Inflation falls to 2.8%

Inflation's down, but rail fares are up, up, up.

According to the ONS, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), Britain's headline measure of inflation, grew by 2.8% in the year to July 2013, down from 2.9% in June.

The statistics agency adds that:

The largest contributions to the fall in the rate came from air fares, plus price movements in the recreation & culture, and clothing & footwear sectors. A rise in petrol and diesel prices partially offset the fall.

Although inflation has fallen, it still far outstrips total pay increases. According to the latest figures available, pay rose by just 1.7 per cent in the year to May 2013. It has been over three years since average pay rose by more than inflation:

The RPI measure of inflation was also reported today: it rose to 3.1 per cent. Although RPI is no longer an official "National Statistic", a number of important prices are pegged to it. This month, it feeds through into national rail fares, which are allowed to increase by a maximum of the RPI for August plus 1 per cent. As a result, fares over the next year will rise by 4.1 per cent.

The latest figure for house price increases was also released today. Over the twelve months to June, prices rose by 3.1 per cent, outstripping inflation and widening the gap between those lucky enough to own property and the rest. But as ever, the housing story reveals the gap between parts of Britain. The ONS reports:

The year-on-year increase reflected growth of 3.3% in England and 4.3% in Wales, offset by falls of 0.9% in Scotland and 0.4% in Northern Ireland.

Within England too, there were vast discrepancies:

Annual house price increases in England were driven by London (8.1%), the West Midlands (3.1%) and the South East (2.9%). Excluding London and the South East, UK house prices increased by 1.0% in the 12 months to June 2013.

Yorkshire and the Humber actually saw a decline in house prices, by 0.2 per cent, while in the South West, prices remained stable with 0.0 per cent growth.

Piggy banks. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.