Manufacturing gets less bad across Europe

Indicators show slowing rate of decline in industry.

Some surprisingly decent manufacturing data has been release this morning, for both the UK and Europe. The purchasing managers' indices (PMIs) for May, which survey a cross-section of companies on their business in the sector to provide an indication of activity in the sector, showed improvement in Spain, Italy and France, as well as in the Eurozone as a whole.

A value of below 50 indicates contraction in the sector, while a value of above 50 indicates expansion; the magnitude of the difference reflects the speed of the change. So a rise from 45 to 48, for instance, would represent a sector still contracting, but doing so slower than it had been before.

In the UK, the sector looks to be growing at the faster rate for 14 months, with a value of 51.3. The both exports and domestic orders contributed, although the latter was the main driver.

UK manufacturing PMI

In Spain, the PMI hit a two-year high, of 48.1; in Italy, it hit a four-month high of 47.3; and in France, it reached a 13-month high of 46.4. All of those values still represent contraction, but contraction at a slower rate than there has been for a while. Combined with the secular trend against manufacturing, that's nothing to be sniffed at.

In the Eurozone overall, the PMI is at its highest for 15 months, although only just. It's still not good news, as such – not a single nation covered is actually growing – but it's still hopeful:

The German PMI signalled the slowest rate of contraction overall and moved close to the stabilisation level as output and new orders both rose for the first time in three months. Downturns in the Netherlands and Austria were also only moderate.

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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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