployment therefore seem inevitable given that public sector job losses are outpacing the predictions made by the Office for Budget Responsibility ... There is no immediate sign of UK labour market conditions improving in the short or medium term." Indeed, in the last quarter, the public sector shed 111,000 jobs, while the private sector created just 41,000.

Interviewed on the Today programme this morning, Mark Hoban, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, sounded alarmingly complacent. As is now traditional, he began by emphasising the damage the eurozone crisis has done to the British economy ("The crisis in the eurozone casts a long shadow over our economy") ignoring the fact that the growth was falling and unemployment rising long before the current imbroglio. Asked how the government would stimulate growth, he could only point to long-term measures such as "better road networks, better energy infrastructure." Ministers have not adopted one of the pro-growth policies proposed earlier this month in the New Statesman by nine of the world's leading economists.

In times of economic crisis, the state has a duty to act as the employer of last resort but the CPID predicts that 610,000 public-sector jobs will be lost by 2016, 210,000 more than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility. For this reason, 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. But that's a message to which George Osborne, besotted with austerity, remains tone deaf.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.