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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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