Cameron hasn't created "a million" private sector jobs

How the PM is misleading voters about the government's economic record.

One of David Cameron's favourite boasts is that "one million new jobs" have been created in the private sector since the coalition came to power. The claim appeared in his conference speech and he repeated it at today's PMQs. It's an impressive stat, cited by Cameron as proof that "our economy is rebalancing". The problem, however, is that it's not true.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that private sector employment has risen by 1.07 million in the two years since the coalition took office (the figures are for June 2010-June 2012), so, at first glance, Cameron's claim might appear to be correct. But what the Prime Minister doesn't want you to know is that a significant part of this increase was due to the reclassification of 196,000 further education and sixth form college teachers as private sector employees. As the ONS stated:

These educational bodies employed 196,000 people in March 2012 and the reclassification therefore results in a large fall in public sector employment and a corresponding large increase in private sector employment between March and June 2012.

If we strip out these 196,000 jobs, the increase in private sector employment is a less impressive 874,000.

Yet, far from correcting this error, Cameron compounded it by today boasting that there were a "million more people in work" than when Labour left office, a claim that takes no account of the 432,000 public sector jobs lost since June 2010 (who says there haven't been cuts?). The true rise in employment is 462,000 (from 29,128,000 to 29,590,000), or 538,000 less than the figure used by Cameron.

After complaining for years about Gordon Brown's manipulation of economic statistics, the government came to power promising a new regime of transparency. But Cameron's willful distortion of the facts on employment suggests he isn't prepared to practice what he preached.

David Cameron makes a speech on crime at The Centre For Social Justice earlier this week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.