Chart of the day: the rise of the online shopping

The internet now accounts for 10.7 per cent of all retail sales

The latest retail sales figures have been released by the Office for National Statistics, and they are generally bad news. Year on year, there has been recovery in the sector, with sales up 3.2 per cent in value terms and 1.0 per cent in volume terms, but in the short term retail sales fell 0.8 per cent in volume terms and 0.4 per cent in value terms between January and February, worse than expected. The ONS also revised down its January figures.

David Kern, Chief Economist at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

A fall in sales in February was widely expected following the relatively strong figures seen in December and January.

The poor weather in the first week of the month could have hindered the retail market, so these figures should not cause undue concern. Longer-term comparisons show that while the growth in sales remains in positive territory, the pace of expansion is modest. The value of sales has risen by more than 3 per cent over the past year, which is mainly due to inflation. If hikes in energy and food prices persist, this could create new obstacles to a sustained recovery in retail trade and in consumer spending in general.

Although non-store retailing (internet and mail-order shopping) is growing long-term as our headline chart shows, it too has suffered a weak February. Month-on-month, it shrank by 0.4 per cent, the biggest decline since August last year, and its annual growth, although easily outstripping offline retail, was "only" 8.6 per cent, the lowest year-on-year growth since November 2010. The proportion of sales made via the internet alone is estimated to have been 10.7 per cent of the total (excluding fuel, which remains tricky to buy online).

Price inflation in food stores rose to 3.9 per cent from 3.5 per cent last month, raising questions about the extent to which falling inflation (or "disinflation") will aid consumer demand as was predicted. The FT reports:

Simon Hayes, an economist at Barclays Capital, said he expected the pressure on real household disposable income to ease this year and consumption to strengthen. “However, falling inflation is a key element of our forecast that consumption will pick up, and recent upside news on consumer prices puts a question mark over the degree of support from this direction."

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

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour tensions boil over at fractious MPs' meeting

Corbyn supporters and critics clash over fiscal charter U-turn and new group Momentum. 

"A total fucking shambles". That was the verdict of the usually emollient Ben Bradshaw as he left tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. His words were echoed by MPs from all wings of the party. "I've never seen anything like it," one shadow minister told me. In commitee room 14 of the House of Commons, tensions within the party - over the U-turn on George Osborne's fiscal charter and new Corbynite group Momentum - erupted. 

After a short speech by Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sought to explain his decision to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter (having supported it just two weeks ago). He cited the change in global economic conditions and the refusal to allow Labour to table an amendment. McDonnell also vowed to assist colleagues in Scotland in challenging the SNP anti-austerity claims. But MPs were left unimpressed. "I don't think I've ever heard a weaker round of applause at the PLP than the one John McDonnell just got," one told me. MPs believe that McDonnell's U-turn was due to his failure to realise that the fiscal charter mandated an absolute budget surplus (leaving no room to borrow to invest), rather than merely a current budget surplus. "A huge joke" was how a furious John Mann described it. He and others were outraged by the lack of consultation over the move. "At 1:45pm he [McDonnell] said he was considering our position and would consult with the PLP and the shadow cabinet," one MP told me. "Then he announces it before 6pm PLP and tomorow's shadow cabinet." 

When former shadow cabinet minister Mary Creagh asked Corbyn about the new group Momentum, which some fear could be used as a vehicle to deselect critical MPs (receiving what was described as a weak response), Richard Burgon, one of the body's directors, offered a lengthy defence and was, one MP said, "just humiliated". He added: "It looked at one point like they weren't even going to let him finish. As the fractious exchanges were overheard by journalists outside, Emily Thornberry appealed to colleagues to stop texting hacks and keep their voices down (within earshot of all). 

After a calmer conference than most expected, tonight's meeting was evidence of how great the tensions within Labour remain. Veteran MPs described it as the worst PLP gathering for 30 years. The fear for all MPs is that they have the potential to get even worse. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.